Monday, July 4, 2011

Honolulu Magazine Takes another Look at Rail, Doesn’t Mention Any of Project’s Key Attributes

Here’s your mission if you choose to accept it:

Take a photograph of “time” and send it to We're looking for a shot of time itself, not a representation of time.

That means no photos of Salvadore Dali paintings with drippy clocks sliding off tables, no toddlers and old men you see in newspapers at New Year’s. Just photograph time, and while you’re at it, capture the concept of “option,” but do not send photos of forks in the road or competing left/right traffic signs. Just send a photo of “option.”

This is a challenging mission, and that’s probably why Honolulu magazine didn’t take it on in the July edition with its latest examination of the Honolulu rail project. It’s just too hard to graphically represent intangible concepts central to why Honolulu rail will be built. Time savings, the option to avoid traffic completely, improved quality of life and financial advantages are all benefits train riders will enjoy.

They’re not easy to portray graphically, however. It’s much less challenging to slap visuals into the article showing how a street looks today and how it’ll look with rail. These street “elevations” are pretty easy to pull together – especially since Honolulu simply borrowed them from the Honolulu rail project and one of rail's principal critics, the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

Airbrushing Reality

But a critical look at one of the graphics the chapter provided reveals the shortcomings of its preferred transit mode – at-grade rail. Here’s the chapter’s touched-up photograph from the current issue of Honolulu:
Our January 15, 2010 post was devoted entirely to analyzing this fantastical AIA “photo.” You’re invited to read that post, but we’ll summarize its key points today:
• The AIA graphic shows the intersection of Maunakea and Hotel streets in Chinatown, but something’s missing. Here’s the same intersection as captured by’s street views service:
The AIA has airbrushed away the mauka-makai crosswalk in its graphic! Surely the chapter doesn’t believe pedestrians would be prohibited in the future from crossing Hotel Street at that busy location, does it? A more plausible explanation is that it wouldn’t have looked good to show a crosswalk directly in front of the AIA’s at-grade trolley/train. Chinatown is one of Honolulu’s most congested neighborhoods; as we wrote in 2010: “Honolulu already has too many pedestrian accidents and deaths; adding trains every few minutes to congested neighborhoods would increase the pedestrians’ risk – especially among the elderly.”
• The AIA train is sharing Hotel Street with TheBus in the AIA "photo," which introduces train-bus conflicts that inevitably would result in delays.
• The train in this graphic is only two cars long; it couldn’t be any longer without extending beyond Chinatown's shortest block, which would be totally unacceptable because it would interfere with cross-street traffic. Shorter at-grade trains would mean less carrying capacity, probably only half as many people as Honolulu’s planned elevated rail will accommodate.
• Because the AIA trains would run at street level, they would require drivers at their controls. Introducing the human error element would require more distance and therefore more time between the trains. Honolulu’s elevated trains will arrive every 3 minutes during rush hour; at-grade transit would likely require twice that much time between trains – yet another disadvantage compared to elevated rail.
• Finally, looking at the AIA's altered photograph, can you imagine a train on Hotel Street traveling 55 miles an hour or faster – the anticipated speed of Honolulu's elevated rail project? Of course not. Safety considerations likely would limit the trolley/train to 10 miles an hour in Chinatown, which would in effect dictate slower overall performance for the entire system.

We could go on about the AIA’s preferred at-grade solution, but you can find other posts at Yes2Rail that discuss the disadvantages of at-grade trains, including "dissecting AIA myths" on rail, the relatively poor safety record of at-grade transit compared to elevated rail, and more. Honolulu magazine didn’t bother to look into them at all.

Honolulu is a monthly, likely to be in circulation well after July. For that reason, we’ll continue to publicize the July article’s treatment of the important Honolulu rail project all month long, and maybe beyond. We’ll do it for the same reason we often draw readers' attention to statements by rail critics Cliff Slater and Panos Prevedouros.

The more we understand the transportation proposals of Mr. Slater, Dr. Prevedouros, the AIA chapter and even Honolulu magazine, the better Honolulu rail looks.

Happy Independence Day!

1 comment:

sumwonyuno said...

I don't have a photo on time or options ... maybe I could draw one?

Everyone's got their criticisms, but a lot of the anti-rail stuff isn't unique to rail. H-1 has more impacts on developed areas, and H-3 has more impacts on the environment and Hawaiian artifacts. We've got 40+ story buildings, and lots longer than a football field.

So now that the rail project is trying to minimize its impacts (land acquisition, noise), the cost goes up, and that gives another point of complaint. Sure engineers can make ground light rail + mixed traffic fit, but is cutting costs worth its impacts?

Streets have cars, pedestrians, trucks, bikes, and buses, which all compete with each other. Accidents frequently happen in this space. Who wants to be stuck behind a train... or risk of being crushed by one because of mishaps at crossings? In floods and other emergencies, can we rely on a ground train?

Going with the 4th of July theme-
elevated rail: freedom of mobility, free from the tyranny of traffic and uncertainty.