Although we believe Honolulu’s transit project is long overdue, we’re trying not to make this a black-or-white issue – as if only our views have merit and those on the other side have none. Today’s long Honolulu Advertiser story on the rail issue quotes spokespersons on both sides, and residents still assessing the project probably can find credible statements from both camps.
For example, we respect the opponents’ argument -- their “truth” – that the private automobile has become an indispensable tool for Oahu residents in meeting the demands of their busy lives. Proponents of “individual transportation” say cars allow them to drop children off at private schools, go the cleaners, buy groceries, etc. Just about all car owners have days like that and can’t conceive of giving up that freedom. Neither can we.
On the Other Hand
Our “truth” is that Honolulu’s elevated rail system is intended to do something relatively uncomplicated – move large numbers of people from point A to point B and back to A again. That’s the job of transit systems all over the world. Honolulu’s proposed system typically will serve commuters going to and from work and school in both directions between the emerging Second City on the ewa plan in the west and urban Honolulu on the east end of the line without having to deal with everything “individual transportation” entails – rising gasoline prices, costly parking and the biggest car-related problem, traffic.
There’s “truth” in both of the preceding two paragraphs, and we acknowledge both. But some of transit’s most visible opponents aren’t willing to acknowledge our A-B-A “truth.” They say a better idea is to build High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes. HOT lanes cost less, they say, and would move buses, multi-passenger cars and toll-paying single-occupancy vehicles faster along their length than the train over a comparable distance. Even the City’s Alternatives Analysis (AA) acknowledges that specific assertion about travel time for vehicles while on the lanes.
But the AA also predicts that traffic congestion on both ends of the proposed HOT lanes would increase – a “truth” that’s also logical, inasmuch HOT lane vehicles eventually would be returned to surface streets and high levels of congestion. The AA says any time advantage gained along the lanes would be negated by surface road traffic.
And here’s where we believe Oahu residents can make a distinction between all the so-called “truths” in this debate. In addition to the AA’s assertion, our bottom-line truth is that HOT lanes would be susceptible to accidents, vehicle breakdowns and other unanticipated traffic interruptions like any highway – interruptions that simply will not affect rail commuters. Honolulu’s transit system will be immune to traffic congestion no matter where it occurs. Commuters will know exactly when they will reach their destination before they even begin their journey. That’s why they call the schedule a timetable.
The bottom-line truth is about mobility – a quality “individual transportation” advocates embrace when they tout the private automobile for trips to the market and the in-laws. But only grade-separated transit guarantees true mobility for 5-day-a-week commuters traveling through the urban corridor between the ewa plain and downtown Honolulu.
That truly is Oahu’s greatest transportation challenge – devising a way for commuters to avoid the massive traffic congestion problem that will continue to grow throughout the length of the urban corridor as Oahu’s population inevitably grows.
The City’s transit project meets that challenge head-on and guarantees mobility in our city for the large number of commuters who simply want to go from A to B and back to A again. Certainly there will be days when those commuters will also head to the market after returning home on the train, and they’ll probably go by car.
The truth of the matter is that both modes of transportation are needed in our community – a train for tens of thousands of commuters to conveniently, economically and reliably travel to and from work and school, and private automobiles for all the trips we will continue to make in them.
It’s neither either-or nor black-or-white. It’s both.