Saturday, January 21, 2012

Living with Elevated Rail Will Be Stretch for Some, But Grade Separation Is How To Avoid Traffic; Plus: Columnist Watch, LTE Forum End the Week

The view from Punchbowl's National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific overlook.
We continue our pro-rail postings today by repeating the most important 32 words in yesterday’s post:

“Ben Cayetano officially entered the mayoral race (Thursday) 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.”

The media haven’t reported any new information about Mr. Cayetano’s traffic-avoidance scheme since then, so today is Day Two in the wait for details on his plans.

That much of yesterday’s Yes2Rail post merits repetition, because without knowing exactly what Mr. Cayetano has in mind to address Oahu’s increasingly intolerable traffic congestion issues, citizens are in danger of buying the proverbial pig in a poke.

Reporters didn’t press him for his plan at Thursday's press conference, and he wasn’t offering. We’re not even sure there is a plan – maybe just his yearning for something that’s better looking and allegedly less expensive than the Honolulu elevated rail project.

This Much We Get
We understand when Mr. Cayetano describes his concerns about elevated rail’s impacts on view planes – some places greater than others, some places less. Up close, the elevated guideway certainly will be visible, including a short stretch next to Honolulu Harbor and Hawaiian Electric Company’s attractive power plant.

But compared to the H-1 viaduct above Nimitz Highway near the airport or above Waialae Avenue in Kahala, it will be slim. (Civil Beat has a Fact Check underway on Mr. Cayetano’s description of elevated rail’s impact near the harbor.)

For the “lesser extent” view, drive mauka on Ward Avenue up to Prospect Street at the foot of Punchbowl – or better yet, drive into the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl. Park your car near the memorial and walk up to the overlook.

The view’s great, and down there around the 30-foot elevation level beyond Kapiolani Boulevard and most of the high-rise buildings you see is where the elevated guideway will run. From a distance (and a lot closer than Punchbowl), elevated rail will be impossible to see nestled within a forest of high-rises. Another two dozen or more are planned for Kakaako alone in the next few years.

The project’s environmental impact statement acknowledges the visual impacts of elevated rail; all identifiable impacts are detailed in the EIS, and so are the proposed mitigations. The issue therefore becomes whether the city’s plan to build the elevated guideway as its response to the massive traffic congestion that makes commuting hell for a large segment of our growing population is worth the impacts it will cause.

Ineffectively Cheap?
One of Mr. Cayetano’s predecessors used the “Quiet but Effective” slogan to successfully win the governorship. Honolulu’s latest mayoral candidate apparently believes “effective” can be paired with “cheap.”

We’re still guessing about what Mr. Cayetano has in mind in place of the elevated rail project, but “cheaper” is one of his key considerations. Virtually all options to confront the congestion issue were evaluated years ago in the Alternatives Analysis, and elevated rail was the option selected as the most effective in doing what any project must do – give commuters an alternative to sitting in traffic. Mr. Cayetano and the rest of the Gang of Four who’ve filed a lawsuit to kill rail say the study of those alternatives was inadequate, and we’ll learn later this year what the court says.

In the meantime, it’s appropriate for citizens and reporters to inquire about the details of Mr. Cayetano’s allegedly cheaper alternative. So far he’s mentioned trolleys and buses in passing but has provided nothing more. With cost reduction one of his goals, we need to know what a allegedly cheaper system or systems would deliver in actual benefits.

All major projects impose impacts, so Mr. Cayetano’s scheme would impose them, too, and some aren’t so obvious. As noted here yesterday, at-grade trolley lines would require trenching for their entire length that would certainly encounter cultural artifacts that elevated rail mostly will avoid. And unless Mr. Cayetano intends to simply replace vehicle lanes with trolley tracks (robbing Peter to pay Paul), streets along the route would have to be widened to accommodate the tracks, with businesses and homes “taken” by the project.

Then there’s the safety record of at-grade transit. It can’t be ignored, as Mr. Cayetano’s campaign is doing so far in the race. Honolulu’s reportorial watchdogs might well study up on the incidence of accidents involving at-grade transit vehicles and pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles. The candidate has expressed interest in San Diego’s trolley system, so three days ago Yes2Rail highlighted several fatalities linked to that system in the past two years.

We’ll keep track of the number of days that go by before Mr. Cayetano discloses exactly what he has in mind to make commuting a much less stressful daily chore for scores of thousands of Oahu residents.

Editorial, LTE Forum
Today’s Star-Advertiser editorial (subcription) calls for all candidates for mayor to broaden their campaigns to encompass more than the rail issue. It concludes: “Regardless of an individual candidate’s position on rail, each needs to articulare a vision on how transportation can be developed to serve the needs of Oahu residents, one that meshes well with a concept of urban growth, density and land use.” Funny – that’s pretty much what the rail project’s goals do already, which may be why the newspaper has supported rail for years.

Today's letter to the editor is yet another reaction to Wendell Cox’s appearance in Honolulu last week on behalf of the anti-rail effort:

Transit consultant was not impartial (Star-Advertiser, 1/21)
“Cox is no impartial transportation expert, but someone who earns his income fighting rail projects and public mass transit across the country. He promotes building more highways and double-decking and widening existing freeways. Cox has been paid by the highway lobby to support his research, which is uniformly critical of passenger rail….”
Yes2Rail had much the same to say a week ago about this “hired gun.”

And since none of the Star-Advertiser’s three prominent columnists had anything good to say about the Honolulu rail project this week, our prediction is holding true in Week 3 that the trend will continue throughout 2012.

No comments: