Thursday, July 7, 2011

Rail Critic Keeps Popping Up All over the Place

You never know where Dr. Panos “I’ll Stop Rail in Its Tracks” Prevedouros will show up with yet another adjective-laden opinion piece that describes Honolulu’s future rail project in the worst way possible.

One of the latest locations is a blog hosted by mass transit critic Joel Kotkin, who apparently believes rail transit projects are failures if they doesn’t reduce traffic congestion. (Honolulu rail is in good company at the New Geography blog; a more recent piece declares "High Speed Rail is Dead.")

He’s not alone in holding rail up against this impossible standard – impossible because traffic obviously increases with population growth. Honolulu rail critic Cliff Slater and former Governor Ben Cayetano also subscribe to this view.

Dr. Prevedouros’s piece at is filled with comparisons and anecdotes on rail transit projects around the world and other observations related only tangentially or not at all to Honolulu rail – projects in San Juan, Puerto Rico and Edinburgh, Scotland; Honolulu’s sewage issues; local airport, harbor and road repairs; public employee pensions and medical benefits, etc.

He covers familiar ground – e.g., the Governor Linda Lingle-ordered financial review by rail critic Tom Rubin and others that successor Governor Neil Abercrombie ignored and Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle deemed "an appalling waste” of taxpayer dollars and an “anti-rail rant.”

Leaving Out the Meat

The University of Hawaii professor covers considerable territory, but nowhere in his 1002-word commentary is there a single phrase about Honolulu rail’s goals and its basic function – to provide a completely traffic-free way to travel through the urban core and connect Honolulu to Oahu’s "Second City" of Kapolei and nearby communities in the island’s western region.

Left unsaid is the obvious fact that Honolulu’s population growth will be restricted by geography and designated by the Honolulu General Plan for a relatively confined space – between mountains and the ocean on the ewa plain. Transportation planners for decades have said Honolulu’s physical layout is an ideal example of a community that can be served by a grade-separated rail system that’s complemented by feeder buses.

Dr. Prevedouros covers none of that and also leaves out his preferred method to address traffic and population growth – high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, of which he himself has written: “Higher tolls are necessary to discourage overloading.”

In other words, HOT lanes are for the well-to-do who can afford them. The rest of us get to creep along in surface street congestion. Elevated rail will be Honolulu's alternative to traffic creep.

This Just In – Not

The Hawaii Reporter website headlined a story yesterday: “City Rents Downtown Office Space for Rail at $1.4 Million a Year” The story began:

“The City & County of Honolulu…has leased premium office space in the midst of Honolulu’s pricey downtown civic center. The Honolulu Rail Transit Project (HART) offices occupy the entire 17 and 23 floors of Alii Place.” The story also reports HART has “136 new city employees.”

This apparently was “news” to Hawaii Reporter, but as Civil Beat noted and has been well-understood by other news media, HART took over existing city resources and obligations when it officially began operating on July 1. Civil Beat reported November 3 on the voters’ approval of all five city charter amendments, including HART’s creation:

“The move means the city’s rapid transit division – now one of five divisions in the Honolulu Transportation Department – will split away from the city to become (HART). The new agency will use the Alii Place work space the division already uses….”

And so it goes.

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