Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Transit Goals Include Better Travel Reliability

Accidents tied up H-1 traffic for hours last weekend.
Note on 6/30/2009: Yes2Rail isn't being published for the time being (but that could change) due to limited rewsources and the need to devote them to other projects. Thank you for reading any (and all?) of the 91 posts you see here, starting with our first one a year ago today as this is written. We stand by everything you see -- especially the critical importance to build an elevated system to restore rapid and unimpeded mobility to the citizens of our community. Grade-separated transit is the only mode of transportation that can guarantee a time of arrival. At-grade transit is unacceptable for Honolulu for a host of reasons. If you want to schedule a presentation on those reasons and more, leave your contact information in the Comments section below. Thanks again for reading, and remember to say Yes 2 Rail! ~Aloha, Doug Carlson

Motorists using the H-1 freeway Saturday and Sunday were frustrated by traffic blockages caused by two accidents; together they totaled more than 15 hours of freeway closure.

Unanticipated delays can happen any time when you’re traveling by bus or car, which is why one of the goals of Honolulu’s rail transit project is to improve travel reliability.

As stated in Chapter 1 of the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (page 1-20), the need for transit improvements in the study corridor have produced these project goals:
• Improve corridor mobility.
• Improve corridor travel reliability.
• Improve access to planned development to support City policy to develop a second urban center
• Improve transportation equity.

Honolulu’s future train will ride on an elevated guideway, completely separated from surface traffic conditions. Those who travel across town by train will avoid traffic interruptions on streets and highways – the kind that closed freeway lanes in East and West Oahu last weekend.

One argument supporting travel by rail seems self-evident when you think about it: Grade-separated transit is a reliable way to guarantee a time of arrival, because when transit is above or below ground, it’s completely unaffected by surface congestion that can add many minutes or even hours to your trip.

Accurately predicting your time of arrival at your destination will be routine once Honolulu’s train is up and running – something you can’t do with absolute certainty today.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Honolulu Rail Will Serve 4 Higher Ed Campuses

Chalk up college and university students, faculty and staff among those who will find great convenience in using Honolulu’s future rail transit system. Among the 21 rail stations will be stops serving the University of Hawaii at West Oahu and the Leeward and Honolulu Community Colleges. Hawaii Pacific University will be just a short walk from the downtown Honolulu station.

More than 20,000 members of the college and university communities will have convenient access to the rail system, based on recent figures, and this number is likely to increase significantly. UH-West Oahu alone anticipates an increase in enrollment to 7,600 students by 2015, as well as having 1,000 employees by then.

Students and faculty will be just a small fraction of the potential rail riders in the coming decades. West Oahu expects large population growth due to the availability of new housing opportunities in the leeward plain. Projections show that by 2030, the Ewa area will experience a doubling of its population to 186,000.

Honolulu’s elevated fixed guideway transit system will be a logical choice for many of these residents to commute to work, school, shopping and recreation. Also on the route will be stops serving the Ala Moana and Pearlridge shopping centers and Aloha Stadium.

It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to recognize why Honolulu’s train will be the smart travel option for Oahu’s future college students.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Bottom Line in Energy-Conscious Times: Rail Transit Will Be Greenest Way To Commute

Anybody who reads our sister blog, Hawaii Energy Options, knows about our emphasis on developing our state’s abundant renewable resources. Energy efficiency is the tie that binds that blog and this one, because as we’ve said here more than once, Honolulu’s future train will operate on renewable energy.

There’s an interesting parallel between the transit project’s development and the roll-out of green energy here: As each new segment of rail comes on line, so will greater percentages of renewable energy in meeting Oahu’s electricity demand, including rail.

Eventually, we can anticipate running the project on energy produced by wind, solar, biomass and even ocean energy. Ocean thermal energy conversion will be developed here one day, even though the challenges are large – but so, too, is OTEC’s limitless potential thanks to the abundance of solar energy stored in the ocean that surrounds us. (Patrick Takahashi of Honolulou posts frequently on The Huffington Post about renewable energy, including this post in November on OTEC.)

Environmentalists on Board

The Oahu group of the Sierra Club supports development of a rail system on the island in part because trains are more energy efficient than single-occupant cars and trucks. Trains use 37 percent less energy per passenger mile, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2007 Data Book. Trains are becoming lighter and more fuel efficient, too.

By taking thousands of cars off the road each day, the Honolulu project will also help lessen our local contribution to greenhouse gas emissions from our transportation sector.

The Brookings Institute, a nonprofit public policy group, reported in a 2008 study:

“Many metro areas with small per capita carbon footprints also have sizable rail transit ridership…with carbon footprints ranging from 1.5 to 2.0 tons of carbon per capita – much lower than the average of 2.2 tons for all 100 metro areas."

When our renewable energy industry hits full stride, Honolulu’s train will be running on clean green energy from the sun in one form or another -- reducing the growth in car usage and helping Hawaii realize its renewable energy potential.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Park-and-Ride Lots Will Let Thousands Leave Their Cars Behind for Commute Across Town

Proposed Park-and-Ride lots at UH West Oahu station.

Some rail skeptics over the years have asked how a population totally dependent on the car can be persuaded to use a rail transit system.

Answer: By making it convenient for drivers to access train stations and switch from driving a car to riding as a passenger.

The City’s plans for the Honolulu rail system include four park-and-ride lots – East Kapolei (900 spaces), UH West Oahu (1,000 spaces, shown above), Pearl Highlands (1,600 spaces) and Aloha Stadium (600 spaces).

Rather than drive on congested streets and highways, former car commuters will be able to walk or take a bus to the most convenient rail station for them or drive to one of the four park-and-ride lots. From there, commuting will be far different than before, with time to read a book or newspaper, work on a laptop, enjoy the passing landscape or even sleep.

The system also intends to provide several dedicated kiss-and-ride pullouts – passenger drop off locations where commuters and students can be dropped off for their trip across town.

Time and again, former car commuters have shown a strong preference for rail after a system opens. The Honolulu rail project anticipates much the same reaction by Honolulu commuters; road congestion is expected to be reduced by about 20 percent once the system is fully operational compared to what it would be without rail, thanks in part to the convenience of park-and-ride lots.

You can read all about Honolulu’s future system at the project’s website; the Draft Environmental Impact Statement is found in the Library section.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Trains, Planes, Automobiles and Plenty of Sun; San Diego Invites Comparisons with Hawaii

SAN DIEGO, CA – A short getaway to California’s southern-most city for a battery recharge offers sights not often or never seen back home.

Take last night’s green flash – observable from hundreds of restaurants and other vantage spots along the California coast. You have to be defiant or indifferent to not see the setting sun here, unlike just about all of Oahu east of the Waianae Mountains.

Then there are the clouds, of which there are none. This cloudless weather partially explains why the solar energy industry here seems to be in super expansion mode despite the economy (with 1100 solar installers and contractors in San Diego County alone!).

A Different Kind of Train

Cars are everywhere during commuter drive time, of course, but some workers travel by “commuter rail” – combinations of double-decked passenger cars pulled by robust-looking engines that look like they could take on the Sierras. These trains run at grade and therefore pose a hazard to drivers and pedestrians. The tracks parallel the coast, so their engines have graphics painted on their sides to warn off the surfers who cross the tracks to reach the beach.

Unfortunate encounters with surfers and cars will be impossible once Honolulu’s rail project is up and running. Honolulu’s trains not only will be lighter and of a completely different design but will ride on elevated guideways above the surface traffic. Commuters will be immune to at-grade congestion and potential hazards.

Series of Benchmarks

The rail project has been moving ahead smartly in recent weeks. A Request For Proposals has been issued for a design-build contract for the first 6.5 miles of the elevated guideway between Kapolei and West Loch. Potential vendors have until March 13 to respond on this first segment, which is valued between $550-600 million.

The project’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement comment period closed early this month after several hundred comments were received. They’re now being processed, and all comments will be included in an appendix to the Final EIS that will be released this summer.

The Federal Transit Administration likely will issue a Record of Decision on the project this Fall, which is when a design/build contract is expected to be awarded for the project’s first phase. Groundbreaking is still set for late this year.

As for planes, all those high-rises near the airport were built since the last time we flew into San Diego. We wouldn’t exactly use “cozy” to describe the feeling you get looking up at apartments as your plane touches down….

Monday, February 16, 2009

Reds, Blues, Greens, Yellows – Name a Color, Engineering Display @ Kahala Mall Has ‘em All

The transit booth is overflowing with completed drawings by future train riders.
It’s all about the colors at the Honolulu rail project’s display booth for Engineering Week at the Kahala Mall. The display is a kid magnet, as dozens of keiki pulled up a chair to color a train drawing as it glides along a future fixed guideway.

The Engineering Week display runs through next Saturday, and we have to believe some of these same kids will be dragging parents and grandparents back for more. (There’s no age limit, so those same elders are invited to join the fun.)

In addition to the coloring tables, the booth has a computer-generated flyover of the future train’s route from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Mall Engineers Week Display Includes Transit

If you have a friend in the engineering profession, you’ve probably heard the one about George Washington being America’s first engineer. It’s therefore no coincidence that National Engineers Week is held around his birthday, February 22.

The Hawaii Council of Engineering Societies has scheduled Engineers Week 2009 for February 15-21 and, as in years past, will sponsor an Engineers Week Exhibit at Kahala Mall.

The Honolulu rail project will have a booth in the mall, along with numerous other organizations and companies. The transit display will include information boards and a video of the project's route from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center, and kids will be able to color handouts of train graphics.

Bring your family – and your transit-related questions – to the California Pizza Hut end of the Kahala Mall corridor that terminates at Macy’s Store for Men.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Rail Could Have Been Built 20 Years Ago, but The Good News Is that It’s Happening Now

Honolulu came close to building a fixed guideway transit system nearly two decades ago. But that was then, and this is now – and now is when the economy needs a shot in the arm.

The Honolulu rail project will be the mother of all stimulus packages in Hawaii. Not only will it be the largest civil project in the state’s history, it’ll be happening at a crucially important time in our long-term recovery from the current downturn.

Economics Professor Lawrence Boyd of the University of Hawaii – West Oahu writes in Hawaii Business magazine this month that rail transit can play a significant role in the state’s economic recovery.

He forecasts the direct economic impact of the project’s construction activity at $160 million this year, rising dramatically to $600 million in 2010 and more than $1 billion in 2011.

Combining the direct, indirect and induced economic impacts, Boyd says the project’s total boost to Hawaii's economy will be $307.2 million this year, $1.2 billion in 2010 and $2.1billion in 2011.

The President Again

President Obama had some good things to say yesterday about expanding transit in America. Today, he might as well have been talking about Oahu road commuters when he spoke in Northern Virginia on passage of the federal stimulus package:

"We see the consequences every day in ways that may be less drastic, but are, nonetheless, burdens on local communities and economies -- time with family lost because of longer daily commutes; growth held back by streets that can't handle new business; money wasted on fuel that's burned in worsening traffic. These are problems that the people of Northern Virginia understand acutely."

And so do residents of the President’s home state. We continue to show an October 2008 traffic tie-up on the H-1 freeway in this blog’s left column because it speaks so clearly to Oahu commuters. Each of us has had our cross-town car trips interrupted by accidents, overhead bridge failures, water main breaks, etc.

Honolulu’s rail project will avoid those inevitable delays by separating the commuter from surface traffic. That’s just one of many good reasons to embrace this project – reasons this blog will discuss in depth as we count down the months to the project’s scheduled groundbreaking late this year.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

President’s Town Meeting Today Highlights Importance of Transit Infrastructure Spending

President Obama at his Town Hall meeting today in Florida.

President Barack Obama spoke to an enthusiastic crowd in Ft. Myers, FL today and emphasized why he believes federal spending on transit and other infrastructure projects is important to the nation’s economic health. Here are excerpts.

We have targeted billions of dollars in infrastructure spending, and states all across the country are going through what Florida’s going through.... We get a D for infrastructure all across the country. We saw what happened in Minneapolis where a bridge collapsed and resulted in tragedy. 

Not only do we need to rebuild our roads and our bridges, our ports, our levees, our dams, but we also have to plan for the future. This is the same example of turning crisis into opportunity. This should be a wakeup call for us….

This is America. We always had the best infrastructure. We’ve always been willing to invest in the future…. Transportation, when it is not just fixing our old transportation systems, but it’s also imagining new transportation systems. That’s why I’d like to see high-speed rail where it can be constructed. 

I would like for us to invest in mass transit because potentially that’s energy-efficient. And I think people are a lot more open now to thinking regionally in terms of how we plan our transportation infrastructure. The days when we’re just building sprawl forever — those days are over. I think Republicans, Democrats, everyone recognizes that that’s not a smart way to design communities. So we should be using this money to help spur this kind of innovative thinking when it comes to transportation.

The entire 64-minute appearance is available at C-SPAN.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Honolulu Rail Project Will Break Ground Well Before the NFL Stages Next Pro Bowl Here

Star marks location of Aloha Stadium’s rail station in the “airport” route. 

We’re going to squeeze one more Pro Bowl tie-in with the Honolulu rail project before the football players have flown back to America. As all Hawaii knows by now, we won’t see them here again until 2011 at the earliest.  The NFL has decided to play next year’s Pro Bowl in Miami after a 30-year run at Aloha Stadium. Good luck with that!

The NFL hasn’t said when or if it will bring the game back to Honolulu, but what seems beyond doubt at this point is that construction on our rail project will be well underway the next time the pros kick off here – even if it’s in only two years.

Give it a few more years and Oahu residents will be taking the train to the Pro Bowl, as well as all the other athletic events at Aloha Stadium. The nearby station will make commuting to and from games a snap.

So let the NFL go to Miami next year. We hear the players are already grumbling.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

‘Significant Milestone’ Reached in Honolulu Rail Transit Project as First RFP Is Published

"Transit Ambassador" and Washington Redskins fullback Mike Sellers.

What do Mike Sellers, Clinton Portis, Chris Cooley and Chris Samuels have in common? As any true fan of the National Football League knows, they’re all members of the National Conference roster in this Sunday’s Pro Bowl in Honolulu.

And since they play for the Washington Redskins, they’re also potential emissaries back to the nation’s capital and the Federal Transit Administration with news that Honolulu has issued its first RFP for the rail transit project that is scheduled to break ground late this year.

OK, that’s a stretch, but it’s no exaggeration that “this is a significant milestone and a tremendous step forward,” as Mayor Mufi Hannemann has said. The RFP is for the first segment of the fixed guideway from East Kapolei to Pearl Highlands, about 6.5 miles.

The cost for the design-build contract is estimated at $550 to $600 million, and according to the City’s press release, future contracts will be let for stations to be built along the guideway.

We wish the Redskins and other NFL players good luck and good health in Sunday’s game, and we have one more request for the Washington quartet:

In addition to their Rail Transit Ambassadorial duties, please tell the NFL honchos that next year’s detour of the Pro Bowl game to Miami should be an aberration. Honolulu and the Pro Bowl have gone together like fish and poi since 1980, and not a few players say that's a menu that works every time.

• Tonight's the Night: The deadline to submit comments within the official comment period for the rail system's Draft Environmental Statement is midnight tonight (see post immediately below).

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Public Has Until Midnight Friday to Submit Comments on Rail DEIS To Beat Deadline

Still sitting on your comments to the Honolulu rail transit project’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS)? You can save yourself a trip to the post office or the City’s transit office by submitting your comments using a form at the project’s website.

To be considered part of the official comment process, comments must be sent by midnight, Hawaii Standard Time, on Friday, February 6. Just to be sure the deadline is well understood, that’s 2400 hours on the 24-hour military clock on 6 February.

There’s still time to mail your comments to the Department of Transportation Services, City and County of Honolulu, 650 South King Street, 3rd Floor, Honolulu, HI 96813. Just be sure your letter is postmarked on Friday.

Even though the official DEIS comment period ends this week, citizens will be able to submit comments just as they always could prior to the DEIS process. Just use the form on the project website.

For links to the individual chapters of the document, see Yes 2 Rail’s December 4th post.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Navy Weekly Covers DEIS Comment Period

All residents on Oahu have four more days during which they can 
submit comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Honolulu rail project. 

The Hawaii Navy News makes that point clear for naval personnel stationed here in an article in its current edition. The piece has information on how military personnel can submit comments by end of business on Friday, February 6.

The City Council’s selection of the airport route for the system last week was made too late to be mentioned in the article. The DEIS discusses three “build” alternatives, including the airport route, as well as a “no build” alternative.

Additional information on submitting comments can be found at the rail project’s website.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

More Editorial Support for Rail’s Airport Route

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin today endorsed the shift of the Honolulu rail transit system’s route to connect with Honolulu International Airport.

Citing increased ridership and less land acquisition needed compared to the Salt Lake routing the Council OK’d two years ago, the paper doesn’t mention the “common sense” angle favored by many local residents who say they’ll leave the car at home and ride the train to the airport when traveling off-island.

Final Week for Comments

The comment period on the system’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement ends Friday, February 6. The window was lengthened a whole month to give residents maximum opportunity to have their say on the document.

Our December 4th post has links to the DEIS’s chapters and information on how to submit comments.