Thursday, December 29, 2011

Letter Reveals a Basic Misunderstanding of Rail; It Will Be Travel Option for EVERYBODY, Not ‘a Few’

Today’s LTE Forum highlights a phrase in a letter to the editor in today’s newspaper (subscription) that, although short, is exceptionally revealing.

The letter is more about politics than transportation, but it reflects a common misunderstanding about rail’s purpose that has led some residents to oppose the project. Here’s the relevant sentence:

Democrats putting train over hospitals (Star-Advertiser, 12/29)
“…Are we going to let these politicians dictate to us that building a rail to relief traffic congestion for a few residents is more important than saving the hospitals….”
It’s true that the percentage of island residents who will use the elevated rail system to completely avoid traffic in their daily commute will be small. That much is obvious for a rail line with 21 stations along the route between the growing communities on the ewa plain and Ala Moana Center.

But the same can be said of those who use the H-3 freeway and the Pali and Likelike highways to commute between the windward side and town. Similarly, only a small percentage of Oahu residents use Kalanianaole Highway to commute from their homes in Waimanalo and Hawaii Kai to downtown Honolulu.

When a new link is added to the island’s transportation infrastructure, it’s available for everyone's use at one time or another. Some will use it a dozen or more times a week, others much less frequently, but the fact that rail will be a traffic-avoiding option primarily those who live near the route is no reason to oppose its construction.

Often lost in the discussion is another significant point: With tens of thousands of commuters no longer driving to and from work, traffic congestion in the urban core will be reduced by 18 percent, according to the project's Environmental Impact Statement.

That means the person who never once uses the train will experience reduced traffic congestion – as seen in hours of vehicle delay – compared to what congestion would grow to if rail were not built.

Like other Honolulu residents, the letter writer presumably will enjoy that benefit more than drivers elsewhere on the island, and no one will resent him for it.

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