Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Charlotte Rail Foretells Honolulu Rail’s Success

You have to admire the rock-ribbed doggedness of rail transit's most intransigent opponents here. They bought into the 20th Century supremacy of the private automobile in their youth and continue their love affair with a technology that has big negatives along with its benefits.

Urban sprawl is one of those downsides. The Sierra Club’s policy on a national level is summarized on its website: “It’s time to break America’s oil addiction.” The private automobile is the in-your-face reminder of that addiction, and transit systems are a strategy to begin the withdrawal. The Sierra Club is a strong transit advocate, both nationally and on Oahu.

Charlotte, NC is well along its path toward transit-oriented wellness, as told in this Grist piece that describes Charlotte’s environs as “car-loving NASCAR country, a vast suburbia of cul-de-sacs and strip malls. Yet its new light rail line is a national model for success, outstripping ridership projections and inspiring millions of dollars in high-density development.”

It’s a good read, and because so much planning has gone into Honolulu’s rail project, it likely predicts success for our city, whose long-and-lean geography is perfectly suited for a rail line that will serve neighborhoods throughout its 20-mile route.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Divining Future Rail Use in a Bucket of Shrimp

Lennie Carlson photo
Don’t get us wrong. We still believe Honolulu’s rail system will be mostly a commuter system, with riders traveling from Point A to Point B in the morning and back to Point A at the end of the day.

But a bucket of shrimp got us thinking yesterday. Far as we know, the only place to buy shrimp by the bucket on Oahu is Ala Moana Center, the eastern terminal of Honolulu rail.

We imagined how a family of four living on the ewa plain might hanker for a shrimp fest on a weekend in the 2020s – mom, dad, and their two children – and how they’d satisfy that appetite without burning a couple gallons of $8/gallon gasoline (yes, it’s that expensive).

All four catch the train each weekday morning at the East Kapolei station after a short bus ride from their neighborhood. Each has a monthly transit pass and shows it to the driver, but they simply board the train after a short wait without going through a turnstile or showing it to anyone.
The father commutes to his business near Honolulu International Airport (train travel time to the airport station, 26 minutes); mom works downtown (38 minutes); the college sophomore in the family attends UH Manoa and the younger sibling goes to a private school in town. They both get off the train at Ala Moana (after 42 minutes) and catch buses to their schools.

That’s their weekday routine, and come Sunday and their sudden craving for a shrimp lunch, nobody thinks twice about driving. The train is part of their lives, and they often use it for high school and UH football games at Aloha Stadium, only 21 minutes from the East Kapolei station.

So bagging three buckets of shrimp on an early Sunday afternoon is just another reason to ride the train. They drive to the station and park in the lot next door. Once aboard, they divvy up the Sunday paper, and everybody finishes it by the time they arrive at Ala Moana station in 42 minutes.
And so it goes for this fictional family from the ewa plain. But taking Honolulu rail is no longer fiction or a dream for them. It’s an every-day happening for thousands of Oahu residents who live along the system’s 20-mile route, some of them in the new transit-oriented developments that have sprung up in the corridor.

After decades of planning for Honolulu rail, a bucket of shrimp will be just a train ride away for hundreds of thousands of residents who choose to ride.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Visitor Industry Rebounds; Rail Revenue, Too

Visitor arrivals and spending jumped in May compared to the same month last year – 6.5 percent and 17.4 percent respectively, signifying a strong start to Hawaii’s peak summer travel season.

That’s the word today from the Hawaii Tourism Authority, and that’s good news for the Honolulu rail project’s tax collections, which already are at 99.6 percent of the original GET projections despite the economy’s downturn in the waning years of the past decade.

Dollars spent by visitors and local residents alike on Oahu contribute to the rail project’s local share due to the one-half of one-percent general excise tax. So welcome to Hawaii, visitors. Without realizing it, you’re contributing to a better life for future generations of Oahu residents.

Another Rail Contract Comes In below Budget

Figure 2-38 in FEIS shows MSF's conceptual layout.
Honolulu rail’s maintenance and storage facility (MSF) will be designed and built by a joint venture of Kiewit/Kobayashi at a cost of $195 million, or about $60 million below the budgeted amount.

Mayor Mufi Hannemann made the announcement yesterday and said the City so far has awarded rail contracts that are $150 million less than budgeted for the project.

In October, the City announced that Kiewit’s winning bid of $483 million to build a 6.5-mile link from East Kapolei to Pearl Highlands was $90 million less than the original estimate.

Said Hannemann yesterday: “I am hopeful this trend will continue and we could see additional savings this year for the Kamehameha Highway construction contract for the elevated guideway.”

Environmental Features

The MSF will consist of four buildings located on 43 acres next to Leeward Community College and Waipahu High School and will incorporate numerous sustainability features, including photovoltaic panels on roofs to generate electricity; vegetated roofs to help cool portions of the buildings; recycled materials; natural lighting and ventilation in buildings, and water-efficient landscaping.

The project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement says in section 4.17.2 (page 4-199) that the MSF will be designed to achieve Silver certification in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program:

“This involves the incorporation of proven sustainable materials, methods, and technologies into its facility design to increase life-cycle value, including reduction of energy and resource use, and to enhance the health and comfort of employees and visitors."

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Honolulu Rail To Serve Local Residents First

Civil Beat continues to attract attention as a non-traditional web-based news-gathering enterprise that encourages readers to comment on the site’s articles and on other readers’ comments.

The number of stories and comments on Honolulu rail has declined since Civil Beat’s launch two months ago, but there are still enough comments in the discussion area below the rail stories to prompt some attention here at Yes2Rail.

A rail skeptic wrote yesterday: “Maybe a monorail from the airport to Waikiki is all we really need?” This person isn’t the only rail opponent who faults the project's Phase One plan for not going all the way into Waikiki. They seem to think rail’s primary purpose will be to serve tourists traveling to and from Honolulu International Airport.

Filling the Need

That’s not the project’s purpose. Honolulu rail will complement existing transportation modes in the east-west corridor between the Second City on the ewa plain and town. The current lack of a grade-separated transit option leaves commuters – local tax-paying residents – with no alternative but to battle traffic on the H-1 freeway and surface roads.

One-way trips by car for many commuters can take as much as 90 minutes today and will worsen; rail travel time from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center will be 42 minutes. When time and cost savings are compared to commuting by car, Honolulu rail is expected to attract 116,000 riders each day by 2030.

The follow-on Phase Two for Honolulu rail conceivably could extend the line into Waikiki, but that issue will be left to future City Councils and Administrations. The current project is designed to serve Oahu residents primarily for decades far into the 21st Century.
We love our tourists, but they’re not the main reason to build this system.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

As Rail FEIS Awaits Final OK, Anti-Rail Faction Continues Attacks with Unsupportable Claims

One of the recent claims – or maybe “ongoing claims” is a better description – by some rail opponents is that the City has inaccurately characterized Honolulu rail. A leading rail opponent who has filled that role for at least two decades recently posted comments in the subscriber-only section of Civil Beat, the new online subscription news service in Honolulu.

His comment at Civil Beat states: “Finally the City admits that rail will do nothing for traffic congestion….” He then quotes a letter contained in the Final Environmental Impact Statement to him from Department of transportation Services Director Wayne Yoshioka:

“You are correct in pointing out that traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than what it is today without rail, and that is supported by the data included in the Final EIS.”

We’re likely to read and hear a lot more about this in the months ahead, so let’s dwell on the issue. The rail opponent treats Yoshioka’s statement as a revelation and suggests with his use of “finally” that he has somehow extracted the truth from a reluctant City official.

Attacking the “Straw Man”

This is typical of the anti-rail faction’s tactics over the years – attributing a dubious position to rail supporters, then attacking it.

The City has never in this writer’s experience suggested that traffic congestion will be reduced from current levels by building rail. What the City has said – and what opponents can’t or refuse to hear with precision – is that congestion will be reduced from what it would grow to if rail were not built.

With Oahu’s population expected to grow 200,000 between 2005 and 2030, how could congestion not increase? Rail will moderate the amount of the increase by eliminating approximately 40,000 daily vehicle trips.

Pave Paradise?

Some in the anti-rail faction suggest congestion could be reduced by building more freeways and increasing the number of highway lanes and ribbons of concrete on the island. They say toll roads might reduce congestion in their lanes with variable pricing; charge enough for access to those roads and most people won’t enter, so the theory goes.

The FEIS addresses all alternatives to rail transit and dismisses each of them for a variety of reasons – not the least of which is the project’s goal of achieving transportation equity for all, including the elderly and low-income populations.

Rail will provide an alternative to an ongoing dependency on the private automobile, ownership of which is beyond the reach of many in the community. It therefore also will be an alternative to the inevitable congestion that will exist on our island as families have children who get married and have children and others move to Oahu from elsewhere.

Let’s be clear: Without rail, traffic congestion would be worse in the east-west commuting corridor than it will be with rail in place and transporting more than 100,000 passengers a day. That's what the City has said.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

‘Ride’ Honolulu’s Future Train at Kahala Mall

It costs nothing to "ride" Honolulu's virtual train.
It won’t be up and running in any segment for two or three years, but shoppers at Kahala Mall in East Honolulu can take a virtual train ride this weekend thanks to some electronic magic.

Also, simply filling out a short questionnaire about the rail project will net each adult who does so a nice tote bag in any color they want – as long as it’s red, blue or green.

Speaking of green, that’s what traveling by rail will be. The train will be powered by electricity, so as increasing amounts of renewable energy connect with the electric grid as the years roll by, the system will operate increasingly on clean energy.

Eventually, when Oahu replaces petroleum fuel with wind, ocean, solar and trash power to generate all its electricity, Honolulu's train will be the greenest ride on the island, producing no carbon emissions and no pollution.

Now, that's progressive – and tell 'em Yes2Rail sent you!
Honolulu rail's display is near Kahala Mall's Apple Store.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Honolulu Rail Transit’s FEIS Posted Online

The Final Environmental Impact Statement is now available online for everyone to read at two locations at a minimum – the City’s Honolulu Transit website and at Civil Beat. (At the City site, scroll down with the tiny scroll bar to the right of the Final EIS announcement.)

A thorough reading probably would eliminate all of the “what’s with this” questions and statements about the project in the comments section beneath the Star-Advertiser’s rail stories. Virtually every question that could be asked about rail is answered in the FEIS.

As Civil Beat notes, “Maybe you’ll read the thing word-for-word, maybe you won’t. Either way, here it is, in its massive searchable entirety.”

Yes2Rail will be focusing on sections of the document in the weeks ahead to highlight key project attributes that we think will interest our visitors. So have at it!

You're invited to continue reading here at Yes2Rail -- especially the "Beat Goes On" post immediately below. A thorough understanding of how the Star-Advertiser covers Honolulu rail will help you evaluate its future stories on this project.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The ‘Beat’ Goes On: Star-Advertiser Headline, Story Inaccurately Highlight Rail Routing Costs

Let’s go first to a fact buried in the seventh paragraph of today’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser rail story. That paragraph reports a statement by City Transportation Director Wayne Yoshioka about the cost of adjusting the route’s alignment near Honolulu International Airport. Here’s paragraph seven (emphasis added):

“City Transportation Director Wayne Yoshioka said yesterday that the estimates given in the April 7 memo are outdated and have since been cut by more than half. The added cost of altering the airport route is now estimated to be $29 million, Yoshioka said.”

A $36 Million Error

Back at the top of the story, the Star-Advertiser’s six-column headline on page B-1 reads: $65M to shift rail route The story begins:

“Diverting Honolulu’s planned elevated commuter rail line to avoid interfering with air traffic at Honolulu Airport could cost the city $65 million."

Despite the story's reporting that the City’s transportation director said the $65 million estimate to adjust the alignment is outdated and was cut by more than half to $29 million, the reporter, editors and headline writer(s) highlighted the outdated estimate in the headline and story lead.

We wondered for more than a week about the new Star-Advertiser's rail coverage and whether “view with alarm” journalism would be a newsroom holdover from the now-defunct Honolulu Advertiser. Now we know: The beat goes on.

Elsewhere in the Paper....
The Star-Advertiser's editorial page continues support for the rail project that was consistently delivered by both the Advertiser and Star-Bulletin. Today's "Don't stall review of rail" editorial urges the Governor to not conduct a financial review of the project, since such a review already has been conducted by the approving agency for rail's Final Environmental Impact Statement, the Federal Transit Administration. The editorial concludes:
"It's long past time to move beyond that point. A study dealing with a project this massive should be combed and discussed, but that discussion should stick to the issues that are still relevant, rather than going over old ground again."

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Honolulu FEIS Acceptance -- the Rest of the Story

The news media can be super discriminating in selecting quotes for their newspapers and newscasts, so you undoubtedly missed virtually all of yesterday’s announcement that the Federal Transit Administration has accepted the Honolulu rail project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement. Here are the parts of Mayor Mufi Hannemann's announcement that you probably didn't see or hear:

I’m joined today by many of you who have been working very hard the past five years to bring to pass a dream that we have been pursuing as a city for over 40 years. And today’s announcement is simply this:

I’m happy to report that the Federal Transit Administration has said our Final Environmental Impact Statement is ready to go to Governor Lingle for her acceptance! What this FEIS does in effect is, they’re saying that the studies that we have been doing, the research that we have been engaged in, the public meetings, the public input, all of that has reached this point that they’re saying, the community, the economic, the social impact and benefits of rail are good to go in the Final Environmental Impact Statement. (Mayor Hannemann is shown with City Council Chair Todd Apo.)

We delivered this copy today to the Office of Environmental Quality Control, OEQC, and we hope that the Governor will take into account all the work that’s been done in bringing the FEIS to the state of Hawaii and ask her, implore her, to do what’s right for the people of Oahu.

…given her financial concerns that she has with this project, all we’re saying is, Governor, do what you have to do, but please keep in mind this has been vetted and scrutinized and it’s gone through several financial reviews by the Federal Transit Administration. Our own Hawaii Business Roundtable…local business leaders have looked at the financial plan for the rail transit project, so we basically have the monies, good to go, but most importantly, our people need jobs!

People on the West Side of Oahu need traffic relief, and I can’t wait for transit-oriented development to kick in, when we’ll be able to have beautiful revitalized communities around train stations that will bring in housing, commercial, retail, bike paths, open spaces, parks, all the things that we want to see in our communities from West Oahu to McCully, Moiliili eventually, all these things are important.

But the critical first step is that we send this document over to the Governor for her timely acceptance. So do what you must, Madame Governor, but at the end of the day, please do what is right for the people of the state of Hawaii, not just the City and County of Honolulu….

And last but not least, I need to thank the public. I need to thank all of you who are gathered here today, from the youth to my left, to the adults to my right, to the keikis in front of me, to the seniors, this is a great day. You have made it possible. They tell me in Washington it normally takes a city 14 years to get to where we are today, 14 years. We did it in 5! We kept the dream alive!

…let (the Governor) know, the economy needs revitalization, we need rail on Oahu, we need livable communities, and we need to do what is right, and this is the right thing to do to change the landscape of Oahu for the better, to make sure that people today and tomorrow will be able to say when they look back, Mahalo those of you from 2005 to 2010 for staying the course, ‘cause you made Hawaii, you made Oahu a better place to live, work and raise our families! Thank you, everybody for being here today. Imua! Go Rail Go!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Honolulu Rail Passes Significant Milestone: FTA Sends FEIS to Governor for Review; Acceptance Would Clear Way To Hire Thousands on Project

Mayor Mufi Hannemann holds a copy of the rail project's Final Environmental Impact Statement that has been delivered to the State. City Council Chair Todd Apo looks on.
Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann today said the Federal Transit Administration has accepted Honolulu rail’s Final Environmental Impact Statement and has submitted it to Governor Linda Lingle for her review.

Environmental law requires this review and acceptance by the Governor before the FTA can issue a Record of Decision, which will clear the way for groundbreaking and the eventual employment of thousands of Honolulu citizens to build the system.

Speaking to a crowd gathered before the City Hall’s steps at 5 pm, Hannemann said the FTA’s action concludes the EIS process, which began years ago. The FEIS contains comments from hundreds of individuals and organization that were submitted in response to the release of the Draft EIS in November 2008. The FEIS includes all of those comments and responses from the project.

Hannemann said the FTA action is a crucial step on the way to final action on the rail project, which will benefit Oahu residents for generation to come. His statement read:

I am so very proud to be a part of this historic day in Honolulu. With the release of the rail transit Final EIS, we are poised to move forward with rail transit, create jobs and deliver long-term traffic relief to commuters and businesses between West Oahu and town. The document is the result of five years of public input, in-depth consultations with stakeholders and meticulous technical research. With such a thorough planning process, we are confident the document accurately indentifies environmental, community and economic benefits and impacts of the rail system and proposed solutions.”

Now What?

The laws that require environmental impact statements are pretty clear on what the next steps should be. With the FTA’s transmittal of the FEIS to the State, the document is now formally on the way to the Governor’s desk.

Under the law, the Governor must evaluate the completeness and adequacy of the FEIS insofar as environmental, historic and cultural issues are concerned. Hannemann said in remarks published over the weekend that he believes rail will be stalled until a new governor is in office.

"With rail, it is not a question of if, it is a question of when. I am convinced Gov. Lingle will not move rail beyond her desk as long as she is there; it is one of the motivating factors why I feel I have to run for governor."
But the Mayor set aside those concerns today and called on the Governor to accept the FEIS:
“Do what you must, Madame Governor, but at the end of the day, please do what is right for the people of the state of Hawaii, not just the City and County of Honolulu.”
Hannemann meets with reporters following his announcement.
Hannemann passed around the Mahalos:
“I want to thank our Congressional delegation – Senator Inouye, Senator Akaka, Congresswoman Hirano and yes, even ex-Congressman Neil Abercrombie (his opponent in the gubernatorial race). Strong federal support is on its way because of their leadership. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank our local-boy president, President Barack Obama, and the Federal Transit Administration and the Department of Transportation and the federal government for their cooperation and support to put forward what Congressman Jim Oberstar has said (is) the best transit project in America!”

So there it is, the culmination of a long process to bring the Honolulu rail project to this point, with even more yet to be accomplished – if not this month or next, presumably by December. We'll post links to an online version of the FEIS soon. Here’s a sampling of media coverage of today’s event as of this evening:
Pacific Business News
Hawaii News Now
Associated Press (in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser).

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Zeroing In on the Whole Point of Building Rail

Couldn’t help but shake my head on Monday when the first thing I read in the first edition of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser – the very first thing! – was a mistake.

A “Coming up” blurb at the top of B1 noted my upcoming rail presentation to a local group and called me “the mayor’s spokesman for the Honolulu Rail Transit Project.”

For the record, that’s not me. That’s Bill Brennan or Wayne Yoshioka or somebody else, but it’s not me. I’m a communications subcontractor to Parsons Brinckerhoff; I write this blog, schedule and deliver presentations on the project among other things. This is worth mentioning here since the Star-Tiser hasn’t printed my correction, and I don’t want any misunderstandings.

Speaking of that, “misunderstand” is what numerous critics do when they talk about rail. They continue to not understand the project's purpose and need. That’ll be one of the subjects of my upcoming talk, and it’s worth mentioning at Yes2Rail today, too.

In a nutshell, the Honolulu rail project’s purpose is to provide high-capacity and fast transit service between Kapolei and town and do it more reliably than buses can deliver in mixed-flow traffic. It will restore mobility for the population, including limited-income and elderly residents living in the transit corridor, by being an alternative to private automobile travel; in so doing, it will provide transportation equity for all travelers. Rail will moderate the anticipated growth of traffic congestion in the corridor and be a means for users to completely avoid that congestion. It will allow riders to predict their time of arrival when they start their trip. Finally, transit-oriented development will be a rational process to guide the community’s future growth.

Keep this in mind when someone suggests managed lanes or elevated busways could meet the community’s transportation purpose and need. Only fast, frequent, safe and reliable grade-separated rail can do that.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

And Now There’s One Pro-Rail Newspaper

Home of the Advertiser -- the "News Building" no more.
Call it an old habit, but we’ve always made a point of noting that June 6 has special meaning -- just like December 7. In 1944, June 6 was D-Day, when Allied powers stormed ashore in Normandy to begin the end of the Third Reich.

June 6, 2010 is a kind of D-Day in Honolulu. After 154 years of publication, The Honolulu Advertiser is now Dead, to put it bluntly, taken over by the smaller Honolulu Star-Bulletin. The survivor of the takeover starting tomorrow will be called The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, as we predicted it would be when news of the deal first broke months ago.

Something else we noted on February 26 was what everybody has been saying for months: Honolulu has long benefited from being a two-newspaper town. The Honolulu rail project – which is the subject of this blog – has seemed like two different enterprises, judging from the two newspapers’ coverage.

We won’t review those differences today; you’re invited to read that February 26 post and its links to several others where we’ve written about the disparity in how the newspapers' news columns have assessed the same set of facts.

On this they agreed, however: They both have supported Honolulu rail editorially for reasons detailed time and again. The Bulletin’s October 26, 2009 editorial was typical, and more recently, the Advertiser on May 20 urged all parties to cooperate and finish the job.

The Advertiser will be missed for many reasons, as will many of its journalists who aren't joining the new paper. Here at Yes2Rail, we’ll miss the Advertiser's strong pro-rail editorial position. We look forward to reading the Star-Advertiser and anticipate that it will continue expressing the same positive views about the Honolulu rail project in the tradition of its two predecessors.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Rail No Afterthought at Friday's Clean Energy Day

What would Hawaii’s Second Annual Clean Energy Day be without the presence of Honolulu rail, which will remove tens of thousands of cars from the streets and highways once it’s built?

Less than complete – that’s what it would be, so the City will have a display at the event tomorrow, 1 – 6 pm at the Laniakea (Richards Street) YWCA in Honolulu.

There's no way to ignore the contribution Honolulu rail will make to the island’s sustainability. The current estimate is that 100,000 or more daily passengers will ride rather than drive 30,000 or more cars.

The public is invited to “come and participate in vigorous discussion on the next steps Hawaii needs to take to achieve our clean energy objectives!” We’ll be there, too, answering rail questions during the Pau Hana Power Party, 4-6 pm. Look us up!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Summer Driving Tip: Don’t Run Red Lights!

Red-light running can have severe consequences, so as the summer months begin, let’s all vow to obey traffic signals. Thankfully, no one was injured Sunday when a motorist in North San Jose, CA allegedly ran red and smashed into the middle of a Valley Transportation Authority’s at-grade train. The most serious repercussion was inconvenience and delay for transit riders who had to abandon their trains and were bused around the crash site.

This safety tip is brought to you by the Honolulu rail project, with a reminder that Honolulu’s system will be elevated and completely immune to surface congestion and cross-street traffic.