Sunday, September 13, 2009

What Every Consumer Asks When Making a Purchase: ‘Will It Do What I Need It To Do?’

That’s the question savvy buyers ask either consciously or intuitively about what they buy. If it won’t get the job done, we’ll take a pass.

A family of five might like some of the features of a snazzy two-seater that can fit into almost any nook or cranny of a parking space, but will it do what the family needs doing? Of course not.

That’s what also must be asked of the allegedly “cheaper rail plan” displayed on page one of today’s Honolulu Advertiser – especially since rail transit will be the biggest purchase ever in the islands. (This graphic shows a segment of the proposed new route, in red; the City's intended route is blue. Note the six turns of close to 90 degrees or more in the new idea.)

Fast, Frequent and Reliable

Honolulu residents are like that family of five. Our collective need for transit requires it to be a fast, frequent and reliable alternative to sitting in traffic for 100,000 or more riders each day.

(9/14 UPDATE: For a second opinion, visit this site.)

Our rail transit train must travel the 20 miles between East Kapolei and Ala Moana Center at relatively high speeds – 55 mph or more between stations. It must do so frequently, with only 3 minutes or even less time between trains during rush hour. And it must make its fast and frequent runs reliably on time, every time.

Despite the alleged advantages of the new proposal, it would be about as useful to Honolulu commuters as a Smart Car is to a family of five. Putting any portion of the system at street level would destroy all three of our requirements.

It wouldn’t be a fast way to commute; one glance at the above map with its right-angle turns and dozens of streets, lanes and roads crossing the at-grade route makes that clear enough. This photograph from Phoenix illustrates the traffic mix issue.

It wouldn’t be as frequent as above-grade trains; with drivers at the controls (unlike a fully automated elevated system), trains would require much greater intervals between them.

And since at-grade trains would share streets with pedestrians, cars and trucks, it would not be reliable due to the inevitable accidents that occur just about everywhere at-grade systems operate.

That’s Not All

Because at-grade trains must be shorter than the shortest city block (about 170 feet in Chinatown) to avoid blocking intersections, they could be only half as long as elevated trains, which means each train would carry fewer passengers.

Finally, the new study’s claim that at-grade rail would be cheaper also is suspect. Consider what would happen to property along Dillingham Boulevard, for example, if tracks were to run at street level rather than overhead as currently planned.

Dillingham is a major east-west thoroughfare through urban Honolulu, so that last thing you’d want to do is increase vehicle congestion by eliminating lanes to accommodate rail. The only way to retain the same number of lanes would be to widen the Dillingham corridor – i.e., carve out more lanes from the adjacent properties.

This new plan – apparently the work of one “railway system designer and consultant” in New Jersey – truly is an eleventh-hour idea that is coming in close to midnight. Groundbreaking could happen in three months on our system, which has been planned, vetted and polished by hundreds of professionals here and elsewhere.

Whatever you buy today, consciously ask yourself, “Is this what I need to get the job done?” If you can ask that for yourself and your family, we all can do the same for the biggest purchase we’ve ever made.

“Will this new proposal do the job Honolulu needs doing – move tens of thousands of our collective family quickly, efficiently, frequently and reliably across town?”

If the answer is no, we definitely need to take a pass.


Anonymous said...

The question is not complete. Include COST as one of the qualifications. No one has ever calculated a clear cost of operation for this system (including interest payments and energy consumption) and then shown the cost per rider using three different ridership assumptions (low, medium, high). Then the cost figure has to be coupled with what can you charge to show net gain or loss for the service provider.
As a property taxpayer my taxes should go to provide services from the city and those services should not include transit services. Fund bus and rail subsidies from other sources of revenue like bus and rail fares that are cost based.

Doug Carlson said...

Do you advocate not funding education with taxes as well -- maybe just slap a user fee on school clothing and books? We're well beyond your argument, so the question is whether to build a system that will be fast, frequent and reliable. The cost of NOT doing that will be even greater than the price tag for Honolulu rail.

Anonymous said...

Kamahameha Schools has a point to lower the cost. We also should look at the problem of a rail yard. That could be moved closer to town by having it at Mapunapuna. It has one main owner to deal with and a new property in the new city could be used to shift jobs to that center.The Damon Estate owns that sight and eminent domain would be used. A swap of land and money for the property with zoning for a new business area in Kapolei where the train was supposed to park until the second portion to town was built. Not really parked, but it goes nowhere to alleviate any traffic. 1 billion savings and moving a business center could be a big improvement. Lowering the rail to use the old railroad right of ways through Pearl City might save another big chunk of cash.

Doug Carlson said...

Some questions for you, Anonymous: "Where have you been, and what's been holding you back all these months -- no, years?" The plan that's about to be implemented was developed in an exhaustive process that is far different from your ad hoc Mapunapuna proposal.