Monday, May 21, 2012

While We Wait for Ben Cayetano’s BRT Details, It’s Worth Reviewing At-Grade Rail’s Safety Record, Just In Case He Tries To Slip It In, plus LTE Forum: Quieter Trains Are the Norm Now

 Dow's inventive TV spot delivers a quiet-but-effective message.
Maybe this will be the week when (1) the media step up their requests for details of mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano's bus rapid transit plan; (2) he’ll release the plan on his own, 18 weeks after his official announcement, or (3) we won’t learn anything new.
While we wait, it’s useful to remember that in addition to his enthusiasm for buses, Mr. Cayetano has gone on record with a belief that at-grade rail transit would be preferable to the elevated system Honolulu intends to build.

Mr. Cayetano was one five speakers nearly a year ago at a Hawaii Venture Capital Association luncheon with a theme of “Big Projects – Why Are They Stuck?” The former governor talked about Honolulu rail, held up photographs, expressed dismay that traffic will be worse with rail than it is today – all standard Cliff Slater talking points – and made a passing reference to at-grade rail transit as preferable to elevated rail.

Since Mr. Cayetano’s “transportation plan” isn’t transparent, anything could be in there, including the kind of at-grade systems that have been built on the mainland, including Phoenix.

Scores of Accidents
Phoenix built a 20-mile at-grade rail system that opened in December 2008. It experienced 52 accidents in its first year – one a week – and the hit parade has continued.

Phoenix TV station KPHO, which has focused on the train-crash story since the service began, reported earlier this month on the system's 118 crashes since 2009, mostly in downtown Phoenix and Tempe.

A Valley Metro Light Rail spokeswoman said the escalating number of accidents can be blamed on drivers and pedestrians who just don’t pay enough attention to their surroundings.  “When you are sharing the road with a very large vehicle and it takes it a very long time to stop, you have to be so much more mindful of the signals and being very aware,” she said.

Can you imagine how an at-grade train and Honolulu’s aging population would interact along Hotel Street (above), which the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects proposed as an at-grade thoroughfare? The chapter produced the graphic to support its plan, but as we noted two years ago, the hazard to pedestrians in Chinatown can’t be airbrushed away, which is what happened to the existing crosswalk at this Maunakea and Hotel streets intersection.

According to Health Trends in Hawaii, the number of elderly aged 75 and older increased 115 percent in the state between 1990 and 2009, compared to 75 percent nationally. At-grade’s potential hazard to pedestrians is obvious and can’t be overemphasized, and neither can the relatively poor driving habits of Oahu drivers (how many red-light runners did you see today?).

We’re hopeful Mr. Cayetano’s BRT plan will be detailed soon, and when it is, we’ll be watching for any reference to an at-grade rail “supplement.”

A letter to the editor from a Kailua resident in today’s Star-Advertiser (subscription) is a direct response to rail opponents who say Honolulu’s rail system will be noisy:

• Modern rail systems not noisy like before (S-A, 5/21/12)
“Some people have expressed concern about the noise level of the rail system. The clickety-clack sound of rail cars passing over rail joints is from days past. Modern systems arc weld the rail joints, then they are ground to a micro-finish. Rail cars rolls quietly over the gleaming, smooth rails.
“There is no locomotive in a modern urban rail system. Each passenger car is powered by new technology electric motors that produce a lower noise level than a diesel bus.”

The letter gave us a good reason to link to one of the more inventive (and we predict) award-winning commercials airing these days. Have a look, and as you watch, notice how elevated rail a common configuration in cities around the world is depicted as just another urban convenience.

No comments: