Thursday, January 14, 2010

The View from Elsewhere: 'Transport Politic’ Says Honolulu Rail Must Be Elevated To Be Successful

It’s easy to get caught up in trench warfare here with the minority anti-rail faction. Just try dipping into the Comments sections of the newspapers’ online stories, editorials and commentaries on the Honolulu rail project.

That’s why it’s more than a little refreshing to lift one’s gaze above the trench line and read what others have to say about our local skirmish. The Transport Politic does that in a January 11 online commentary by Yonah Freemark, an independent transportation researcher.

Freemark’s column is another must-view (see yesterday’s recommendation to watch a Phoenix TV station’s video on the city’s at-grade accident rate). Here are a few excerpts:

Governor Lingle, who supported the project earlier in her career, is now making the rail line a political issue.

• Despite falling tax revenue, the city has not had to adjust the project’s size significantly because of lower-than-expected construction contract costs.

• The Mayor’s ambition for a rail line whose first phase would go into service in 2012 seems likely to be fulfilled, unless Ms. Lingle is able to raise enough concern at the FTA to put a halt to plans. For the sake of the mobility of Honolulu’s population, one hopes that she fails.

• The FTA has gotten better in recent years in getting transit project costs under control, and the Honolulu line does have more than $1 billion in contingencies built in already. The Governor’s support of a light rail alternative over the elevated heavy rail line planned would result in a far less-used project that would do far less to affect the island’s commuting patterns.

• Honolulu has an almost ideal population distribution for a major grade-separated transit line.

• It would be very difficult to either expand the (H1) or add bus rapid transit lanes because of the built-up nature of the areas around the road. The rail line would follow that linear density.

• The street-running system promoted by the AIA would eliminate most of the time-saving advantages of the train.

Light rail operating in the street, even with its own right-of-way, would be far slower; for example, the 20-mile Phoenix light rail system takes 1h05 to complete its journey, versus the 42 minutes projected for Honolulu’s slightly longer line.

• The fact that Honolulu’s population is heavily concentrated in single corridor that is expected to have 760,000 residents and 500,000 jobs by 2030 can’t hurt (ridership). Fourteen miles of planned extensions into Waikiki and to the University of Hawaii-Manoa will make the project all the more valuable.

Honolulu’s uniquely linear development will make its rail line useful for a huge percentage of commutes, especially because trains will be substantially faster than automobiles following similar paths on congested roadways.

• But those speeds will be only possible with a completely grade-separated line. Mayor Hannemann has to ensure that his vision of a truly rapid transit line is realized.

• (Honolulu’s rail line) will offer far more benefits to the daily lives of (Oahu residents) than the at-grade light rail project Governor Lingle is now advocating, which will attract far fewer passengers because of its slower speeds. One hopes her objections are simply a distraction before construction begins.

And there’s more to make reading the entire column worthwhile.


SCHILTEC said...

I challenge the statement that 'at grade Light Rail is slow'.
21st century Waverail Light Rail has a 39km/h point-to-point speed (htt:// When combined with the many hop-on hop-off accessible stations it is competitive even with motor traffic. Besides that it is much cheaper & more user friendly than elevated ... and no eye sore.

Doug Carlson said...

Not as fast as elevated rail, I'm sure you will agree. And not as reliable nor as safe.

Beauty and eye sores are in the eye of the beholder. We live quite nicely with elevated highways over our streets and avenues. We put up with over transmission lines, and we sure have learned to live with 300-foot high-rises that block ocean views completely in many parts of Honolulu. The advantages inherent in accepting elevated rail in our community far outweigh the negative.