Thursday, December 2, 2010

Don’t Let Them Tell You Angelenos Won’t Ride Rail

LA's Exposition rail line construction (NY Times photo)
Honolulu anti-railers have made Los Angeles their car-loving poster child city. The place couldn’t survive without the private automobile, they insist, and LA's development in the decades after World War II made their case. The entire region became dependent on the car, and the calculated dismantling of Los Angeles’s existing rail system helped the process.

By extension, they insist the same thing about Honolulu’s future rail system. “Oahu residents will never give up their cars,” they say, but that attitude doesn’t synch with 21st century realities. Says one rail advocate:

“There’s a whole new type of Angeleno who has no cultural opposition to riding. The whole old-school L.A. thinking that people don’t ride subways, that’s a thing of the past.”

Los Angeles is well along in developing its rail transit system, as detailed in a recent New York Times article that contains the above quote. Traffic congestion has made urban living almost unbearable for vast numbers of Southern California residents.

Traffic Freedom

The same is true on Oahu, and congestion will only get worse with population growth on an island with no room for new highways. Honolulu rail will attract riders for the same reasons Angelenos start using the city’s new subways and other rail lines, such as the planned Exposition Light Rail line – freedom from traffic congestion.

“The science of public transit is not too complicated,” says Robert B. Cervero, director of the University of California Transportation Center in Berkeley, as quoted in the Times article.

“It comes down to how time-competitive transit is with the private car. If it takes two or three times longer to get from Point A to Point B by transit, the vast majority of folks will drive. If it’s faster going by bus or train, then most will forsake their car and ride transit.”

Anti-railers argue that multiple tasks during the day (dropping clothes at the cleaner, kids at school, etc.) will keep commuters in their cars, and that’s surely true for some of them. But many others will rethink their car use once they grasp that Honolulu’s grade-separated rail system offers congestion-free travel. Honolulu rail will be superior to driving for both cost and convenience, the two primary reasons drivers become riders.

Like Angelenos who adopt rail transit for their commute, kama`aina will do the same.

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