Friday, January 20, 2012

He Says He’s Not a One-Issue Mayoral Candidate, But He Wouldn’t Be in the Race if It Weren’t for Rail; Citizens Need To Know if Trolley/Bus Idea Would Be as Fast, Frequent, Reliable, Safe as Rail

That should be the minimum price for admission into this race, shouldn’t it? If a candidate decides to run for mayor primarily because of one issue and one issue alone (forget disclaimers to the contrary), he or she should be prepared to immediately discuss that issue every which way and why doing it differently is a better way – or so it seems to us.

Maybe that’s our naiveté coming through, because someone writing a political blog (which this isn’t) or who’s a political science professor at the university might see it differently. Their advice might be, “Don’t discuss the details, because the devil is in the details! Stay clear of details; they can only trip you up.”

But this is a one-issue blog – Honolulu rail – and we’re sticking to our naïve notion that if a candidate wants to kill the rail project, which has been planned and vetted for at least six years at the local and national level with a clear set of goals and designs down to the last girder and bolt, the candidate owes the electorate something more than saying it costs too much and is ugly.

Ben Cayetano officially entered the mayoral race yesterday with a press conference that shed absolutely no light on what he’d build to get the job done at least as well as rail.
We weren’t there, so we don’t know how far or even if reporters pressed him for details on his “concept of an express bus or trolley system using dedicated freeway lanes,” which is how the Star-Advertiser reporter described it (subscription required).

And that’s as far as the coverage of Mr. Cayetano’s transportation plan goes. You can search through all the available reports on websites belonging to the TV stations, Civil Beat, Pacific Business News and even HawaiiReporter, and the only reference to the candidate’s trolley/bus plan is what you’ve already read above. How can that possibly be?

Silence of the Lambs
We suspect reporters simply didn’t ask about the candidate’s plans to address the near-gridlock traffic congestion problem on Honolulu’s east-west thoroughfares. If you were living here during the heyday of Bob Sevey’s Channel 9 Newsroom, can you imagine our former colleagues – Bob Jones, Bart Fredo and Bambi Weil among them – leaving the press conference without demanding details of why the candidate’s trolley and bus "plan" would be better than the current rail project?

When the candidate said, as described in the Star-Advertiser, “he would release details next week of his plans for the city’s sewage and secondary treatment plant upgrades, road repairs and other city projects,” they would have said, “And when will you release similar details about your trolley and bus scheme?”

Local journalism isn’t what it used to be, so we’re still in the dark about the one issue that will be front-and-center throughout the next several months – giving commuters relief from intolerable traffic congestion.

Questions that Need Asking
If he wants to replace rail with its detailed set of goals, Mr. Cayetano must tell the electorate what his goals are. He favors an alternative that he says will be much less expensive than building elevated rail, so a cheaper system would seem to be a primary goal.

The only other goal we can discern is his desire to preserve view planes, which he says will be destroyed by rail’s elevated guideway. In the absence of any details, his two goals seem to be a cheaper system built at ground level.

How do those goals compare to an elevated system’s goals and attributes? Would an at-grade trolley/bus system that shares freeway lanes serve the community properly? The freeway is nowhere near the business, education, shopping and community centers that will be served along Honolulu rail’s route.

Would the system have on- and off-ramps every mile or so, or would it simply be a super-Zipper lane connecting the ends of the system, leaving commuters along the route with no way to access it?

If one or more trolley lines were built, continuous trenching would be required several feet deep throughout the route, thereby endangering the cultural artifacts and remains much more than the elevated system to which Mr. Cayetano objects.

Buses and trolleys require humans at the controls, which means greater distances between trolleys and therefore less frequent service. Rail’s trains will arrive every 3 minutes during peak periods. How would his trolley's frequency compare to rail's? If not as good, his system would be less attractive to potential riders.

As we have said repeatedly here at Yes2Rail, at-grade systems have much worse safety records than grade-separated transit because of their interaction with other surface traffic, including pedestrians. Search it out for yourself on the Internet and at our "aggregation" site beneath the Elevated vs At-Grade heading, or simply go to our post earlier this week on the San Diego trolley’s alarming fatalities. Mr. Cayetano has expressed a preference for such a system.

So far, we know next to nothing about Mr. Cayetano’s transit plan, and we’re likely to read what he thinks about sewers, water fees and potholes before he chooses to provide those devilish details. If the elephant-in-the-living room description ever applied to anything, Mr. Cayetano’s missing transit plan is the perfect fit.

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