We need to create an environment with flexibility. It’s crucial in making our cities better places.

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Someone painted “ALOHA” – the Hawaiian greeting – into a crosswalk at Lunalilo Home Road and Kalanipuu Street outside Honolulu. With a little paint, an unfriendly suburban stroad crosswalk became slightly more tolerable. But, not everyone is happy. This is a must watch!

A little tactical urbanism has been turned into a crime. Now, it needs to be removed because it violates the Standard, regardless of the support from locals who experience the intersection daily.

One neighbor is quoted saying, “Slow down and enjoy a little aloha. I’d hate to see the city proclaim it is against the law, whether its graffiti or whatever, I think it’s a nice thing.” Another resident agreed“It doesn’t detract from the old lines, so I think its good.”

Residents have started a grassroots effort to keep them via a Facebook page and a Change.org petition.

The Aloha is against the standard. No question about it. But, what good is the standard if it isn’t producing good places? Let’s take this Lunalilo Home Road as our example. It hits the Standard. Notice the four wide lanes, nothing impeding the clear zone, minimal sidewalks, absence of a bike lane, and a speed limit of 30 mph, but a design speed of 50.

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You can tell this road hits the Standard because every single house has decided to build a wall blocking it from view.

Now, we have something in the neighborhood that residents like. It was never planned. No one had a meeting about it. Someone just wanted to make their neighborhood a better place and they just did it. Unfortunately, making your neighborhood a little more Aloha violates the Standard.

Here’s where it hurts us most. Does anyone really think the Aloha crosswalks are dangerous? Come on, don’t be stupid. It’s within the original template, works within the lines, and was painted only on the less busy side street crosswalks.

To have a standard that is so inflexible is to say that we’ve perfected intersection crosswalks. We haven’t. Especially Hawaii which has some of the highest rates of pedestrian automobile-related deaths in the United States.  This is where the City of Honolulu should be asking themselves: what has the standard gotten us? A whole lot of places people don’t enjoy being?

How can we change that? It’s simple: we allow flexibility in our codes and standards.

When it comes to infrastructure, government needs to have a role. But, creative displays like Aloha are happening outside the government realm – without permission – because it would either:

a) not be approved,
b) take too long, or
c) cost too much money

I love the Aloha crosswalk. But, if I knew I had to wait four months, go to five public meetings, talk to a half dozen government agencies and still risk the chance it may never see the light of day, well, then I’d probably say “Forget it. I don’t have time.”

The criticism isn’t of public officials. I have friends and colleagues in these roles and they’re smart, capable and creative people. It’s the system. In fact, I’m confident that planners reading this right now would love to have the Aloha crosswalk in their town.

We’ve built a system lacking flexibility. When someone has an idea to paint a crosswalk, it should be welcomed. We take that sidewalk and we experiment. If people like it, then great. If it doesn’t work, we get rid of it. Worse case scenario, what are we out? A few thousand dollars? 

Don’t be stupid. Be flexible. We can deviate from the standard. We have to. Otherwise our cities will maintain the status quo and that’s the last thing we want.

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Seriously, let’s help the residents out by showing support. “Like” the Facebook page and sign the Change.org petition. I’m skeptical of online petitions, but I think it’s important we show those neighbors who support the Aloha crosswalk that they aren’t crazy.