Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Energy Series Calls Mass Transit ‘Best Hope’

The Honolulu Advertiser just concluded a three-part series on the imperative for Hawaii to get off oil as its primary energy source. Today’s post is just long enough to call attention to part 2 of the series for the authors' thought-provoking comments on mass transit and energy use.

Friday, September 26, 2008

‘Love My Car’ but Rail Will Avoid the Hassle

We go back to Comment #7 by "anonymous" beneath the September 22 post for a second dose of clear-headed thinking. Granted, some of the comments that day took issue with the thrust of this blog – that rail will give those who choose to ride a reliable and comfortable way to commute without enduring traffic.

But Comment #7 says in 40 words what we tried to say in far too many: Rail travel will be all about choice. Here’s the complete comment:

“This is all about choice. I love the convenience of my car but I want the choice to get places without being required to buy, insure, maintain, fuel, store and spend a big portion of my life driving an automobile.”

Exactly. This person agrees with the general notion that nearly everyone shares: The private automobile is a great tool that allows drivers to go where they please. Most of the time, the car also delivers the occupant to the destination when they please. But here’s where the car-only argument breaks down.

‘When’ or ‘Where’ or Both?

Commuters who travel between the ewa plain and downtown Honolulu aren’t in control of the “when.” Ask commuters who travel that route during weekday drive time; ever-increasing traffic gives them no certainty about their time of arrival. That translates to impaired mobility and no real freedom of movement through our city.

Those who demand complete control over the “where” will continue to drive their cars during drive time, and that will be fine for them. Knowing they can go anywhere they want in their cars may be such a powerful concept and perhaps even a necessity in their lives that rail just won’t work for them. The “where” will be so powerful a draw that they’ll be willing to give up on the “when.”

But commuters for whom “when” is more important will take the train. Virtually all of rail’s future riders will have an uncomplicated “where” issue; they’ll simply want to go between points A and B – the stations near their homes and workplaces we wrote about in the September 22 post.

It will be important for them to know before they even leave on the journey exactly when they’ll arrive, because the train will travel reliably on time. As we’ve said here repeatedly, grade-separated transit is the only mode of transportation that guarantees a time of arrival.

In other words, rail commuters will control both the “where” and the “when.” Those for whom the "where" is still an overriding concern will likely continue to drive their own cars, and that's OK. It'll be up to them, and equally OK should be an option for other commuters to take the train.

As "anonymous" in Comment #7 says, it’s all about choice.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Honolulu’s Transit Project Parallels Story of the Blind Men and the Elephant: What Is the Truth?

Decades of debate over how best to move people through Oahu’s increasingly congested urban corridor have produced a massive public issue that evokes passionate views on all sides. It’s unsurprising that many who are involved in the debate seem to believe their opinions represent the truth of the matter.

Although we believe Honolulu’s transit project is long overdue, we’re trying not to make this a black-or-white issue – as if only our views have merit and those on the other side have none. Today’s long Honolulu Advertiser story on the rail issue quotes spokespersons on both sides, and residents still assessing the project probably can find credible statements from both camps.

For example, we respect the opponents’ argument -- their “truth” – that the private automobile has become an indispensable tool for Oahu residents in meeting the demands of their busy lives. Proponents of “individual transportation” say cars allow them to drop children off at private schools, go the cleaners, buy groceries, etc. Just about all car owners have days like that and can’t conceive of giving up that freedom. Neither can we.

On the Other Hand

Our “truth” is that Honolulu’s elevated rail system is intended to do something relatively uncomplicated – move large numbers of people from point A to point B and back to A again. That’s the job of transit systems all over the world. Honolulu’s proposed system typically will serve commuters going to and from work and school in both directions between the emerging Second City on the ewa plan in the west and urban Honolulu on the east end of the line without having to deal with everything “individual transportation” entails – rising gasoline prices, costly parking and the biggest car-related problem, traffic.

There’s “truth” in both of the preceding two paragraphs, and we acknowledge both. But some of transit’s most visible opponents aren’t willing to acknowledge our A-B-A “truth.” They say a better idea is to build High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes. HOT lanes cost less, they say, and would move buses, multi-passenger cars and toll-paying single-occupancy vehicles faster along their length than the train over a comparable distance. Even the City’s Alternatives Analysis (AA) acknowledges that specific assertion about travel time for vehicles while on the lanes.

But the AA also predicts that traffic congestion on both ends of the proposed HOT lanes would increase – a “truth” that’s also logical, inasmuch HOT lane vehicles eventually would be returned to surface streets and high levels of congestion. The AA says any time advantage gained along the lanes would be negated by surface road traffic.

Bottom-Line Truth

And here’s where we believe Oahu residents can make a distinction between all the so-called “truths” in this debate. In addition to the AA’s assertion, our bottom-line truth is that HOT lanes would be susceptible to accidents, vehicle breakdowns and other unanticipated traffic interruptions like any highway – interruptions that simply will not affect rail commuters. Honolulu’s transit system will be immune to traffic congestion no matter where it occurs. Commuters will know exactly when they will reach their destination before they even begin their journey. That’s why they call the schedule a timetable.

The bottom-line truth is about mobility – a quality “individual transportation” advocates embrace when they tout the private automobile for trips to the market and the in-laws. But only grade-separated transit guarantees true mobility for 5-day-a-week commuters traveling through the urban corridor between the ewa plain and downtown Honolulu.

That truly is Oahu’s greatest transportation challenge – devising a way for commuters to avoid the massive traffic congestion problem that will continue to grow throughout the length of the urban corridor as Oahu’s population inevitably grows.

The City’s transit project meets that challenge head-on and guarantees mobility in our city for the large number of commuters who simply want to go from A to B and back to A again. Certainly there will be days when those commuters will also head to the market after returning home on the train, and they’ll probably go by car.

The truth of the matter is that both modes of transportation are needed in our community – a train for tens of thousands of commuters to conveniently, economically and reliably travel to and from work and school, and private automobiles for all the trips we will continue to make in them.

It’s neither either-or nor black-or-white. It’s both.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Busy Day Leaves Time for Reflections on Rail

It’s a fine day for the park, beach and other activities, so we trust most citizens’ thoughts are elsewhere. For anybody who’s interested in the Honolulu rail project today and who may be dropping in for the first time, our recommendation is to read up on the Alternatives Analysis for the project and three posts at this blog from the past month.

As we’ve said repeatedly and say again, the major consideration about rail is that it will restore Mobility – the ability to move freely through an urban environment while completely avoiding traffic, knowing your time of arrival before you begin your trip.

Some critics argue against rail because, as one letter writer recently found offensive, the system won’t deliver her to the door of her in-laws’ home. That’s not rail’s purpose – to be the answer for every single trip every resident could possibly make. Its function will be to transport tens of thousands of residents from one end of the city to the other according to a reliable schedule.

And that’s the second major issue – Reliability. Grade-separated transit is the only mode of transportation that can deliver you to your destination on time, every time. Enough said.

The third of the big three issues is Environmental. Renewable energy is going to supply an ever-increasing percentage of Oahu’s electricity in the years during which the rail system is built. As we’ve written here previously, it’s almost a certainty that energy from the ocean will be supplying power to the rail system, along with wind, solar and biofuels. Environmentally, rail is superior to single-car or even bus transportation, as the Alternatives Analysis discusses.

So enjoy the beach, park or whatever else you have to do today, and thanks for reading.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Rail Transit a Natural Choice for No-Car Homes

We live in an age when three cars per household is what some families feel is necessary to enjoy unrestrained mobility. Compare that to an often-overlooked fact about our city’s population: Many residents live in zero-car households.

The Alternatives Analysis for the rail project estimated that 15 percent of the households along the transit corridor don’t have a car registered to them. The planned rail system would provide “improved transportation equity for all travelers,” according to the AA:

“Many lower-income and minority workers live in the corridor outside the urban core and commute to work in the Primary Urban Center Development Plan area. Many lower-income workers also rely on transit because of its affordability. In addition, daily parking costs in Downtown Honolulu are among the highest in the United States (Colliers, 2005), further limiting this population’s access to Downtown. Improvements to transit capacity and reliability will serve all transportation system users, including low-income and under-represented populations.”

Transit Oriented Development in conjunction with the build-out of the rail project will likely increase the percentage of households that see no need to maintain one or more cars. Residents of those future apartment and condo complexes will be within walking distance of the system's stations or will take feeder buses to catch the train.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Second City Will Anchor Rail’s Ewa Terminus

Our post three days ago summarized the key points about the future rail system that were featured in a presentation to a realtor group last week. The first point – Accommodating Future Growth – deserves additional examination, especially for relative newcomers to Honolulu who may wonder about the assumptions upon which the rail system rests.

The Alternatives Analysis prepared for the project has considerable information on Oahu’s anticipated population growth, but there are other documents about anticipated growth in the region that are easily accessed on the Internet. One is the Ewa Development Plan, which supports the Oahu General Plan adopted by the Honolulu City Council in 1977.

Population & Jobs

The Plan designated the Ewa region as the location for a Secondary Urban Center to be developed around a new community, Kapolei. This is the so-called Second City that’s mentioned so often in media reports and government documents. Geographically, it encompasses the Kapolei-Ko Olina-Kalaeloa, Honouliuli-Ewa Beach and Makakilo-Makaiwa communities.

The Alternatives Analysis says the region’s population was 68,600 in 2000, and it projects a 2030 population of 184,600 -- a 169-percent increase. As noted here three days ago, most of that growth will come from within through births – i.e., families doing what comes naturally.

Jobs also will increase with population growth and Second City’s build-out, from 18,600 in 2000 to 65,800 in 2030. Elsewhere along the urban corridor from Waipahu-Waikele-Kunia to Kahala-Palolo, another 76,000 new residents are anticipated by 2030.

More than 90 percent of Oahu’s growth that’s expected by 2030 will be in the Second City-to-Honolulu corridor through which the rail project will run. As noted in the Alternatives Analysis report, the vast majority of trips made on the island occur within this corridor.

Both the Oahu General Plan and the Alternatives Analysis provide essential background on the rationale for the Honolulu rail project.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Rail Project Presentation Hits the Key Points

We had an opportunity to give a presentation on the rail project to a group of realtors two days ago at Ryan’s in Ward Centre. Here are the highlights for Yes2Rail's broader audience. All of this information can be found in the Alternatives Analysis (AA) that was prepared for the City by professionals in numerous transportation-related fields.

Accommodating Future Growth

Oahu is projected to have 200,000 more residents, 100,000 more jobs and 750,000 more daily trips in 2030 than in 2005. The great majority of that growth will come from within, not from in-migration; i.e., the current population is having kids, and those kids will have kids.

Of special note: More than 90 percent of that growth will occur within Oahu’s urban core and the corridor for Honolulu’s fixed guideway project.

The Alternatives

As most who have followed this project already know, the AA closely examined four alternatives – the No Build option (no transit improvements); Transportation System Management (expanded bus service); Managed Lanes (buses and cars on toll lanes), and a Fixed Guideway.

In December 2006, the City Council selected the Fixed Guideway alternative, with an initial alignment from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center, with an Airport Spur to be added; eventually, the service will be extended to UH Manoa and Waikiki.

Critical Choices

The AA details why the three alternatives were deemed inferior to the fixed guideway. An expanded bus service would be subject to the anticipated increase in traffic congestion that can be expected due to the population’s growth. That congestion would slow buses, increase their operating costs and negatively affect service reliability. The bus system already is approaching capacity.

HOT Lanes (toll roads) would actually increase congestion at critical points along the route – at the entry points where cars and buses bound for town would be funneled toward those lanes, and on Nimitz Highway where town-bound vehicles would enter the surface traffic mix again near Pacific Street. The situation would be reversed in the evening for ewa-bound traffic.

In addition, toll lanes contribute to the cost of commuting by increasing tolls until fewer drivers are willing to accept the higher toll; that’s how they are “managed” to achieve swifter travel times. But as noted immediately above, time that might be gained while traveling along the lanes would be lost at both ends of the lanes. And from an environmental perspective, car and bus traffic uses more energy per passenger mile traveled than a rail system.

Technology Alternatives

The “modern rail” technology has been selected over the other technologies because it is offered by multiple suppliers, is widely used, its noise is easily mitigated and it has the lowest life cycle costs. Of the 62 New Start Projects funded in the past 16 years by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), 56 have been rail systems. The “rubber tire” and magnetic levitation technologies were disadvantaged for a variety of reasons – their proprietary suppliers, uncertain futures, higher life cycle costs and/or higher energy use.


We told the realtors that just as “location” is the key word in their industry, the key word in moving people through an urban area is “mobility” – true freedom of movement through a densely developed corridor. Oahu residents traveling between downtown and the island’s Second City in and around Kapolei have no true mobility today. It’s not possible to arrive at their destination with predictable reliability due to traffic congestion, accidents on roads and the freeway, weather conditions that make driving hazardous and slow, etc. Grade-separated transit – what Honolulu’s system will be – is the only modern transportation mode that guarantees a time of arrival. HOT lanes and bus transit certainly can’t do that. (You can read more about Mobility in recent posts here and here.)

Reducing Future Congestion

With 200,000 more people on Oahu by 2030, traffic congestion obviously will increase. But…and this is important…congestion will be 11 percent less in 2030 with the rail project than without it, and congestion with rail transit will be less than with the HOT Lane alternative. It’s all in the Alternatives Analysis.

Economic Effects

Direct employment to build the rail system will be 4,700 constructions jobs per year, and 37,700 person-years of employment over the course of the project. When indirect employment is considered, the totals rise to 11,300 jobs per year and 90,400 person-years of employment during construction.

Private investment near the 19 rail stations will likely be a significant contribution to the local economy. Transit-Oriented Development encourages livable, walkable communities that take advantage of transit access. TOD planning is already underway; Waipahu residents have been engaged in workshops for several months discussing how they’d like to see their community utilize the space near Waipahu’s future transit station.

Operating Details

Honolulu’s rail system will operate 20 hours each day from 4 a.m. to midnight. The time between trains will vary from 3 minutes during the morning and evening rush hour, 10 minutes from 8 p.m. to midnight and 6 minutes for the other time blocks during the day. The train will reach 55 miles per hour between stations, achieving that top speed on 12 segments between them.

The system will be integrated with TheBus, park-and-ride facilities at some stations and bike and walking paths. The cost will be the same as riding TheBus and TheBoat, with transfers usable among all these modes.

Source of Funds

The system is projected to cost $3.72 billion, including contingency funds and interest costs, in 2006 dollars. Of that total, $3.020 will be funded by the GET surcharge – one-half of one percent – that’s been in effect since January 2007 and will continue to 2022, and $700 million will be in FTA New Starts funds.

Operating & Maintenance Costs

Building the rail system is a way to save on transit O&M costs. The per-passenger-mile operating cost for rail is 40 percent less than for bus O&M costs, which are growing as bus speeds decline. Furthermore, O&M costs of a bus + rail system as Honolulu’s will be are less than the cost of carrying the same number of riders on a bus-only system.

Staying Informed

The project’s website – honolulutransit.org  – is an excellent source of factual information on Honolulu’s future rail system. “Honolulu on the Move” is on `Olelo’s channel 54 at 6:30 p.m. each Monday, and you can call the project hotline for more information: 566-2299.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Keeping Eye on the Donut, Not the Hole, Means Staying Focused on Mobility, Rail’s Chief Goal

As a long-time supporter of the grade-separated transit option, we’ve frequently mentioned “mobility” as the key to understanding why this mode is so important.

We’re not alone; for repeated references to mobility, skim through the City’s Alternatives Analysis for the current rail project. Yes, it’s a long document, but to truly appreciate how and why a fixed guideway completely separated from surface traffic was selected as the best alternative to improve mobility for Honolulu residents, it's worth a fast read.

Mobility shows up early and often:

“The purpose of the Honolulu High-Capacity Transit Corridor Project is to provide improved mobility for persons traveling in the highly congested east-west transportation corridor…. The project would provide faster, more reliable public transportation services in the corridor than those currently operating in mixed-flow traffic….”

The document notes something obvious to residents on the ewa end of the island: Mobility has been lost thanks to increasingly severe traffic congestion.

“The existing transportation infrastructure in the corridor…is overburdened handling current levels of travel demand…. Average weekday peak-period speeds on the H-1 Freeway are currently less than 20 mph in many places and will degrade even further by 2030….”

Why HOT Lanes Wouldn’t Help

The Alternatives Analysis addresses why the Managed Lanes option (the so-called HOT lanes), despite possibly improved transit travel times for some origins, “…would increase traffic on the overall roadway system and create more delay for buses.” Continuing:

“…the H-1 freeway leading up to the managed lanes is projected to become more congested when compared to the other alternatives, because cars accessing the managed lanes would increase traffic volumes in those areas. Additionally, significant congestion is anticipated to occur where the managed lanes connect to Nimitz Highway at Pacific Street near Downtown.

“Nimitz Highway is already projected to be over capacity at this point, and the addition of high volumes of traffic exiting and entering the managed lanes would create increased congestion and high levels of delay for all vehicles using the facility, including buses.”

Keeping in mind the overall goal of increasing corridor mobility for residents, it’s clear from the analysis that mobility – true freedom of movement – can be achieved only by traveling in a mode that is separated from surface traffic.

That’s what Honolulu’s fixed guideway project will do – deliver riders to their destination at a predictable time according to a time table, something cars can’t do no matter what lane they’re in.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

‘Stop Mufi’ Effort Comes Down to Stopping Rail

The unbidden email arrived yesterday with garish graphics and an “Anybody But Mufi” message surrounding unflattering photos of the Honolulu mayor.

“Paid for by Hope for Hawaii” it said – so we searched the ‘net for that organization. You can find plenty of “hope for Hawaii” references online -- everything from virus-resistant papaya to volleyball to health insurance premiums and dozens of other hits. But there’s nothing about an organization with that name.

So we went to the “Anybody But Mufi” website to learn who’s behind the group that’s out to stop Mufi Hannemann, but again we came up empty. The website looks exactly like what showed up in our inbox with only one clickable link to Donate Now.

The last clue was the address on the website – 345 Queen Street, Suite 607 – and that’s where we found the Stop Rail Now connection. That's the office location of Attorney John Carroll, who until a few weeks ago was a highly visible spokesperson for SRN. (Earle Partington seems to be the group’s lead attorney now.)

That fact doesn’t “prove” a definitive SRN connection with “Hope for Hawaii,” but it’s good enough for us. What’s not so good is the non-transparency of this new group that's out to derail the mayor, who was endorsed by the Honolulu Advertiser and Honolulu Star-Bulletin today.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Supreme Court Lowers Boom on Stop Rail Now; Vote To Affirm Rail Set for 2 Months from Today

Corky Trinidad’s Honolulu Star-Bulletin cartoon notwithstanding, the Stop Rail Now petition-driven effort to kill Honolulu’s proposed transit system has run out of track. The State Supreme Court’s refusal to hear an appeal is the end of the line for the group’s petition-driven effort. (Maybe backers will try the International Court of Justice in The Hague.)

As noted yesterday, though, citizens will still have a vote on the project thanks to a Charter amendment approved by the City Council and endorsed by the Mayor: “Shall the powers, duties, and functions of the city, through its director of transportation services, include establishment of a steel wheel on steel rail transit system?” The Stop Rail crowd now will attempt to generate a majority “No” vote on the proposition.

We’ve been writing this blog primarily for the undecided voters, presuming there are any between the two main camps in this controversy. We’ll repeat here the principal reason we believe they should vote in the affirmative to allow this project to continue – an issue we’ve previously discussed.


Grade-separated transit (in this case, an elevated guideway) is the only way to guarantee a time of arrival when moving through a city. That guarantee amounts to assured mobility – knowing your time of arrival when you start your trip. The inevitable disruptions to traffic flow prevent true mobility today.

Rail critics say building a different form of grade separation – elevated highways – is a better alternative to transit, but is it? The High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes manage traffic flow by charging tolls; as traffic starts to build up on the HOT lanes, the tolls are increased, acting as a disincentive for new drivers who can’t afford or simply won’t accept the tolls on top of gas, maintenance and parking costs. Plus, HOT lanes eventually dump their vehicles right back to surface streets and highways with the thousands of other vehicles creeping along in traffic.

Compare that experience to the City’s proposed rail system. Those who choose to ride will avoid traffic altogether. It’s that simple -- assured mobility for the thousands of riders who will decide rail is the better alternative.

Total System Improvement

And let’s not forget the hundreds of millions of dollars of road and highway improvements that will be made in the next two decades. Transportation on Oahu constitutes a total system of streets, roads, highways and transit operations. Add to that changes likely to be made in work and school schedules to improve traffic flow and it’s clear there will be a massive ongoing effort to improve the commuting experience in addition to building the rail system.

Voters will have their say two months from today. We urge the undecided among us to put the Mobility issue to rail’s opponents every chance they get.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Anti-Rail Effort Takes Two Blows to the Chops; HOT Lanes Talk ‘Burns Up’ HOT SEAT Sitter

The rail news is flying today and undoubtedly will get plenty of play on the local news this evening. Circuit Court Judge Sakamoto reaffirmed his earlier view that the Stop Rail Now group needs 45,000 signatures, not the 30,000 they’ve pinned their hopes on.

Then, City Clerk De Costa certified only 35,065 signatures of registered voters, leaving the “leading” anti-rail crowd far short of their goal to put this wording to a vote:

"Shall an ordinance be adopted to prohibit rail or trains for a mass-transit system?"

If that were to be on the ballot (and it may still get there if the Supreme Court overturns Sakamoto’s decision), voters who oppose rail would have had to vote “yes” and rail supporters would vote “no.” Confusing, no question about it.

Today’s events will propel the City Council-approved charter amendment onto the ballot if Mayor Mufi Hannemann carries through with his previous intent to allow a public vote on the system if the Stop Rail Now measure were thrown out. The Council’s version reads:

"Shall the powers, duties, and functions of the city, through its director of transportation services, include establishment of a steel wheel on steel rail transit system?"

If that’s the question on the ballot and you favor rail, you’ll vote “yes,” and the anti-rail faction will vote “no.” Confusion gone.

One way or another, the proposed Honolulu system seems destined for a vote by the public. As a rail supporter, we hope the electorate appreciates that rail will restore mobility to a city that has long since not enjoyed much. Rail will reduce congestion from levels that would exist if it’s not built and allow those who choose to ride to avoid traffic altogether and arrive at their destination on time, every time – something HOT lane proponents can’t deliver.

And on the HOT SEAT…

Alicia Maluafiti took her place on the Advertiser’s HOT SEAT discussion forum today. The Support Rail Transit spokesperson more than held her own and forcefully answered the anti-rail questions among the participants. We especially liked this answer:

“Discussion about 'Hot Lanes' really burns me up! So - the island says 'Go West' and develop to accommodate the growth on Oahu. And now that we’re out here - with the longest commute of any other location, sitting traffic longer than anyone else - you want us to pay for a 'Toll' to use the roads. If I can afford the toll or Hot Lane, it’ll get me into town quicker, then dump me onto the same congested roads where I can sit in traffic again. Oh - and by the way - where am I going to park once I get there?”

That’s telling it like it is.