Wednesday, June 20, 2012
What Goes Together Like Love and Marriage? Mobility and Honolulu’s Elevated Rail System, Because 'You Can’t Have One without the Other'
Beans and rice, cats and dogs, traffic and congestion – they’re words that naturally fit together like Love and Marriage in the 1950s hit song by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen.
Here are two more that make a natural pair: Mobility and grade-separated transit, because as Frank Sinatra sang so well, “You can’t have one without the other.” You can’t achieve complete relief from traffic congestion – Honolulu has the worst traffic in the country – by using ground-level streets and highways for any part of your trip.
It’s an illusion to suggest it can be done with managed lanes, bus rapid transit and/or at-grade rail transit. At some point along their routes, each of these so-called alternatives require users to travel on or in competition with surface streets – and back to the traffic congestion they tried to avoid.
The only way to avoid it and achieve unimpeded travel through town – we call it “mobility” – is to avoid street-level travel altogether.
A subway on Oahu would be ill-advised for cost, aesthetic and numerous other reasons, so rail transit built above grade is Honolulu’s approach to restoring mobility, which is one of rail’s four goals.
Population and growth go together like Love and Marriage to produce ever-increasing traffic congestion. “Try, try, try to separate them, it’s an illusion” the song goes, because here’s the brutal truth:
Congestion is here to stay. You can try to eliminate it, but “solving” traffic congestion is as futile as pushing the proverbial boulder up the proverbial mountain.
Numerous studies come to the same conclusion, and we quoted some of them in April, including this excerpt from one study:
“Traffic congestion tends to maintain equilibrium. Congestion reaches a point at which it constrains further growth in peak-period trips. If road capacity increases, the number of peak-period trips also increases until congestion again limits future traffic growth….”
Adding more lanes on space-constrained Oahu isn’t ever likely to happen, but even if managed lanes were somehow created – either by building new ones or excluding “unmanaged” vehicles from existing lanes – the result would be the same, the studies say: “…without congestion pricing (tolls), increasing road or public transit supply is unlikely to relieve congestion….”
Trying to achieve mobility by imposing tolls for using managed lanes would violate another of rail’s goals – to ensure transportation equity throughout the population. Only those with the means to pay the tolls (or own a vehicle) would benefit from congestion pricing.
But going beyond these obvious impediments, vehicles using managed lanes eventually would return to surface level and be caught in traffic congestion that they avoided while on the managed lane.
Anti-railer Randy Roth told a caller on a radio program who made that point “You’re flat wrong,” an assessment that’s hard to square with his presumed analytical abilities as a law school professor. What was he thinking? Of course they’d be caught in surface traffic!
So as songwriters Cahn and Van Heusen concluded about Love and Marriage, you can come to only one conclusion about mobility and grade-separated transit:
“You can’t have one,
You can’t have none,
You can’t have one without the other.”