In Los Angeles, residents appalled by at-grade rail’s poor safety record are fighting tooth and nail to prevent the City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority from building the Crenshaw Boulevard line at-grade, and they’re winning. From the Fix Expo Campaign’s website:
But here in Honolulu, architects in the AIA Hawaii chapter’s Transit Task Force are campaigning for at-grade transit through the heart of town. They want to build the system at ground level in the mix of pedestrians, cars, trucks, taxis, bicycles, motorcycles, skaters, scooters and Segway pilots.
Safety is #1
LA citizens understand the safety issue and Honolulu architects don’t. Anyone who isn't dazzled by the architects’ vision of planning purity can see that at-grade rail systems are more hazardous to the public welfare than grade-separated systems. LA residents want a subway, which they believe is the right kind of grade-separation transit for their community.
For financial and aesthetic reasons, Honolulu intends to achieve grade separation by elevating the rail line. Going underground in Honolulu would be prohibitively expensive, but beyond the cost, it would be unthinkable to build our core transit link underground below one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Doing so would be like draping blankets over paintings in The Louvre.
The architects want you to believe a 30-foot-tall elevated guideway would be an abomination, while 300-foot high-rise buildings aren’t. They’re like stage magicians who attract your attention by waving one hand around so you don’t see the other hand stealthily setting up the trick. “Don’t look at the high-rises we’ve built,” they say. “Just look at this narrow canyon between them and how terrible it would be to put anything in it.”
It’s looks and sounds hypocritical, but whatever it is, they take it even further. The architects insist that the narrow view planes they’re intent on preserving are more important than the poor safety record of at-grade systems compared to grade-separated rail. Without any doubt whatsoever, at-grade rail in Honolulu would result in accidents, injuries and possibly deaths. Why wouldn't it? That's what happens everywhere at-grade is built.
In other words, preserving the makai view down Bishop Street is more important than building an elevated system that is virtually accident-free. They’re trying to convince the public (including the Governor) that building at-grade on Hotel Street through Chinatown’s crowded sidewalks and cross streets is preferable to putting a 30-foot-tall structure in our city.
That’s simply bogus. Citizens concerned about pedestrian safety and surface traffic congestion, which would increase with at-grade rail, must stand up to the building and interior designers who are passing themselves off as transit experts.
More better Honolulu architects use their expertise to integrate our elevated rail system into the urban landscape, including transit-oriented development. That’s something they may understand. Transit – not so much.