Friday, January 22, 2010

City’s News Conference, continued: AIA’s Transit Experience Lacking; Lingle Should Accept FEIS; At-Grade Safety Much Worse than Elevated Rail

Last evening’s post focused on the remarks of APTA President William Millar at yesterday afternoon’s City Hall news conference. Today we continue with the comments of Department of Transportation Director Wayne Yoshioka as he addressed comments earlier in the week by architects about their proposed at-grade rail system for Honolulu.

Yoshioka focused on the thoroughness of the environmental process. As we noted last evening, he began by noting his frustration with the attention the architects’ have attracted (all his comments are recorded quotes or have been edited slightly to delete non-essential phrases):

"The frustration that I have is that, while I have great respect for architects…., we have a group of architects that clearly are not transit professionals, did not ever build a transit system, and here is our project led by our Chief of Rapid Transit Toru Hayamasu who’s been in this business for over 30 years, and we have a line of exceptional professionals who have tremendous years of experience in transit. These are the experts, and yet, we have a forum (Monday’s hearing) and much ado about this forum with a small group of architects who have no transit experience whatsoever. And it seems people are giving credence to an 'alternative' brought up by this group of architects who have no transit experience.

Transit Qualifications

“My primary frustration is an ‘alternative’ raised by an inexperienced group of individuals. They may be great architects and great professionals, and I’m sure they are, but they are not transit experts. On the other hand, we have years of experience and five years of intense effort on this project, detailed design, detailed analysis against a guy named Phil Craig who says he knows what he’s talking about because he has walked the corridor. He’s been here a couple times…. What we really have to focus on here is that we have to put our faith in the fact that the effort has been put forth by the City with a very professional team, thorough analysis, very very thorough results, and we’re that close to getting this thing done. We’re going to see this process through. I know that people keep asking us when the Final EIS is going to come out. It’ll come out when the FTA tells us it’s ready to come out, because we’re not going to short-change the environmental process. We’re going to address the issues as we go through them, and we will come out with a solid Final Environmental Impact statement.

Environmental Process

“We’re very close, and I think we can get there in the near future. When that comes out, we really sincerely hope the Governor will be expeditious in reviewing it and accepting it. This is not an ‘approval’ process. All she has to do is accept this thing as a valid environmental document, and we believe this is a valid environmental document. So again, we encourage the process to move along. We will not short-change the environmental process, and we believe we’ve done all the work necessary. We don’t need to rehash this. Alternatives were looked at in the Alternatives Analysis. Let’s move on and let’s get this thing done.”

City Managing Director Kirk Caldwell also addressed the environmental process after Yoshioka’s comments:

“We cannot allow this small group of architects to come forward and throw out an ‘alternative’ that’s no alternative whatsoever and that was looked at and voted on, and we moved forward. One thing we’ve requested of the Governor is that politics not come into this. We’re walking up the steps to Washington Place (the Governor’s residence). We have the FEIS in its final stages. We will answer every last question raised by any agency that asks it. The Mayor has instructed us to leave no question unanswered and cut no corners. If it takes a little longer, it takes a little longer.

“But we do hope that when we get to the stop of the stairs and knock on the door of Washington Place and we deliver the FEIS as approved by the FTA to her, that politics will not be part of this and that she will look at it in the same way that any FEIS should be looked at. That’s not going backward to the first step and asking should there be another alternative. That is not what is supposed to occur in this review, and we hope that she’s perhaps learned this lesson after the failure of the Superferry and the fact that no EIS was done.…. We see our kids furloughed. We don’t want to see rail furloughed. It is our best hope for true job creation. We’ve heard the Governor say in her State of the State that the focus is going to be job creation. We heard her yesterday on many of your channels saying she’s looking to the State Legislature for ideas on how to create jobs. This is that idea! It is the best idea. It is truly the only idea that will create jobs now. And so let’s go forward. Let’s get the FEIS done, and let’s get the Governor to then accept it."

Reporter’s question: “There were two safety-related issues that the AIA raised…. One, there’s an absence (in the City’s plans) of screen doors at the stations… And on a per-mile basis (inaudible but related to accident rate comparison of at-grade vs elevated transit).”

Yoshioka: “Let’s go back logically and look at this. You’re elevated. You’re totally separated from the roadway. You’re in a protected environment and completely separated out…. What cars are flying at that level above the ground? And what people are flying through the air at that level above the ground? As opposed to an at-grade transit that’s crossing active streets with active vehicles turning in front of the train, with pedestrians crossing in front of the train. That (comparison) doesn’t seem to make logical sense to me.

“Platform screen doors are a possibility. Right now, I think the station designs have not shown it, but that’s always a potential, and I think that will go along with the further design of the stations. The stations have not gone through final design yet, so that’s an issue that can be addressed during final design of the stations.”

APTA President William Millar: “As far as a claim someone might make that a sealed corridor (grade-separated transit) is less safe than an at-grade system, experience does not show that. Certainly the best safety records in rail transportation are either when you have a complete subway or complete elevated system. That is the safest kind of system to have. The at-grade street crossings, as we’re learning, automobile drivers for whatever reason in many cities try to race the train to the intersection or something, and they lose! And so again, statistics are clear. Houston may be the poster child for this, but you can go to Los Angeles, you can go to many other communities and find the same set of problems. So I don’t understand the factual basis for a question like that. It’s certainly not in my experience."

Reporter’s question: “Any concern about the Governor planning to hold more hearings when the FEIS comes out?”

Managing Director Caldwell: “We’ve heard mention that perhaps they would hearings, also that the City Council has talked about holding hearings. Our position is that we’re not opposed to them. We do believe that, while it’s not part of the process and there’s no requirement of Chapter 343 of Hawaii Revised Statutes and under the federal due process to hold such hearings, if they wanted to hold hearings we’d be participants in them. But we don’t believe that those hearings should be a reason to hold up approval of the FEIS. If they want to expeditiously hold hearings and have received comments that are directed specifically at the FEIS and not revisiting issues that were heard in 2005, that is something that we’d participate in at the table and cooperate and share this information that you hear today.”

'Positive' News Challenged

Although the Honolulu Star-Bulletin prominently displayed a story on Tuesday that the Governor is “not sold on elevated project,” the paper did not send a reporter to this news conference. The Honolulu Advertiser’s reporter asked the safety-related questions, above, and nothing else. Honolulu’s four network-affiliated television stations sent three news crews among them, but only two of them aired coverage of the news conference at 6 pm. The others waited until their 10 pm newscasts, having missed the higher-rated 6 pm shows.

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