Thursday, December 8, 2011

Media Roundup: Congestion, More Lanes on H-1, Rail Maintenance and Tampa’s ‘Aircraft Carrier’

Tampa's elevated expressway looms above surface lanes.
You know a topic is “trending” locally when you hear and read about it all over the place in traditional media, let alone Twitter. Rail is trending on Oahu.

Highway proponent and rail critic Panos Prevedouros posted a link a few days ago at his Fix Oahu website to another of his essays on “the relative advantages of Rail and HOT Lanes for Honolulu.” We bit, clicked and found a photograph there of Tampa’s Reversible Express Lanes (REL), which he and other rail critics repeatedly praise as a better transportation option for Honolulu than rail. We posted that photo at the top of today’s post. Here’s another one:
A night-time view (below this post) makes the elevated highway look prettier, but what strikes us is how wide the elevated highway is. If anything, it looks more like the “aircraft carrier in the sky” description rail critics have tried to pin on Honolulu rail.

Beyond the visual blight, Dr. Prevedouros’s HOT lane idea has numerous issues. The most obvious one is the T; a toll road serves those who can afford (1) a car and (2) to pay the toll. Large numbers of elderly, youth, students, unemployed, underemployed and other car-less, cash-strapped citizens derive no benefit from HOT lanes unless they ride a bus on those lanes, but even that mode has a fundamental problem – limited HOT lane access.

The 11-mile HOT project would have only three exits between the project’s start and end points – the H-1/H-2 merge and “downtown,” which his site says is “one half mile before the waterfront.” Honolulu rail will have nine stations between those points and another 12 along its 20-mile route. Rail will offer many more options for using the system than Dr. Prevedouros’s “solution.”

Finally, he says “there would be no visible blight because HOT Lanes run mostly next to the H-1 freeway…..” His use of “mostly” is a warning that some segments would be elevated – resulting perhaps in “The Tampa Look." Also, building a new highway next to the existing H-1 would obviously require the taking of property. What would be taken -- parks, trees, businesses, neighborhoods....what?

Honolulu rail will use a relatively narrow elevated guideway – the missing piece of key infrastructure that will allow commuters and others to avoid streets and highways altogether as they travel congestion-free through the city.

More Lanes?
The morning drive talk show host began his program today with a traffic report that highlighted rain-induced problems on the freeways and his sarcastic observation that “…building more lanes to handle that traffic wouldn’t be a good idea” (paraphrased). He obviously is a more-pavement proponent, and that's where he veers off into the rabbit hole.

An example: The host repeatedly described the rail project incorrectly during his one-hour “Community Matters” interview with Dr. Prevedouros this past weekend on Clear Channel’s Honolulu stations (no link found). He and other opponents say rail is being built to fight congestion; in their most extreme mischaracterization of the project, they say rail is supposed to “eliminate congestion” (see the MidWeek Letter to the Editor linked from our 12/3 post).

This deliberate misstatement of rail’s actual goals obviously suits their purposes. They want the public to believe rail will be a failure for not dramatically reducing or eliminating congestion. What they ignore – again deliberately – is that there is no magic bullet to achieve their idea of traffic heaven, not as long as Oahu’s population continues to grow.

The host, Dr. Prevedouros and Cliff Slater have been repeating this mantra so long they may actually have deluded themselves into believing rail is supposed to eliminate congestion. As we noted here in October, building more highway lanes doesn’t reduce traffic; if anything, the result is that more cars join the jam and fill up those extra lanes, too. It’s called “induced traffic,” a phenomenon that’s widely studied and understood – just not by the host and his friends.

Maintaining Rail
The anti-rail editor of Honolulu magazine takes another shot at the project this month. In short, his equation goes something like this: [Potholes on Streets = Failed Rail Maintenance] – i.e., since road maintenance is a continuing problem, maintaining a more complex rail system will be problematic: “If we can’t get roads repaved any faster than every 20 years, why would we expect that rail would fare any better?

That’s one way to look at it. We’ll leave it to our readers to decide if one equals the other and simply file it along with the editor’s other observations on the rail project, such as his belief that on-demand shuttles are a better approach to Oahu’s growing transportation issues than adding rail as a critical piece of infrastructure.
Tampa's "aircraft carrier in the sky" looks kinda pretty at night -- huge but pretty.


Anonymous said...

Can you please photoshop those pics with some grafittion the columns like how the honolulutraffic does? It's only fair for the public to view their solution in the same context.

Doug Carlson said...

Interesting that Tampa seems to have kept their columns graffiti free. Maybe their residents are more restrained than ours.

Anonymous said...

It is interesting that Slater thinks that Honolulu's rail system is ugly and Tampa's HOT lanes are pretty, event though Tampa's structure is bigger than Honolulu's planned rail structure. It is something like a parent failing to see a child's flaws.

Anonymous said...

"induced traffic," that sounds like a version of Parkinson's law, "Traffic expands to fill the available volume of highways."