Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Rail Opponents’ Belief that Congestion Can Be ‘Solved’ Shows They’re Stuck Back in the 1950s, Longing for Four-Wheel Freedom & the Open Road

            H-1 Construction in 1952..........................................and the H-1 today.
“And the Oscar for ‘Lifetime Achievement in Opposing Modern Transportation Alternatives’ goes to…..”
Among the several contenders for this apocryphal award, one person stands tall – or low, depending on your perspective – for his never-ending opposition to mass transit initiatives in Honolulu.
Cliff Slater has led the fight to build a fast, frequent, reliable and safe alternative to driving one’s own car for decades. In other words, he has fought grade-separated rail transit each time it’s been proposed in Honolulu.
Those four adjectives describe what Honolulu already has started to build in West Oahu – a 20-mile elevated rail system that would give commuters and others a traffic-free way to travel from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center, with 19 stops in-between.
By the ABC’s
Mr. Slater is the leading candidate to receive our made-up award not only for his insistence that taxpayer money should subsidize only the infrastructure that supports car travel but also for his skill in persuading others that his highway is the only way.
That’s why we sometimes refer to Mr. Slater as “ABC Cliff” – Always By Car, since that’s the transportation mode he loves the best, even though political expediency has allowed him to back anti-rail mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano, who wants Honolulu to build a bus rapid transit system instead of congestion-free rail.
Mr. Slater’s influence on the former governor is most obvious in the way they both attack the rail project, implying that it would be a failure if traffic congestion isn’t reduced dramatically once the rail system is up and running.
“Traffic congestion in the future with rail will be worse than it is today,” is their favorite quote. They both use it (see our “aggregation site” in the right-hand column under the Mr. Cliff Slater and Friends heading), and since Mr. Slater has used it repeatedly since at least 2010, it seems clear Mr. Cayetano is simply repeating it as Gospel.
Congestion Facts
What neither will acknowledge publicly is the fact that elevated rail will be the only congestion-free option available on Oahu for the next 100 years and beyond. Every other option – including BRT – must necessarily compete for ground space with other vehicles and the congestion they produce.
Buses use streets and highways. At-grade rail transit would be affected by cross traffic. There’s simply no way for BRT and at-grade rail to avoid traffic on city streets and at intersections. Any suggestion that BRT is a congestion-free travel option is sheer fantasy.
Which brings us back to where today’s post began – a photo showing construction of the Mauka Arterial highway in 1952 (also at left). Work began on that road 60 years ago this summer, as detailed in a Honolulu Advertiser story (subscription) a decade ago on the 50th anniversary of that project.
The idea of building a super highway began as early as 1937. But as early as 1939, local officials were making the same mistake that anti-railers make today – believing that traffic is solvable.
“’A super highway through Honolulu, 120 feet wide and running mauka of the business district from Kalihi to Kaimuki…would be invaluable in solving Honolulu’s pressing traffic problem,’ engineer John Rush told the City Council in 1939,’ the newspaper reported.
No Can Do
And there it is again – the mistaken belief that we could “solve” traffic congestion if only we did the right thing.  The “right thing” being proposed most prominently today is bus rapid transit, but other schemes have their supporters, too.
Mr. Slater and others propose “managed lanes” as a favorite option in the mistaken belief that charging drivers to use a toll road with controlled access can “solve” the traffic problem. Maybe that would work for those who own a car and can afford to pay the toll, but as a system-wide solution, it would fail miserably as congestion’s “solution.”
So how did expanding the Mauka Arterial into today’s H-1 freeway work out? “It worked well for a while until everyone got stuck in traffic,” the paper quoted Fujio “Fudge” Matsuda, a former state transportation director.
A New Ideal
The second photo at the top of today’s post provides the graphic evidence of what happens when engineers and politicians “solve” traffic by building more highway lanes – managed or otherwise. Studies repeatedly show they simply fill up with more traffic.
Freedom of the open road can still be found on crowded Oahu – perhaps on roads leading to the North Shore and along it (when the surf isn’t up) or on a long, leisurely drive along the windward coast north of  Kaneohe.
But population growth and life in the 21st century dictates there are few if any open roads in urban Honolulu and its bedroom communities anymore. Traffic is a fact of life that either must be tolerated in the future as it is today -- Honolulu has the worst traffic in the country – or avoided by embracing elevated rail.
We need a new phrase to describe this century’s traveling ideal – one that captures the reality of congestion-free travel on a rail system that’s already being built. Turn back the clock to the 1950s? That happens only in our dreams – and on Internet radio, of course.


Roy Kamisato said...

I am still puzzled at how the concept of HOT lanes dumping thousand of cars and buses on to Iwilei will not lead to the traffic gridlock from hell. Am I missing something? Is there any indication that Ben Cayetano will be incorporating HOT lanes with the BRT?

Doug Carlson said...

No, Roy -- I don't think you're missing anything in the comments you've left here recently. You've put your finger on the detail pro-BRT and pro-HOT Lane people can't quite get around to acknowledging -- that those lanes for cars and buses eventually will be back on the ground.

You commented on the June 8 Yes2Rail post, and I want to reproduce some of that one in this response. A caller called the morning talk show to take issue with anti-railer Randy Roth and challenge him on this point:

“…cars won’t be going 55 miles an hour once they get off the toll road. They’re gonna be caught in the same traffic that people are caught in now on the surface roads. So there is no guarantee that these alternatives to rail can deliver people at a predictable time as rail will….”
To which Professor Roth said, “No. I think you’re flat wrong.” And to which the caller and many other rail supporters might respond, “What can you possibly be thinking, Professor Roth?”

Flat wrong? The caller had it exactly right! These anti-railers just won't acknowledge this fatal weakness of their BRT and HOT Lane schemes.

I'm afraid we can expect nothing but obfuscation from this crowd. Yes2Rail focused on this tendency in yesterday's post.

Anonymous said...

Once all the additional cars got off the toll road and managed to fight their way through worsening traffic hell on streets that can't grow any bigger, where would they all park?