Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Next Time APEC Comes to Honolulu, Residents Will Choose — Elevated Rail or Traffic Gridlock

Nearly all our energy is imported. The state is overwhelmingly dependent on the outside world for its sustenance. The islands are the most isolated and remote inhabited spot on the planet, but this weekend Honolulu can legitimately claim to be a power center.

Presidents of the three most powerful nations on Earth and other regional leaders are here for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, and with that concentration of political power come the security requirements you’d expect.

Social media sites have become dumping zones the past few days for residents upset about street and highway closures – precautions that truly world-class cities take in stride. Honolulu’s good citizens don’t complain about the weather much, but traffic is nearly always on their list of complaints, especially now with more than a dozen heads of state in town.

It struck us that these leaders have something in common besides their moving security bubbles. All of the national capital cities where they reside saw the need long ago to provide their residents a grade-separated transit option.

Travel mobility is a requirement for vital economic development and progress, and grade-separated transit has preserved mobility in our visitors’ hometowns. Honolulu rail will restore mobility through the urban core by the end of this decade, and that’s when we’ll have something in common with the world’s major cities represented this week at APEC.

To those who argue truthfully that these cities are all much larger than Honolulu, we'd suggest this: Honolulu's gridlock – now bad and growing worse – has robbed citizens of their mobility, which can be restored with construction of an alternative mode of transport through the southern urban corridor. Grade-separated rail works for all these larger cities, and it'll work for Honolulu, too.

Calling the Transit Role
Here a roll call of some of APEC's most distinguished visitors and the modern transit system in the city they call home:

President Barack Obama, United States of America
Most visitors to the nation’s capital return to Hawaii raving about the Washington Metro, one of the nation’s busiest rapid transit systems. The Metro has 106 miles of rail connected to 86 stations, half of them serving Federal facilities. The distinctive station design was created by Chicago architect Henry Weese and relies on exposed concrete in repetitive design motifs. Metro rail and the system’s 323 bus routes help visitors move through Washington quickly and easily.

President Hu Jintao, China
The Beijing Subway is the fifth busiest system in the world, with 1.84 billion riders in 2010. The first of the system’s 14 lines opened in 1969, and 209 miles of track today service 172 stations. All but two of the lines were built within the past 10 years to meet the population’s burgeoning demand for mobility, and capacity is still inadequate. The system is aggressively expanding and will have 410 miles of track by 2015 and 620 by 2020.

President Dmitry Medvedev, Russia
The Moscow Metro carried 2.348 billion passengers last year and ranks second only to Tokyo in ridership, with an average of more than 7 million passengers on weekdays. The system opened in 1935 with one line and now has 182 stations along its 187-mile route. The stations often are cited as among the most beautiful in the world. An interesting feature is how the system announces the next station; a male voice is used when traveling toward the city’s center, and a female voice when going away from it.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, Japan
The Tokyo Subway reigns supreme at the top of the annual ridership list, with 3.161 billion passenger trips in 2010. The Tokyo Metro and Toei networks carry a combined average of more than 8 million passengers each day. The Japanese are heavily reliant on rail transportation, and despite the subway system’s ridership, it represents only 22 percent of Tokyo’s 40 million daily rail passengers. Hawaii’s visitors to Japan invariably come home with praise for the city’s rail network.

President Benigno Aquino III, The Philippines
Many in Honolulu’s sizable and growing Filipino community are familiar with Manila’s Light Rail Transit System. Its 19 miles of track connecting 31 stations are mostly elevated, as Honolulu’s rail system will be. The system carries around 200 million passengers annually on its two lines. The Yellow Line opened in 1984 and travels on a north-south route; the Purple Line was completed in 2004 and runs east-west. A reusable plastic magnetic ticketing system has replaced the previous token-based system.

President Lee Myung-bak, South Korea
The Seoul Metropolitan Subway ranks third in the world in passenger trips, with 2.048 billion in 2009, an average of more than 8 million daily trips on the system’s 13 lines. More than 70 percent of the total metro track length is underground, and according to Wikipedia, many of the system’s stations are equipped with platform screen doors, which provide a barrier between station platforms and the tracks. Honolulu’s system will be similarly equipped.

Former Vice President Lien Chan, Taiwan
The Taipei Metro serves the metropolitan Taipei region with 89 stations and 63 miles of track. The system carried an average of more than 1.6 million passengers each day last year, and according to Wikipedia, “has been effective in relieving some of Taipei’s traffic congestion problems,” which is what Honolulu’s elevated system will do on Oahu. Trains operate with headways (time between trains) of as little as 90 seconds.

President Sebastian Pinera, Chile
Metro de Santiago is South America’s second longest metro system (after Mexico City) with more than 60 miles of track, mostly underground, and 82 stations. The system carried 621 million passengers last year. The first line was opened in 1975, and new lines are projected to be in operation by 2014 to keep pace with Santiago’s growing transit needs.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Canada
Canada’s capital city of Ottowa is just now building its light rail system, but other Canadian cities have long experience with their rail transit systems. Montreal’s Metro is a rubber-tired system and is grade-separated as a subway. The Metro was inaugurated in 1966 and is Canada’s largest system with 68 stations and 43 miles of track. Toronto’s system was launched in 1954 with 12 stations on its underground line.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore
The city-state’s Mass Rapid Transit or MRT forms the backbone of Singapore’s railway system. It opened in 1987 and is Southeast Asia’s second-oldest metro system after Manila. The system has 89 stations on its network and in 2010 carried an average of more than 2 million passengers each day. Except for one at-grade station, the entire MRT is elevated or underground. The system has steadily expanded in response to public support for more service.

President Felipe Calderon, Mexico
Mr. Calderon withdrew from the APEC forum after the helicopter crash that killed members of his government last week. His capital city’s transit system, the Mexico City Metro, carried nearly 1.5 billion passengers in 2008, which places it eighth on the world’s highest ridership list. The first Metro line opened in 1969, and the system now has 11 lines with 280 miles of track and 163 stations – 106 underground, 53 at ground level and 16 elevated. Each station was given a distinctive logo when the system was launched to help riders identify their station due to the widespread illiteracy at the time. That purpose is no longer required, but logos have persisted as a feature largely unique to Mexico City’s system.

Those are just a few of the dozens of world-class cities with rail transit systems that transport millions of commuters and other passengers each day. A global list would include the famed systems of Europe, Africa, South Asia, North and South America – in other words, just about everywhere. Honolulu will join the list in less than a decade.

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