Thursday, May 12, 2011

Some Still Don’t Have a Grip on Rail’s Purpose

How many words have been spoken and written about the Honolulu rail project so far, would you say? Hundreds of thousands? Millions? Tens of millions? This current project began in 2005, so a guess at a high number is undoubtedly a good one.

So it’s almost beyond comprehension that some people who’ve taken a great interest in opposing rail seem shocked or uninformed about what the project is all about and what it’s intended to accomplish. Yesterday’s City Council hearing provided more evidence.

Take the issue of whether traffic congestion will be reduced by the rail project. One testifier at the hearing earnestly told the members that congestion will not be less after rail is built. Her premise apparentely is that rail’s purpose is to reduce (eliminate maybe) highway and street congestion. The inference one drew from her testimony is that rail doesn’t deserve to be built if congestion will continue to grow.

What she failed to mention or perhaps doesn’t recognize is something that anti-railer-in-chief Cliff Slater had to admit at the very same lectern 10 months ago in another Council rail hearing:

“We don’t disagree at all that rail will have an effect on reducing traffic congestion from what it might be if we did nothing at all.”

In other words, traffic will be worse without rail than with it – and this is right from the horse’s mouth, the man to whom yesterday’s anti-rail testifiers look for guidance on all these matters.

Mobility vs ‘Ending’ Congestion

Any clear-thinking person will appreciate that with about 200,000 more people on the island in 2030 compared to 2005 (the FEIS’s demographic prediction, which is proving to be fairly accurate), the number of cars and other vehicles will also increase, and so will congestion. This is an island after all, where sentiment to build more freeways is virtually absent.

Rather than be shocked by the fact that traffic will be worse in 2030 on surface lanes than it is today, anti-railers might well expend their considerable energies on figuring out how the population can avoid that congestion.

Grade-separated transit is not a mysterious concept. It’s been adopted all over the planet for not just scores of years, but for well more than a century in places like New York, Chicago, Paris, London and Berlin. Many more cities than this handful currently provide grade-separated transit around the world.

Grade-separated transit – elevated rail in Honolulu – is the only path to restoring what we’ve lost, our freedom to travel across town at both the departure and arrival times of our choosing. That’s one definition of true mobility, and you can't do that in a car or bus. Just ask drivers who are stalled or diverted by construction, accidents and congestion on a daily basis.

It’s convenient to attack rail because it won’t end traffic congestion, but it’s also shallow to do so. Even Mr. Slater says rail will help reduce future congestion. He doesn’t say that often and it’s only with reluctance when he does, but when forced to come clean at the City Council on rail vis-à-vis traffic gridlock, he gave the only response possible without destroying any credibility he claims: Rail will help.

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