Tuesday, December 29, 2009

'09 Review of Honolulu’s Rail Project as We Saw It

We’ll confine this review to highlights starting in August, since that’s when we picked up the blog after a few months of inactivity. But there was plenty to keep busy with in the year’s last five months!

August 12
Above-Grade Choice Gets Stronger with Time
The City Council selected grade-separated transit nearly three years ago, and nothing that’s emerged in commentaries, letters to the editor and paid advertising has challenged the soundness of that decision.

August 27
Revenues Panel Sees 5 Years of Tax Growth
After a couple years of dismal forecasts for Hawaii’s economy, the state Council of Revenues has issued a five-year tax forecast that anticipates positive long-term growth.

August 30
Bids for Rail’s First Segment Under Budget
Bids for the first construction phase of the transit project between Kapolei and Waipahu are coming in 10-25 percent under expectations in February, when the request for proposals went out.

September 13
What Every Consumer Asks When Making a Purchase: ‘Will It Do What I Need It To Do?’
That’s what also must be asked of the allegedly “cheaper rail plan” for an at-grade system that some in the community are promoting. (Answer hint: At-grade wouldn’t be a fast, frequent and reliable alternative to sitting in traffic congestion.)

September 24
Among At-Grade’s Negatives, Part 2: Accidents
It’s not exactly Demolition Derby, but the number of train-vehicle accidents since the Phoenix, AZ at-grade system opened nine months ago is pretty astonishing.

September 29
City Report Says Rail’s Tax Revenue Sufficient; Collections for FY ’09 $12 Million Above Forecast
As the City correctly noted in August, when headlines trumpeted the alleged shortfall, the May report on which those headlines and finger wagging were based was outdated. Now comes the August financial plan, with updated information the City stands behind.

October 6
When Safety Is Crucial, Think Elevated Rail
Phoenix’s METRO light rail has been operating since December and is averaging five collisions a month, which has prompted the operators to launch a Light Rail Safety campaign called Stay Aware, Stay Safe.

October 12
Feds OK Honolulu Rail for Preliminary Engineering
The Federal Transit Administration has given Honolulu a green light to begin Preliminary Engineering for the local rail transit system.

October 26
Star-Bulletin: ‘Foolish’ Not To Build Rail Now
The Honolulu Star-Bulletin today continues the daily newspapers’ editorial support for Honolulu’s rail project. Disagreeing with rail critics who urge a go-slow approach, the paper says “…prompt action is warranted to help Hawaii’s economy and keep costs down.”

October 30
Beware Monsters of Misinformation at Halloween
It’s wise to watch your step at the end of October. Ghosts and goblins are everywhere, eager to startle and shock you into giving up something of value – usually candy. But watch out for at-grade rail proponents who want you to give up your common sense.

November 3
Behind Rail Opinion Poll Numbers – Solid Support
A public opinion survey has revealed strong support among Oahu residents for the Honolulu rail project – support that appears to have increased since 53 percent voted in favor of rail in last November’s election.

November 16
Searching for ‘News’ in the Rail Tax Stories
Until the economy turns around (which it will; it always has), can’t we safely predict that rail tax revenues any given month will be below those of a year earlier? Tax revenues are lower in a recession, and when the recession is behind us, they'll be higher.

November 17
Mayor Says Transit Tax Can’t be Raided by State
With Mayor Mufi Hannemann’s announcement today that a Project Labor Agreement with the trade unions has been sealed, the anti-rail crowd must sense that their opposition is being overtaken by events.

November 25
Governor’s Stated Insistence on Preserving Road Lanes Seemingly Eliminates At-Grade Alternative
The inevitable results of building at-grade transit – either property condemnation to widen the roadway or a loss of traffic lanes – has been thoroughly evaluated and found unacceptable compared to the Locally Preferred Alternative of an elevated fixed guideway.

December 2
Train Meets Van in Another At-Grade Rail Collision
The relatively small but vocal group of at-grade transit advocates here continues to make a noisy case for Honolulu’s trains to run at ground level. As they do so, we’ll continue our focus on the safety issue.

December 11
Story Criticizes Opinion Poil w/out Giving Results
Today’s Honolulu Advertiser takes a swipe at the opinion poll conducted in September on Oahu residents’ views about the rail project. The story implies impropriety that wasn’t there; amazingly, the poll’s results continue to not be reported in the newspaper.

December 18
Entire Rail Survey Is Available for Downloading
The public accessibility of the QMark opinion poll on Honolulu’s rail project should effectively counter the din from critics who allege the poll was rigged, the questions were slanted, the results are worthless, etc.

December 23
Poll Results Among Non-Reported Stories of 2009
Although both Honolulu newspapers have known about the poll for several weeks and maybe as long as two months, they have steadfastly refused to print its results. Far as we know, the broadcast outlets have followed suit.

December 24
A Dickensonian Christmas Tale with a Difference
It was the night before Christmas in Kapolei, and all three of the family’s generations were in a happy mood after watching “A Christmas Carol” on TV. Mean old Scrooge turned out to be a great guy after all, and Tiny Tim was just fine. Everybody was happy but dad, that is. “I’ve been stalled on H-1 for the last hour,” dad growled, “and I know something a lot scarier than anything Charles Dickens dreamed up – the Ghost of Traffic Present!”

It’s been quite a year, and 2010 will be even more eventful. Check back with us early and often as we write about the major developments within Honolulu’s rail project, and don’t forget to have a…

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Dickensonian Christmas Tale with a Difference: Three Ghosts of Traffic Past, Present and Future

It was the night before Christmas in Kapolei, and all three of the family’s generations were in a happy mood after watching “A Christmas Carol” on TV. Mean old Scrooge turned out to be a great guy after all, and Tiny Tim was just fine.

Everybody was happy but dad, that is. He stormed in as the show’s credits rolled up the screen from another of his last-minute Christmas shopping sprees, and his mood was as grumpy as Scrooge’s had been two hours earlier.

“Merry Christmas!” the kids shouted. “Mom was just telling us how scary the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future were when she was little.”

“I’ve been stalled on H-1 for the last hour,” dad growled, “and I know something a lot scarier than anything Charles Dickens dreamed up – the Ghost of Traffic Present!

“Tell us more! Tell us more!” cried the kids as they egged him on. Rush-hour traffic always made dad’s face red and eyes bulge. It’s a pretty good show, and the kids are always up for it.

“Come to think of it,” dad obliged with a twinkle in his eye, “I have a story with three ghosts -- the ghosts of Traffic Past, Traffic Present and Traffic Future.”

And so began another of dad’s “good old days” tales about driving to town in half the time it takes today. Just like Dickens’ ghost of Christmas Past, dad’s ghost of Traffic Past has fond memories – of free-and-easy driving, open highways, low-cost gasoline and reasonable parking fees.

But then the story takes a turn. Traffic congestion grew along with the population, and the city tried to build an elevated transit system so commuters could ride a train and avoid traffic altogether – just like they do in cities around the world.

“We…came…THIS…close!” the kids sang along with dad. They’d heard it before, so all three held their fingers barely apart as dad recalled the City Council vote that killed those plans in 1992. “It would have been running for six years now,” dad sighed.

“But that’s the ghost of Traffic Past,” he grimaced as he warmed to the juiciest part of his tale. “Here’s where my three-ghost story departs from Dickens. His scariest vision was the Ghost of Christmas Future. Mine is the Ghost of Traffic Present!

And off dad went on his rant – about getting up way too early to beat H-1 congestion, about arriving late for work nearly every time there’s an accident, and on and on.

“The Ghost of Traffic Present toys with us,” he said as the kids giggled in anticipation. “This ghost sometimes gives you a wide-open road when you first hit the freeway, lets you think today will be different, that maybe you’ll breeze through the merge. But nine times out of ten, it’s all wishful thinking and you crawl the rest of the way to town. When there’s a major accident, forget about it! And when you finally get off the freeway, you’re caught in street traffic.”

Mom had escaped to the kitchen by now, and the kids sat crowded around dad’s feet, because their favorite part was coming. The Ghost of Traffic Future would be the one they’ll live with for the rest of their lives.

Dad did a quick circle around the kids to stretch his legs, then settled in again to pick up the story. “The Ghost of Traffic Future is the best ghost of all, because the future is when your generation will triumph over traffic! You won’t even have to worry about it.”

The kids knew all about the plan to bypass traffic in the future. Dad read every newspaper story out loud to the family about the city’s elevated rail project. They all had tracked the project as it moved from the early planning days when the kids were in pre-school, through the City Council votes, into the environmental process. And on Christmas Eve 2009, the Final EIS was expected any day now.

“When the FEIS is accepted by the Governor, it’ll be clear sailing for the project’s groundbreaking! dad exclaimed as the kids clapped their hands in unison. “Your uncle and cousins will have years of construction work ahead of them.”

Again in unison and on cue, the kids put on worried faces and cried, “She will accept the FEIS, won’t she, dad…won’t she!? Dad waited until everyone had grabbed hands so they could shout it together: “She’d better!!” Even mom and the grandparents laughingly joined in – as always.

“You see, kids,” dad said in his serious voice, “this entire project would come to a halt if she doesn’t accept the FEIS, and that would be a bad thing – for you, for your cousins, for the entire community, and especially those who don’t want to sit in traffic.

“Actually, I think what she said in that story I read to you a few weeks ago about not rubber-stamping the rail project was just her way of saying she’s doing her job, being a prudent elected official.”

Granddad chimed in: “The Governor knows we need this train,” he said. “You kids will use it to get to jobs in town or to school in Manoa. Gas prices will be far higher in a few years, and so will parking costs. The train will be so convenient and cost-competitive, it would be terrible for anyone to block this project and toy with your future.” The kids nodded.

“Granddad’s right,” mom called from the hallway. “Once commuters see how easy it is to ride the train and connect with buses or walk from the stations, you kids might even have to fight for a seat!

And so this balmy Christmas Eve 2009 progressed in Kapolei as dad ended his tale of the three Ghosts of Traffic and the family’s three generations sat down around the Christmas tree to hear a much older story.

When the kids opened their presents on Christmas Day, the youngest said she dreamed all night about Santa arriving in Kapolei with a sleigh full of toys. Something was different this year, though.

Instead of eight tiny reindeer leading Santa’s sleigh, it was riding high up on an elevated guideway – pulled by a train.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Poll Results Among Non-Reported Stories of 2009

Is a little inquisitive reporting too much to ask for Christmas?

The changes happening in journalism here don’t surprise us much anymore, but the local media’s failure to report the results of a public opinion poll on the Honolulu rail project is an exception.

What the public thinks about the biggest construction project ever in Hawaii has to qualify as "news." A referendum on the project was conducted in the November 2008 election, so the project is a major public affairs story on several levels.

But although both Honolulu newspapers have known about the poll for several weeks and maybe as long as two months, they have steadfastly refused to print its results. Far as we know, the broadcast outlets have followed suit.

It makes you wonder. And if you wonder what those pro-rail results were, they’re available at the City’s transit website. Click on Library and then the General Information tab to download a PDF on the QMark survey.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Transit Tax Revenues Rise to Anticipated Level; Counting the Days of Tiser’s Non-Report on Poll

To the consternation of the diminishing anti-rail faction on Oahu, transit tax revenues increased in November and were just south of the monthly level the City has fit into its projections for the 16-year tax.

While still down slightly from one year earlier, the fact that revenues increased is an encouraging sign for the rail project, and the revenue rise doesn’t stand alone as good news for rail.

The unemployment rate dipped last month, the economy is forecast to improve in 2010 and construction bids for the project have come in below expectations.

39+ Days and Counting

Our incredulity grows by the day over the Honolulu Advertiser’s refusal to report the results of a public opinion poll that show strong community support for rail.

In a story hinting at (non-existent) impropriety over the City’s contract with Honolulu polling firm QMark, reporter Sean Hao wrote that the City responded to a Freedom of Information Act request about the poll’s contract in a letter dated November 18. Let’s say the City took a week to respond to the request; we don’t know, but let’s pick 7 days.

And let’s assume that the Advertiser didn’t know about the poll until around the date it made the request; using our scenario, that would make November 10 the date it first knew of the poll. The paper undoubtedly knew about the September survey much earlier than that, but we’re being charitable.

So assuming a “first awareness date” of November 10, the Honolulu Advertiser has allowed 39 calendar days to pass without reporting on the poll’s pro-rail results in its news columns. The only results the paper has published were condensed in a December 17 letter to the editor by Managing Director Kirk Caldwell.

What is going on?

Has the paper lost all objectivity in its news hole about this project? Does it doubt the integrity of polling company QMark? How could it not report the results of a scientific opinion survey it has known about since at least November 10 – and probably for much longer?

We don’t know what’s going on, but we’re counting the days until the Honolulu Advertiser succumbs to widely accepted standards of objective journalism and prints the survey's results.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Entire Rail Survey Is Available for Downloading

The public accessibility of the QMark opinion poll on Honolulu’s rail project should effectively counter the din from critics who allege the poll was rigged, the questions were slanted, the results are worthless, etc.

Among their criticisms are assertions that a pro-rail result was pre-determined because of how the questions were worded. It’s a ridiculous assertion because it would mean QMark would have committed corporate suicide by undermining the integrity of its polling process.

The poll was conducted using scientific surveying principles accepted throughout the industry. It's available at the transit project’s website under the General Information tab. Click on the link for the QMark survey to download a PDF.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Letter Asks Tiser: Where Are Rail Poll's Results?

Kirk Caldwell, managing director of the City and County of Honolulu, has a letter to the editor in today’s Honolulu Advertiser that makes the point we made here a few days ago. Caldwell begins his letter:

“We find it interesting that The Advertiser’s story about a scientific poll on rail authorized by the city (“Poll, TV deals avoid scrutiny,” Dec. 11) neglected to include the most obvious thing: the poll results.”

In an almost unbelievable journalistic lapse, the paper carried a story about the poll (but not the results) that appeared to find fault with project consultant Parsons Brinkerhoff for not including polling firm QMark in a list of subcontractors.

That’s unremarkable, because QMark is not a PB subcontractor – and neither are the parent companies of three local television stations that the reporter noted also were not listed as subcontractors.

The Advertiser’s rail coverage is beyond strange. What kind of journalism is it when the only way to get results of a City-sponsored scientific public opinion poll into the newspaper is to include them in a letter to the editor?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sierra Club Endorses Rail–in Florida; Congress Ups Dollars for Honolulu; Another At-Grade Train Crash

Today’s post is a mélange of news that may be geographically distant but nevertheless relevant to Honolulu’s future rail system.

Sierra Club for Rail!

That’s the news from the Sunshine State. Hawaii has nothing to fear from Florida’s nickname, but we do admit to being a bit jealous that the Sierra Club has embraced rail there enthusiastically while the Hawaii chapter is much less vocal in expressing its support for Honolulu’s project.

The Florida group is touting the national club’s Green Transportation Campaign; check out the Campaign’s website and the prominent photo of an elevated transit line, similar to what Honolulu will build.

One of the campaigns goals is “reducing vehicle miles traveled per person by increasing public transit use, fostering compact communities with transportation choices (rail, bus, walking, biking), and by cutting the number of car trips taken.”

That’s pretty much what rail will achieve in Honolulu – so if you know any Sierra Club members, you might ask them to compare the national club’s goals with what Honolulu rail will accomplish!

Federal Funds Secured

Hawaii’s congressional delegation has come through with $30 million for Honolulu’s rail transit project. The award is part of an omnibus spending package that will total $387 million for a wide variety of projects and programs in the state.

Commenting in Washington while on a visit, Mayor Mufi Hannemann said, “Senator Inouye’s outstanding leadership has been instrumental in moving forward this rail transit project that is vital to our island’s economy and its future.”

Another At-Grade Crash

We’ve been calling attention to collisions between at-grade trains and vehicles as they occur simply to point out the obvious – that at-grade transit has a safety issue that advocates continue to ignore.

The news from Milpitas, CA over the weekend was about as bad as it gets. The driver of a vehicle that turned into the path of a light rail train was killed.

Honolulu’s project will be elevated above all street traffic and therefore will be inherently much safer than systems that share ground space with cross traffic and pedestrians.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Lower Cost, ‘Best Value’ Explain Kiewit Selection

Today’s Advertiser carries a story about why Kiewit Pacific was selected to build Phase One of the City’s rail project. The firm came out ahead both on price and for offering the “best value.”

According to the City, the latter includes rankings on management approach, personnel experience, technical solutions, schedule, price realism and project support.

Gambler's Delight?
For some light reading, click down to the comments section below the story. Rail’s opponents are showing desperation in their denunciations of the project; one suggests rail is all about providing transportation to visitors who will fly into Honolulu and then take the train to a west Oahu gambling mecca.

That gambling is illegal in Hawaii isn’t even the best argument to undermine this fanciful suggestion. The best argument is that high-rollers don’t travel in anything less than limousine luxury to throw away their money.

But read along anyway. As someone said in a response, arguments like this one make the job easier for rail supporters.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Story Criticizes Opinion Poll w/out Giving Results; Phoenix Readers Comment on At-Grade Accidents

Today’s Honolulu Advertiser takes a swipe at the opinion poll conducted in September on Oahu residents’ views about the rail project. You can read those strongly positive results in an earlier post here at Yes2Rail.

The story implies impropriety by the City or project contractor Parsons Brinkerhoff because polling company QMark isn’t listed as a subcontractor to PB. Incredibly, the story makes the same “charge” about the owners of the three local TV stations that carried the Mayor’s “State of Rail” address in late October.

It’s obvious that QMark, Raycom Media Inc. and MCG Capital Corp. are not PB subcontractors, yet the reporter goes out of his way to suggest something improper about their absence from PB’s subcontractor list. He then ends his story by quoting the City Council's loudest anti-rail member who naturally voices yet another complaint.

This is high school journalism at best – a classic “view with alarm” story about a wholly innocent situation yet is reported with a slant that implies impropriety.

The kicker? This reporter has never written a word about the opinion survey's results. He presumably has known about them for months yet has managed to keep its pro-rail results out of the Advertiser’s news columns.

Phoenix Sounds Off

The serious accident involving a Phoenix at-grade train and a van on December 2 has prompted a flurry of on-line comments in a Phoenix media website. The crash nearly cost the van driver’s life according to a firefighter at the scene.

Here are some representative comments about the dangers of driving near the city’s at-grade system:

Posted by Guisseppe: The whole thing is the stupidest ever. The thing only goes what, 25-35 miles per hour, and travels on the ground. This isn’t a light rail. Go to Japan to learn about light rails. What idiot decided to put it on the ground instead of elevated?

Posted by toycannon: From the appearance of this van after being pinned it is EXTREMELY lucky that this woman did not have any passengers on board. Can you imagine if this had been a van-load of children from a church function? Probably the van driver’s fault. In her defense however, the design of the track route is just asking for accidents in that area….

Posted by FustigatedOne: One accident a week for its first year. I told you pro-LR dolts that a metro chock full of tourists, seniors and illegals is a recipe for disaster. Not to mention all the booze, meth and cell phone addicts driving under some sort of impairment. This is a bad town for a surface based train system....

Posted by THEHOODLUM: This wouldn’t happen with heavy rail subway.

Nor will it happen with Honolulu’s elevated train.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Letter-Writer Says At-Grade Rail Here Would Fail

We like this letter in today’s Honolulu Star-Bulletin so much that we’re printing it here in its entirety:

Overhead rail
only way to go


Why are we still having this no-brainer argument about the rail system being at-grade or an overhead system? Why can't these people grasp these simple truths — that there is no room to accommodate both a rail system and a roadway? If you have an at-grade system every time the train comes to a crossing, all traffic will stop at the crossing and back up for miles.
The overhead system will eliminate any potential problems that are on the ground. How about accidents at the crossings? Why do people keep going back to square one concerning the debate about rail?
An overhead system was picked because there are no other alternatives.

Steve Curty
Honolulu


We would quibble only about his last sentence. There are other alternatives, and they all were rejected in favor of the Locally Preferred Alternative – elevated rail.

Editorial Catch-Up

And since we’re quoting from the newspapers, the Honolulu Advertiser’s editorial in last Sunday’s newspaper is worth recalling here. It urges Governor Linda Lingle to focus her review process of the project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement on only those things called for by law.
Responding to the Governor’s stated concerns about the alternatives to the planned elevated route, the paper said:

“All of this was covered at the city's earlier planning stage and need not be revisited by the EIS. City planners say the FTA has indicated the alternatives covered, the no-build option and variations of the airport and Salt Lake alignments, are sufficient.”

The piece continued the Advertiser’s editorial support for the project.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Anti-Rail Crowd on Wrong Side of Energy Issue: Rail Transit Will Use Ever-Increasing Renewable Power

We’re writing without having seen media coverage of a Small Business Hawaii press conference that was held less than two hours ago. The coverage will come in due time. For now, we’re going off the press release distributed by the Small Business Hawaii Foundation on “Honolulu Rail Greenhouse Gas Emissions Analysis.”

SBH’s Foundation has imported someone from the Midwest to put a conservative (and undoubtedly critical) spin on Honolulu’s planned rail system. At least Wendell Cox is from Illinois, which is closer to Hawaii than New Jersey – home of Kamehameha School’s “transit expert” import.

Here’s what we see as the key paragraph from the Foundation’s press release:

“The Honolulu rail DEIS contains no estimate of the proposed rail line’s impact on greenhouse gas emissions. The SBH/Demographia (a Cox website) report corrects this oversight and analyzes the future production of electricity, best and worst case scenarios of gas emissions in Honolulu’s proposed rail, and costs per ton of any reduced greenhouse production.”

We have no comment about what is or isn’t in the DEIS; the City presumably will provide a response. What interests us, aside from the awkward construction of that paragraph, is the key phrase “best and worst case scenarios.” Cox undoubtedly will highlight a worst-case scenario, but what about the best?

Zero Emissions Is the Goal!

The best-case scenario for power plants that will generate electricity for Honolulu’s rail project is simply this: They will produce no greenhouse gas emissions! None! Nada!! Zip!!!

That is absolutely the best-case scenario as Hawaii transitions to a green energy industry, and if you don’t believe it, you can look it up on numerous State websites. Just Google “Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative.” Here’s a quote from the State’s HCEI site:

“The Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative aims to transform Hawaii into a world model for energy independence and sustainability. Our goal is to meet 70% of Hawaii's energy needs with clean energy by 2030.”

That 70% will be a combination of energy efficiency and renewable energy from both old technologies and new – including wind, solar, biomass, wave and ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC).

There are OTEC advocates right here in Hawaii whose vision of energy independence in Hawaii is a dozen or more 100-megawatt OTEC plants surrounding Oahu that completely eliminate the need to burn carbon fuels to meet the island’s electricity needs. Those needs will include electricity for Honolulu's train. From the Harvard Political Review:

"Were its vast potential harnessed, OTEC could change the face of energy consumption by causing a shift away from fossil fuels. Environmentally, such a transition would greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and decrease the rate of global warming.”

That’s just one of hundreds of web-based sources on OTEC, which is just one of the many clean energy technologies Hawaii is now or will be adopting. We’re on a relentless campaign in Hawaii to develop all such technologies, and the goal isn’t going to stop at 70%. The goal embraced by government and non-governmental agencies alike is no fossil fuel use in Hawaii!

It’s one big hairy audacious goal for the state – no doubt about it. Getting there will require finding an economic substitute for fuel that powers aircraft, ships and land vehicles. But that’s the goal, and the prospects for achieving it by mid-century are excellent.

THAT is the best-case scenario for rail transit greenhouse gas emissions: There will be NONE. Anything short of that espoused by Mr. Cox and Small Business Hawaii is unbelievable.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Accidents Pile Up, Phoenix Citizens Want to Know ‘What’s the Problem with All These Crashes?’

That’s what a Phoenix TV news anchor asked a field reporter last week after yet another crash involving an at-grade train and a vehicle that failed to heed a red light.

The reporter’s answer was that figuring out the problem is “not that simple.” The station’s airborne video then shows a one-way street with three lanes of traffic on one side of the train tracks and one lane on the other. Says a reporter:

“Throw in some extra lights, turn signals, some slip-ramp merge lanes and you can see why drivers get a little confused and occasionally cross the tracks with a train coming right at them."

The video from KPHO is worth viewing to get a sense of the confusion Phoenix residents are expressing about staying out of harm’s way and the at-grade trains.

When you view the video, take note at about 70 seconds into it how slowly an at-grade train makes a 90-degree turn from one street into another.

This is not rapid transit and certainly not the high-capacity and fast trains (speeds exceeding 55 mph) that Honolulu needs to meet the need of moving commuters between East Kapolei and Ala Moana Center and points in between.

Phoenix will keep asking “what’s the problem,” and we’ll keep asking when at-grade advocates will stop ignoring the crucial safety issue of transit in our city.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Phoenix At-Grade Rail Accidents Invite Scrutiny; Year-Old System’s Rate Is One Crash per Week

Phoenix light rail system officials, the media and the public all are wondering how to curb the incidence of weekly crashes involving trains and vehicles.
Van begins fateful turn across tracks.
An accident this week that wrapped a van around a utility pole and narrowly avoided a fatality was caused by the van making an illegal turn in front of a moving train. A firefighter said the driver was “a lucky lady to be alive.” On-board train video shows the moment of impact as the van turns into the train’s path.
Vehicle pulls into harm's way.
Wednesday’s smash-up was the 51st this year for the Phoenix system, according to local media, and questions are now being asked about why a modern at-grade rail system has been so accident-plagued in its first year of operation.

It’s Not Surprising

As we’ve said here repeatedly, whenever you put trucks, cars, buses and pedestrians on the same level as a train, you’re virtually guaranteed to have accidents. Advocates of at-grade rail in Honolulu persistently refuse to address this issue, while we elevated advocates won’t let it die.
The moment of impact.
Trains operating on Honolulu’s 20 miles of elevated track will encounter no trucks, cars, buses and pedestrians. Putting any of those miles at grade would inevitably produce accidents like Phoenix is experiencing, and because Honolulu is such a compact and condensed city, the incidence could be even greater.
The van already is being wrapped around the pole.
Honolulu and Phoenix don’t have much in common, and we’ll be better off when we keep it that way regarding our rail systems.
Driver is lucky to be alive, says a firefighter.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Train Meets Van in Another At-Grade Rail Collision

Tight squeeze in Phoenix after today's crash.
The relatively small but vocal group of at-grade transit advocates here continues to make a noisy case for Honolulu’s trains to run at ground level. As they do so, we’ll continue our focus on the safety issue. (We've done it before -- two posts below this one on November 27, on October 6 and September 24.)

At-grade trains are nowhere near as safe as elevated systems, and because they inevitably are involved in accidents, they're not as reliable either.

Just today in Phoenix, AZ, a “violent crash” sent at least one person to the hospital and delayed train service. According to the Valley METRO service, this was the 50th such accident involving the system’s trains since it opened for business a year ago. (Another report calls it a "wicked-looking wreck," and this one quotes a firefighter as saying the van's driver is a "lucky lady to be alive" and that delays were expected to last several hours.)

That record – which includes injuries, property damage and delayed service – is something Honolulu will avoid when its elevated project is completed in the next decade.

Safety is one of the major issues that distinguishes grade-separated transit systems from at-grade systems, but there are others, including carrying capacity, frequency of service, speed, and of course, reliability.

We may not be able to tune down the at-grade advocacy noise. What we can do is note that some of that noise is the crunch you hear when trains and vehicles crash together. That’s noise we definitely don’t need in Honolulu.
Another news report says 3 were sent to the hospital.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

‘State Plans Further Review of Rail Issues’ and ‘Generalissimo Francisco Franco Is Still Dead!’

General Franco is still dead! That’s what we thought when we read the Advertiser’s front-page story today under the (print edition) headline “State plans further review of rail issues.”

The paper reported virtually the same thing just a few days ago. Here’s the online headline over the Advertiser’s November 24 story: “Lingle promises thorough review of Honolulu rail project.”

And Generalissimo Francisco Franco Is Still Dead!

OK, for those of you not around during Saturday Night Live’s amazing inaugural 1975 season, that headline was used for weeks by Chevy Chase in the show’s Weekend News Update. Franco had lingered near death for so long that on slow news days, the network newscasts would tell us that he was still hanging on.

Once he died, the SNL crew parodied the networks and their news divisions with the catch phrase about Franco’s ongoing death. Maybe you had to be there, but it became SNL’s first iconic catch phrase. Wikipedia has a thorough discussion on it.

The Advertiser’s repetitious coverage of the rail project is parody material, since the lead reporter’s approach rarely strays from its view-with-alarm angle. We half expect to read a major story in a week or so on the State's continuing promise of a thorough review.

And Generalissimo Francisco Franco Is Still Dead!

Friday, November 27, 2009

At-Grade Backers Stay Silent on Accident Issue

It’s been a few weeks since we spent any time on the issue of at-grade transit safety. Our earlier posts included some graphic visuals about the consequences when at-grade trains meet cars, trucks, buses or pedestrians.

So it’s time for an update from the nation’s newest major rail system – Phoenix’s 20-mile project that opened last December.

News Item, November 5:

A minivan collided with a light rail train Thursday afternoon, near Central and Indian School. Firefighters at last 5 people were injured, some with life threatening injuries. The accident shut down light rail while crews tried to help the injured and clear the accident. Central Avenue had to be shut down for a time while crews cleared the scene. It's unclear at this time who was at fault.

News Item, November 13:

An accident between a light-rail train and a truck Friday has caused a 10- to 25-minute delay in vehicle traffic on eastbound Washington Street, officials said. Three people on the train said they were injured but no one was taken to the hospital, said Sgt. Tommy Thompson, spokesman for the Phoenix Police Department. The crash happened around 10:30 a.m. near First Avenue and Jefferson Street, said Hillary Foose, spokeswoman for Metro Light Rail. The train will continue service, officials said.

Lost in the at-grade advocates’ concern for view planes and whatnot is the very real fact that at-grade trains are involved in accidents at an alarming rate. People are injured, schedules are quickly made invalid and at-grade systems continuously fail the reliability test, as well as the safety test.

So as we head deeper into the holiday season with its message of peace, goodwill and health to all people, let’s remember this central fact about grade-separated trains: They don’t run down pedestrians and aren’t targets for other vehicles.

The at-graders simply ignore this obvious advantage to Honolulu’s planned elevated rail system, and they really ought not do that – especially during the holidays.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Governor’s Stated Insistence on Preserving Road Lanes Seemingly Eliminates At-Grade Alternative

The beautiful thing about this age of modern communications we’re in is that years-old news is just a click away. Take this comment by Governor Linda Lingle reported in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in October 2003 about the proposal then to build a bus rapid transit system:

“I won’t support any project that takes existing lanes off the roadway,” the Governor said.

This on-the-record sentiment is pertinent to the current Honolulu rail transit project, which will involve an elevated 20-mile rail system between East Kapolei and Ala Moana Center.

Some rail opponents are saying the Governor should refuse to accept the project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement when it’s completed because they allege alternatives such as at-grade transit were not studied.

Aside from the fact that they were thoroughly evaluated (see the Alternatives Analysis and all its accompanying documentation), at-grade transit most certainly does replace roadway lanes. You can’t drop parallel rail tracks into a street without replacing one or more lanes for vehicles unless – and this is a big “unless” – you’re prepared to condemn property to widen the roadway to preserve the same number of lanes.

At-Grade = Condemnation

This inevitable result of building at-grade transit also has been thoroughly evaluated and found unacceptable compared to the Locally Preferred Alternative of an elevated fixed guideway. As planned, the City’s rail project will require the taking of about 40 properties along its 20-mile length. The Phoenix, AZ, at-grade system that began operations last December took nearly 1,000 properties along the same length.

Rail’s opponents never talk about the need to condemn more property to build at-grade transit, of course, and they generally ignore at-grade’s inability to achieve the project’s goals – fast, frequent and reliable transit.

Public opinion clearly supports the City’s elevated plan, and we continue to refer readers to the results of the QMark survey, which asked for responses to this statement:

“The City & County of Honolulu with approval from the voters of Oahu is moving forward with the development of a 20-mile elevated rail transit line that will connect West Oahu with downtown Honolulu and Ala Moana Center."

Sixty percent of the respondents responded with support for that description, and 69 percent said they believe rail will be a good investment.

The poll's results cannot be mentioned too often and must be held up to the Governor as she is asked to accept the FEIS as evidence of the public’s attitudes. The public clearly favors an elevated rail system and, one must assume, now agrees with the City’s information that refutes the uniformly misleading assertions of rail’s opponents.

An elevated system will preserve existing roadways while speeding commuters to their destinations – on time, every time.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

While “No Rubber Stamp” Pledge is No Surprise, Lingle’s Long-Term Legacy Rides on OKing FEIS

Governor Linda Lingle made the unsurprising statement on a talk show yesterday that she’ll be no “rubber stamp” when it’s time for her to sign off on the rail project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement.

Here’s the pertinent passage from the Advertiser’s story today:

"I'm going to spend my life in Hawaii," Lingle said. "I'm not going to have people look back and say 'Why couldn't you see that this couldn't work? Why didn't you force them to review the alternatives?'
"So I will not rubber-stamp the document. It will not be a quick, couple days turnaround."

Of course, the other thing people may say to the Governor if she refuses to sign the FEIS is, “What were you thinking when you stopped this project after all the effort and study that’s been put into it? And how could you possibly conclude that the alternatives hadn’t been fully analyzed or that we couldn’t afford it?”

We leave the political analysis to the newspaper columnists, but isn't the Governor saying what she has to say? She can't sign off without making statements like this, so the no-rubber-stamp pledge raises no eyebrows.

Imagining a Legacy

The Governor says she plans to be around Hawaii for quite some time, and that future presumably will be in politics. The only way “up” for her is to the United States Senate, and it’s hard to see how blocking a project backed by a solid majority of Oahu residents (where most of the votes are) could do her any good.

She certainly doesn’t want to be remembered as this century’s Rene Mansho, the Honolulu City Council member who cast the deciding vote in 1992 against the proposed rail transit tax that would have provided the local contribution for Mayor Frank Fasi’s fixed guideway project.

So let’s see how this plays out. We have to believe the Governor will conclude that the alternatives to an elevated project – alternatives that were thoroughly vetted, notwithstanding the anti-rail crowd’s assertions – all are inferior to the City’s plan.

Grade-separated transit is the only travel mode that completely avoids traffic congestion, which is why it's the only way to achieve the project's goals of providing fast, frequent and reliable transportation. It therefore is the only mode that allows you to predict your time of arrival. As we like to say here, that’s why they call it a timetable!
Surely the Governor can appreciate that central fact about the City's rail transit plan.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Slow-News Season Prompts Old-News Story

Today’s front-page story in the Advertiser plows the same ground as so many similar stories in the paper that one can’t help but conclude the reporter and perhaps some editors are waging their own war in the news columns.

Start with the headline: “Honolulu officials faulted for rejecting ground-level trains” Who’s doing the faulting? The man who wrote a report supporting at-grade transit, that’s who. Is this surprising? Is this news?

His report has been thoroughly debated and dissected already, yet here comes another story of dubious value dredging up his discredited recommendation. The Advertiser splashed this one-man plan on its front page back on September 13, and shooting holes in it was like picking off ducks in a barrel.

Please refer to the map the paper published that day showing the six turns of close to 90 degrees or more the proposed at-grade route would make around the Civic Center. The very idea that this could possibly represent a rapid-transit alternative is ludicrous.

Where's the News?

All of which makes a reportorial agenda seem plausible. You just don’t manufacture stories based on a flimsy premise that at-grade transit hasn’t been studied since a Walmart and other buildings were constructed along the route. Building a medical school or high rises doesn’t do a thing to change the fundamental weakness of this plan: It’s slow!

Build any part of Honolulu rail at ground level and you don’t have rapid transit. Build it 30 above ground and you do. And when those many new high rises planned for Kakaako are up in the air 300 feet or so, you won’t even see the guideway.

This blogger once reported for the Advertiser when it was under the editorship of George Chaplin, who did not condone news-hole bias by his reporters. Unfortunately, this particular reporter seems determined to continue his style of covering rail, and supporters of the City's transit plan must be prepared for more of the same.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Photo Shows What Rail Commuters Will Avoid

The view heading east this morning on the H-1.
We’ve had a picture posted over in our right-hand margin showing the kind of traffic congestion that frustrates Honolulu commuters all too often. It’s been there for months, so it’s time we updated it....

...from this morning! A seven-car accident on the H-1 produced yet another huge traffic backup -- which prompts us to make the central point about Honolulu’s future rail system:

Rail commuters won’t have to deal with these jams!
Grade-separated transit is the only way to accurately predict your destination arrival time. Nobody driving in from the west side this morning could do that -- not unless they calculated a huge delay because of the accident.

Here’s television coverage of the Mayor’s press conference yesterday with three major announcements on rail. It includes an interview with the man who’s probably most responsible for frustrating Honolulu’s attempts to build a modern transit system over the past two decades -- Cliff Slater. We’re happy to give Mr. Slater some space/time here so visitors to this blog can see that he offers no solutions to traffic -- just more roadblocks.

Grade-separated transit isn’t a “solution” to traffic, because traffic is likely to always be a fact of life. But it is an alternative to the gridlock experienced by commuters this morning. Oahu residents know that central fact, and that’s one reason why a majority of them support the project.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Mayor Says Transit Tax Can’t Be Raided by State; Labor Pact Secured, Another Rail Hurdle Cleared

The latest news about the Honolulu rail project is sure to fire up the opponents and prompt all sorts of vitriol. With Mayor Mufi Hannemann’s announcement today that a Project Labor Agreement with the trade unions has been sealed, the anti-rail crowd must sense that their opposition is being overtaken by events.

Nov. 18 Update: The Honolulu Star-Bulletin sees a more significant development in the Mayor's news conference -- that the signing of a construction contract with Kiewit Pacific for Phase 1 formally encumbers rail transit funds raised by the increased excise tax and protects them from a raid by the State. The Advertiser reporter either missed that critical angle entirely or simply chose to ignore it; either way, readers of his story aren't getting the whole picture.

The newspapers’ online comments sections will be their forum tonight and again tomorrow, and we recommend staying away unless you have time to waste and nothing better to do – in which case, we offer our sympathies. Our views on the Comments section were recorded here a few days ago.

Signing the PLA is significant because it eliminates the potential for strikes and other labor disputes that could interfere with the timely construction of rail. It’s only smart to have that in place, and we can imagine the enthusiasm among trades workers that this project is the way out of their personal economic straits.

The latest news on Hawaii’s tourism industry released just today shows that the stimulus to the economy rail will provide is needed more than ever. Visitor spending is off $1.4 billion in 2009, and the State forecasts a 12.6-percent reduction in visitor spending for the entire year.

All of which will trigger more stories in the Honolulu Advertiser’s news hole about the reduction in rail tax revenues – a fixation with the obvious that borders on strange. It would be refreshing to see stories about what the economic impact will be when rail construction starts early next year.

On the Move

The Mayor’s other announcement today keeps the focus on next steps. A Request for Proposals will be issued tomorrow seeking bids to build Phase 2 of the project from Pearl Highlands to Aloha Stadium. The expectation around City Hall is that the winning bid likely will be lower than originally forecast, which was the case when Kiewit Pacific won the contract to build Phase 1.

Rail is on the move, which has to please the solid majority of Oahu residents who support rail. The others will make their noise, but rail most definitely is on the move.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Searching for ‘News’ in the Rail Tax Stories

Comparing the two daily newspapers’ coverage of the Honolulu rail project is probably a consequence of our former life as a newspaper reporter here. Both editorial pages are solidly supportive, as seen in recent Honolulu Advertiser and Honolulu Star-Bulletin editorials. It’s in the news hole that the coverage seems to differ.

The Advertiser today has a story in its website’s Top Breaking News section (and sure to be highlighted in tomorrow’s print edition) that transit tax collections in October were down from a year earlier. So far, the Bulletin has no similar story, but beyond the play of this particular story today, the Advertiser continues to display what some might call a fixation with rail tax revenues.

The fact that revenues are down year-to-year during the nation’s economic recession isn’t surprising in the least. Someone wrote in the Comments section below the Advertiser’s online story today that the paper’s monthly coverage of the tax revenues has the same predictability about it as the “Hawaiian Airlines Tops On-Time List” stories we see each month.

Viewing with Alarm

Until the economy turns around (which it will; it always has), can’t we safely predict that rail tax revenues any given month will be below those of a year earlier? Almost certainly there will be such an announcement in mid-December, and we’ll be treated to yet another view-with-alarm assessment in the Advertiser. Why “view with alarm?” Because the thrust of these stories suggests an implied concern about a tax “shortfall” that seems out of line with common sense.

As the City has pointed out repeatedly, the rail project’s financial plan is sound. The construction contract for Phase One came in $90 million under budget, and future contracts are just as likely to be favorably below original forecasts. That’s what happens in a recession, and that’s what’s happening elsewhere around the country.

Local economists are predicting a recovery beginning next year, and some anticipate rather robust economic times in the coming decade. The rail project itself will provide a stimulus by employing thousands of local residents and creating taxable profits by the companies involved with rail.

Tax revenues are lower in a recession and Hawaiian Air flies on time -- two rather unremarkable factoids that nevertheless still generate headlines. You be the judge of how newsworthy they are.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Got Time To Waste? Then Spend It in “Comments”

You have to believe self-survival convinced the newspapers to glom onto the idea of allowing readers to post comments below their online stories. Driving up their websites’ visitors count by opening up a free-flowing Comments forum must have seemed like a good idea at the time – prolonging readers’ involvement with the paper long after it had been delivered.

Nice theory, but from what we can tell, the Comments section is ripping at the fabric of society as a refuge for the bigoted, profane and abusive. Drop in and see what we mean. The same people are there each day, hiding behind pseudonyms, of course, hurling thunderbolts and insults at one another. Virtually all posters use a fake name for obvious reasons.

But not everyone there makes abusive comments in the rail debate; those generally come from the anti-rail faction – a minority, we hasten to add, since a majority of Oahu residents voted for rail last year and the recent opinion survey showed that support has increased in the past year.

Voice pro-rail sentiments there and be prepared for an avalanche of invective. And God forbid that you’ve ever been associated with the City administration in any way or identified as a supporter. That’s an automatic disqualification, according to the anti-rail crowd.

One Person, One Vote

If you’ve been visiting this blog, you’ll know we’ve been reporting recently on the public opinion survey conducted a few weeks ago by a respected local polling company. You can read the results below; they show what we call landslide support for the rail project.

Which brings us – finally – to the graphic at the top of this post. Ten thousand jobs per year is a major consequence of building rail. It’s not THE reason to build it; that is and always has been to create an alternative to sitting in traffic congestion – something every great city and urban environment the world over offers its citizens.

The anti-rail people actually see the employment issue as a negative and describe rail transit negatively as a “jobs project.” And so goes the thinking from that crowd.

Spend time in the Comments section if you must – and if you believe in rail as most of Oahu residents do, then drop in some respectful comments of your own to keep the pot stirring. Otherwise, it’s in danger of being one uninterrupted sewer.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Graphics Give Insightful Look at Opinions on Rail

Media silence continues on the City-sponsored public opinion survey on rail. As a former reporter, we don’t subscribe to the popular view that reporters let their personal whims color their reporting on this issue. Of course, that was back in the day, and we have to wonder about some of the coverage rail has received lately.

But enough with analysis of journalism and on with an analysis of the poll. A link to HonoluluTransit.org displays graphics that put the pro-rail sentiment into perspective and cast doubt about the depth of anti-rail sentiment in the community, notwithstanding what’s heard on some local media.

The first graphic is a map showing the percentage of residents in each City Council district who believe rail transit is a good investment for Honolulu:

That’s a remarkable result in light of the negativity that gets so much media attention. Another graphic makes a similar point regarding overall support for the project:

Every district shows majority support for rail, all of which underlies the wisdom of the adage that you can’t believe everything you read in the newspapers – or don’t read, for that matter.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Review: LYNX Is ‘Fast, Comfortable, Affordable’

The dean of Honolulu journalists has spoken. Wayne Harada, albeit technically retired, still writes for the Honolulu Advertiser – and writes and writes and writes. He must be going for the billion-word mark, and he sure does get around.

Today's column is datelined Charlotte, NC, where Wayne has found surprisingly good things – including the city’s light rail system called LYNX. Here’s Wayne’s mini-review:

• Light rail is limited — only 9.6 miles long now, with plans for expansion — but very evident here. I caught a ride the other day; LYNX, as it’s called, is fast, comfortable, affordable ( $1.50 one way), and — take note, Mayor Mufi Hannemann — is spurring development along the route, with condos and businesses in construction even in the soft economy. There are 15 stations, seven park-and-ride-locations — and LYNX serves a corridor from I-485 at South Boulevard to Uptown Charlotte, with Center City in the service zone.

Written like a fan, something Wayne Harada knows a lot about, having covered the Advertiser’s entertainment beat for 44 years. And he has lots of company there in Charlotte.

Chatham Olive, past president of the Sierra Club Charlotte chapter, was in Honolulu for June’s Transit Symposium and sat for an interview. He notes that rail in Charlotte has improved the environment by taking drivers out of their pollution-coughing cars.

That’s something Wayne Harada will appreciate about Honolulu’s rail system when it’s completed within a decade. Keep writing, Wayne.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Poll Parsing: Big Majority Sees Economic Benefit

It’s reassuring to know that the vast majority of our fellow island residents haven't been fooled by the anti-rail rhetoric encountered here and there. That’s one of our conclusions from the recently released public opinion poll conducted by QMark, a respected local survey firm.

The company polled 900 Oahu residents – 100 in each of the nine City Council districts. The sample was derived using QMark’s proprietary Random Digit Dialing software; the margin of error for a sample of 900 respondents is +/- 3.27 percentage points with a 95 percent confidence level.

Here’s why we think our fellow Oahu residents are right on the money: QMark asked respondents if they felt rail transit was a “good investment” in the future of Honolulu. Using a four-point rating scale (4 = very good investment, 1 = very poor), here are the totals:

Whenever a poll returns 69 percent agreement on anything, it’s a landslide, and that’s the percentage of respondents in this scientifically conducted public opinion survey who believe the rail project will be a good investment for Oahu.

The City’s been saying that all along – and it’s especially understandable as Hawaii and the rest of the nation look for ways to get through the economic downturn.

So if you agree with that sentiment, you might take some pleasure in knowing that 7 out of 10 people you see on the street, in the office and everywhere else on Oahu see it that way, too.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Behind Rail Opinion Poll Numbers – Solid Support

The public opinion survey conducted for the City on residents’ attitudes about the Honolulu rail project has received minimal media coverage from what we’ve been able to find – at the bottom of one story on the Mayor’s “State of the Rail” address last week.

Here are some of its highlights based on a scientific survey of 900 Oahu residents by QMark, a respected Honolulu firm; the survey has a margin of error of +/- 3.27 percentage points with a 95 percent confidence level:

A majority (77 percent) of Oahu residents believe the island has a serious traffic congestion problem. Nineteen percent describe traffic as “mild” and two percent say there’s no problem; one percent is unsure. This high level of agreement about the seriousness of the problem was seen in all nine City Council districts, ranging from 73 to 84 percent.

• A two-thirds majority (60 percent) support the Honolulu rail project as it was described to them: “The City & County of Honolulu with approval from the voters of Oahu is moving forward with the development of a 20-mile elevated rail transit line that will connect West Oahu with downtown Honolulu and Ala Moana Center."

A little more than one-third of the respondents – 34 percent – strongly support it and 26 percent somewhat support it. Among the 37 percent who oppose the project, 21 percent strongly oppose and 16 percent somewhat suppose it. Three percent don’t know.

Comparing those who have strong feelings one way or the other, the strongly supportive group is more than half again as large as the strongly opposed group. At least half of the respondents in each City Council district support the project.

Half of the poll’s respondents (49 percent) believe “rail transit is badly needed and is long overdue.” Another 27 percent believe “there is a need for transit but it is not immediate or pressing.” One in five Oahu residents (20 percent) believe “we do not need rail transit on Oahu.”

• Sixty-nine percent of the respondents believe rail transit is a good investment in the future of Honolulu – either very good (36 percent) or somewhat good (33 percent). Of the remainder, 12 percent say rail is a somewhat poor investment while 16 percent believe it is a very poor investment. Three percent are undecided. A solid majority of respondents in all nine City Council district respondents believe rail is a good investment; the lowest percentage among the districts is 60 percent.

• Nearly half (45 percent) of those polled say they expect to use the rail transit system at some point. Among current car commuters during peak morning or afternoon drive times, 42 percent say they’ll use rail once it is completed. Fifty-eight percent of bus riders who commute during those times say they’ll use rail. Combining car and bus commuters, 45 percent believe they’ll use rail at some point.

The Bottom Line: The poll has revealed strong support among Oahu residents for the Honolulu rail project – support that appears to have increased since 53 percent voted in favor of rail in last November’s election.

And Furthermore....
Here's one person's "poll" on Honolulu's plan to build its system elevated and above street congestion....to which we say, amen.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Editorial: Rail's Construction Is Closer than Ever

October has given way to November as seamlessly as ever, and it’s somewhat surprising to see how close we are to Thanksgiving and the holiday season. The best time of the year for many is right around the corner, and for rail enthusiasts, the best of times also are near.

The editorial in today’s Honolulu Advertiser makes somewhat the same point. Assessing where Honolulu’s rail project now stands, the editorial says “the project is closer than ever to becoming a reality” and that the Final Environmental Impact Statement will be issued soon:

“The good news is that by the time the final EIS finds its way to Gov. Linda Lingle's desk, a multitude of state and federal agencies — including the military, the National Park Service and state and federal historic preservation offices — would have already signed off on various components of the document. So there should be no surprises. The governor should be able to promptly accept the document, keeping the project's momentum.”

Completing all required regulatory and administrative steps would please a solid majority of Oahu residents, according to a public opinion poll released last week. Conducted in September by QMark Research, a respected local firm based in Honolulu, the scientific poll found that 60 percent of the 900 respondents either "strongly support" (34 percent) or "somewhat support" (26 percent) the Honolulu rail option as described to them – “a 20-mile elevated rail transit line that will connect West Oahu with downtown Honolulu and Ala Moana Center.”

As QMark notes, support for the project stands at near a two-to-one margin over opposition (37 percent). (The margin of error for a sample of this size is =/- 3.27 percentage points with a 90 percent confidence level.)

After all has been said and done, after the contentious fight over last year's rail vote and after all the debate over elevated and at-grade transit, the public clearly wants this project built as it's current planned.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Beware Monsters of Misinformation at Halloween

It’s wise to watch your step at the end of October. Ghosts and goblins are everywhere, eager to startle and shock you into giving up something of value – usually candy.

These Halloween monsters are harmless, but others out there are intent on scaring you into giving up something more valuable – your common sense. You find them in the Comments forum below many of the online stories in the Honolulu newspapers.

A current example is the Comment section containing reactions to the Mayor’s “State of the Rail” address. They reveal an extraordinary level of misinformation and misunderstanding about the Honolulu rail project.

An Example

Here’s a typical post by a rail opponent, followed by our response:

Rail does NOT benefit everybody for the following reasons:
1) You assume that EVERYONE lives at a TRAIN STATION. How do people take the Train to go to the BEACH, Costco, Sea Life park, etc. You need a CAR or BUS.
2) You assume AGAIN, that people can ride Rail EVERYWHERE. The Rail line DICTATES where you can go. Where you REALLY have to go- the rail DOESN'T.

Response: Both of the writer’s presumed assumptions are false. Nobody at the City has ever suggested rail will go “everywhere” or serve “everyone.” None of the successful rail systems the world over go everywhere and serve everyone. The writer has (intentionally or otherwise) misunderstood rail’s purpose, which is to be part of an overall multi-modal transportation system. Some commuters will ride it 10 or more times a week. Others will never ride it. And that’s OK. To call rail a failure because it won't take every rider to the doorstep of his or her destination – Costco, Sea Life Park or anywhere else – is reaching hard to find a reason to oppose the project.

The writer also has missed the point made repeatedly by the City that rail will benefit everybody by reducing traffic congestion by about 20 percent from what it would grow to without the system.

Ironically, most of the posts beneath the newspapers’ stories validate the need for the City’s rigorous public outreach efforts. Silence in the face of such extreme and misinformed accusations about the project would be exactly the wrong tactic.

Honolulu Mayor Accepts Groundbreaking Delay on Rail Project To Provide for a Complete Review

Mayor Mufi Hannemann at his State of the Rail address.
Mayor Mufi Hannemann’s major rail-oriented address yesterday was a summary of earlier false starts on grade-separated projects here that have given way to the recent four years of progress to finally build a system.

Announcing a willingness to delay groundbreaking “for at least a month” beyond the late-2009 scheduled event, Hannemann said the delay will “allow the appropriate federal, state, and community organizations to cross the T’s and dot the I’s to bring to fruition what House Transportation and Infrastructure Chair, Congress Jim Oberstar, has described as ‘the most exciting transportation project in the nation.’…”

“But while I’m willing to wait to address these environmental matters, the longer we delay, the greater the chance the money will go away. The longer we delay, the greater the economic disarray. I speak, of course, of some in the state Legislature and administration desperately searching for a way out of their budget woes and eyeing our transit tax revenues as an easy take-away.”

Avoiding the Kibosh

Hannemann alluded to a final legal hurdle the project must surmount – acceptance of the Final Environmental Impact Statement by Governor Linda Lingle, as required by law for government-driven projects:

“By rejecting the EIS, the state could put the kibosh on our work and end four years of Herculean effort. Governor Lingle said recently—in reference to the Superferry and other projects—that groups oppose things, but rarely offer alternatives. She said, and I quote, ‘There were consequences for the political leadership here not stepping up and coming out strong and saying, We need this. If there were steps that weren’t followed, let’s get that handled; but we’re for this alternative for our people.’”

As remarkable as it may seem, the Governor could kill the project by drawing an X across it, even after all the T’s and I’s have been crossed and dotted.

Maintaining the Legacy

It’s hard to imagine she’d do that. As things stand now, her legacy would appear to be the state’s relatively recent positioning vis-à-vis agreements and procedures to advance renewable energy development and reduce Hawaii’s crippling dependence on imported oil – something the rail project will help accomplish.

A refusal to accept the FEIS would put a different spin on the Lingle legacy – no doubt about it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mayor Schedules ‘State of the Rail’ Address

As Honolulu’s rail transit project picks up speed and momentum, Mayor Mufi Hannemann has scheduled a “State of the Rail” address to update the public on its progress.

“The Honolulu Rail Transit Project is one of the most significant infrastructure projects in City history and will provide jobs and a boost to the state’s economy,” Hannemann said. “We have achieved several milestones recently, such as entering Preliminary Engineering and awarding the first construction contract.
“Rail transit is becoming a reality, and many more activities will occur soon. My administration is committed to keep the public informed about the Project’s progress, and now is an excellent time to let the public know what to expect in the coming months.”

Hannemann’s address will be given from 1:30-2 pm tomorrow (10/29) at Mission Memorial Auditorium on the Civic Center campus. It will be televised from 6:30 to 7 pm on KGMB-9 and KHNL-8; a rebroadcast is scheduled for 9:30 pm Friday on KFVE-5.

Council Votes Keep Honolulu Rail on Track

If we had a sound capability on Yes2Rail, we’d plug in the pleasing sound of a rail car closing its doors and quietly accelerating down the track. Yesterday’s three votes by the Honolulu City Council moved the project along closer to groundbreaking, which is still scheduled for late this year.

As each one of these necessary steps is successfully achieved, West Oahu commuters are that much nearer to leaving their cars and traffic concerns behind in favor of taking Honolulu’s elevated train to and from work in one of the most scenic places on Earth.

From where we sit, the view both inside and outside City Council chambers looks great!