Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Questions for the Newest Mayoral Candidate: Would His Preferred Trolley System Achieve Results Needed To Address Our Road Congestion Issues? Are Views More Important than Safety?

Another San Diego trolley crash -- a scene repeated all too often.
Oh, for Pete’s sake! The new entrant in the mayoral race wants to build a trolley!

That’s the inference from Ben Cayetano’s interview yesterday with Pacific Business News, which posted this: “Cayetano admitted a public transit system may be needed but said there are cheaper alternatives to the rail system from Kapolei to Ala Moana Center. He pointed to San Diego’s use of a trolley system with that city’s bus lines.”

Before proceeding to examine Mr. Cayetano’s trolley preference, we need to make something clear: This is not a political blog, and we don’t take sides in political races. All we do is talk transit, particularly the rationale for building Honolulu rail as planned – elevated and therefore completely removed from and unaffected by surface congestion.

But when a candidate expresses a preference for something other than what the project has become after years of alternatives analysis, we publicize that preference and comment on its deficiencies.

Ben Cayetano’s trolley wouldn’t work in meeting Oahu’s commuting crisis for all the reasons we’ve repeatedly discussed here over the past three and one-half years. It especially wouldn’t work because it would be built at ground level.

Does He Have Answers?
Mr. Cayetano’s preference for anything other than the current plan appears to be based on his overriding concern about Honolulu rail’s elevated configuration. He thinks it would ruin Honolulu: “You ruin the beauty of the city and the character of the city when you design a system that has no respect for the culture of Hawaii.”

Why he thinks a rail system 30 feet in the air disrespects Hawaii’s culture more than a forest of 350-foot-tall skyscrapers isn’t made clear in PBN’s story. More importantly, clarity about his transit intentions is missing, too, so here are a few questions reporters could ask Mr. Cayetano at his official announcement tomorrow:

* Do you believe an at-grade trolley system is capable of delivering what the city says elevated rail will give commuters – fast, frequent, reliable and safe travel through the city?
• Have you studied trolley systems, which must share space with surface traffic and people? What comparisons have you made between at-grade and elevated rail operational characteristics?
• What in your opinion are a trolley system’s attributes that would make it superior to elevated rail?
• Cities with at-grade rail systems typically experience numerous accidents each year, some of them fatal to pedestrians and vehicle occupants. Is it your view that concerns about view planes outweigh safety considerations? Put differently, is it more important to preserve views, most of which already are blocked by tall buildings, than to provide Oahu citizens with a way to travel safely and reliably through the city?

You can see where the discussion would run if Honolulu’s current crop of reporters had enough gumption to ask the tough questions. Somehow, we think it’s only a hope that’s not going to be realized. But at a minimum, reporters should be expected to brush up on the rail project’s goals before attending Mr. Cayetano’s press conference. Knowing what the goals are would inform their questions to the only candidate for mayor vowing to kill rail.

Our “aggregation” site has a section devoted to Elevated vs At-Grade, and you’re invited to read about the issues posted there, particularly the safety issue. Honolulu’s demographics tilt toward the elder end of the age scale, so safety is supremely important.

Safety in San Diego
That’s what we’re closing today’s post with – the San Diego trolley’s recent safety record as gathered by a simple Google search for “San Diego trolley accident.” We’re posting some of the headlines we found and have linked from them to the incidents' details:

Downtown San Diego Trolley Accident Kills Pedestrian – 7/15/09
Little girl dies in trolley accident – 7/27/09
Bicyclist killed in trolley crash – 11/24/09
No deaths in downtown trolley accident in San Diego – 2/4/10
Cyclist injured in crash with trolley – 9/1/10
Caltrans worker killed in San Diego Trolley Accident – 5/5/11
Man Killed by trolley in La Mesa – 7/4/11
Man killed at El Cajon trolley stop identified – 9/29/11
Dangerous San Diego Trolley (YouTube) – 11/11/11
Woman chasing dog struck by trolley – 12/8/11

Unfortunately, the headlines go on and on – not only in San Diego but in Houston, Phoenix, Denver, Salt Lake City, East Coast, West Coast and everywhere cities opted to build the “cheaper” alternative Mr. Cayetano prefers.

Most definitely, the former governor needs to be asked about safety.

This post has been added to our "aggregation" site under the Elevated vs At-Grade heading.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I wonder why Ben allowed the First Hawaiian Center to be built during his term as gov. At 429 feet, it is the tallest building in the state. What unique beauty and character does it add to the city? How does it make the city more "Hawaiian"?

How is a trolley system cheaper on the op side?