WATER WAYS - Negative dialogue about Ala Wai cause for concern - 11/02/02
Negative dialogue about Ala Wai cause for concern

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin 11/02/02)
By Ray Pendleton

LastTuesday, I attended the city's six-hour Waikiki Livable Community Project workshop and I must confess, I came away with some deep concerns.

For those who didn't receive an invitation or see the advertisements, the workshop was held to provide public input into various project proposals for dealing with a variety of transportation issues within Waikiki.

The funding for the entire project came from a $650,000 federal grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

I attended the workshop partly because I live in Waikiki, but also because the Ala Wai Canal was mentioned as an option to diversifying mobility options and a focus for water recreation and culture.

As the Ala Wai is an integral part of the state's largest recreational boat harbor and it is finally being dredged for optimum usage, I had hopes of participating in some exciting and imaginative dialogue on how it could best be brought to its full potential.

After all, the canal was built as a flood-control project in the 1920s, but it is, nevertheless, Waikiki's second-largest water feature.

After introductory statements from city transportation director Cheryl Soon, the workshop was divided into five areas of focus: Kalakaua Avenue, Kuhio Avenue, mauka-makai streets, Ala Moana Boulevard., and Ala Wai Boulevard, which included the adjacent canal.

Surprisingly, the largest number of people -- about 40 --chose the Ala Wai group and by the time introductions were made, it was plainly evident many had come with a rather negative agenda concerning the canal.

Rather than offering creative and colorful visions of what could be, the group's most vocal members proceeded to denounce any and all possible uses of the canal, save today's most prevalent use as a flat-water training ground for paddlers.

Any discussion of potential commercial enterprises on or along the Ala Wai were quickly pronounced undesirable, even though cities like San Antonio, Texas, with its River Walk, have shown that compatible, regionally inspired activities can be attractive to visitors and residents alike.

When electric boat-builder Gary Brookins suggested his new non-polluting, silent running launches might be an attractive alternative to exhaust-belching buses and cabs, it was met with a stony silence.

Conversely, after another participant essentially proposed banning all water activities other than paddling, he was greeted with applause.

From my perspective, as someone who has been a lifelong proponent of and participant in recreational water activities, such a view is as unthinkable as a ban on all activities other than surfing at Waikiki Beach.

In fact, Waikiki's commercial catamaran and outrigger rides coexisting with surfing, skin diving and swimming, show how a limited resource can be safely shared and enjoyed.

And, for those who can't or don't remember, the Ala Wai has been shared by recreational users in the past.

For proof, find a copy of Hawaiian Yesterdays -- Historical Photographs by Ray Jerome Baker and have a look at page 77.

There at the bottom is a lovely image, dated 1948, giving photographic evidence of the dozens of boats -- both fishing and pleasure -- that once moored along the canal's Waikiki bank between the Ala Moana and Kalakaua Street bridges.

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