Thursday, September 30, 2010

Voters To Decide on Transit Authority Creation

Voters will be asked a question on the November ballot that will determine the future governance of the Honolulu rail project. Last December, the City Council voted 8-0 to place a proposed City Charter amendment on the ballot. It reads:

“Shall the revised City Charter be amended to create a semi-autonomous public transit authority responsible for the planning, construction, operation, maintenance, and expansion of the City’s fixed guideway mass transit system?”

Currently, the City’s Department of Transportation Services (DTS) oversees all aspects of the rail project, as well as roads, traffic signals, parking facilities, TheBus and other responsibilities. The transit authority’s single focus would be the rail system; it would deal only with ensuring the system’s success by operating it efficiently and building ridership. Its mission would include promoting, creating and assisting transit-oriented development projects that promote development around the rail stations and along the route.

The authority’s policy-making board would include three appointees selected by the mayor; three selected by the City Council; two ex-officio voting members (the state director of transportation and the city’s director of transportation services; one ex-officio non-voting member (the director of the department of planning and permitting); and a tenth member selected by majority vote of the six appointed and two-ex-officio voting members.

Any use of city funds by the authority would require the approval of the City Council, and property acquisitions to support the system would have to be submitted to the city Council for review and approval.

Public hearings would be required before setting rates and adopting a budget. The authority would have to comply with federal Department of Transportation and Federal Transit Administration requirements and deadlines, and it would be subject to audits by the city administration and the City Council.

We’ll continue to examine the ballot question in the weeks leading up to the General Election.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Inquiring Minds Want To Know about Rail System

We love to receive comments below Yes2Rail posts; they show somebody’s reading this stuff. The best ones illuminate the issues, like the one below Saturday’s post.

“Anonymous” agreed with our conclusion that anti-railers are way over the edge in exaggerating the alleged difficulties in using multi-modal transportation – i.e., connecting to Honolulu rail with short bus trips at the end of the rail segments. He/she wrote that improved bus service, not reduced, will help make rail a success.

Other questions have shown up at Civil Beat, the online subscription news outlet here. Here are a few with answers (with typos and grammar cleaned up):

1. Will I be able to take my bicycle on the rail?
A: Yes, and surfers will travel with their boards, too.

2. I keep hearing this “rail is fast” argument. The last time I saw there were 33 (or something) proposed stops on a 20-mile stretch of track. That works out to about 1 stop every ¾ of a mile. From riding the bus, I know EVERY STOP is used. How is that going to be faster than the bus? (The writer then lists time calculations with estimates for how long the trains will stop in the stations – up to one minute, he says – that are far too long.)
A: There are 21 stations on the 20-mile route, so the maximum number of stops on any trip would be 20. Based on the operations of rail systems around the world, the “dwell time” – the period trains are stopped in the stations – will be much closer to 15 seconds or less. Trains will travel 55 mph or more between stations, so the end-to-end trip will take 42 minutes, including station dwell times. Bus travel even with express buses over a comparable length takes longer due to the inevitability of mixing buses in with other traffic.

3. What are the hours of operation?
A: The system will operate 20 hours each day – 4 am to midnight. Train frequency during morning and afternoon rush hours will be 3 minutes. Between 9 am and 3 pm trains will arrive every 6 minutes, and the interval from 8 pm to midnight will be 10 minutes.

4. Will I be able to bring luggage or multiple shopping bags on it?
A: Yes. The route includes a station at Honolulu International Airport and stations near the Pearlridge and Ala Moana shopping centers and other commerce. Luggage and shopping bags will be allowed.

5. Are there bathrooms? And will they be open the entire time the rail operates? Or will people be peeing over the side of the elevated platforms?
A: We assume the questioner knows the answers – at least, to the last one. The current plan is to have controlled-access at the stations – i.e., a station attendant with a key. Transit systems around the nation advise against having constant and uncontrolled bathroom access, since experience shows it fosters unsavory consequences. There will be no bathrooms on the trains, just as TheBus has no such facility. Train trips will be even faster than bus travel over similar lengths, and bus passengers have learned to schedule their bathroom breaks to account for their travel time.

6. How much will the ticket cost to ride? Is that for the bus and rail, or do I need a separate bus pass?
A: The bus fare of the future will determine the cost to ride the train. Only one ticket or pass will be used; what you pay or use to take a bus to the rail station will also cover the cost of the train trip and a possible bus connection at the end of the rail segment.

7. How many wheelchairs will fit in each train car?
A: Each vehicle will have space for baggage and at least two wheelchairs, four small-to-medium sized surfboards and three bicycles. Per requirements, "special attention shall be given to provision of adequate wheelchair turning space for access to these spaces."

8. If an emergency stop is required or happens (immediate, can’t make it to the station), is there a walkway along the side of the rail tracks? Can a wheelchair fit? How are people evacuated?
A: Quoting from the rail Final Environmental Impact Statement (Section 2.5.2): “With a (prolonged) outage, the operations center will direct passengers to exit the trains via a lighted emergency walkway to the nearest station. For those unable to exit rail cars, help will be provided by emergency responders and transit staff.”

9. If an emergency stop is required, is there any way to get the car out of the way? Air lifted out? Towed out?
A: The system is designed to allow a stalled vehicle to be towed out of the way so other trains can continue their operations.

The questioner had other questions but added “that’s enough for now.” We’re pleased to see questions on rail and will do our part in answering them – and amplifying on our answers, if necessary – when they’re asked.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Oahu Citizens Want To Save Time/Money, Too

It’s been a week since Honolulu rail won a decisive victory at the polls, but that hasn’t stopped the anti-railers from continuing to question just about everything about rail – from its value in reducing street congestion to its ridership estimates.

A common theme is their incredulity that Oahu residents will actually use rail. We’re so attached to our cars, their reasoning goes, that the thought of people walking, driving or taking TheBus to and from train stations is beyond their comprehension.

Here’s a typical post at Civil Beat's rail discussion page (available I think only to the online news site’s subscribers):

“Would Kaimuki-based employees honestly give up their cars and use the Rail? Anyone at CivilBeat HQ (in Kaimuki) wanna chime in on that one? How do you feel about coming in from Kapolei to Ala Moana on Rail, waiting around for a Bus, and then walking a big – versus jumping into your car and going point-to-point? Be honest with yourselves. At what point are everyday people with disposable incomes willing to give up the convenience of their cars for Rail?”

Let’s Consider That

Putting aside for the moment the obvious fact that commuters do this all over the world in big cities and small (New York and Charlotte, for example), why wouldn’t Oahu commuters want to do the same if their circumstances were helped by multi-modal transportation?

Note the qualifier – “if their circumstances.” Not everyone will use transit, and we can’t say it often enough. People living in Hawaii Kai on Oahu’s east end or in Kaimuki itself obviously won’t fit the anti-railer’s scenario. But we can imagine someone living in Mililani or Kapolei with an office in Kaimuki doing exactly what the skeptic described.

Let’s say the Kapolei resdident even works at Civil Beat and commutes with his or her laptop computer, intending to arrive around 8 am. The 42-minute ride from Kapolei to Ala Moana could be spent reading on-line or in-hand media, writing an article, telephoning, emailing or just thinking about what the day ahead will bring. All of that could continue on the 15-minute bus ride from Ala Moana to Kaimuki.

Compare that to either having to leave before 5:30 am to beat the traffic on the H-1 freeway or sitting in traffic congestion for at least an hour during the height of drive time. According to this website, the average per-mile cost to drive a car is $0.96. Let’s throw out the accident cost and assume it’s surely offset by the higher cost of gasoline in Hawaii.

A rough calculation by Google.maps for the distance between Kapolei and Kaimuki says it’s a 50.2-mile round trip, which according to the above website’s formula means the per-day cost to commute by car on this route would be $48.19.

That is a considerable expense! Consider then that a commuter who uses TheBus and Honolulu rail for that commute would pay one fare each way – whatever TheBus’s fare is. There will be no additional cost to transfer between TheBus and train.

Saving $200 per Week

It’s hard to imagine why a commuter who needs to travel only between point A to point B in the morning and back again in the afternoon wouldn’t seriously consider using multi-modal transportation. The savings would be impressive – obviously.

But let’s consider another snippet from the anti-railer’s quote – “people with disposable incomes.” He’s clearly oblivious to one of the rail’s goals – to provide transportation equity to all people, including the low-income, elderly, car-less and handicapped. He’s probably right that many well-to-do people will want to continue driving their cars, but it’s also not hard to imagine even the wealthy giving serious consideration to using transit if it would save them more than $10,000 per year.

We’ll say it yet again: Rail won’t be for everybody, but it will provide safe, fast, frequent, time-saving and cost-effective travel through the urban corridor for anyone whose circumstances make rail a good choice. And it will be a choice. Enough Oahu residents will make it for Honolulu rail to be a success.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Transit Ridership Shows Gains Across Nation

The nation’s improving economy was reflected in increased transit ridership in the second quarter, according to figures released this week by the American Public Transit Association (APTA). More than 2.5 billion trips were taken on public transportation, up 0.1 percent over the same quarter in 2009.

The up-tick reverses a trend of five consecutive quarters in ridership reductions as high unemployment took its toll on public transit, along with the rest of the economy.

APTA President William Miller noted that nearly 60 percent of the transit trips were for commuting to and from work, which is what Yes2Rail believes Honolulu rail will be primarily – a way for commuters to travel traffic-free between home, work and school.

Of course, many of us will use rail for mid-day trips or evening travel – to the station near Aloha Stadium, for example. Would anyone like to argue that taking the train to the stadium will be less desirable than driving?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Can You Do Entirely Without Your Car Today? Join Others around Planet for 'World Carfree Day'

Quite a number of Oahu residents will get along just fine today without using a car. Many of them don’t own one, or if they do, they’ll either use transit or their own two feet to reach their destinations.

Still others are hospitalized, are invalids or otherwise won’t have access to the “indispensable” private automobile. I have no idea what those numbers are, and if you know, leave a comment at the bottom of this post.

But here’s a guess about the future: Once Honolulu rail is completely built out along its 20-mile route, many many more Oahu residents won’t reach for the car keys to get to work, attend school, go to the movies, shop at a mall or any number of other activities. They’ll use the train.

Here’s what the World Carfree Network says about today:

“Every September 22, people from around the world get together in the streets, intersections, and neighbourhood (sic) blocks to remind the world that we don’t have to accept our car-dominated society.”

Who knew?

The site continues: “When people get out of their cars, they should stay out of their cars. It is up to us, it is up to our cities, and our governments to help create permanent change to benefit pedestrians, cyclists, and other people who do not drive cars.”

The World Carfee Network wants “city planners and politicians to give priority to cycling, walking and public transport, instead of the automobile.” We’re trying, folks, we’re trying. Honolulu rail will be one such project to reduce our collective dependence on the car.

There doesn’t seem to be a Honolulu event listed on the World Carfree Day website, but organizations in other cities across the United States have taken the pledge.

We can imagine the day a few years from now when September 22 will be celebrated as a day to eschew the private car here, too.

But getting used to living a quality life without our current near-total dependence on the car could take some getting used to. Maybe we should try working up to it every September 22nd during the decade.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Let’s Hear It for the Future – a ‘Smart’ One

We’re now in the home stretch of 2010’s political season. As usual, we’ve heard variations on one familiar theme time and again: “This election is about our young people and their future!”

OK, let’s look at what young people are telling us about their preferred future. What do they want?
2 pm Update: Senator Dan Inouye announces $38 million for Hawaii transportation projects, including Honolulu rail.
Under a headline “Generation Y Giving Cars a Pass,” the Kiplinger service says the youngest generation of adults is “more apt to ride mass transit to work and use car sharing services…for longer trips….”

“This generation focuses its buying on computers, BlackBerrys, music and software and views commuting a few hours by car a huge productivity waste when they can work using PDAs while taking the bus and train,” says a Gen Y watcher. That's exactly what some young adults told the City Council at a July hearing on rail's Final Environmental Impact Statement.

Don’t Forget Health

Back in July, we looked at how residents of Charlotte, NC are improving their health by riding the city’s new rail transit system, and we also posted that month about other positive news that connects transit to better health. Now comes a new study by the American Lung Association of California (ALAC) that predicts reduced asthma attacks and fewer premature deaths if “smart growth” becomes a guiding development principle in the state.

The California Air Resources Board is expected to adopt new regional carbon pollution reduction targets this week that would encourage more walkable neighborhoods and transportation options that reduce congestion and cut consumer costs – options like rail.

“If doctors and other health experts designed our cities, they would look quite different than the sprawling communities we see today,” said an ALAC board member. They’d look like what Honolulu’s transit-oriented development process will produce around the rail stations of our future.

It’s Called Smart

Staying with California, a bellwether state if there ever was one, planning to achieve smart growth there predicts massive reductions in household and infrastructure costs, building and transportation energy use, water use, greenhouse gas emissions and land consumption.

But what about here at home? The Hawaii Chapter of the American Planning Association produced an issue paper on TOD about three years ago. Some of the issues have changed or have become clarified in the intervening years, and certainly some of the personnel have changed. But this paper is worth perusing for how it identifies opportunities for smart growth on Oahu.

The national Sierra Club organization has backed public transit options for years, and the local chapter backs Honolulu rail. “Oahu residents have become overly dependent on private automobiles, and this dependence has devastating effects: reliance on fossil fuels, pollution and global warming, traffic congestion and the resulting loss of productivity, consumption of more land for roadways and parking, and negative impacts on public health and community life.”

A person could get winded saying all that with one breath, but there’s no doubting the policy statement’s accuracy. Gen Y members are telling us they don’t want those effects and are showing us what they do want with their daily choices on how to travel and where to live.

Rail complements that future. TOD complements rail. Together they’ll provide a rational way to accommodate Honolulu’s growth – not only for the next generation but also for that follow in the 21st century.

Monday, September 20, 2010

So How Did Other Anti-Railers Do in Election?

We’ve noted earlier today that the chief anti-rail candidate didn’t attract even 20 percent of the vote in Saturday’s special election. Media guy Howard Dicus has called it a referendum in favor of rail.

So what about the other anti-rail candidates – the ones running for City Council seats? Ever ready to support almost anything but the Honolulu rail project, Cliff Slater posted the names of his presumably endorsed Council candidates three days before the election on his pro-car, anti-rail website.

How’d They Fare?

Not well at all, according to official election results. Here’s a breakdown of the vote percentages the anti-rail candidates received in the three contested Council districts:

District 2: One anti-rail candidate received 9 percent.
District 4: Two anti-rail candidates received 10.4 percent and 0.9 percent respectively.
District 6: Three anti-rail candidates received 7.9 percent, 2.9 percent and 0.9 percent respectively.

Mayor-Elect Peter Carlisle was asked on a morning TV news show today if he’d consider hiring his two main opponents – Acting Mayor Kirk Caldwell or anti-railer Panos Prevedouros – in his new administration. Here’s what he said:

“Not right now.... Essentially what we need to do is to have a new beginning over there and somebody’s who is not associated with political parties, somebody who is not associated with the prior administration, and with Panos, Panos hasn’t figured out what a democracy is yet. He hasn’t figured out that we voted for (rail), that it’s the will of the people, and so if he’s never gonna get that, he doesn’t need to be anywhere in a position of authority."

Electorate’s Rail Support 'Clearer than Ever'

Honolulu media pundit Howard Dicus, who seems to be everywhere, weighed in Sunday where he left off on election night. The “Howzit Howard” website expanded on his earlier assessment that the Honolulu mayoral election was a referendum on rail:

“Honolulu has again voted for rail, despite conditions that provided unique advantages to asphalt huggers, making it clearer than ever the electorate sees the advantage of rail transit.
“Rail foes had the advantage: a low-turnout election with two pro-rail candidates to split the pro-rail vote, and a series of televised debates to spotlight (the) rail critic….”

Dicus notes that Mayor-Elect Peter Carlisle had twice the votes of the anti-rail candidate. The election’s runner-up, Acting Mayor Kirk Caldwell, also outpolled the anti-railer by a large margin. Carlisle and Caldwell together pulled 77 percent of the vote, while the anti-rail candidate didn’t crack 20 percent.

“What happens to rail now?” Dicus wrote. “It still has strong support in Washington, and among most elected officials in Hawaii. It still constitutes the single best economic stimulus package Hawaii can power up right now, and still is the single most effective tool we can use to control development in the still-rural parts of Oahu.”

That assessment also couldn’t be clearer.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Honolulu Election Reaffirms Support for Rail

This is a short election-focused post – something we’ve avoided in this space over the many months leading up to today’s special election to select a new mayor to lead Honolulu for the next two years.

For the benefit of those throughout the country who’ve been following Honolulu’s long slow slog toward building our own 21st century rail project, the victor in today’s vote is indeed the Honolulu rail project!

With 95 percent of the vote in at this hour, the two pro-rail candidates are polling 73 percent of the vote. The one anti-rail candidate who vowed to stop the project in its tracks if elected has 18 percent.

As local television journalist Howard Dicus (who some of you remember from his years covering national events from Washington, D.C.) said tonight of rail, “This looks like another referendum on it.”

Let there be no doubt, rail won today, and we now look forward to acceptance of rail’s Final Environmental Impact Statement by either the sitting governor or the next one. The seat switch will happen on December 6.

Friday, September 17, 2010

City Fires Back on Governor’s Rail FEIS Stance

As we noted earlier today, the Governor seems to be on thin ice in asserting she has a fiduciary responsibility to ensure the City can afford to build and maintain Honolulu rail. The City has weighed in late today with much more on the subject. Here it is:

Governor Linda Lingle recently released a press statement regarding the City and County of Honolulu's rail transit project and her inability to sign the project's Final Environmental Impact Statement (Final EIS). The City responds disputing many of the issues that Governor Lingle addresses and her inability to move the project forward.

Lingle says...
"The fact is, the final EIS is not on my desk as some have incorrectly stated. The EIS is currently being reviewed by the Office of Environmental Quality Control (OEQC), which is analyzing the EIS section by section to make certain that it meets the requirements of the state's environmental law, Hawai'i Revised Statutes Chapter 343."

A copy of the Final EIS was specifically hand delivered to her office on June 17, 2010. Furthermore, OEQC is a state office reporting to the Governor and therefore, the Governor is incorrect when she states that she does not have it.

Lingle says...
"As part of the OEQC's extensive review process, determined by its administrative rules, the OEQC must determine whether the comments submitted during the public comment period have been satisfactorily addressed in the final EIS. There were over 13,000 public comments submitted, and the OEQC is required to verify that all have been addressed."

There were about 3,000, not 13,000, comments submitted to the City or the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and they have been compiled and responded to in the Final EIS. The FTA has already verified the compilation and has thoroughly reviewed the responses.

Lingle says...
"While the OEQC is continuing its legally required review of the EIS, my Administration is also performing the financial due diligence to make certain Hawai'i taxpayers can afford this multi-billion project - including the cost to operate, maintain and sustain the system well into the future.

"To this end, the State Department of Transportation at the beginning of this month awarded a contract to Infrastructure Management Group (IMG), Inc., in association with CB Richard Ellis, Inc., to conduct an independent economic analysis, financial assessment, and evaluation of the proposed rail transit project.

"The scope of work includes an analysis and evaluation of the capital costs to build the project as well as the operating and maintenance cost projections prepared by the City and County of Honolulu. The work will include a determination of the reasonableness and accuracy of the City's plans and revenue sources to fund the single largest, most expensive public works project that has ever been undertaken in Hawai'i."

The Governor is admitting that she is exceeding her responsibility by expanding the process to accept the EIS. She first stated that OEQC is making certain that the EIS meets the requirements of the State's environmental law. Therefore, OEQC has the sole responsibility to review the EIS for the project and recommend the Governor's acceptance. What is awkward is the Governor's insistence that a financial review of the project be completed prior to her accepting the document as part of her fiduciary responsibility. The Governor does not have a fiduciary responsibility for the project because no State funds are being used for the project.

Lingle says...
"I have informed the Federal Transportation Authority (FTA) that we are conducting an independent financial analysis and will share the findings with them. I have also requested updated financial information that the City provided to the FTA, since the last financial report issued for the project was published in August 2009."

The FTA has informed the City that they relayed to the Governor that they believed the independent financial review completed by the FTA's consultant was sufficient and there is no immediate need to update the current report.

Linge says...
"Another issue that still has not been resolved is the programmatic agreement, which lays out a plan on how to treat native Hawaiian remains and other cultural resources that might be in the route of the rail. This programmatic agreement must be reached and signed off by the Federal Transit Administration, federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, State Historic Preservation Division, and the City before the EIS can be accepted. These discussions are still ongoing and no agreement has been reached."

The programmatic agreement is a federal compliance requirement. The Governor's acceptance of the EIS is a State issue and the programmatic agreement is not required for her acceptance.

Lingle says...
"To ask me to sign the EIS at this point in time is inappropriate and premature."

The Governor has no legitimate or relevant reason for not accepting the EIS at this time.

Selecting Your ‘Lens’ To Evaluate Honolulu Rail

What you perceive in life depends on where you’re coming from in life. Isn’t that how it works?

If Honolulu rail is viewed through the political “lens” or filter, it looks one way (as we’re seeing played out during this political season). It’s hard to believe the Governor’s insistence on a financial review of the Honolulu rail project – a review that goes beyond her legal responsibilities – isn’t somehow tied to the election cycle and other political considerations.

But if the lens is energy and environmentalism, the Governor surely sees the value in building Honolulu rail. She has highlighted renewable energy and conservation growth more than any other issue. The Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative may be her legacy in office, and she’s certainly emphasized it and numerous other energy-related issues in the past few years.

So What about Energy?

Spend some time with rail’s Final Environmental Impact Statement – please. It’s available at the project’s website. Spend enough time there and some facts start jumping out at you; if you’re concerned about reduced energy use and a cleaner environment, here’s one of them:

The net effect of building Honolulu rail will be to reduce daily transportation energy demand by approximately 3 percent compared to the No Build Alternative.

Something else: Assuming all electricity is generated on Oahu from the combustion of oil, the daily 2,440-million-BTU energy savings will result in a daily reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of approximately 171 metric tons of carbon dioxide. But if the 2030 goal is reached to achieve 40 percent of electricity production in Hawaii from renewable sources, daily emissions would be reduced by an additional 47 metric tons of carbon dioxide.

Choosing Your Lens

Hawaii is more dependent on fossil fuel use than any other state – by far. We currently generate about 78 percent of our electricity by burning oil. The next highest rank among the states is about 10 percent.

Our electricity rates are the nation’s highest – by far. Our percentage of solar water heaters on residential homes leads the nation. Our relatively short driving distance for most commuters is attracting electric car manufacturers to launch their products.

It’s not a stretch to imagine that Hawaii citizens are among the most energy conscious in the country. And judging from the low percentage of eligible voters who actually cast ballots, it looks like we’re among the most jaded when it comes to politics.

So which lens are you going to use to evaluate the Honolulu rail project – politics or energy and the environment? It’s a legitimate question as we slog through the remaining weeks of this year’s political season and stand on the sidelines as the State spends $300,000 to do a rail financial viability study that's not even called for.

Just remember as you choose your lens that Honolulu rail is designed to serve generations of Oahu residents yet unborn for the next 100 years. Decades from now they’ll either thank our generation for taking one giant leap for energy conservation and environmentalism or falling backwards into a 20th century mindset that valued the car above everything else.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

‘Golden Gate Caused Grumbles, Too’

We had to put quote marks around the headline because it sits above a column by Bob Jones in the new edition of MidWeek.

Jones notes the similarity between the resistance some are showing to the Honolulu rail project and the balkiness in certain San Francisco neighborhoods over construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. He writes:

“People resist change and major public works projects, and in Hawaii we have resisted more than most. I’m reminded of how many said the $25 million cost of the Golden Gate Bridge in the ‘30s would break the city.”

Jones also suggests that “most San Franciscans cannot imagine their city today without the Golden Gate Bridge. I suspect that 20 years after our train we’ll not only wonder how we lived without it but will be looking at its extensions to Mililani and Hawaii Kai.”

We think long-time local scene observer Jones has it right. The hand-wringing about Honolulu’s alleged inability to afford rail is backed up by person opinion and little else. Or if you do find an anti-railer who tries to make a detailed argument, the reasoning becomes too tortured to be taken seriously.

Jones nails it: More roads and freeway flyovers as alternatives to Honolulu rail would simply put off the inevitable gridlock.

Honolulu rail truly is the only way to fly over at-grade traffic.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What’s Rail’s Return on Investment? Priceless

A radio show host continued his attack on Honolulu rail this morning as the lead-in to an on-air “discussion” among three mayoral candidates. The host’s assault on the project sounded more like a ratings-builder than a serious approach to hosting a discussion on rail and other election issues. Objective it wasn’t.

Be that as it may, the host’s key point deserves attention. What’s the payback on the public’s investment in rail? he asked – repeatedly. His position is that there is no payback.

He couldn’t be more wrong. His body of case-building “facts” aside, the payback is so obvious that he just can’t see it – maybe because it requires an ability to see the Big Picture that a myopic perspective doesn’t allow.

A Priceless Payback

The payback on the investment is Traffic-Free Travel through our city! An economist can probably put a dollar figure on that, but for those who avoid hours of sitting in traffic congestion each week, the value is incalculable.

The payback also is reduced dependence on the private automobile for significant numbers of our citizens. Reducing that dependence will increase their ability to commute completely free of traffic congestion.

The payback includes a rationale way to develop our city – transit-oriented development – for all the decades of the 21st century. That’s a return on investment that will benefit all the generations that follow our own. Transportation equity – giving the elderly and low-income populations fast, frequent and reliable movement through the city – is a huge payback on the rail investment.

Important or Not?

Just ask the residents of metropolitan areas where an option to sitting in traffic exists if any of this is important. Go no further than the East Bay communities near San Francisco.

Commuters heading into the city can either drive over the Bay Bridge or ride the BART train beneath the Bay. Choose the former and you’re caught in miles-long traffic jams that don't end once you're across the bridge. Take the train and you completely bypass all of that.

Do you suppose trains users value the payback on BART? Of course they do, and to suggest otherwise is complete folly. Yet the radio host wants you to believe there is no payback.

Rail’s return on investment is detailed in the project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement, and everyone can find the project’s value statements in the FEIS. There are tens of thousands of words there, but we’re choosing just one to summarize:

The payback is Priceless – something the radio host can never acknowledge on his station, which ranked 17th among Honolulu radio outlets, 6 am to midnight, persons 12 and older, in April 2010 (Arbitron Ratings Data).

Monday, September 13, 2010

Hey, Zero Emissions People! Think Rail Transit!

The Zero Emissions Initiatives Congress was featured in the August edition of Nikkei ECO magazine. We love the cover photo!
It’s not every week that a “world congress” of anything is held in Honolulu, so we’re calling attention to The World Congress on Zero Emissions Initiatives that’s running all week at the Hawaii Convention Center. The logos displayed in this post represent some of the sponsor companies and organizations.

Why feature it here at a blog about the Honolulu rail project? It’s simple: Honolulu rail one day will move hundreds of thousands of passengers each week using fuel that generates zero emissions. That’s a fact worth highlighting with so many environmentally conscious people involved, many of them from right here in town.

We make that claim confident that the goals of the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative will be achieved. As many readers know, the HCEI’s goal for electrical generation is to provide 40 percent of the state’s power generation from renewable sources by 2030, with 30 percent more achieved through conservation by reducing the demand from what it might grow to.

We’re also confident that the goals for 2050 of other initiatives yet to be created will be met – including, we believe, the goal of achieving zero carbon emissions for electrical generation by mid-century.

One of the sponsors of this week’s Congress is an air carrier that for sure must be hoping for a zero-carbon-emissions fuel to power its aircraft one day. Another is a group of rental car companies that also must be eyeing the day when their fleets are entirely electric. A leading environmental group based in Honolulu that is pushing for the end of fossil fuel use on the planet, starting in Hawaii, also is supporting the Congress. A couple renewable energy developers have signed on as sponsors, as has a concentrated solar company and the state’s largest electric utility.

It’s easy to see why they’re invested in a Zero Emissions Congress. Less obvious is why some of them are still on the fence about Honolulu rail. It’s widely known that cities that have incorporated rail transit in their urban corridors have smaller carbon footprints than those without rail.

Transit encourages urban development strategies that improve service efficiency, increase load factors, increase land use accessibility and overall can provide large energy savings and emission reductions. Electricity-powered transit produces negligible local air emissions, and in the long term (as noted above), Honolulu rail will move all those people with zero emissions.

We could go on – and undoubtedly will someday soon – but for now, we welcome attendees to the Zero Emissions Congress and trust you’ll return in a decade or so for another gathering to assess your progress.

And when you do return, be sure to ride Honolulu rail!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Continuing Our Commentary on At-Grade Rail: Vehicle Accident Lawsuits Would Be Inevitable

Now that the State’s financial review of the Honolulu rail project reportedly is underway (the draft FEIS was delivered to the State last December), we’re continuing to anticipate an objection from the Governor’s office for some reason aside from finances.

She’s repeatedly voiced support for at-grade rail transit, so we're anticipating an attempt to slow rail’s progress by citing alleged savings to be derived from ground-level rail. Naturally, we’ll continue to point out at-grade’s drawbacks.

Anticipating Lawsuits

Cities with at-grade systems continue to experience train-vehicle accidents – and that’s by drivers relatively used to dealing with mainland train crossings. Oahu drivers for the most part have no such experience, so we can only speculate about how well or poorly they’d deal with something like a multi-car train on our crowded urban streets.

We think poorly, and if that were the case, another expense from building at ground level would be lawsuits aimed directly at the City and County of Honolulu. It’s happening elsewhere; a recent ruling by the California Court of Appeals has attracted considerable online attention.

Building Honolulu rail elevated above all pedestrian and vehicle traffic will eliminate the possibility of train-vehicle collisions. It’s really that clear-cut – and so is the impossibility of at-grade rail delivering fast, frequent and reliable service.

We hope someone in the Governor’s office pays serious attention to at-grade transit’s many negatives before it becomes the raison de jour to resist approving rail's Final Environmental Impact Statement.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Houston Evaluates High Car Crash Numbers; ‘Elevated Rail Would Best Serve Our City’

Yes2Rail ranges far and wide for its content, even dipping into the cultural pools of Houston, TX. It may be an unlikely source, but that’s where we found some handwringing on the driving habits of Houstonians.

Culturemap HOUSTON, which calls itself “Houston’s Daily Digital Magazine,” reported this week that “Houstonians are 29.5 percent more likely to have a vehicle collision than drivers in other major United States cities….”

That caught our attention because Houston’s at-grade rail transit system has figured in a remarkable number of them. Culturemap’s writer hopes METRO ridership will increase; with fewer drivers on the road, she reasons, “the train would function with less worry of crashes.”

“Ultimately, an elevated rail ... would best serve our city…. An elevated rail would eliminate the need to stop at traffic lights and allow cars to pass safely beneath it.”

That’s precisely the argument we’ve made for the past two years and will continue to revisit whenever anyone – from the Governor on down -- advocates a “cheaper” at-grade transit system for Honolulu.

In that regard…….

From The Seattle Times

Sound Transit service was disrupted for about 35 minutes Thursday morning (9/9) in Southeast Seattle when a motorist tried to make a left turn in front of a light-rail train and was struck by the train.
Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray said the accident happened about 11 a.m. when the car going north on Martin Luther King Jr. Way attempted to make a turn onto Othello Street against the light as the train was approaching.
The car was pushed out of the way, he said.
Passengers on the train were taken off and put on buses. The car’s driver and passenger were treated at the scene for minor injuries.
Gray said no one on the train was injured and normal train service resumed shortly afterward.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Magazine’s ‘Shaxi-Pool’ Idea Has a Retro Feel

Read this month’s Honolulu Magazine and you might be reminded of some mid-20th century 'zines. Popular Science and Popular Mechanics were forever running pieces that imagined how life would be lived in the future – i.e., our lives now.

They predicted we’d be commuting in helicopters and cars with wings that fold back for road use….that sort of thing.

Honolulu editor Kam Napier doesn’t like Honolulu rail – an “unimaginative, 19th-century use of $5 billion…” he calls it. Napier says Oahu traffic needs a 21st-century solution, but his suggestion seems naively reminiscent of those old magazine pieces.

“Forget train tracks and bus lines,” he writes. “Imagine a network of on-demand shuttle buses. From your home or your phone, you send the network a request to go somewhere…. “

The network would analyze your request, search for similar requests from your neighbors and dispatch a shuttle driver to swing by and pick you up. “You get door-to-door service in shared vehicles that only go where they need to go, and only when they need to go somewhere.”

All Aboard the “Shaxi-Pool”?

Napier says this isn’t a bus line or taxi service; “it’s something else entirely. In my wildest fantasy, every car owner in Honolulu can join the network as drivers as long as they’re willing to pick up and drop off their fellow citizens as they go about their own business.”

Napier’s fantasy sounds like what you'd get by blending shuttles, taxis and car pools – the Shaxi-Pool – and maybe it would work in a community that needs such a service.

But it’s obviously not a “solution” to Oahu’s biggest and growing transportation problem – congestion on our east-west roads and highways, morning and night and other times. Don’t take our word for it; the Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization says that’s the one, and so has every other reality-based assessment.

Elevated above surface traffic, Honolulu rail will give the commuter an option to being stuck in traffic congestion. Whatever its imagined merits, Shaxi-Pool would keep its customers in the same traffic that the rail commuter will completely avoid.

Napier apparently thinks rail transit fails because it doesn't clean up all that traffic congestion. He looks to Los Angeles as a model for failed rail and writes ”traffic is still congested….”

No kidding. Los Angeles has traffic congestion. And that’s a reason not to build rail on Oahu?

The Honolulu rail project has evolved over decades. Once built, it will serve generations of Oahu residents. Maybe one of them will want Shaxi-Pool, but there’s nothing to suggest it’s ours.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Calls Mount for Governor To Act on Rail’s FEIS

We’re staying focused on the nuts and bolts of the Honolulu rail project’s status and schedule here at Yes2Rail. The political goings on and this month’s primary election are not our concern here. So what is?

The status of rail’s Final Environmental Impact Statement is the fundamental issue these days. As noted here many times, the FEIS must receive gubernatorial approval to proceed, but it now sits in the Governor’s office pending the completion of the financial review she just ordered.

Senator Daniel K. Inouye literally begged the Governor last week to release the FEIS, saying the project is too important to withhold her approval. Inouye said federal funds, although slated for Honolulu, aren’t guaranteed and could be diverted if the State delays the process.

FACE Calls for Action

Faith Action for Community Equity (FACE) also has appealed to the Governor to accept the FEIS, saying more than 100,000 jobs that could be created directly or indirectly by the project are in jeopardy.

The City Administration consistently has said a financial review isn’t even required under the law and that the Federal Transit Administration says the financial plan is sound. Nevertheless, the review presumably is underway but probably won’t be finished before a new governor is sworn in on December 6.

We’ve pretty much given up on anything happening before then unless somebody figures out a political gain to be had, one way or the other. What we do anticipate are more calls by individuals and organizations to move the project forward and create some of those jobs as quickly as possible.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Labor Day: Anticipating Rail Project’s Advance; Neighbor Island Daily Urges Acceptance of FEIS

It’s the traditional time on the calendar to reflect on what’s gone by during the year and what’s ahead in the final third. Quite a lot has happened for the rail project in 2010 even though the long-anticipated groundbreaking has been delayed. Let’s do a broad-brush review.

Chief among 2010 developments was the completion of the Final Environmental Impact Statement and its formal transmission to the Governor for her review.

As virtually everybody with an interest in Honolulu rail knows by now, Governor Lingle has continued to voice concerns about Oahu’s ability to support rail in the near and long term. (She also has consistently enthused over an at-grade system, and we’ve attempted over the months to focus her attention on the major drawbacks of this allegedly cheaper alternative.)

The Governor finally hired a firm just last week to perform a financial analysis of the project. The City says that’s not even a requirement under the law and notes that it performs no such analysis on the FEIS for projects brought to the City and County for approval.

Environmental Impact is the operable phrase, but that’s not how it has played out in the Governor’s office. We have reason to be skeptical of the analysis in advance, since rail has become so politicized, and hope it doesn’t turn out to resemble those selective public opinion polls whose questions influence the outcome.

The Good News

All this is playing out in the final 100 days of the Lingle Administration, and that’s the good news. It’s likely the new governor will have the final say on the FEIS, with the odds favoring acceptance in short order to move the economy along with new jobs and advance the promise of providing an alternative to highway commuting within this decade.

The Maui News, which has been a strong supporter of the Governor throughout her political career, said in an editorial last week that it is “dumfounded by her decision to delay state approval of the rail system, on Oahu, possibly jeopardizing federal funds that have been promised for the project.”

That’s the other top 2010 development – the strong endorsement by the Department of Transportation of Honolulu’s plan with the expectation of $1.55 billion in federal funding that the Maui News fears is jeopardized by the Governor's delay. “Now or never” is more than a cliché about the project; it describes the urgency to secure funding while conditions are favorable in Washington to do so and lock in the project’s financial support.

The year’s final trimester will challenge the rail project to stay focused on its goals – restoring transportation mobility and equity to its citizens and providing a rationale way to channel future growth to encourage transit use and lessen citizens’ dependence on the private automobile for that mobility.

It’s not too soon to start the holiday wish list, so let’s begin it with acceptance of the FEIS followed in short order by groundbreaking. For now, enjoy Labor Day!