Monday, June 30, 2008

A New Blog for a Familiar Idea: Rail Transit Must Finally Become a Reality for Honolulu

You're looking at one of the newest blogs on the 'net, launched on the last day of the first half of 2008. It's a timely launch, because the second half of '08 is going to be loaded with fireworks over the proposed fixed-guideway rail transit project for Honolulu.

So let's get to it, and let's get off on the right foot by making this a first-person blog (as opposed to the others I've maintained; check them out under my "complete profile" at the bottom of the right-hand column). I'm a long-time believer in transit and especially the kind envisioned here in Honolulu. For a complete picture of what's planned, visit the project's website, but in a nutshell, Honolulu is closer than ever to actually building a transit line that will restore mobility to a population that has none in the traffic-choked 20 miles between west Oahu and downtown Honolulu.

This will be grade-separated transit line through the urban heart of this community. That's the engineers' way of describing a system separated from traffic, the bane of all commuters. In Honolulu, that means the guideway will be elevated; trains will ride on rails set into a concrete guideway running above major thoroughfares through town...and above the traffic.

A Predictable Arrival Time

When your mode of travel is separated from traffic, something wonderful happens: You can accurately predict your arrival time. The concept is so foreign in Honolulu that it takes some getting used to. But commuters the world over know what we're talking about. Grade-separated transit speeds you to your destination without having to contend with traffic jams, and that allows you to arrive at your destination according to a timetable.

What's wrong with this? Listen to opponents of Honolulu's proposed rail system and you hear all kinds of reasons, many of which come down to: "I'll never ride it, so why should I pay for it?" In other words, "What's in it for me?"

We're going to devote a fair amount of time and space out here in cyberspace addressing the objections as we see them -- in comments anti-rail people post below on this blog, in daily media coverage, in letters to the editor, on anti-rail websites, etc. We'll be civil and respectful of the opponents' views, even when they don't seem to reciprocate.

So let the second half of 2008 begin with this thought: Signing the anti-rail petition now being circulated to force an up-or-down vote on the project in November will register you as a member of the "what's-in-it-for-me?" crowd. That's hardly a progressive attitude.

Full Disclosure: I'm part of the City's public outreach effort; as a communications consultant, I'm hired by clients who want my help in telling rail's story. In this case, I've been hired to share my views with Honolulu residents on why building the City's transit project will be good for our island community based on my long-held convictions. I went on the team last October, but I've been writing without a client and without compensation about the importance of building a transit line here since the early 1990s. Google my name and "Honolulu transit" to find some of those uncompensated columns and letters. (In future posts, I'll link to those items, because the pro-rail arguments I made in the 1990s hold up today.)