Friday, April 13, 2012

BRT Info Apparently Missing at Candidate’s Event; Highway Expert Floats ‘Magical’ 1-into-4 Concept

The anti-rail mayoral candidate who vows to kill the project if elected to lead the City and County of Honolulu held a campaign rally in Mililani last night. We didn’t even try to attend, since the event’s publicity flyer said proof of Mililani residency would have to be shown at the door.

Far as we can tell, the media didn’t attend either, having sensed maybe that they’ve heard it all before. There’s no indication Ben Cayetano revealed any details of his bus rapid transit substitute for rail. Since he told Civil Beat he’d unveil his plan in mid-April, our guess is it’ll be in an op-ed commentary in Sunday’s newspaper.

What we do know about last night came from University of Hawaii highway expert Panos Prevedouros, who attended the event and called a morning talk show host today. Professor Prevedouros opposes rail and was soundly defeated in his bid for mayor in 2008 when he vowed to “kill rail in its tracks.”

HOT Lanes & Congestion
The radio host “teased” Dr. Prevedouros’ phone call by saying there had been some good questions Thursday evening, including one about how congestion could be relieved if a car express lane were built into downtown Honolulu instead of rail. Wouldn’t congestion be a problem on the surface streets at the end of the lanes, the questioner asked?

Rail’s Final Environmental Impact Statement comments in Chapter 2 on that congestion issue, not only at the end of the lanes when traffic would be dumped back to surface roads but also at the entrance to the express lanes. We were eager to hear the highway expert’s response, so we recorded some of  the host’s discussion with the professor:

Host: "If in fact we were to have, let’s say a HOT Lanes system that would ultimately terminate on Nimitz, say near Hilo Hattie, as an example, … how would there be a disbursement if in fact, one, there would be a net increase in the number of vehicles, or two, even if there’s a static number of cars, how do we disburse throughout downtown?"
Prevedouros: "Yeah, that’s a helluva good question, because there will be more cars because – actually, let me backtrack. Basically, there’s gonna be the same number of cars that go on a typical morning because just by building the road you don’t generate more traffic. It’s gonna be the same people going to the same jobs."
OK, stop right there. This piece of Prevedouros wisdom is contradicted by numerous studies, including the two we linked to just a few days ago. “Induced” and “generated” traffic are the phenomena that occur when more lanes are made available to people who drive cars. Dr. Prevedouros is suggesting that for every driver with enough financial resources to pay the toll required on HOT lanes (the T stands for Toll), one car would be removed from the H-1 freeway, Farrington Highway, Kamehameha Highway and other surface roads. Those studies and many others refute that notion. And, since the population and number of vehicles will increase over the years and decades, congestion will increase, too. Congestion never stays the same.

Dr. Prevedouros continuing: But, because you now have relieved a bottleneck (it’s questionable whether the H-1/H-2 merge bottleneck would be relieved by HOT Lanes), (cars) arrive sooner in town, so you will have of what is called “peaking,” so more people in half an hour will arrive. So as you say, we really need to address that problem.
He says a “solution” to the downtown congestion buildup has been on the back burner for several years.

“It has to do with the left turns at (from Ala Moana Boulevard) at Alakea…and also the left turn on Halekauwila… The amount of green time they get is very very short, so even at the present time we have a backlog of traffic, because people cannot make left turns to get to downtown.
"What’s the solution? Well, you backtrack a couple of blocks, and there is quite a substantial width on Nimitz Highway where you can have…a tunnel. This is not a “bore” tunnel. It’s a cut-and-cover tunnel. So those left turns basically magically disappear from the surface street. They go one level below and they go underneath Nimitz Highway and turn immediately into Alakea. And actually, in order to go to Halekauwila, it’s a straight shot. And this works magnificently.
"You don’t need anything more than one lane because right now, for every 100 seconds of time, only 25 seconds are left-turn time for them. With one underground lane, you have 100-percent green time all the time. So it’s a win-win situation….because essentially it provides you four new lanes. From one lane you go to four. That’s a gain, because before you had only one-quarter of the time available. Now you have 100 percent of the time, so magically you gain four lanes without really investing in more than one underground lane…."

New Math: 1 = 4
One lane magically becomes four? That sounds like engineer-speak to us. Maybe that’s how highway experts talk to one another, but we lay people have to wonder not only about the one-becomes-four thinking but also about what happens to the traffic after cars make the left turn into Alakea.

How far mauka would the tunnel run – as far as Queen Street one block mauka from Ala Moana? There’s a stoplight there. Would Alakea return to surface level one short block further mauka at the light-controlled intersection with Merchant, or would it stay underground all the way to King, where there’s another stoplight? And because cars necessarily would have to stop on Alakea for cross traffic at those intersections, what would happen to the cars in the tunnel around to Nimitz? There’d be a backup, wouldn’t there?

Halekauwila intersects with Punchbowl Street a long block diamondhead of where Dr. Prevedouros’ tunnel would depart from Ala Moana Boulevard. There’s a stoplight there and another one a block further east at South Street. Since Halekauwila traffic would stop for those lights, wouldn’t there be a backup onto Nimitz, along with the Alakea backup?

Dr. Prevedouros is throwing around these simple “win-win” solutions as if there were no downsides whatsoever. He expects his audience to accept it at face value because – well, because he’s allegedly an expert in his field.

Propose It
If it’s highway improvements Dr. Prevedouros wants (he claimed some credit on the radio show for the State’s new proposal to re-stripe H-1 lanes through town to narrow the lanes), let him stick to highways. He and his fellow highway advocates (Cliff Slater and Mr. Cayetano among them) could come up with proposals to improve highway flow and reduce congestion. They could then submit them to the Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization, the State Department of Transportation and other agencies, run it up the proverbial flagpole and see who salutes.

If their ideas have merit, OMPO and others might just endorse them, but none of the ideas he and Mr. Cayetano have provided so far can duplicate the rail project’s benefits for patrons, including freeing them from traffic congestion completely in their east-west travel, reducing their reliance on every-costlier automobiles, improving their travel times and providing residential and commercial opportunities around rail stations.

There’s nothing magical about rail's goals and what the system will do for Oahu residents. Dr. Prevedouros can suggest all the cut-and-cover tunnels and one-into-four left-turn lanes he wants, but they can’t come close to meeting the transportation requirements of this and future generations throughout the 21st century.

Rail isn’t for everyone, but it will deliver benefits to a far greater number of people than a couple of tunnels in downtown Honolulu ever could.

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