Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Wayne Yoshioka Talks Transportation at CB

Director of Transportation Service Wayne Yoshioka’s interview with Civil Beat was streamed “live” online and came off with only one 30-second audio drop. Here's a close approximation of the exchange, transcribed as it happened. Civil Beat has posted the entire interview on its site.

Questions by Mike Levine: What’s the city doing to relieve congestion?
A: One of the biggest of course is the rail project. We don’t anticipate building new facilities/highways, so we have to make it more efficient to move people.
Q: Nothing new in highway construction?
A: State is looking to open up some bottlenecks, in the Middle Street area, for example, and an am/pm contra-flow lane. Shifting all this traffic to other modes is important. Buses also get caught in the congestion, and that’s why we’re looking at grade-separated transit that doesn’t get caught in the congestion.
Q: Bombardier’s actions? 
A: It’s a prescribed process. Bombardier talked about taking the legal route, and we’ll just have to wait to see how it plays out.
Q: Is there anything preventing the city from signing the contract with Ansaldo? 
A: My understanding is that there’s nothing technically standing in the way. We’ll have to see how it plays out.
Q: Concern about Ansaldo worldwide. How does that factor in now? 
A: It’s been discussed through the whole procurement process. The rulings speak for themselves. The procurement process was proper, and we can move on if we’re allowed to do so.
Q: What’s your role with the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation? 
A: Explained what his role is in HART…sits as an ex-officio member of the board, but I want to stress that these are my own comments that I’m expressing here today.
Q: How’s the relationship between the Administration and the rest of the HART board? 
A: It’s a very cooperative relationship, like all departments. We have close relationships with all city departments and the state. Everything is interrelated with transportation, so all agencies have to work together; otherwise, we’re working against one another.
Q: Will there be surfboard racks on the train? 
A: We haven’t made the decision about surf racks, but we have said we’ll initially allow surfboards on the trains, monitor it and go from there.
Q: The route? Are you satisfied that the current route will service enough of the community to help enough people? 
A: The project will be completed before we know it. It’s a good route, from East Kapolei and the UH West Oahu campus all the way to the Ala Moana Center. The intent is in the future, should funds be available, we’d extend it to UH Manoa, West Kapolei, and elsewhere perhaps. The current route does provide a solid backbone on which we can build.
(Sound was lost during a question  about the bike program.)
A: …We’re not going to build the entire bike program all at once. We want to have a good plan for incremental improvements to get to the ultimate plan. When that’s done, we’ll have a good path to get it done.
Q: Waialae Avenue in Kaimuki….an opportunity to implement the plan as roads are improved? 
A: In Kailua, our staff had been looking at the Keolu Drive area and had polled the neighborhood about reducing the lanes to two to liberate space for bike lanes. Regarding Waialae Avenue, we hadn’t moved along as far as in Kailua; the Waialae project was sorely needed, and the timeframe didn’t match up with ours. We were still studying it. We’ll be closing down one of the five lanes on Waialae and cone it off to test the concept of making space for a bike lane. We always make sure everyone’s comfortable with what we’re intending to do, but the resurfacing project came before we were ready to do this. We have in fact prepared to put down pavement markings to alert motorists that they can expect to share the space with bikes. That’ll happen as we go forward.
A: What’s happening with the Complete Streets program? 
A: Complete Streets says you have to respect all modes of travel – not only cars, but pedestrians and bikes, too. Generally, Complete Streets isn’t a program for new areas; we already plan to put them in with new streets. The real issue is in the established streets and areas. Transit-Oriented Development will enable us to implement Complete Streets in those station-focused areas. We’re formulating a Complete Streets policy for the entire County, then we’ll take it to the Council. That’ll guide our activities for the future.
Q: Street traffic lights sometimes change to "go" but there’s no walk signal. What’s with that? 
A: To clarify the signal issue, the reason why we ask pedestrians to press the button to trigger the walk signal is that we require a certain clearance level – 3 to 3.5 feet/second, a leisurely pace that allows them to step off and get across if they push the button and step off before the flashing begins. When the flashing already has started, you should not be stepping off into the street. In heavy pedestrian environments, we’ll have the Walk sign set automatically, but in most other areas, the pedestrian needs to push the button. The solid hand tells you you shouldn’t be walking.
Q: Retro-fitting some areas to make them more modern? 
A: It’s a function of what was done much much earlier than when I came on in 2007. It’s easy to second-guess things that happened in the past. Honolulu was originally designed before there were cars. Streets were designed for horses and buggies. I can’t see criticizing people back then for doing that. We have to look at ways to take what we have and make it more pedestrian-friendly.
Q: Any examples of old decisions that have made your life easier? 
A: Things that really helped were when certain promenades were planned with enough width to give us flexibility as we retrofit. Land is at a premium here, so another approach we’re looking at is viewing corridors rather than individual roadways. Maybe it doesn’t make sense for every street in an area to have bikeways. Hopefully we can do that without disrupting the historical significance of much that we have in Honolulu.
Q: Federal lawsuit on the FEIS. One of the major gripes in the lawsuit is that rail will have major impacts on historical sites. 
A: In the process that was followed, our procedures were very prescribed by the federal rules. The FTA’s response speaks for itself. All the alternatives that were studied are in the FEIS. It’s a very complete document.
Q: In terms of price, given financial crises in the US and Italian governments, some are saying the project should stop.
A: We have a very conservative financial plan. We’re not hanging by a shoestring. Second, we have tremendous support in both the administrative and legislative branches of the federal government. It’s to the country’s advantage to look at ways to make transportation more efficient, and we’re doing that here and are well-positioned to take advantage of the climate.
Q: Your relationship with Parsons Brinckerhoff; given your position…can the public trust this project? 
A: Absolutely. Everything is above board. First, back in 2007 a lot was made that I came from PB, but PB was already aboard, so I didn’t bring them. Secondly, the directors are not involved in selecting consultants like PB. We think the best-qualified candidates rise to the surface. PB deserves to be there. It’s an excellent firm, and I learned a lot and it’s benefiting me in my job now.
Q: Is there a way you or the Administration can reach out and communicate better with the public? 
A: We try to do that. There’s an extensive public information process—a weekly show on `Olelo, appearances at neighborhood boards and other community events, newsletters. We’re trying to do that across all the departments. We’re adding more information on-line for the public.
Q: Some viewers have concerns about construction. 
A: We’re meeting with other departments on how we can put more information out there online so people can see it. It needs to be organized so people can understand it.
Q: What comes next? There’s been mention of a “toll cordon” around downtown, and smarter parking meters. 
A: First about the cordon around downtown Honolulu. It’s tied somewhat with the concept of managed lanes, or toll roads. The whole point of tolls is to influence travel demand. If it gets expensive enough, people will be less inclined to use the car. We have to be very careful about that. Some people can’t afford tolls. We’re certainly not trying to force someone to use one mode or another. We have to be very careful about making life harder for people.
Q: Parking hikes downtown would influence people’s decision to go there, presumably. 
A: We currently have an RFP out for advanced parking devices. We’re out there soliciting them so we can implement some innovative approaches. San Francisco is experimenting with dynamic parking rates. If parking is at a premium in an area, parking rates would rise, and they’d go down elsewhere where there was less demand. We also could put information up on the web so people could tell where the parking is less expensive and available. People would spend less time looking for parking and save money, too.
Q: Other areas are growing on the island…Hawaii Kai, North Shore. Are there ways to increase the capacity of single-lane roads to some of these areas? 
A: Some communities talk about it, but on the other hand, there are just as many in these communities who don’t want the road capacity increased. We’re trying to keep the country country. It might not be consistent with that policy to increase the road capacity. The state is considering a bypass around Haleiwa that would make it easier for people to get around very congested areas when there are events on the North Shore.
Q: Wrapping up, do you think the solutions you’re talking about today will be good for Honolulu in 10 to 50 years? 
A: I’m benefiting from the work that occurred years ago. If that hadn’t happened, our issues would be far far worse. Moving on, we’re excited. We’re developing a Joint Traffic Center, co-housing all traffic-related agencies. Active Traffic Management is the plan. We don’t foresee much widening of existing roadways or building new ones, so we have to manage our existing roadways better. We’ll have to do that to address the future needs of our road system.

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