Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Earth Day Countdown—Honolulu’s Last Before Rail

On the first Earth Day in 1970, the idea of building a rail transit system that would give commuters an alternative to driving through an increasingly crowded Honolulu was shared by only a few far-sighted government leaders and transit officials.

By Earth Day 11 in 1980, Mayor Frank Fasi was pushing hard to build Honolulu Area Rapid Transit, but HART never got off the ground thanks to his surprising re-election defeat by Eileen Anderson, who promptly killed the project.

Ten years later on Earth Day 21, “Fearless Frank” was back at it again, and this time the effort to build an elevated fixed guideway between Leeward Community College and the University of Hawaii’s Manoa Campus was stronger than ever. It was derailed at the last minute by a switched vote on the City Council that denied an increase in the general excise tax that would have financed rail’s “local share.”

Nothing much was happening with rail transit on Earth Day in 2000, but 10 years later, Thursday April 22 should be the last Earth Day of Honolulu’s “pre-rail transit” history – at least since its streetcar era. If events unfold as expected, construction will have begun by Earth Day 2011 on Honolulu's 20-mile rail system, which will be one of the city’s most significant sustainability projects ever.

The Green Machine

The rail system’s name hasn’t been chosen, and The Green Machine isn’t a strong candidate, but why not call it that? Honolulu rail will be bright green by taking tens of thousands of cars off the road, eliminating all of their mobile pollution.

But what about pollution at the power plants to generate the trains’ electricity? There will be less of that, too, over the years as Hawaii continues its renewable energy revolution.

Honolulu rail will be a generations-long operation, and the goal of the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative less than a generation from now is for the state to get 70 percent of its electricity from clean sources, as shown in this chart:

That means Honolulu rail will be running on higher and higher percentages of electricity generated by wind, solar, refuse, biofuel and ocean power. This is the future the vast majority of Hawaii citizens and Americans want – reduced carbon emissions and lower dependence on foreign sources of energy.

The private automobile is still indispensable for most of us, but once rail is up and running, it will seem less so for a significant segment of our population. Transit-oriented development will become the logical way of community growth, with less sprawl driven by a 20th Century fascination with the car. That’s one reason why the national Sierra Club backs rail transit so strongly.

Earth Day 2010 is a good day to focus on Honolulu’s progress toward achieving its decades-long goal of creating fast, frequent, safe, reliable and energy-saving rail transit. More important is the need to recommit to that goal and do what it takes in the coming year to make Earth Day 2011 a day of celebration around Honolulu rail.

No comments: