Tuesday, September 29, 2009

City Report Says Rail’s Tax Revenue Sufficient; Collections for FY ’09 $12 Million Above Forecast

This should put to rest the hand wringing in some circles about whether general excise tax collections will be sufficient to fund the local portion of the Honolulu rail transit project.

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headlines trumpeted the alleged shortfall, the May report on which those headlines and finger wagging were based was outdated.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:

• Forecasts for GET surcharge revenues are approximately $200 million higher through Fiscal Year 2023. This projection takes into account the actual GET surcharge received in Fiscal Year 2009 was $12 million higher than the most recent estimate, along with assumed annual growth rates.
• Federal Funds through the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) will be sufficient for capital and financing costs not covered by GET surcharge revenues.

Not even included in those key findings are two other important issues -- the Council on Revenues’ projection for robust growth for the next six years, and the bids the City has received for project work that are 10 to 25 percent lower than forecast.

So what’s the lesson learned here for the average news consumer? It could be this:

Be wary of dire predictions about the rail project – especially when the source of all the Sturm und Drang is likely a rail opponent whose pessimism is channeled by an over-eager journalist.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Editorial: “Let’s Move On and Make Rail Happen”

The editorial in today’s Honolulu Advertiser has landed on the community’s collective doorstep at exactly the right time. “Thanks for sharing, but no thanks” it says to those who want to make a major change in the Honolulu rail system.

Their eleventh-hour suggestion that some or all of the project should be built at ground level – right down there in the mix of cars, trucks, buses and pedestrians – has failure written all over it.

As the newspaper rightly observes, an at-grade system would not be fast, would not be as frequent and would not be as reliable and therefore not as attractive to commuters as a system built entirely above the city’s streets. We've made the same arguments here for months. The editorial concludes:

“The city has done its homework, and the will to proceed is there at last. Let’s not waste time and precious dollars with this political paralysis. The decision is made, and it’s high time for the follow-through. Let’s move on and make rail happen for Honolulu.”

Keep reading below for some graphic illustrations of what’s been happening with the new at-grade system in Phoenix, AZ. A Phoenix television station carried an extensive video report on a recent crash that sent three people, including two train passengers, to the hospital.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Among At-Grade’s Negatives, Part 2: Accidents

Inattention aftermath in Phoenix, AZ
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.

The Phoenix media are keeping tabs, and you can experience many of the crashes thanks to on-train video that captures what happens all too often on the streets of Arizona’s biggest city. One recent crash in Phoenix delayed service for eight hours (here's another link to that crash.) Accidents that don't even involve a train can slow service. (These YouTube screen captures show the moment just prior to impact.)

The safety comparisons of at-grade and elevated rail are obvious. Whereas the Phoenix system averaged an accident once every six days during its first three months of operation, elevated systems have no cross streets to contend with. That translates to delays at-grade, no delays elevated.

Fast, Frequent and Reliable service is what Honolulu needs and what Honolulu’s elevated train system will deliver. We can’t accept anything less.

If you want more visual evidence of at-grade collisions, YouTube offers quite a collection.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Among At-Grade’s Negatives: Vehicle Lane Loss

Houston's at-grade train
At-grade rail advocates continue to shop their eleventh-hour proposal around town, so we’ll continue pointing out what they don’t.

The above photo from Houston, TX shows what happens when you drop train tracks into an existing city street. In short, you replace traffic lanes.

Maybe that works in Houston’s wide-open spaces, but as Honolulu residents know, our city is tightly compressed between mountains and the ocean. We simply can’t eliminate lanes that currently service cars, buses and trucks when we build our rail system.

The only way to retain the same number of lanes when at-grade tracks are added to a street is to widen it – i.e., take property on both sides. That’s also unacceptable in Our Honolulu.

The City’s plan to build an elevated train system is solid for all the reasons we've repeatedly mentioned here. The photo makes one of those points perfectly.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Jogging & Keeping Pace with an At-Grade Train

Sacramento's light rail train
We’ve done some up-close-and-personal observing of why Kamehameha School’s proposal for an at-grade transit system through much of its route would not deliver fast, frequent and reliable mobility to riders.

We’re in Sacramento for a couple days and watched a light rail train make its way through downtown Sacramento yesterday. The photo shows a train turning from the K Street Mall onto 12th Street about a block from State Capitol Park.

The train’s speed – that’s not the right word; “rate of advancement” is more like it – was about as fast as a slow-to-moderate marathon runner. In other words, you could jog as fast as the train moved.

Once you see what at-grade delivers, it’s nothing short of shocking that the New Jersey consultant’s at-grade plan is being shopped all over town. It’s a recipe for failure to meet Honolulu’s needs, because it wouldn’t be fast, wouldn’t be frequent, and because accidents are virtually inevitable when transit trains are in the vehicle mix, it wouldn’t be as reliable as an elevated system.

KS’s proposal doesn’t meet the common-sense test. Next time you’re in a city with at-grade transit, do some up-close-and-personal observing of your own. Jog along with the train; observe it stopping for cross streets; listen as it rings its bell incessantly as it approaches intersections; watch as it stops at the light for traffic.

Then ask yourself: With all the twists and turns in the proposed at-grade plan, how in the world could it possibly benefit Honolulu?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Which One Gives You the Best Performance — a Well-Rehearsed Orchestra or a One-Man Band?

If you’re like most of us, you’ll put your money on the orchestra. It has a support structure, a musical director, a conductor and dozens of professional musicians all focused on giving the audience the product of their collective experience.

The one-man band? Not so much.

That’s the contrast we see between the City’s plan to build a fast, frequent and reliable elevated rail transit system through Honolulu and the plan Kamehameha Schools is touting.

As we said a couple days ago and on many other occasions, the City’s project has been planned, vetted and polished by hundreds of professionals. KS’s plan was written by one consultant in New Jersey.

Some people are attracted to solo performances, and you can find a few of them tapping their toes to the Johnny-One-Note rhythm: “It’s cheaper…, it’s cheaper…, it’s cheaper….” But KS’s at-grade proposal wouldn’t be as fast, wouldn’t carry as many commuters and wouldn’t arrive as reliably on time nor as frequently as the City’s well-conceived system. In other words, it wouldn't do what needs doing.

An orchestras and a one-man band may both fit the narrow definition of a music-making "organization," but the comparisons stop there. One grabs your attention with a lot of cymbal work and makes a stab at playing several instruments at once. The orchestra delivers the complete package.

As the City nears groundbreaking on its rail system, we simply can't afford distractions by a cacophony of false notes.

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.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

More Evidence of What Riding Rail Will Avoid

An editor once told us to use words like we spend dollars – sparingly. That time-saving advice is handy on football Saturday, so check out these photographs of the traffic nightmare future Honolulu train commuters will bypass.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

If Pictures = Lots of Words, Check Out This One

This graphic shows the expected result after the Honolulu rail system is built between East Kapolei and Ala Moana Center.

Each 300-passenger train will carry the same number of commuters as 200-plus private cars.

The resulting shift from car to rail is expected to reduce surface congestion by about 20 percent within two decades compared to what traffic would be if rail weren’t up and running, which is what it's scheduled to be doing 10 years from now.

The project is expected to reduce vehicle miles traveled in 2030 by about 4 percent, with a corresponding 4-percent reduction in pollutants emitted by vehicles not driven thanks to the system.

The bottom line on Honolulu's rail transit project: It will be Fast, Frequent and Reliable -- which is what you get when you build it as currently planned on an elevated guideway above all surface congestion.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Flurry of Stories Keeps Rail Project in the News

From Kaiaulu `O Kaka`ako Master Planxxxx
Elevated rail line runs mauka of the planned development's buildings.
We’re playing catch-up with the news generated about rail and traffic over the past couple days. An interest in renewable energy technology took us to Waikiki and the Asia-Pacific Clean Energy Summit & Expo yesterday to see how ocean power one day will be used to power Honolulu’s train. (So will wind, solar and other forms of clean energy.)

We’ll quickly dispense with the Wednesday column that continued to beat on an alleged GET collection shortfall on the project. The “shortfall comparisons” focus on current GET collections (unsurprisingly below the project’s 16-year trend line) and ignore the anticipated above-the-trend-line collections after the recovery. The project’s financial plan (also unsurprisingly) looks at the whole picture, a normal practice in responsible planning.

Worsening Congestion

But that was yesterday’s news. Today, the Advertiser reports on a study by TRIP, a national transportation research group, that includes this observation:

“Traffic congestion in Hawai`i’s largest urban areas is likely to worsen significantly unless the state is able to improve its transportation system.”

Improving urban transportation is what the City’s rail project will do, of course. Commuters today have no alternative to sitting in congestion during peak travel hours – a condition that can mean near or complete gridlock as shown in the photograph in the margin, above right.

Kakaako Development

The Advertiser’s lead story covers the Hawaii Community Development Authority’s approval of a large residential and commercial redevelopment of the Kakaako district.

The elevated rail line will run along Halekauwila Street on the mauka border of the redevelopment project and above the surface street congestion anticipated by the TRIP report in years ahead.

The Kakaako station “will help create dense pockets of potential transit commuters,” the report says.