Sunday, October 2, 2011

How’s Your Day Going? Honolulu Drivers Spend Nearly a Day and a Half Annually in Congestion

The 2011 Urban Mobility Report is out and confirms what Honolulu drivers know in their guts – and rear ends. The average driver here who commutes during the morning and evening rush hours wastes 33 hours sitting and creeping in traffic congestion.

That’s something their families know, too – all those hours wasted on the homeward drive that could better be spent grilling in the backyard, at the soccer practice, anywhere but on a highway.

And it could be worse – and will be, according to the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI), which publishes the report. The slow economy has actually made traffic slightly less onerous, but that’ll all change with better times, says the TTI.
“The economic recession has only provided a temporary respite from the growing congestion problem,” TTI’s press release says. “When the economic growth returns, the average commuter is estimated to see an additional 3 hours of delay by 2015 and 7 hours by 2020.”
The report tracks hours of delay going back to 1982, and it’s not surprising that, along with the growth in Oahu’s population, traffic congestion has also grown – dramatically.

Population and Traffic
Twenty-nine years ago, the average drive-time commuter spent 14 hours a year caught in congestion, less than half of the hours lost in today’s commuting experience. The report says Honolulu’s urban population then was 570,000; it was 713,000 in 2010, the most recent benchmark.

Go back only 9 years and the report says our urban population was 700,000 – not much less than today. The average drive-time commuter spent 26 hours annually stuck in congestion. Those congestion hours have increased 27 percent since 2001.

What’s so important about 9 years? The Honolulu rail project is scheduled to be up and running throughout its 20-mile length between Kapolei and Ala Moana center in 9 years. According to TTI’s report, the average drive-time commuter in the country will experience another 7 hours of wasted congestion time by 2020 – the same number of increase Honolulu drivers have seen tacked on since 2001.

Since our local statistics are close to the national average (33 hours vs. 34), we’ll presumably see a similar increase in traffic congestion by 2020 and in the hours spent sitting in it.

But it might be worse; Oahu’s population growth is happening outside the urban boundary on the ewa plain, and it’s on highways and streets connecting this region to urban Honolulu where most of the growth in congestion is occurring. It's an easily understood fact: Congestion grows with the population.

But wait: Anti-railer Cliff Slater would have you believe Honolulu rail is supposed to actually reduce future congestion levels to less than today’s experience. He’s been making this nonsensical argument for years – prominently in his July 2010 Civil Beat interview, later that same month before the City Council, in his August 2011 op-ed commentary, and so on.

It’s a bogus argument -- suggesting that the rail project would be a failure if congestion isn’t reduced below current levels in 2020, 2030, 2040, etc.

It’s important for arguments like Mr. Slater’s to be exposed for what they are as he and his anti-rail colleagues ramp up their campaign to kill rail. They’re offering nothing new – just a whacky theory that rail should miraculously end congestion in our time, a notion the TTI report destroys.

Raill will be the commuter’s option to wasting all those hours in traffic congestion – of that there can be no argument.

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