Friday, October 29, 2010

Anti-Railer’s Latest Assumes We Can Be Duped

The one thing committed Honolulu rail supporters and rail opponents can agree on is that they’ll never agree. Their verbal barrages over this project likely will continue all the way to completion of the 20-mile line and beyond.

So it’s with that expectation we turn to part three of a series of anti-rail columns written by the University of Hawaii’s resident highway (not transit) expert. Like part one and part two, this one finds his preferred high-occupancy toll (HOT) roads far superior to rail, but part three is especially noteworthy for the tortured reasoning that allows the good professor to justify his conclusion.

We’re Not Stupid!

Yes2Rail readers are encouraged to read the professor’s piece, just as we encourage you to read the comments of Honolulu’s chief anti-railer. The conclusion we draw from these gentlemen’s remarks is that they think Honolulu residents are easily duped.

Take part three. The author reaches his desired conclusion that “rail systems are less safe than managed roads” only by including "suicides, rapes, drugs, pick-pocketing and other crime in stations and on elevators, escalators, walking and falls-inside-a-moving-train.” He says high-voltage third rails that deliver power to trains are “magnets for suicides.”

Conversely, he praises intelligent cruise control and other safety technologies built into a few luxury cars today and possibly into other models tomorrow and concludes that HOT lanes “are perfect for taking advantage of advanced safety systems and future improvements.” He writes that “a portion of motorists (comment: the portion that can afford the high tolls) and bus and vanpool passengers will be able to travel on a perfectly safe 10 mile segment of roadway.”

Can’t Go There

If we wanted to play such a dubious game, we could say people who drive on HOT lanes are at risk of being car-jacked at some point, unlike rail passengers.

We might suggest that solo HOT-lane users who suffer a heart attack while driving would have a greater risk of dieing than train riders traveling with other passengers who could summon help.

We could twist, bend, staple and mutilate common sense, too, but that would be playing the same dubious game. We’ll rely on the public to see the professor’s arguments for what they are – highly sanitized and hopeful attempts to deny the reality that train travel is inherently safer than highway travel.

We don’t claim to be an expert in these matters like the UH professor does, but we do know how to Google, and you probably do, too. We suggest you enter these words and see what comes up: “which is safer, highways or rail lines?” Here’s what we found:

“Riding a train is more than 23 times safer than traveling by car.” Source: Washington State Department of Transportation

Our conclusion: The only way the professor can portray HOT lanes as safer than rail is by including a rail passenger's every possible happenstance in the “safety” statistics and leaving the obvious potential for vehicle accidents out of his highway analysis.

That’s not only misleading; it assumes a high “dupability” quotient for Honolulu residents that's almost insulting.

Keep reading for more information on low crime rates for rail transit systems.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Elevated Rail’s Many Advantages Include Highly Reliable, On-Time and Frequent Train Service

Consultant Jarrett Walker’s Human Transit website is must reading if you want a deeper understanding of issues that often are missed in the ongoing discussion about our future rail system.

Earlier this year he examined the relatively overlooked subject of train frequency and noted that automated systems like Honolulu’s (and Vancouver's SkyTrain, at right) usually maintain their frequency of service even in tight economic times. That’s because they’re not vulnerable to the kind of cuts operators often feel compelled to make first – labor costs.

At-grade systems with drivers often reduce the number of trains in their off-peak schedules, and that reduces train frequency and degrades their level of service, Walker writes. Driverless systems don’t experience the same service reductions when labor costs are reduced.

Ensuring On-Time Service

Yesterday’s post at Human Transit highlights on-time performance issues and new ways to measure that performance in light of improved tools. But the reason we’re sending you there is to make a bigger point about Honolulu rail.

Virtually all of Walker’s discussion of on-time performance deals with at-grade systems, which out of necessity must employ drivers and, as experience shows, are vulnerable to accidents and other at-grade interruptions. (Phoenix infamously experienced 52 vehicle crashes in its system’s first year of service.)

Honolulu rail will be fully automated. Trains will be driverless and controlled from an operations center. Walker wrote specifically about our future system last year in a piece titled “Is elevated acceptable?” It’s also recommended for your reading because he contrasts elevated systems like ours with Portland’s light rail system, MAX, whose problems were cited recently by local anti-railer Cliff Slater to cast doubt on Honolulu’s plans.

Elevated and at-grade systems have rails and trains in common but, as Walker notes, not much else.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Transit Can Only Get Better Once Rail Is in Place

Honolulu residents enjoy access to one of the best bus systems in the country; TheBus twice won the “America’s Best Bus System Award” in the past two decades. Just think of the possibilities once Honolulu rail is built.

Americans across the continent are reaffirming their belief in public transit, and nearly nine in 10 (87 percent) who have access to public transportation where they work or live say they use it, according to a new survey.

With traffic growth arguably the biggest transportation issue, about one-quarter of the survey’s respondents believe public transportation’s most valuable feature is that it reduces traffic congestion. Another quarter choose money savings as transit’s best feature. Both features presumably would rank high on land-scarce and high-cost Oahu.

Getting Off Oil *

Reducing dependence on foreign oil was the feature identified by about 1 in 10 Americans in the survey. Oahu residents might rate that feature even higher due to the state’s 90-percent dependence on imported oil to make our society work.

Anti-railers continue to promote highways and criticize public transit in their ongoing campaign to thwart decades of planning for Honolulu’s grade-separated rail system, which will give commuters a completely congestion-free ride.

Common sense suggests that building more highways on Oahu is not a viable way to enable future generations’ cross-town travel. Sure, the private car will continue to be a valuable family tool, but public transit is the way of the future to make the daily commute and other trips in the urban corridor.

* For more on GOO, read two and one-half years of Hawaii Energy Options posts.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Credit or Not, Anti-Railer Promotes 8-Foot Heights

We’ll call attention to it when rail opponents modify, appear wobbly or back away from their earlier anti-rail statements, and we do so today with apologies to Civil Beat, the online subscription news service, for quoting from its “subscriber only” rail discussion pages.

If you’re at all serious about public affairs in Hawaii, you should sign up for Civil Beat – an innovative, groundbreaking news source with unmatched daily-journalism writing and coverage in this town. (Hope that helps.)

Anti-railer Cliff Slater, who’s more responsible than anyone else in Honolulu for thwarting the city’s plans to build a rail project 20 years ago, answered a series of Civil Beat questions about rail recently. So did City officials. (We've highlighted Mr. Slater's comments on several occasions, but to get a grasp of where he's coming from, we recommend starting here.)

Here’s an except from the last paragraph of Mr. Slater’s submission:

“Traffic in Honolulu can be reduced significantly by constructing a few key low-height underpasses for highly congested intersections. These underpasses have a limited height, usually at least eight feet high that allows for vanpools, automobiles, light to medium sized trucks, and vans to fit, but not taller vehicles….”

After we posted this photo and commented on the obvious danger low-height underpasses would pose for drivers of vehicles that boost their heads up to 8 feet, Mr. Slater wrote the following at Civil Beat’s rail discussion page:

“I claim no credit for low—clearance underpasses. That goes to Dr. (Panos) Prevedouros whose paper on the subject was published in 2004 and for which in 2005 he received the Institute of Transportation Engineers’ Van Wagoner Award.”

Mr. Slater claims no credit for low-height underpasses, nor should he if Dr. Prevedouros first proposed them, but he does endorse the concept and strongly recommended their adoption in Honolulu.

We'll stick with our original assessment that by proposing such an obviously dangerous roadway for Honolulu, Mr. Slater creates doubt about the totality of both his and Dr. Prevedouros's anti-rail arguments and proposals. Common sense should be top of mind when assessing their recommendations to build high-cost toll roads and low-clearance underpasses.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Highway Advocate Judging Rail Is Like Having the East Germans Score America’s Gymnastics Team

Some of us remember how the Cold War played out in the Olympics. Our side boycotted their side’s games (Afghanistan again), then their side boycotted ours. The Olympics were all about politics, right down to disparities in how the events were judged – Soviet bloc vs. the West.

The latest assessment of Honolulu rail by the University’s resident highway expert reminds us that nobody took the East Germans seriously in the Olympics. Their athletes pumped themselves up, and their judges disparaged the “opposition.”

To nobody’s surprise, UH’s highway expert scores rail poorly compared to his favorite transportation alternative, toll roads. Let’s look at his analysis.

Hawaii’s ‘Green’ Revolution

Unlike Olympic competition, which often lasts a matter of seconds, Honolulu rail will be built to last a century, or more. Basing one’s anti-rail arguments on a relatively short-term view can’t possibly appreciate the big picture, and that’s why the expert’s latest article is easily derailed.

Most people in Hawaii appreciate what’s happening here. Government, corporations, small businesses and individuals are working together to eliminate the state’s dependence on imported energy sources.

You don’t have to be a futurist to predict the elimination of fossil fuels from Hawaii’s energy diet someday. It’ll happen – out of necessity – and will be replaced by renewable energy technologies already coming into wide use (solar, wind, refuse, biofuels) and some under development and others possibly decades away (wave power, ocean thermal energy conversion, unknowns).

Knowing that, you can pretty much discount the UH expert’s judging of rail as anti-energy and environmental policy, because rail’s source of electricity production will switch over the decades from fossil fuel to green power.

Solar energy stored in the ocean will likely provide the vast majority of Hawaii’s electricity at some point, possibly during our children’s lifetimes and certainly during our grandchildren’s.

So the good doctor’s perspective is much too short to provide a balanced assessment of rail’s pro-energy and pro-environment contributions to our society. And if you're still not convinced, just remember the underlying principle of his toll roads – pricing the lanes high enough to keep everyone off his road except those who can afford the steep tolls.

What’s “green” about that?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

APTA: Families Save Thousands by Giving Up Car; Rail-Linked Housing Strategy Receives US Grant

According to the American Public Transit Association, a two-car family in Honolulu could save, on average, $10,794 a year by giving up one car and using transit in its place.

That estimate ranks Honolulu seventh among the top 20 cities in APTA’s Transit Savings Report, which relies on a combination of fixed and variable costs to achieve its findings.

This topic increasingly will be part of the community conservation in years ahead when Honolulu rail starts giving commuters an option to driving and allowing many families to become a one-car household.

$2.3 Million for TOD

Mayor Peter Carlilse has announced receipt of more than $2 million to implement a strategy for creating affordable housing along the City’s rail transit line. According to a release from the Mayor’s office:

“The Sustainable Community Planning Grant is being provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Honolulu received the fifth largest grant amount among the 44 grant recipients. The grants are provided to help communities address local challenges to integrating transportation and housing.”

Carlisle called the grant “wonderful news for our community” and said the City is “committed to making sure rail transit and Transit Oriented Development projects are done right….”

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Doctor’s Rail Dissing Is Demonstrably Dubious; Transit Scores Favorable Marks in USA Survey

Dr. Panos Prevedouros’s latest anti-rail column includes a suggestion that HOT lanes would be better suited than rail “…for large events at Aloha Stadium by working in-bound to the stadium before the event starts and out-bound at event’s end for quick evacuation.”

The good Dr. P seems so committed to his anti-rail arguments that he ends up asserting things that seem – well, frankly dubious and hard to swallow.

Honolulu’s rail system will continuously serve travelers going in both directions – before, during and after stadium events. Rail’s nearby station will be above Kamehameha Highway; walking to the stadium from there will take less time than from some sections of the parking lots.

Once the game’s over and patrons are aboard a train, they’ll enjoy a getaway at speeds up to 55 mps and be well on their way home while some patrons are still walking to their cars.

Factoring in TheBus

Dr. P is a committed highwayman, of course, and the thought of taking a train to Aloha Stadium is probably beyond the beyond for him. Probably even more unfathomable would be catching TheBus to a station, then the train to the stadium and reversing the steps to get home.

Committed highwaymen scoff at the idea, and some of them write newspaper columns and maintain anti-rail websites, yet walking to a station or taking a bus to one to go anywhere along Oahu’s south-shore urban corridor will be commonplace once rail is up and running.

It’ll be just too logical for Honolulu residents to ignore, and once we discover the joys of fast, frequent, reliable and safe rail service, we’ll feel as good about transit as millions of Americans across the country do already.

Monday, October 18, 2010

More Prevedouros Analysis: What Can He Mean, Saying Rail Would Not Be of Any Use During Freeway Closures, Tsunamis and Floods?

We’re parsing Dr. Panos Prevedouros’s recent article in Hawaii Reporter again, since the more we slice and dice, the more gaping the holes are in his anti-rail, pro-HOT lane arguments.

The piece serves two purposes – to cast rail in the worst possible light while simultaneously lauding HOT lanes, but as we pointed out the other day, the whole HOT lane idea rests on a highly questionable principle.

HOT lanes are toll roads, and the way they allegedly keep traffic flowing is by setting tolls high enough to price many people out of using the lanes. In other words, as congestion increases, tolls are increased to discourage enough drivers from entering so the lanes remain relatively free of traffic for those who can afford to pay.

If traffic starts to slow because “too many” cars are on the system, tolls for new people preparing to enter the lanes are jacked up and will continue to be raised as long as it takes to price enough drivers out of the market and thin the traffic.

That hardly seems like a progressive, all-inclusive and equitable way to treat the traveling public, but that’s what Dr. Prevedouros and Mr. Cliff Slater advocate as a way to plan for Honolulu’s cross-town traffic for two, three and four generations from now.

(The more we hear about HOT lanes, the more they sound like a commuting variation of “the early bird gets the worm.” The early commuter gets the cheaper ride, so for that reason alone, rail beats HOT lanes hands down. The price to ride the train won’t vary during the day. Sleep in, rail riders!)

9:30 pm UPDATE--Feds still back rail project: Mayor

“Metro Accessibility”

Dr. Prevedouros’s article reaches curious conclusions about HOT lanes’ ability to allegedly provide better access than rail to what he calls “non-work activities.” He dismisses rail’s appeal for shopping, social visits, night clubbing and the like, then drops this stunner:

“Rail loses 1 point (in his scoring) for being unable to be of any use during an emergency such as freeway closure, flooding, hurricane and tsunami.”

We have to wonder how Dr. Prevedouros could reach that conclusion. Honolulu’s elevated rail system will be completely independent of streets, roads, highways and freeways. If anything, rail would be of tremendous use during freeway closures, which presumably could easily include any HOT lanes that might be built. Rail will be a congestion-free way to travel unimpeded by such closures.

Let’s look at his other imagined emergencies – hurricanes, flooding and tsunamis. We’ll call it a draw between rail and HOT lanes during hurricanes; nobody should be out in 120-mph winds. But what about flooding and (rare) tsunamis?

In such emergencies, Honolulu rail would be elevated 30 feet above the flooded streets that cars using HOT lanes eventually would have to navigate once they left their elevated platform. Advantage rail!

We’ll continue examining Dr. Prevedouros’s views as expressed in his recent article in a day or two.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Anti-Railers Help Make Case for Honolulu Rail

Call it crazy, but we continue to use rail opponents’ own statements to build support for Honolulu rail. We’ve done it with Cliff Slater, and we’re doing it again today with University of Hawaii professor Panos Prevedouros’s latest contribution to Hawaii Reporter.

Dr. Prevedouros uses various metrics, goals and scores to grade rail vs High Occupance and Toll (HOT) lanes and concludes, no surprise, that HOT lanes are far and away superior to rail.

I’m reminded of a book published decades ago, “How To Lie with Statistics.” We’re not implying anything shady by Dr. Prevedouros – just the human tendency to search out and rely on information that allegedly supports his pro-car, pro-highway sentiments. Let’s examine those sentiments.

Tolls Discourage Use

Dr. Prevedouros relies on a report produced by the Bipartisan Policy Center titled Performance Driven: New Vision for U.S Transportation Policy. We're delighted to reproduce here the graphic from the Center’s web page on the National Transportation Policy Project; we take special pleasure in noting the dominant feature in that photograph -- grade-separated fixed-guideway rail! (Observe the bumper-to-bumper traffic below it.)

Dr. Prevedouros provides brief system descriptions of Honolulu’s rail project (which is 99.9 percent finished with its pre-construction phase) and HOT lanes (which haven’t begun in any respect whatsoever). He says “low and solo occupancy vehicles pay a graduated toll (e.g., from $0.50 to $5.00).”

He calls the toll “congestion insurance” that “guarantees 50 mph travel at all times.” Of course, Dr. Prevedouros can’t guarantee any such thing, since vehicle accidents and unforeseen impediments to smooth traffic flow happen all the time on highways, HOT or not. But let’s ignore that and continue with his next quote:

“Higher tolls are necessary to discourage overloading.”

Stop right there. Do you get this? The principle behind HOT lanes is pricing the privilege to ride on them at every-higher levels at the lanes’ entrance until only those who can afford to pay the toll enjoy the benefit. Vehicles presumably can travel relatively congestion-free on HOT lanes (when there are no accidents) only because most people decline to pay the high tolls. They're left to sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the other highways.

Let’s cut to the rail project’s goals again – specifically the “transportation equity” goal in paragraph 1.8.4 of the project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement. Here’s the first sentence:

“Equity is about the fair distribution of resources so that no group carries an unfair burden of the negative environmental, social, or economic impacts or receives an unfair share of benefits.”

Who benefits from HOT lanes? That’s pretty clear – car owners and those who can afford to pay the toll. Who doesn’t benefit includes everybody without the resources or physical ability to drive, own a car or afford toll roads. Broadly speaking, large numbers of Honolulu’s elderly and low-income residents would be excluded from HOT lane use.

We’d go on, but we’ve already made a solid case against HOT lanes by examining only the first couple paragraphs of Dr. Prevedouros’s piece. Besides, the Hawkeyes are beating Michigan on TV, and the Giants are up next. We’ll pick up with more words by Manoa’s traffic-not-transit expert soon enough.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Does Honolulu Want ‘Low-Height’ Underpasses?

Damage to a pedestrian overpass above the H-1 freeway when a military vehicle struck it on September 5, 2006.
Football players are quick to offer up this cliché: “You have to take what the opposition gives you.” That’s what we’re doing today with the latest from rail opponent Cliff Slater.

Mr. Slater has been pounding out anti-rail screeds for decades, and his latest was published just this morning at Civil Beat, the online subscription news service. CB’s been around only for six months, so it apparently feels a need to review rail project issues that were covered exhaustively years ago.

Here’s a quote from Mr. Slater’s last paragraph in today’s CB subject – his five best reasons for opposing the project. This graf amounts to 3.6 percent of the approximately 2,000 words he contributed, and we think they’re priceless:

“Traffic in Honolulu can be reduced significantly by constructing a few key low-height underpasses for highly congested intersections. These under-passes have a limited height, usually at least eight feet high (emphasis added) that allows for vanpools, automobiles, light to medium sized trucks, and vans to fit, but not taller vehicles. Lower height underpasses are much more compact and therefore easier and cheaper to construct in the limited space for existing intersections.”

The two “screen shots” in today’s post are courtesy of, a website that monitors a railroad trestle in Durham, NC with video cameras; the site posts raw video of what happens when too-tall trucks try to drive beneath it. Note that this overpass is nearly four feet higher than Mr. Slater's recommended clearance.

The photos speak volumes about Mr. Slater’s suggestion to build low-clearance underpasses in Honolulu, whose truck drivers presumably have zero experience with railroad trestles and low-height under-passes. If their truck seats were several feet above ground level, they'd risk death if they accidentally strayed into one of these chop-top drive-throughs.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Trip to Yesteryear with ‘Always-By-Car’ Slater

You can read Cliff Slater’s anti-transit-oriented development (TOD) (and anti-rail) column in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser today if you want, but to show you that it’s more of the same that you’ve seen from him for decades, here’s a quote from Mr. Slater's column published in the Honolulu Advertiser on November 12, 1998 under the title "City's rail plan is rubbish":

“As this newspaper editorialized (on November 2) 1933, ‘Honolulu is doing what all progressive mainland communities are nowadays doing: getting rid of street cars and replacing them with good size buses … we … will finally progress to the point of abolishing street-car tracks … a vast improvement.’ If we were so glad to get rid of them in 1933, because of the traffic congestion they caused, why do we want to go back to them 60 years later?”

Mr. Slater was reaching back almost exactly 65 years to pre-WW II Hawaii for his anti-rail inspiration, and that helps explain his preference for cars today. Mr. Slater believes in the 20th Century’s technology marvel, the private car. That’s why we call him "ABC Slater" – Always By Car.

Mr. Slater's prominent pro-car position has done more to thwart development of modern alternatives to car commuting in Honolulu than anyone else. Evidence of his earlier efforts is easily found online and pre-dates 1998; here’s a link to the registration of his anti-rail transit testimony before the City Council in 1991 (you'll "find" two listings for "Slater" on the page that comes up).

Rail – a 21st Century Option

Honolulu’s civic leadership is relying on lessons learned from 20th Century mistakes to plan for the century we’re living in -- the one our children and grand-children will inherit.

We learned since 1950 the consequences of developing bedroom communities that depend on the car. We’ve learned more recently about the perils of relying almost exclusively on petroleum-based products to power our transportation. TOD is a future-looking way to prepare for our grandchildren’s inheritance, and so is rail transit.

Mr. Slater won’t go away quietly and already is threatening to sue the city over the rail project once it receives its final regulatory approvals. His antiquated view of the world notwithstanding, a vibrant Honolulu decades from now certainly will require rail and TOD. Both are destined to fulfill their promise.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Does New Jersey Have a Lesson for Honolulu?

The City Charter Amendment ballot question was highlighted by the Star-Advertiser Monday. We wonder if backers who say an appointed transit authority would depoliticize the rail project will look to New Jersey to bolster their argument.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (a Republican, at right) announced the cancellation of a rail tunnel project between Manhattan and the Garden State’s northern suburbs because he says the state can’t afford it. Now he’s being criticized by Democrats for making a political decision to kill a project most say is needed desperately and for refusing to raise the gasoline tax to help pay for the tunnel.

We don’t know about the accuracy of the claims, arguments, counter-arguments and charges, but politics is the game they’re playing in New Jersey. And politics is what the supporters of the rail transit authority ballot measure say will be eliminated if Honolulu rail were managed by a new semi-autonomous body.

11 am UPDATE: LA Wants New Jersey’s $$

Bloomberg reports today that Los Angeles and other governments may go after the $3 billion New Jersey Governor Christie says he’s willing to pass up by canceling the tunnel project. Said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, "It boggles my mind that a state could refuse that kind of investment."

Federal funds pledged to Honolulu’s rail project 20 years ago went to other governments when the project died for want of a single vote on the City Council.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

New Mayor: ‘We Want Rail and We Want It Now!’

There's new man in Honolulu Hale’s corner office, but if there were any doubts about the new administration’s intentions for the Honolulu rail project, Mayor Peter Carlisle dispensed with them in his first news conference:

“We are united as one in the government of the city that we want rail and we want it now.”

Carlisle said he will travel this week to Washington, D.C. with Council member Ikaika Anderson and Toru Hamayasu, the city’s chief transportation planner, to meet with Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff.

“It is our intention to tell them that the city’s legislative, executive and operational branches are fully committed, dedicated and enthusiastic in our support and mutual cooperation for rail,” Carlisle said.

Unstated but presumably implied is the administration’s support for the elevated system for which a completed Final Environmental Impact Statement has been submitted to the State for final sign-off.

The new mayor also urged passage in the November 2 general election of the proposed City Charter amendment to create a semi-autonomous transit authority that would oversee all aspects of the rail project as its only responsibility:

“Most importantly, (the authority) takes the politics out of it. This is going to be an independent authority that can exercise its own judgment based on its expertise and ability.”

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Best Thing To Keep ‘Running’ Will Be Rail

A page-one headline in today’s paper predicts the new mayor will “hit the ground running.” The story predicts his administration’s top propriety will be rail transit.

This blog is written to support Honolulu rail, which explains our own headline today. We’ve added several posts recently (October 4-7) to highlight issues we think should be appreciated by all Honolulu citizens.

We predict the new administration will hear from citizens who oppose the current plan – the one with a completed Final Environmental Impact Statement. Like most controversial issues, even ones with majority public support (see QMark survey under General Information tab at’s Library), the loudest voices belong to the opponents.

Their proposals include building more highways instead of rail, building rail at ground level, building rail in the middle of the H-1 freeway, building it along the old OR&L rail right-of-way, building it between the airport and Waikiki, and so on.

What any open-minded person needs to know in late 2010 is that the FEIS summarizes years of analysis and study, including all the variables and technology options – highways, at-grade rail, etc. Virtually all objections and proposals raised by opponents are addressed in the FEIS.

Fast, frequent, reliable and safe transportation that restores mobility through the urban corridor is the critical need in our community. Honolulu rail’s elevated system will provide it and is the only way to achieve the goals we enumerated in Thursday’s post.

Hitting the ground running can include staying the course on elevated rail.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Only Elevated System Can Achieve Rail’s Goals

Keep reading for link to a video of this Houston collision.
Focusing on the relative safety of at-grade vs elevated rail transit systems – as we have many times at Yes2Rail, including Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week – is what we’ll continue to do, since safety quite reasonably should be priority #1 as Honolulu prepares to build rail.

But let’s not forget why Honolulu’s elevated system is the only way to accomplish the project’s goals. Here’s a quick review of those goals, which are listed in the Final Environmental Impact Statement, paragraph 1.9, table 1-4:

Improve Transportation Equity

Starting with this goal for a change feels right because it confronts head-on the argument that Honolulu needs more highways (HOT lanes, managed lanes, toll roads, whatever you want to call them) instead of rail transit. The system’s route will serve Oahu’s current and future densely populated communities in the southern urban corridor. All income and age categories will benefit from rail, unlike highways and the vehicles that use them. Never forget, as rail opponent Cliff Slater reminds us in one of his comments to Civil Beat, the online subscription news service, "...Managed Lane toll prices are varied to control demand...." In other words, only those who can afford to pay the toll use those lanes. There's no transportation equity in that equation.

Improve Corridor Mobility

Honolulu has lost true mobility – the ability to travel through the corridor unimpeded by traffic congestion with an expectation of arriving at one’s destination at a predictable time. Only grade-separated transit can do that; bumper-to-bumper, slow-crawl traffic is now a twice-daily ordeal for tens of thousands of commuters. Elevated rail will avoid that congestion completely for more than 100,000 daily riders, and by reducing the number of vehicles in the corridor, those who don’t use rail also will benefit from reduced hours of delay on our roads.

Improve Travel Reliability

The elevated rail system will be in an exclusive right-of-way, unaffected by surface congestion and accident-caused delays. Trains will arrive every 3 minutes during the morning and afternoon rush hour, every 6 minutes mid-day and every 10 minutes from 8 pm to midnight. Their reliability will be nearly 100 percent, since trains will be driverless, with computers controlling their on-time arrivals and departures. At-grade trains require drivers, and that requirement demands more time and distance between trains. Passengers will know precisely what time they will arrive at their destination as they board their train at the start of their trip. That’s something no car or bus commuter can do today.

Improve Planned Development Access

Transit-oriented development will guide Honolulu’s growth for decades to come, and the rail system will be the catalyst for that development. Residential and commercial development will be planned in areas within walking distance of rail stations. Because rail travel will be attractive, residents will be attracted to live in communities near the system’s stations.

The key, of course, is elevated rail’s ability to deliver fast, frequent, reliable and safe service. At-grade rail can’t compete with grade-separated transit in those measurable categories for reasons Yes2Rail has mentioned repeatedly. We’ll end today’s post with a link to video from Houston that makes the safety and reliability arguments better than any words can. The video from inside a Houston bus shows the bus’s collision with a Houston at-grade train when the bus ran a red light.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Crashes at Rail Crossings Would Be Issue Here

We’re not letting go of this week’s safety theme quite yet, since some continue to express support for an at-grade system in Honolulu.

Monday’s post highlighted Portland, OR bicycle-track accidents, and yesterday’s focus was Portland’s 26 fatalities involving the city’s light-rail MAX at-grade system since 1986.

Nationwide, there were 1,913 vehicle-train collisions at public and private crossings in 2009 that resulted in 248 deaths and 719 injuries, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

The vast majority of those crashes did not involve municipal light-rail systems, and since the FRA reported them, maybe none of them did; light-rail transit statistics are reported elsewhere. But consider this:

Mainland drivers are infinitely more accustomed to negotiating rail crossings than Honolulu residents are, since we have no trains on the island except for a tourist-oriented train in leeward Oahu. Yet hundreds of mainlanders die each year despite that familiarity.

Honolulu surely would record road intersection crashes if an at-grade system were built here instead of the elevated system for which a Final Environmental Impact Statement has been completed. An at-grade route would cross dozens of intersections through an exceptionally crowded urban core, especially in downtown Honolulu.

Asserting that at-grade transit is “cheaper” to build than elevated systems completely ignores the cost of fatalities, injuries and property damage that is completely avoided by building overhead -- as Honolulu's system will be built.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Fact To Remember when Comparing Rail Systems: Portland’s At-Grade Trains Have Killed 26 People

We’re continuing our closer examination of at-grade rail system safety today, which was yesterday’s subject when we reviewed Portland, OR bicycle accidents involving train tracks.

We’re staying in Portland today to review the city’s light-rail safety record. Portland’s MAX system has attracted a following in Honolulu despite its rather alarming death statistics.

Portland residents are concerned about safety. A mother whose son was killed when hit by a MAX train while he was on his bicycle in a crosswalk near a station is pushing for a citizen safety review board.

The Portland Tribune carried a story this summer comparing the safety records of the heavy-rail WES commuter system with the MAX light-rail system. We’ll quote a few paragraphs:

"Unlike WES, several MAX lines run directly through crowded downtowns, including those in Portland, Hillsboro, Beaverton and Gresham. In some cases, they share streets with motor vehicles and bicyclists with no physical barriers between the lanes.
"Largely as a result of these differences, MAX trains are occasionally involved in accidents. The first pedestrian was killed July 28, 1986, during the testing period before the maiden line officially opened. The man was walking in the right of way near the Banfield Freeway and Halsey Avenue when a train hit him.
"Since then, 25 other people have been killed in collisions with MAX trains, most recently when a woman stepped onto the tracks near Southwest 170th Avenue on Feb. 26.
"Numerous MAX-related injuries also have occurred during the years. Between January 2008 and April 2010, there were 13 nonfatal accidents involving trains. Police investigations reveal that many of the collisions are suicide attempts. They include a June 16 incident in Old Town that was originally reported as the result of someone “playing chicken” with a MAX train, according to TriMet."

Darla Sturdy, whose son was killed in 2003, is especially concerned about improving safety near MAX stations. She hopes her work will prevent others from going through the grief of losing a loved one.

For their part, MAX officials are stuck with trying to make the at-grade system that’s been built safer than its track record would suggest.

“The individual has some responsibility to pay attention to their environment,” said a spokesperson. “We try to do everything we can to alert them. That’s why we added the audible (alert and) the light, trying to get people to pay attention. It’s really just to remind them they’re near the tracks – pay attention, took both ways.”

We’re not picking on Portland’s MAX, but facts are facts. At-grade rail systems are inherently more dangerous than elevated systems for the obvious reason they drive trains through busy urban areas where people walk, bike, drive, skateboard and stumble across their tracks. We can’t imagine a more congested urban area in Portland or anywhere else than Honolulu’s Chinatown, where local architects want an at-grade system to run in both directions along Hotel Street. Need we say more?

Honolulu’s elevated system will be immeasurably safer than at-grade transit. Actually, there is one measure of the difference, and that measure is the lives that won’t be lost and the lives that won’t forever be changed by serious injury from colliding with an at-grade train.

Pedestrians, cars, trucks, buses, bicycles and skateboarders do collide with at-grade trains. That simply won’t happen when our city builds Honolulu rail -- elevated.

Monday, October 4, 2010

‘Track Crashes Major Problem for Portland Bikers’

Downtown Portland's locations of bike crashes on rail tracks.
Continuing Yes2Rail's Saturday theme of at-grade rail being much less safe than elevated systems, here’s an item we came across from Portland, OR, which has an at-grade system that some like to cite as a good model for Honolulu. According to a blog post at

“Bike-track crashes are a major and underreported problem for Portland-area bicyclists.”

The blog’s post has a link to a Seattle Post-Intelligencer story reporting on six lawsuits against the city of Seattle filed by cyclists who crashed while crossing transit tracks.

Back in Portland, the bikers are citing a survey on the problems that arise from mixing bikes and transit. There are several links at the site that are worth clicking to give you more perspective on this “underreported problem.”

Even Yes2Rail didn’t mention bikes in Saturday’s post when we wrote about cross traffic that interferes with at-grade transit.

Just goes to show you can’t learn less in this life.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Some Things Bear Repeating – Especially Now

The date reminds us that we’re in the season when people come and people go. One month from today we’ll know who will step into the shoes of the newly departed.

All this coming and going reminds us that some things indeed are constants, so for all the candidates who’ll be elected and whose responsibilities will touch the Honolulu rail project, here’s one of those constants:

Only grade-separated transit provides traffic-free travel through the community.

That’s the big payoff of Honolulu rail, because by avoiding all surface traffic, elevated rail will be fast, frequent, reliable and safe. At-grade transit – which some continue to tout as an alternative to elevated rail -- wouldn’t be any of that.

One photograph among the many we’ve seen in the past year makes the point better than anything written here. It was taken from a traffic helicopter in Phoenix 10 months ago today and shows the aftermath of another train-vehicle accident in the city.

Phoenix’s new transit system recorded 52 accidents in its first year of operation. As Yes2Rail noted last month, accidents and lawsuits inevitably would result from building an at-grade transit system here.

Accident-prone transit isn’t attractive to potential riders because of the delays, so an at-grade system wouldn’t be as successful as elevated. It wouldn’t be as fast because trains would be in the mix of surface traffic, slowing and stopping at cross streets for vehicles and pedestrians.

At-grade trains with drivers couldn’t be scheduled as frequently as computer-controlled elevated trains. The list of at-grade negatives goes on, including higher numbers of property acquisitions, more ground disturbance due to the requirement to dig a 20-mile trench, and so on.

One thing all office-holders soon come to understand: The quick-and-easy “solution” often turns out to be no solution at all. Let's hope they keep that in mind when they're asked to evaluate elevated vs at-grade transit.

Update: Lingle acknowledges isles' economic rebound: As we noted yesterday, Hawaii's economy is doing quite well, a point the Governor highlighted yesterday. A robust economy presumably will be taken into account in her review of the rail FEIS.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Visitors Practically Beating Down Hawaii’s Doors

Visitor spending on Oahu in August increased 32.9 percent to $571.7 million compared to a year earlier, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

If Yes2Rail’s calculator isn’t acting up, that means transit tax revenues from Oahu visitor expenditures increased nearly three-quarters of a million dollars in August compared to the level of August 2009.

Through August, visitor arrivals on Oahu are up this year 6.7 percent over last year. Total expenditures have increased 10.5 percent, total visitor days are up 8.3 percent – in fact, every measure of the visitor industry’s health on Oahu compares favorably with August '09.

Why do we keep mentioning tourism’s resurgence, month after month? Because it speaks directly to the City’s comments time and again in the depths of the recession that the economy moves in cycles, and the downturn would be followed by an upturn.

We’re in that upturn, and it’s expected to carry on for years, according to the Council on Revenues, which has predicted strong growth in Hawaii General Fund tax revenues through 2017.

Despite the hand-wringing by the naysayers, Doomsday isn’t anywhere in sight, and rail tax revenues are doing just fine.