Wednesday, August 10, 2011

‘Nobody Will Ride’ Honolulu Rail? Nonsense; Ask Commuters in Cities with Rail-Based Systems

"The Tide" begins serving Norfolk, VA this month.
We return to this issue frequently because anti-railers such as Cliff Slater, Panos Prevedouros and their followers keep repeating the same assertion: Nobody will ride Honolulu's rail system when it goes into full service in 2019. Oahu residents are so wed to their car-dependent lifestyles that the city’s projections (116,300 daily riders in 2030) are wildly off – or so their thinking goes.

It’s a bizarre position to take in light of the millions who ride rail in cities all over the world, including Los Angeles, a city they still position as anti-transit. LA's successful and expanding rail system says otherwise.  Do people still drive cars in these cities? Of course they do, and those who don’t want the hassle of driving take their train.

“It gives me 30 minutes of peace,” says Bridget McCall of her daily trips on the new light rail line in Charlotte, NC. “It beats sitting in traffic, I save gas and I don’t have to pay for parking. I love it.”

McCall and other Charlotte commuters shared their commuting experiences using the city’s system with the Virginia-Pilot newspaper in Norfolk, VA, which is about to open its own light rail line this month.

Familiar Opposition

Neither city is free of dissension over rail, as the article makes clear. A former Charlotte city councilman who led the fight to repeal the transit sales tax is quoted saying much of what we hear locally – “It’s a loser, a real loser. There’s no way Norfolk can afford it…. Sure, light rail gives people a choice, but at what cost? How much is Norfolk willing to pay to give people a choice?”

That’s the anti-railers’ main issue – the cost vs choice argument. Die-hard opponents can never see a justification for the cost, but supporters can’t imagine a workable future without giving commuters that choice – an alternative to sitting in traffic, wasting time, burning gas, polluting the air, etc.

Says Bob Morgan, president of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce:

“Light rail sends a powerful message to the companies here and the companies looking to come here. We are investing in our future so our workers have options for getting to work. Transit is not a luxury; it’s a necessity. It sends a message and symbol of how you as a community are thinking about the future.”

Skate shop owner Josh Frazier reflects that optimism:

“It’s made the neighborhood more accessible. I’ve seen increase in interest in the area, more shops and condos. It’s a great thing – very progressive and environmentally friendly.”

Chuck Berger, owner of a gourmet store, says:

“It’s helped change people’s opinions on mass transit. Now everyone wants it in their neighborhood.”

Norfolk’s “The Tide” rail system begins full service on August 22, with free rides for the public the preceding weekend. Be sure to turn your sound down when you click on the YouTube video at the newspaper’s website. The first thing you hear are loud train whistles and bells, necessary warning devices for at-grade rail systems that mix with pedestrians and vehicles. Elevated Honolulu rail will have no such need.
Something you'll never see from Honolulu's train: Cross-traffic.

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