Thursday, April 12, 2012

12 Weeks and Counting: Candidate’s BRT Plan Is Still a Secret as Anti-Rail Campaign Visits Mililani

Despite efforts to make his mayoral candidacy seem like a multi-issue effort, Ben Cayetano’s platform has one principal plank – to kill the Honolulu rail project. That was obvious when he officially launched his campaign 84 days ago on January 19th.

One would have thought he’d have unveiled details of his bus rapid transit plan in 12 days, let alone 12 weeks, due to the magnitude of his proposal to kill rail. Yet we’re still waiting to learn how a plan written 12 years ago during the Harris Administration could out-perform rail and accomplish the project's goals of restoring mobility, reducing travel times, guiding future development and ensuring transportation equity for all economic categories.

All we can presume for sure is that it would be cheaper than building an elevated rail guideway that will avoid all surface traffic, but as most consumers knows from personal experience, cheaper is hardly ever better. You can still buy one-time-use cameras in drugstores, but for a host of reasons, they can’t compete with costlier cameras that deliver years of satisfaction.

That’s how we’re imagining Mr. Cayetano’s BRT plan – an off-the-shelf and discredited concept that he’s plucked out of obscurity because he needs something to offer the public if he intends to kill rail.

Mr. Cayetano’s campaign will roll into Mililani Uka Elementary School this evening, and we’re guessing BRT details aren’t on the agenda. But based on his earlier comments, Mililani residents are likely to hear about studies that also are 12 years old suggesting BRT could do the same job as rail.

BRT Questions
Both Mr. Cayetano and Cliff Slater, the candidate’s advisor and long-time transit opponent, repeatedly point to a study conducted for the Harris BRT plan that concluded BRT could transport as many people as a rail system. But in 2012, most serious transportation thinkers know that a numbers comparison is no longer the primary consideration, if it ever was.

Other factors are part of the process today, and Mililani residents might well ask about them. For example, has Mr. Cayetano read Chapter 2 of the rail project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement? It evaluated a Transit System Management Alternative (TSM) that conceivably would be implemented without constructing a new transit fixed guideway.

Since Mr. Cayetano seems to object most strenuously to the expense and appearance of an elevated guideway, TSM seems closest to what Mr. Cayetano wants to implement. Here are just a few observations from that chapter on the TSM alternative:

• TSM would have led to a slightly larger number of daily transit trips than the No Build Alternative.
• TSM would have generated fewer hours of transit-user benefits than either the Managed Land or Fixed Guideway Alternative.
• Since most buses would still operate in mixed traffic, TSM would have done little to improve corridor mobility and travel reliability.
• Road congestion also would not have been alleviated.
• Because of the dispersed nature of transit service, slow bus speeds and unreliable service, TSM would not have supported the City’s goals of concentrating growth within the corridor and reducing development pressures in rural areas.
• TSM would have generated fewer physical impacts than the Managed Land and Fixed Guideway Alternatives. However, it would have required more transportation system energy and generated more air pollutant emissions and water pollution than the Fixed Guideway Alternative.
The biggest take-away from the FEIS’s discussion on all the alternatives is that the Fixed Guideway Alternative “performed better at meeting the Project’s Purpose and Need than any of the other alternatives evaluated in the Alternatives Analysis.” It would improve transit performance and reliability, be more cost-effective and substantially reduce vehicle hours of delay for all travelers, not just transit users.

The City Council selected the elevated guideway alternative five years ago after all the alternatives were extensively studied. Mr. Cayetano now wants Oahu residents to believe BRT is a better way to go – and he still hasn’t told us how or why.

If this brief Yes2Rail post doesn’t suggest what Mililani residents might ask the candidate tonight, we’re at a loss to know what would.

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