Monday, November 14, 2011

Biggest APEC Take-Away for the Oahu Audience: We Absolutely Want To Go When We Want To Go

Star-Advertiser's Sunday photo of H-1 gridlock caused by APEC security.
Even considering all the local stories over the past 10 days about high-level trade talks and one unfortunate incident in Waikiki, the biggest news to come out of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum was the traffic.

Local television reports on APEC began with overhead shots of traffic jams and details about travel restrictions that were creating gridlock. Honolulu officials flooded Twitter with cautionary blurbs about when and where not to drive.

Traffic updates were the most important content of radio reports and talk shows, and today, after APEC’s conclusion, a page one story in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser is headlined “Traffic woes continue as global leaders depart.” Even National Public Radio mentioned Oahu drivers’ plight by noting President Obama “thanked the islanders for their Aloha Spirit in the face of mammoth traffic jams.”

APEC proved beyond a doubt that Oahu residents obsess over traffic, and the reason is clear: The ocean and mountain ranges squeeze our streets and highways into a narrow east-west channel. When that channel is blocked repeatedly as it was by APEC security measures, we’re stuck. We don’t have the option, like most mainlanders do, of driving around the “congestion inundation zone.”

Can there be any doubt that Oahu residents will embrace elevated rail? We know to a person what we all hate, and that’s the traffic congestion that comes with unusual events like APEC but also what we encounter each day. Given an option to avoid that traffic, we’ll take it.

We’ve been saying it here at Yes2Rail for years: Only grade-separated transit – elevated rail in Honolulu – allows users to know even as their trips begin exactly when they’ll arrive at their destinations.

If you catch a train at the Waipahu Transit Center, you’ll arrive at the Kalihi station in 21 minutes – every time. If you board at the Kapalama station near Honolulu Community College, you’ll arrive at UH West Oahu in 32 minutes – every time. Trips from one end of the line to the other will take 42 minutes – every time and no matter what’s happening on surface roads.

You simply can’t say with certainty how long your drive will take when you set off using streets and highways. Whether it’s a fender-bender, a broken water main, too many cars in too little space or a caravan carrying one of the world’s most powerful leaders, if it’s in your way, you’re stuck and out of luck, as thousands of drivers learned all over again this weekend.

End of Debate
Do the four plaintiffs on a lawsuit that was filed to kill rail really think Honolulu drivers don’t want a grade-separated alternative to that congestion that would save them both time and money? Does anti-railer Cliff Slater, who has fought mass transit for decades, really think a majority of Honolulu residents buy his pro-car propaganda?

The evidence is overwhelming that most Oahu residents support rail. We’ve elected pro-rail candidates and defeated those who would shut down the project. We’ve endorsed charter amendments to include a rail system in our transportation mix and manage its construction, operation and maintenance with a transportation authority. Support for rail in three scientific opinion polls since 2008 averaged 57.6 percent.

APEC was a reminder of how much Oahu drivers loath traffic. We want what we want when we want it, and we want to get where we’re going as quickly as possible. Rail will be that option for many of us if and when the world’s leaders ever return for an APEC summit in our beautiful but traffic-choked mid-Pacific home.

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