Saturday, June 16, 2012

Saturday Review: Candidate’s Float of At-Grade Rail Option Goes Nearly Unnoticed in the Media, But Crashes Get Their Share of Play Elsewhere

 This June 1 Sound Transit crash created plenty of "dew-dew."
You could be in for a surprise if you think this year’s mayoral race is a contest between only two forms of public transportation – elevated rail vs. bus rapid transit.
Almost unnoticed in media coverage was candidate Ben Cayetano’s “and/or” statement a week ago that hinted at-grade rail transit could be part of his plan if he’s elected and scraps the current rail project.
As we noted in yesterday’spost, Mr. Cayetano’s commentary at on June 8 included this commitment near its top: “I will explore what many cities throughout the US have turned to: bus rapid transit and/or at-grade light rail (emphasis added).”
It appears the so-called mainstream media didn’t pick up on that nuance, but one of Mr. Cayetano’s opponents in the race to lead Honolulu did. Former managing director Kirk Caldwell’s list of questions he’s directed at Mr. Cayetano included this among its dozens of bullet points:
“Candidate Cayetano recently has added ‘at-grade’ light rail systems as part of his plan for Honolulu. Where does he plan to use light rail? How does he plan to fund it? How will trans intersect and therefore interfere with street traffic?”
Many more questions must be asked and answered about Mr. Cayetano’s apparent intention to use light-rail transit as fall-back position. For starters, how could slow, inefficient, costly-to-operate and relatively unsafe at-grade rail get the job done in Honolulu?
Honolulu’s unique geographical layout and Oahu’s severe space restrictions require something other than an off-the-shelf rail “solution.” At-grade rail simply can’t be inserted into this environment and produce anything comparable to elevated rail’s fast, frequent, reliable and safe service.

Job One: Safety
At-grade rail’s greatest drawback, as we see it, is its safety record. Try inserting a ground-level rail system into Honolulu’s crowded mix of vehicles and pedestrians and you’d introduce the potential for accidents in dozens of locations throughout the urban corridor, especially in downtown Honolulu.
Thanks to the website, we keep track of at-grade rail accidents around the mainland. On June 1, a Sound Transit at-grade train sliced through a truck carrying cases of Mountain Dew soda in Seattle (photo at top).
There were no injuries, but train passengers headed to the airport were inconvenienced (at right). That’s another consequence of at-grade rail accidents – the loss of schedule reliability that commuters must have on their daily trips through town. Elevated rail in Honolulu will deliver predictability and reliability to passengers each and every time they ride.
So in addition to all the questions Mr. Cayetano confronts about his proposed BRT scheme, the public needs answers about his “and/or” intentions regarding at-grade rail transit.
As our dad was overly fond of saying, “He poured it out. He has to clean it up.” A variation was, “You poured it, you lick it.” (A ketchup bottle frequently was the heart of the matter.)
Happy Fathers Day to one and all, especially our dads.


Anonymous said...

Great write up Doug! What can I, a rail loving common citizen of Honolulu do to ensure that Cayatano is NOT elected?

Roy Kamisato said...

Looks like Governor Cayetano statement that he will be looking at options to rail means he will not be releasing anymore information concerning his alternative to rail. It of course means he actually does not have an alternative at this time. I am still confused as to why he released any information about a BRT alternative to rail when he has not yet decided on anything. Just asking..........

Doug Carlson said...

That's our conclusion, too, Roy -- "we'll look at" translates to "we have no plan yet." It's a good ask you ask :-)