Sunday, January 30, 2011

Honolulu Rail Has ‘Big Mo’ on Pro Bowl Sunday

Add today’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser editorial section support and exposure to the list of recent Honolulu rail achievements and it’s clear the rail team has momentum is on its side.

The project has racked up a remarkable list of achievements in the past six and one-half weeks – FEIS acceptance, Programmatic Agreement signing, Record of Decision issuance and the granting of a needed SMA permit.

That’s an impressive offensive line to take on the anticipated legal challenges anti-railers surely will mount.

As today’s editorial headlines, the project’s “next stop” is creation of the Rail Transit Authority – officially the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, quarterback of our Rail Transit Team.

We’re obviously stretching to connect with the NFL’s Pro Bowl, which will kick off a few hours from now in Honolulu’s Aloha Stadium, about three strong-armed quarterback throws from rail’s future station.

We predicted two years ago rail’s groundbreaking would occur before the next Pro Bowl was held here. Well, that’s today, and groundbreaking is still a few weeks away, but we’re confident in this fresh prediction – that by the next NFL game at Aloha Stadium, Honolulu will be well along in finally building this long-sought mobility-enhancing project.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Houston At-Grade Rail Gets Safety Repackaging

Despite Honolulu rail’s recent successes – the FEIS’s acceptance by the Governor, signing of the Programmatic Agreement, the FTA’s issuance of a Record of Decision and the City Council’s award of an SMA permit – we just know someone will insist the project would be cheaper if built at ground level.

With that in mind, we’re returning to a frequent Yes2Rail theme – safety – by checking in with Houston, TX, which is scrambling to make its at-grade rail system safer.

Earlier this month, Houston’s METRORail unveiled a wrapped train (pictured above) that implores vehicle drivers to pay attention to approaching trains. Too often, drivers don’t, and the results are themselves eye-catching, as we showed here last February.

Honolulu’s trains will run on tracks elevated about 30 feet above ground level. We’ll never experience events like what the citizens of Houston and Phoenix, AZ have almost come to expect.

That’s why officials are wracking their brains for safety campaigns, for example, wrapping their trains. Looks like they gotta do what they gotta do.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Council Action Clears Path to Rail Groundbreaking

The vote was unanimous among all Council members who were present for the vote – 8 to 0 in favor of granting a Special Management Area (SMA) permit to the Honolulu rail project. One member was absent.

Despite reservations and even firm objections to building rail by a minority of Council members, those opinions did not carry over to the vote on the final major Council action required for the project to proceed, which is now expected to break ground by March.

SMA permits are required for certain kinds of alternations and developments within areas designated by the State's Coastal Zone Management Program.

About 1.6 miles of Honolulu rail’s 20-mile route will be within the coastal management area (see details on above map) as defined by Oahu ordinance.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Let’s End this ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ Talk Right Now!

Anti-railers must be thinking, “It worked in Alaska. Maybe we can make it work here, too!”

Their latest essay – “Still Hope for Rail Critics” – is another of their flawed commentaries that Yes2Rail likes to highlight; the more exposure their thinking receives, the stronger the case for Honolulu rail. (See our July and October 2010 Yes2Rail posts for more highlighting of anti-railers' spurious arguments.)

6 pm UPDATE: Council Approves Key Permit for Rail

Take this commentary, please – and let’s take it apart piece by piece for the benefit of those who might be reading their stuff at a distance.

This isn’t a bridge to nowhere; it’s a link between urban Honolulu and the region in the southwest corner of Oahu that has been designated for decades as the location for future growth as our Second City.

The region, referred to generally as the new city of Kapolei on the Ewa Plain, is where young families can afford to rent or purchase their first home. Oahu is one of the most expensive real estate markets in the nation, so less-expensive housing developments in Kapolei are attractive and can only increase in size.

This map shows an arrow pointing to Kapolei. Note that Oahu is an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. We have one major east-west route, the H-1 freeway; it's not possible to build south of that route for the obvious reason that the space is wet. Mountains (not shown) prevent inland routing.

The H-1 already is clogged with traffic during drive time and often throughout the day, but building more highways to relieve that traffic pressure on a land-scarce island is not the answer, no matter what anti-railers say.

Government officials for decades have proposed a grade-separated rail link between Kapolei and Honolulu as a way to restore mobility. That’s one of the rail project’s goals – to restore what our population has lost, the ability to move at will through the urban corridor.

Other project goals include improving access to the planned development of the Second City, as noted above. A third is improving corridor travel reliability, which grade-separated transit does nicely by completely avoiding surface congestion. Improving transportation equity is a fourth goal, giving all segments and economic groups access to fast, frequent, reliable and safe travel regardless of age and income.

This Is Not a Jobs Project!

But the “Still Hope” commentary ignores all that and wants you to believe this is nothing more than a jobs project. “The promise of creating jobs is not a legitimate excuse for every piece of large-scale government spending that worms its way into the budget,” it says.

Of course jobs will be created, but that’s not why Honolulu rail is proceeding. Anti-railers would have you believe otherwise, just as they automatically assume “cost overruns in the billions of dollars….”

It’s part of their mantra, just like the “bridge to nowhere” chant. And just like most glib and easy-to-swallow slogans, this one is easily debunked.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Governor Says State Will Support Rail’s TOD Effort

Governor Neal Abercrombie delivered his first State-of-the-State Address this morning and continued his endorsement of Honolulu rail by pledging State support for transit-oriented development along the project’s 20-mile route:

“The New Day Work Projects will look to the future and what our community and our economy will look like decades from now. For example, as Honolulu moves on its transit plans, the State will actively encourage and support attractive, sustainable transit-oriented development. The Legislature has proposals on these concepts, including looking at density rights and other zoning initiatives. I will look forward to participating in these discussions and moving quickly. The people of Hawaii are going to get to work and build our future.”

In an allusion perhaps to federal monies that are anticipated to help build Honolulu rail, Abercrombie continued:

“In meetings with other governors across the country I’ve met some who have an ideological problem with utilizing resources from the federal government and collaborating with the President. We of course have no such problem. After all, federal dollars are our tax dollars, and we should pursue our fair share vigorously and strategically.”

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Congressman John Mica (R): ‘I Support this Project’

Rep. John Mica, new Chairman of the Republican-controlled House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle today he likes what he sees with Honolulu rail.

“I support this project,” Mica said, “especially with Honolulu’s local commitment, and I will continue to work with Rep. Hirono and the Federal Transit Administration to make sure the project does not get bogged down in bureaucratic red tape.”

Mica’s comments reflected his familiarity with Honolulu’s unique geography, which federal authorities for decades have said is a near-perfect fit for a rail line that would be a transit "spine" along the length of the city, with feeder bus routes connecting to the elevated train stations.

“Honolulu is bordered by the mountains on one side and the ocean on the other,” he said. “This project will service the area where the vast majority of Oahu’s population live and work and will help address the area’s traffic congestion issues.”

The project’s final environmental impact statement projects daily ridership of the grade-separated system of 100,000-plus, resulting in at least 30,000 fewer cars on Honolulu streets and highways each day from what would be the case if rail were not built.

According to a press release issued by Carlisle’s office, the Mayor also met today with Rep. John Duncan (R-TN), Chairman of the House Highways and Transit Subcommittee; Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Ranking Member of the subcommittee, and Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV), Ranking Member of Rep. Mica’s committee. Carlyle’s release said all “expressed their willingness to work with the City and County of Honolulu as it advances its rail project.”

“I am very pleased and grateful to Rep. Mica for his continuing support for the Honolulu Rail Transit Project,” Carlisle said. “Receiving the Record of Decision was a tremendous step forward for Honolulu, and Rep. Mica has offered to help us continue our implementation and expedite the construction of our project by working with the FTA, Rep. Hirono, our entire Congressional Delegation and the U.S. Congress.”

Editorial: Rail Project Needs Public Buy-In

“All of the steps along the way (of building the rail project) must be taken with a full measure of public notification; transparency at each stage of the project is of immeasurable importance to maintain public trust in the expenditure of some $5.5 billion on Hawaii's largest-ever taxpayer-funded project….
“But the residents already living (near the future stations) need to buy into this, too. If stops are envisioned well, these live-work-play complexes will become less of a jarring intrusion and more of an integrated addition to established neighborhoods. The community embraces what it's helped to design, making the improvements vibrant and lasting.” ~ Honolulu Star-Advertiser editorial, 1/20/11

What’s not to like about this editorial? It summarizes the Honolulu rail project's guiding principle from the start, notwithstanding complaints from some about being shut out of the process. They presumably feel that way because (1) they’re rock-ribbed rail opponents or (2) their proposed route/technology/you-name-it wasn’t selected.

With the Federal Transit Administration overseeing this project each step of the way, there’s no way the City has or would short-circuit the process. I’s have been dotted and T’s crossed. Count on it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sure-Fire Path to Paralysis: Foment Fear of Failure

We didn’t have to wait long for the anti-rail segment of our island society to chime in on the Federal Transit Administration’s issuance of a Record of Decision to the Honolulu rail project.

Their mantra is what they’ve used for at least 20 years; we call it the What-If Factor. What if the federal money never comes? What if there are cost overruns? What if there are delays? What if there’s a tsunami? Believe it or not, fear-of-tsunami has been mentioned as a reason not to build Honolulu rail.

A morning radio talk show host and his favorite anti-rail guest were perfecting their What-Ifs this morning, going so far as to predict massive cost overruns and no federal money in the end.

It’s all boogey-man talk – conjured-up images of future failures based on nothing more than their active imaginations. Their end game, of course, is to scare citizens away from rail.

Devil in the Details

The talk show host asked his favorite guest this morning if any form of rail is acceptable on Oahu. The guest wavered slightly, since he doesn’t want to alienate a faction of local architects who favor building at grade in town and elevated further west.

But in the end, when pressed by the anti-rail host, the guest firmly endorsed building an elevated toll road instead of rail. He said drivers could pay a toll for the new highway in the sky, thereby producing reduced congestion on the H-1 freeway.

That was his alternative – diverting vehicle traffic from the H-1 freeway to the toll road. Drivers who can afford to pay tolls would do so, and those who can’t afford the tolls would be left to their on devices on traffic-choked streets and highways.

And what happens if the toll road becomes congested with too many toll-paying cars? That’s simple enough; just keep raising the real-time toll until only those who can afford to pay them would access the highway.

Just Charge More

You see where this is going, don’t you? The favored guest’s alternative to rail amounts to a failure to achieve the rail project’s four goals that we highlighted earlier this month, with "restoring mobility" the primary goal.

What also jumps out especially is a toll road’s inability to provide transportation equity for all classes of people, something rail will do with ease. Only those with cars can use toll roads, and only those who can afford to pay ever-increasing tolls can enjoy clear sailing.

Another anti-railer made all this perfectly clear in October when he wrote: “Higher tolls are necessary to discourage overloading.” So fervent is he in his defense of car-centric commuting that he probably doesn't perceive the injustice in his shockingly frank statement.

To paraphrase: “More fear of failure is necessary to encourage doubt about rail.”

Be ready for much more What-If fear mongering in the weeks, months and years ahead.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

FTA Issues Record of Decision for Honolulu Rail!

Today’s issuance of a Record of Decision by the Federal Transit Administration was one of the most significant events in Honolulu’s decades-long attempt to build a modern rail transit system.

FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff presented the document to Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle and Toru Hamayasu, general manager of the City’s Rapid Transit Division, at FTA offices in Washington, DC. Said Rogoff:

“Today marks an important milestone in Oahu’s quest to become a more transit-friendly island. With the completion of the National Environmental Policy Act process, the City of Honolulu has met all of the laws and regulations of the environmental review, and we look forward to the day when Honolulu’s citizens can ride the rails in comfort, breathe cleaner air and avoid getting stuck in time-wasting traffic jams.”

Carlisle also spoke of rail’s potential “to provide residents with a sensible alternative to our congested roads and highways and improve their overall quality of life.” Carlisle noted construction of Honolulu’s 20-mile system “will also create thousands of jobs and fuel our state’s economy. It’s time to get those shovels in the ground.”

Events have moved quickly since Governor Neil Abercrombie accepted rail’s final environmental impact statement on December 16, a crucial step that Abercrombie’s predecessor had refused to complete.

“The Record of Decision) is a huge accomplishment and reflects the strong confidence the FTA has in this project,” Carlisle said in a statement. “Our transit team has worked closely with FTA throughout the process, and this shows that our plan is sound and our project is on solid footing.”

A number of other steps are required before construction can begin on Phase 1 of the project.

Walking, Transit Part of Millennials’ Preferences

Continuing the thought from yesterday – the one about the importance of not excluding Oahu’s future generations from the rail discussion (see post immediately below) – a recent Wall Street Journal piece seems especially relevant to Honolulu's plans for transit-oriented development (TOD) and Generation Y's likelihood to embrace Honolulu rail.

Reporting on a National Association of Home Builders conference, the article says “Gen Y” (born between 1980 and the early 2000s) are into urban-style living, walking and transit.

They’re not into living like their parents in suburbia – at least, not yet. “….since cities themselves can be so expensive, places with shopping, dining and transit….will do just fine,” according to the article.

Reading this piece suggests Gen Y will embrace living in newly designed communities built around rail stations. Fast, frequent, reliable and safe rail transportation will satisfy their mobility needs.

As the WSJ piece says in its opening paragraph, Gen Y doesn’t want dependence on a car. Unlike their parents (apparently), they won’t mind walking to a station to make a fast traffic-free trip.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Missing at LWV’s Anti-Rail Event: Oahu’s Youth

What would happen if the League of Women Voters held a “Doing Rail Right” panel and nobody under 30 showed up? That’s essentially what happened Saturday morning if “nobody” can be defined as “less than two.”

It’s probable Oahu’s youth stayed clear of the event (except for one anti-rail college student) because of LWV’s reputation opposing Honolulu rail. Also opposed to the project were all but one member of the event's panel.

With its reputation preceding it, the League and its decidedly senior age distribution wasn’t likely to create a buzz among the next generation of leaders on a beautiful Saturday morning. The only “independent” voice on the panel was a Civil Beat reporter who said the online news organization has taken no stand on rail and neither would he that day.

Other panelists included a member of Stop Rail Now; a University of Hawaii economist who authored a study that has been criticized by a frequent pro-rail contributor; an attorney who voiced objections to the project because of its potential to disturb buried human remains; an architect who advocated building an at-grade rail system, and a moderator who urged continued opposition to the project at the City Council level.

Generation Relevant?

Yes2Rail attended the event and is giving it more space here than the Honolulu Star-Advertiser did the next day. Unmentioned in the newspaper’s report was the age range of the participants, which we think is significant.

Of the 24 audience participants, one was a member of “generation next.” Most were a lot closer to the Yes2Rail writer’s age, which we mention only to pre-empt accusations of “ageism.”

We noted the age differential between rail opponents and supporters back in July when the City Council held a hearing on rail’s final environmental impact statement. The opponents were represented principally by Cliff Slater; Oahu’s youth testified in favor of rail.

A Kamehameha Schools graduate who’s attending Yale University said: “I support rail development in Hawaii because I want to return home. I want to have a reason to be back here. Without innovation, without a look to the future, without development that can make us a competitive force in the Pacific region and the United States, there’s no reason for students to want to come back from the mainland.”

Another young person said he represented a group called “We Will Ride.” “We represent over 400 young people, mostly high school- and college-age students that are dedicated to the promise that rail transit has for the future of Honolulu…. So essentially, I’m here and we’re here to tell you all and to tell the people and the Council that if you build a rail system, we will ride it.”

We said back in July that if the Council members were paying attention, they saw and heard the future, and it was decidedly with rail. The two Council members and one member-elect at Saturday’s event did not see or hear what Oahu’s youth want for their future. It simply wasn’t in the cards because the League had no interest in exposing that side of the debate.

Surely the full City Council can't ignore it.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Poster Contest Shows Gen-Next Appreciates Rail

First Place Winner: John Paul Nartalez, Farrington HS
We have no way of knowing how old the anti-railers are who post their comments (always negative) below the Star-Advertiser’s online rail-related editorials (always positive), stories and letters. Judged by their comments, they aren’t teenagers.

Contrast their world-weariness with the optimism found in the posters submitted by Oahu teens for Honolulu rail’s 2010 poster contest. We’re featuring the top three places at Yes2Rail today, as announced this morning by Mayor Peter Carlisle on KHON-TV2.

The winners: First Place, John Paul Nartatez, Farrington High School; Second Place, Erica S. Buxton, Farrington High School; Third Place (tie), Catherine Johnny, Campbell High School, and Kody Castillo, Radford High School.

Nartatez has won an Apple iPod Touch for his poster, which he titled “Should Have Caught the Rail.” All contest submissions are posted at the Moving Us Forward website and the Youth Council on Rail Facebook page.

A theme that runs through many of the posters is another contrast – the one between fast, frequent, reliable and safe rail transit and the traffic-choked streets and highways below.

The next generation knows continued reliance on single-occupancy vehicles (the norm today) is not sustainable in the decades ahead. Hawaii’s gas prices are the nation’s highest. We already have predictions that oil’s price could rise to $150/barrel next year! What it might be in 20, 30 and 40 years from now is beyond comprehension.

Today’s youth see the light and will lead the way – just as soon as the rest of us get out of it.
Second Place: Erica S. Buxton, Farrington HS
Third Place (tie): Catherine Johnny, Campbell HS
Third Place (tie): Kody Castillo, Radford HS

Thursday, January 13, 2011

No Surprise in State DOT’s No-Show at Council

The City Council held a hearing yesterday on the Lingle Administration-sponsored financial study of the Honolulu rail project. The State Department of Transportation was asked to participate but didn’t.

That’s not a surprise. Governor Linda Lingle (R) was adamantly opposed to Honolulu’s grade-separated rail system and made that clear at every opportunity. Her politics were 180 degrees in opposition to former Mayor Mufi Hannemann, rail’s biggest champion over the past several years and potential general election opponent of Lingle’s lieutenant governor.

Newly installed Governor Neil Abercrombie (D) is a rail supporter. He accepted rail’s FEIS 10 days into his term, something Lingle refused to do. His administration didn’t order up the IMG study; Lingle’s did. It seems understandable that Abercrombie’s Department of Transportation didn’t respond to a request to participate in the Council’s hearing on an issue Abercrombie has said was outside the State's responsibilities for rail.

The City’s Department of Transportation Services did show up to rebut IMG’s study, as summarized in its document:

While the IMG report purports to focus on the financial implications of the City’s rail transit project, much of the report discusses bus issues that are independent of the rail project. Concerning both bus and rail, the report’s conclusion of a resulting $1.7 billion shortfall is not adequately substantiated. A review of IMG’s methods show that important and more relevant data was not recognized or considered and the report’s authors used incorrect figures and assumptions that allowed them to reach unsupported conclusions. The report also reflects a lack of understanding of transit financials and fails to recognize key economic indicators used by the State of Hawaii. This further reinforces the City’s position that the rail transit Financial Plan is sound. In addition, the FTA has already reviewed the City’s Financial Plan, and found the project to be financially sound and allowed it to move forward. The FTA also continually reviews the project’s Financial Plan and will do so again as the project enters its next phase of Final Design.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Transportation Equity Rounds Out Rail’s 4 Goals

We’re concluding our New Year's review of Honolulu rail transit project goals today with goal #4 – to improve transportation equity.

Equity is a good filter to use when evaluating anti-railers’ alternatives to the rail project, such as High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) roads and elevated busways that lack stops or stations along the route.
1/12 UPDATE: Hawaii Gas Nation's Costliest
Continuing Oahu’s heavy reliance on automobiles for commuting between the Second City and Honolulu is objectionable on many levels, including the equity issue. HOT lanes fail the equity test by not serving those who don’t own cars; beyond that obvious point, HOT lanes serve only those who can afford to pay the toll! And elevated busways that bypass communities along the route also fail to equitably serve all potential users.

Rail transit meets that test. Here’s the final environmental impact statement’s description of the equity goal:

Equity is about the fair distribution of resources so that no group carries an unfair burden of the negative environmental, social, or economic impacts or receives an unfair share of benefits. Many lower-income and minority workers who commute to work in the PUC (Primary Urban Center) Development Plan area live in the corridor outside of the urban core. Transit-dependent households concentrated in the Pearl City, Waipahu, and Makakilo areas (Figure 1-9) rely on transit availability, such as TheBus, for access to jobs in the PUC Development Plan area. Delay caused by traffic congestion accounts for nearly one-third of the scheduled time for routes between Ewa and Waikiki. Many lower-income workers also rely on transit because of its affordability. These transit-dependent and lower-income workers lack a transportation choice that avoids the delay and schedule uncertainty currently experienced by TheBus. In addition, Downtown median daily parking rates are the highest among U.S. cities, further limiting access to Downtown by lower-income workers. Improvements to transit availability and reliability would serve all transportation system users, including minority and moderate- and low-income populations (emphasis added).

Monday, January 10, 2011

Rail Goal #3 – Support for Second City’s Growth

We’ve begun the New Year with a review of Honolulu rail goals as described in the project’s final environmental impact statement. A refresher course can’t hurt in these changing times.

We’ve covered two goals so far – restoring mobility and improving transportation reliability to the community. Today we’re highlighting goal number three on the list – improve access to planned development to support City policy to develop a second urban center.

That’s a mouthful, but cut down to basics, it means the Second City of Kapolei will have a better chance of developing successfully as stipulated in the City’s General Plan if it’s connected to Oahu’s urban core by a fast, frequent, reliable and safe rail system.

Consider the options to connecting fast-growing Kapolei and surrounding neighborhoods with Honolulu: (1) continued reliance on the private automobile and a narrow network of traffic-choked streets and highways, or (2) an elevated rail system that completely avoids all surface congestion, runs on a reliable timetable and delivers riders comfortably to their destinations at a time of their own choosing.

Here’s the FEIS’s discussion on the “growth support" goal:

"Consistent with the Honolulu General Plan, the highest population growth rates for the island are projected in the ‘Ewa Development Plan area (comprised of the ‘Ewa, ‘Ewa Beach, Kapolei, Kalaeloa, Honokai Hale, and Makakilo areas), which is expected to grow by approximately150 percent between 2000 and 2030. This growth represents nearly 50 percent of the total growth projected for the entire island. The communities of Wai‘anae, Wahiawā, North Shore, Windward O‘ahu, Waimānalo, and East Honolulu will have much lower population growth of up to 23 percent, if infrastructure policies support the planned growth rates in the ‘Ewa Development Plan area. Kapolei, which is developing as a “second city” to Downtown, is projected to grow by more than 350 percent, to 55,500 people, the ‘Ewa district by more than 100 percent, and Makakilo by nearly 125 percent between 2000 and 2030.
"Accessibility to the overall ‘Ewa Development Plan area is currently severely impaired by the congested roadway network, which will only get worse in the future. This area is less likely to develop as planned unless it is accessible to Downtown and other parts of O‘ahu; therefore, the ‘Ewa Development Plan area needs improved accessibility to support its future planned growth."

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Rail’s All-Important Goal – Improved Reliability

With so many new people in key government positions on Oahu, the times indeed are a-changin’, as Bob Dylan observed several decades ago. We’re taking pains to note early in 2011, however, that Honolulu rail’s goals are unchanged and as important as ever.

Tuesday’s post highlighted the mobility restoration goal, and today we’re focusing on #2 in the final environmental impact statement list – to improve corridor travel reliability. We’ve banged away at the reliability issue for as long as Yes2Rail has been on the ‘net, since it’s so easily appreciated by commuters who’ve lost it.

The significant and obvious benefit of grade-separated transit – elevated rail in Honolulu – is that it’s completely immune to traffic congestion on highways and local streets. Subways and elevated systems run on timetables that are highly reliable, unlike surface transit modes.

Riders know with a high degree of certainty exactly when their train will arrive at every station on the route, and that means they can accurately predict their destination's arrival time before they even depart.

Travel that requires mingling with surface traffic does not allow users to make such a prediction; that includes at-grade rail, HOT lanes, buses, taxis and of course, the privately-owned vehicle. Only grade-separated transit does, and that’s why goal #2 is second to none. Here’s how it’s described in rail’s FEIS:

As roadways become more congested, they become more susceptible to substantial delays caused by such incidents as traffic accidents or heavy rain. Even a single driver unexpectedly braking can have a ripple effect that delays hundreds of cars. Because of the operating conditions in the study corridor, current travel times are not reliable for either transit or automobile trips. Because TheBus primarily operates in mixed traffic, transit users experience the same level of travel time uncertainty as automobile users. To arrive at their destination on time, travelers must allow extra time in their schedules to account for the uncertainty of travel time. During the a.m. peak period, more than one-third of bus service is more than five minutes late. This lack of predictability is inefficient and results in lost productivity or free time. A need exists to provide more reliable transit services (emphasis added).

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Taking a Closer Look at Anti-Railers’ Ace Card

What's the chief anti-railer argument against Honolulu rail? They use a scatter-gun approach, but if you listen to their radio programs and read their anti-rail columns, most of their opposition seems to boil down to an assertion that the project’s return on investment is too small.

Anti-railers argue that rail’s allegedly small reduction in total vehicle miles traveled on Oahu can’t justify the investment in the project. Let’s look at how they reach that conclusion.

You can make any argument you want through selective use of statistics. Books have been written on the practice; How To Lie With Statistics and Damned Lies and Statistics are two of them.

Anti-railers focus on the anticipated reduction in vehicle miles traveled throughout Oahu -- admittedly a low percentage -- while refusing to acknowledge rail’s biggest fact:

Rail’s impact on traffic through the urban corridor will be significant – approximately 18 percent less traffic with rail than without it. That will be the inevitable result of attracting more than 100,000 riders each day.

Anti-railers won’t touch this fact either: Rail transit will give its riders congestion- and traffic-free travel through the urban corridor. That’s an inarguable fact that anti-railers run from, can’t debate and never discuss.

The Mobility Factor

This point is huge. It can’t be repeated often enough. It must be raised whenever anti-railers spout statistics. It’s why the project’s final environmental impact statement lists mobility first among the project’s four goals, as we briefly discussed yesterday.

Here’s the mobility quote from the FEIS’s list of goals:

Motorists and transit users experience substantial traffic congestion and delay at most times of the day, both on weekdays and on weekends. Average weekday peak-period speeds on the H-1 Freeway are currently less than 20 mph in many places and will degrade even further by 2030. Transit vehicles are caught in the same congestion. In 2007, travelers on Oahu’s roadways experienced 74,000 vehicle hours of delay on a typical weekday, a measure of how much time is lost daily by travelers stuck in traffic. This measure of delay is projected to increase to 107,000 daily vehicle hours of delay by 2030, assuming implementation of all planned improvements listed in the ORTP (Oahu Regional Transportation Plan) (except for a fixed-guideway system). Without these improvements, the ORTP indicates that daily vehicle hours of delay would increase to 154,000 vehicle hours.
Currently, motorists traveling from West Oahu to Downtown experience highly congested traffic during the a.m. peak period. By 2030, after including all the planned roadway improvements in the ORTP, the level of congestion and travel time are projected to increase further. Average bus speeds in the study corridor have been decreasing steadily as congestion has increased. TheBus travel times are projected to increase through 2030. Within the urban core, most major arterial streets will experience increasing peak-period congestion, including Ala Moana Boulevard, Dillingham Boulevard, Kalākaua Avenue, Kapiolani Boulevard, King Street, and Nimitz Highway. Expansion of the roadway system between Kapolei and UH Mānoa is constrained by physical barriers and by dense urban neighborhoods that abut many existing roadways. Given current and increasing levels of congestion, an alternative method of travel is needed within the study corridor independent of current and projected highway congestion (emphasis added).

Total congestion-free travel – that’s what restoring mobility in our community will achieve. You can follow this debate closely and not once hear anti-railers acknowledge this central fact. Their “I won’t ride it, so why should I pay for it” argument doesn't help them either, since it betrays a “me first” mentality that rejects a broader vision that supports the entire community.

Congestion-free, fast, frequent, reliable and safe transportation is what rail will offer its riders. Rail’s ability to reduce vehicle miles traveled in Kahuku on the North Shore may not be much, but its positive impact in town where our congestion problem continues to grow cannot be denied.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Rail’s Goals Remain the Same in the New Year; Congestion-Free Travel through Town Tops List

Honolulu rail is poised for major advancement early in 2011. With Governor Abercrombie’s acceptance of rail’s final environmental impact statement last month only 10 days into his new term, the project now awaits three more key steps.

The first is final signing of a “Programmatic Agreement” that stipulates how impacts are to be lessened on historic sites along the project’s 20-mile route.

Once that document is finalized among the parties, the Federal Transit Administration will be able to issue a Record of Decision on the project. The ROD will state the FTA’s determination that all environmental steps have been completed in the project planning phase. It will summarize the mitigations and identify alternatives that were considered.

The City Council already has scheduled hearings on the third step – issuance of a Special Management Area use permit. About 8 percent of the project will lie within the shoreline protection zone, thereby requiring an SMA permit. The Council’s hearings will be held Wednesday and Thursday of this week.

Reviewing the Goals

Mayor Peter Carlisle anticipates breaking ground on the project sometime in the first quarter of the year, a milestone moment in the long process to build grade-separated transit in Honolulu that stretches back decades.

Rail’s opponents have vowed to continue their own decades-long effort to block rail, so it’s worth reviewing the project’s four goals as listed in Chapter One of the FEIS:

• Improve corridor mobility – Congestion has increased steadily through the decades and will continue to worsen in the decades ahead. The FEIS states: “Given current and increasing levels of congestion, an alternative method of travel is needed within the study corridor independent of current and projected highway congestion.” In other words, Honolulu rail will provide congestion-free travel through the urban corridor and thereby restore true mobility – the ability to know both your departure and arrival times for trips across town.

• Improve corridor travel reliability – Car and bus travel are susceptible to delays that can occur without warning. “This lack of predictability is inefficient and results in lost productivity or free time,” the FEIS states. “A need exists to provide more reliable transit services.” Honolulu rail will operate on a time table; train travel from one end of the line to the other will take 42 minutes day in and day out.

• Improve access to planned development to support City policy to develop a second urban center – Again from the FEIS: “Accessibility to the overall `Ewa Development Plan area is currently severely impaired by the congested roadway network, which will only get worse in the future.” Without improved accessibility to support Ewa’s growth, the area is less likely to develop as outlined in the City’s General Plan for decades.

• Improve transportation equity – Proponents of elevated highways make no allowance for this goal in their schemes to build high-occupancy toll (HOT) roads as an option to rail. They ignore transportation equity, which the FEIS defines as “the fair distribution of resources so that no group carries an unfair burden of the negative environmental, social, or economic impacts or receives an unfair share of benefits.” HOT lanes would serve only those who can afford to pay the toll, an option that obviously ignores the equity issue. Honolulu rail will provide fast, frequent, reliable and safe travel to all groups of citizens, regardless of their income and age.

Anti-railers surely will raise objections to Honolulu rail even at this late date – as if the project can be reset and begin anew. There’s absolutely no reason to do that, since each and every objection they raise already has been thoroughly addressed. You can look it up, and a good place to start is the FEIS.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Continuing December’s ‘Not One’ Goal on 1/1/11

Pedestrians and drivers managed to share Oahu thoroughfares in December without adding to the island’s pedestrian death toll after three walkers were killed in a span of weeks in October and November. The informal online goal of no pedestrian deaths last month is a challenge to continue month by month in the New Year.

Here’s another goal -- significant progress on the Honolulu rail project in 2011’s first quarter.

That would include final signatures by all concerned parties on the (historic preservation) Programmatic Agreement, issuance of a Record of Decision by the Federal Transit Administration and groundbreaking!

Developments like that, one after one, would a great start to ’11 for everyone who wants congestion-free travel through the city using fast, frequent, reliable and safe elevated transit.