Thursday, July 14, 2011

Dallas Columnist Recalls Honolulu of 1971, Says Honolulu Doesn’t Need Its Modern Rail System

Honolulu -- 1971
(Be sure to check out the Comments below today's post. Also, see link at the end to the Dallas writer's follow-up column with a response from Honolulu's rail project.)
nos•tal•gia [no-stal-juh, -jee-uh, nuh-] noun
– a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time: a nostalgia for when he lived in Honolulu as a child.
Honolulu residents take pride in their hometown when it’s portrayed positively across America and gets nice headlines. Hawaii 5-O is the best current example, but there’ve been many others -- American Idol, stories about our outstanding beaches and resorts, Lost and other productions here, and much more.

But a headline like this is something else:
Just what Honolulu needs: 20 miles of elevated train track

It tops an opinion column by Mike Hashimoto of the Dallas Morning News, a venerable newspaper that's hanging on by adjusting with the times, such as creating a streamlined online presence – Mr. Hashimoto’s July 11th column looked askance at Honolulu’s transportation plans after he did a little bit of research. The one reference is a commentary by Honolulu’s own Panos D. Prevedouros; the site is maintained by the National Center for Policy Analysis, a conservative think tank in Dallas. It figures that Mr. Hashimoto would be attracted to that website; he describes himself at as “the only right-wing nut in the room.” (Joel Kotkin, who runs the Center, can be found with some frequency at

We’ve already commented on Dr. Prevedouros’s anti-rail opinion piece, which clearly is out of step with the majority support rail enjoys among Oahu residents as found in a recent opinion poll administered by QMark of Honolulu using best-practice principles. Mr. Hashimoto says his column drew on personal experience, too:

“As a side note, I have some experience with mass transit in Honolulu,” he wrote. “I spent some of my formative years living there (third through seventh grade) and found I could get just about anywhere in town, including school, on the city’s bus system. I don’t recall longing for a train…. This was a place so concerned about preserving its natural beauty that it didn’t even allow billboards.”

We still don’t allow billboards, so that hasn’t changed, but residents have added quite a few other issues to their list of local concerns since Mr. Hashimoto last lived here in 1971.

By the Numbers

According to the U.S. Census and other sources that you, too, can find, Oahu’s population in 1970 was 630,528. The 2010 Census located 953,207 people living here, a growth of 51.2 percent over four decades.

In 2009, the registered vehicle count on Oahu was 718,263, more than 20 percent above 1995. Hawaii’s visitor numbers passed 7 million in 2010, with the majority of them driving and bussing around Oahu. We didn’t find information on the vehicle and visitor counts in 1970, but the growth pattern is obvious from what we do know.

When all’s said and done, Honolulu isn’t the same town Mr. Hashimoto recalls with nostalgia. Traffic congestion, vehicle hours of delay, population growth, high-rise buildings that wall off the ocean and dwarf Aloha Tower, a spiraling cost of living, the highest electricity rates and gas prices in the country (oil/barrel in 1971, $3.60 vs 2011, $118), time lost sitting in traffic on H-1 and other roads – they all describe a city that doesn't resemble what Mr. Hashimoto remembers from his hanabata days four decades ago.

A lot of 1971 Honolulu is just a memory now – except for the no-billboards law, of course. Even TheBus system is different – better than in 1971 but inadequate to meet the mobility challenges of today’s 21st century world-class city.

We searched the ‘net for a 1971-era photograph to make our point about the passage of time in the 40 years since Mr. Hashimoto left. We think we found a good one, a photograph that also evokes Honolulu’s pride for one of its own – a young “Barry” Obama and his dad at Honolulu International Airport, Christmas 1971.

It’s worth about a bazzillion words.

July 27 Update: The Dallas paper today carries columnist Hashimoto's follow-up, which includes a letter from Toru Hamayasu, interim executive director of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation. Our response to Mr. Hashimoto's final word: "In this case, it does."


sumwonyuno said...

Honestly, the best time to build modern rapid transit in Honolulu was in the 70's because it would have affected all that growth during the post-statehood boom.

Given that we can't relive the past, we've got to build on what's the situation today, so in 40 years we won't still be regretting not building rail.

Get With It No Longa-70s said...

Back in March 1971, TheBus was a new venture by the City and County of Honolulu to deliver a more efficient bus transit system for Oahu residents. It turned out, several decades later, to be a model system in the U.S. winning America's Best Transit system in 1994/1995 and 2000/2001 by APTA. In addition, TheBus is now the 20th most utilized transit system in the country, the 13th most utilized bus fleet in the U.S., and the 4th highest transit per-capita ridership among major cities in America.
The City and county of Honolulu is trying to accomplish a similar goal with its rail system – to assist with the alleviation of traffic by creating a multi-modal system where TheBus becomes a community server to a regional train system that "moves" people quickly, efficiently and in an affordable manner.
It allows for equality in transportation enabling people who don't/can't afford drive and need an alternative transportation option for work, personal and leisure activities – keeping them mobile.
I can see the vision of Honolulu’s new rail system connecting the second city of Kapolei to Honolulu being a major component to adding to the quality of life for residents on Oahu. It also offers a progressive city like Honolulu to keep up with the much needed amenities that other progressive cities across the world provide their residents.
It just seems that Mr. Hashimoto of the Dallas Morning News is out of touch and out of place with his comments regarding Honolulu’s rail system. In addition, his sense of time is passé and is stuck back in the 70s where life in Hawaii back then is not what it is today. It’s nice to be nostalgic but it’s important to be real – and up to date with progress.

Honolulu808 said...

I agree with all the comments. This is what I told the foolish writer on his blog site as a response.

Your blog is ridiculous and obviously you are out of touch with what's happening in Hawaii and especially on the island of Oahu. The island's imagery of the late 60s and early 70s is a bygone era and Honolulu has graduated from what it was three to four decades ago as a balmy unpopulated paradise into a world class city -- a progressive one -- that has grown in population, demands on housing, a vast range high-quality jobs, science and high-technology assets, a growing internationally-based business community, and so, so, so much more. Those demands have grown Honolulu into a densely populated city -- as more and more people have moved to the islands. With that comes affordable housing shortages, overcrowded communities, a need for more jobs, and a traffic situation that has been ranked as the second worst traffic commute in the U.S. (reported in 2011 by the N.Y. Daily News and right behind the Los Angeles 101 freeway in California. So as you can see, a lot has changed since YOU ACTUALLY LIVED HERE.

What's funny is that you fully toss yourself into the self-concocted doctrine of Panos Prevedouros and his best guess theories on how to deal with traffic in Honolulu. What you forget to mention in your article is that Panos is a two-time unsuccessful candidate for Honolulu mayor in which he lost by a massive margin each time -- in election years 2008 and 2010. In addition, you forget to mention that Panos is one of the biggest anti-rail hacks in the state of Hawaii, who said in the 2010 election as part of his anti-rail political platform, that if elected Mayor, his first order of business would be to end the rail project by executive order.

I honestly do not think that your blog offers a real viewpoint on rail in Honolulu -- its need to fight and help alleviate one of the nation's worst commutes (the short span of the H-1 Lunanilo Freeway that lends itself to 1.5-2 hour commutes each way for West Oahu residents on any average workday; rail's ability on improving the quality of life for so many Oahu residents; the sillyness of growing an already taxed out automobile-based transportation infrastructure that cannot go through any more growth by adding more asphalt (and cars) to the island due to limited land to build new roadway infrastructure into the heart of Honolulu and its workforce areas; rail as a gift to future generations that allows them to have an affordable and reliable transportation option for all Oahu residents to experience; and finally, a public works project that enables jobs to be created -- thousands of them -- over the next ten years to get the local economy in Hawaii back on track and get thousands of construction professionals off the bench and back to work to support their families.

Again, I repeat that you are OUT OF TOUCH with what's actually taking place in Hawaii, especially with this rail project that will bring a whole lot of good to Honolulu and the state of Hawaii.

Maybe you should VISIT Honolulu before writing an irresponsibly placed story thousands of miles away from a place that you once called home 40 years ago. Get with it dude.

Doug Carlson said...

Boy, do I love Honolulu808's comment!!! Way to go, 808. We'll all have to go to to see how this ends -- or continues.