Friday, June 22, 2012

LTE Forum: Letter Praises Bus Rapid Transit but Ignores BRT’s Major Problem – At-Grade Traffic, Plus: Will Columnist Ever Examine Transit Plans?

 Dillingham Boulevard -- suitable for BRT?
Is bus rapid transit superior to rail?
Making BRT’s case in the affirmative, as a letter to the editor does in today’s Star-Advertiser, requires an apple-and-oranges comparison that’s bogus from the get-go. Here’s the letter (subscription):
BRT superior in many ways (Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 6/22)
A Bus Rapid Transit system would surely be rapid compared to the 42 minutes it would take for the train to go at an average 29 miles per  hour from Kapolei to Ala Moana with 19 required stops (emphasis added).
The BRT would have express buses using a single lane that could be built along the proposed rail line (emphasis added) at a fraction of the cost. These “super” buses would be able to go to Makaha, Waianae, Ewa Beach, Mililani and other areas not scheduled to get rail.
Unlike rail, the “super” buses would have enough seats for nearly all riders and would have Wi-Fi connections for riders to begin their workday as soon as they get on the bus.
Contrary to what the pro-rail groups want us to believe, there really is an alternative that beats rail in all ways (emphasis added).
Using the writer’s route description, his BRT system would run on Dillingham Boulevard (the “proposed rail line”) and all the other streets in the rail corridor for his “super” buses.
He wouldn’t elevate his line along Dillingham, since doing so would jump BRT’s cost dramatically, so what he proposes is the creation of two BRT lanes (one in each direction) that somehow would be inserted into the space shown in our photo at the top.
Where would he put those exclusive bus lanes -- in two of the four street lanes now used by cars, trucks and buses, or would he demolish houses and businesses on both sides of Dillingham to make room for BRT?
As they say, the devil is in the details, and details like this are what proponents of at-grade transit (BRT and at-grade rail) conveniently ignore as they tout the advantages of their favorite plan. There’s no way to run BRT down Dillingham and many other streets along the rail line without taking dozens (hundreds?) of properties and/or reducing the number of street lanes available for vehicular use.
Elevated Honolulu rail will impact exceptionally few properties along the 20-mile line and will take no street lanes, but that’s just the beginning of rail’s favorable comparisons with BRT.
A Matter of Equity
The writer emphasizes rail’s “19 required stops” (there actually will be 21 stations along the 20-mile line), so he obviously believes that’s too many and would have his BRT system make fewer stops as it carries passengers between communities on the west side and town.
And what of the people in between? How would BRT make their daily commute any better if BRT allegedly saves time by not stopping to take on passengers in communities along the route?  The only way BRT can “beat” rail’s end-to-end time of 42 minutes is for buses to avoid making stops to service those communities.
Bypassing thom with an allegedly rapid bus transit system would discourage smart growth around stations or terminals and push it out to the west end to create even more sprawl. As another letter-writer says in today’s paper, “We need smart growth in Ewa, not sprawl; we need transit-oriented development there and in town.”
Finally, how BRT “beats rails in all ways” is virtually impossible to understand. No detailed BRT plan has been proposed, so its costs are unknown – both for construction and for property condemnation.
No matter where BRT might be elevated (along the H-1 freeway, for example), those buses wouldn’t be so “super” once they’re back at street level, where congestion already is bad and will be worse in all the decades to come. Even with stops along the way, rail patrons will travel through the corridor completely unaffected by traffic on the streets.
As for the seating issue, are Honolulu citizens really so different from hundreds of millions of rail patrons who commute by rail in cities around the world each and every day? If you’ve traveled by rail in those cities, you’ve seen how it works: If you have to stand when you first get on a train, you almost always can find a seat sooner or later. It’s not a hardship!
Friday’s Columnist
We take note briefly of Richard Borreca’s column in today’s paper. As usual, his focus is politics, but since he’s one of the paper’s three columnists predicted to write not one paragraph with positive content about rail in 2012, it’s worth checking in with him now and then.
In today’s criticism of a pro-rail advocacy group’s launch of a media campaign attacking anti-rail mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano (one of Mr. Borreca’s favorites, by the way), the columnist writes “…there is much to be discussed about both the city’s and Cayetano’s transit plans….”
There certainly is, but we’ll likely never see it in his column.  There’s little evidence Mr. Borreca and fellow columnists Cynthia Oi and David Shapiro have studied rail and its goals enough to understand the project.
And since Mr. Cayetano has yet to release details on his alleged BRT plan – routes, costs, impacts, travel times, communities served and all the rest – there’s really nothing to compare. 
All we have is Honolulu rail’s exhaustively documented description of its purpose and need – volumes of material with detail piled upon detail.
If the devil is in those details, it would be refreshing if the Star-Advertiser’s troika of writers would find them, dissect them and discuss them rather than simply attack the idea of Honolulu elevated rail transit. That’s too easy.


Roy Kamisato said...

The letter to the editor and the Richard Borreca column could have been written by the same person. Both were either short on facts, cherry picked facts, made facts up or just wanted to push their agenda regardless of the facts. I wouldn't mind if Borreca just flat out admitted he is against rail to begin his column, but to masquerade as an independent voice without a warning label is false advertising.

Anonymous said...

People who keep thinking BRT will mean less than 19 stops should look at the current Express bus routes. They may not have as many stops in the middle of the route but they have a whole lot more at the pickup area and dropoff area so it's delusional to think BRT has some sort of advantage here.

Having nearly enough seats for everyone on a bus is a joke. It still means someone is left standing the whole way which is worse than standing in a train.