Thursday, December 30, 2010

Improved Economy Boosts Tax Revenues for Rail

Defying doom-and-gloom predictions by the glass-half-full anti-rail set, Hawaii’s economy continues its aggressive rebound from the depths of the recession. Here are a few of this week’s nuggets highlighted by tourism figures in November compared to a year earlier:

Visitor spending surges 30.4 percent • Average daily visitor spending increases 10.5 percent • Third consecutive month of double-digit visitor spending increases on all islands • Total arrivals up 18.2 percent • Domestic arrivals jump 21 percent • Oahu arrivals up 15.7 percent • Cruise ship arrivals surge 43.5 percent • Year-to-date visitor days up 8.9 percent • Total 2010 arrivals rise 8.6 percent, to 6,450,795 • Hawaii on track for 7 million visitors in 2010.

On top of all that, the state Council on Revenues has revised its tax revenue forecast for the fiscal year ending in June and now predicts a 3-percent growth, up from September’s prediction of 2 percent.

So 2010 ends with positive economic news, positive administrative news (Governor Abercrombie’s acceptance of rail’s FEIS) and an expectation that the Federal Transit Authority will issue a Record of Decision for the project in short order.

2011 is shaping up to be a Happy New Year for Honolulu rail!

Monday, December 27, 2010

5 Dangerous Days Remain To Reach Safety Goal

Could these final five days be the most dangerous of the year for pedestrians? This week will compete with any other for the number of parties involving alcohol. We’re anticipating five days of rain right through to Saturday, and fireworks on New Year’s Eve could reduce visibility to near zero as it has in other years.

More drivers will have more toys to play with in the week after Christmas, meaning more vehicles will be steered by drivers with one eye on the road and one on the text message they’re sending or receiving. (You see it nearly every time you’re out and about.)

Oahu has not recorded a pedestrian death this month, a goal we optimistically held out there after several such deaths in October and November.

One person died early in December after being struck by a vehicle while on private property, so that death won’t be added to the official pedestrian statistics. Cyclist Zachary Manago was killed by a hit-and-run driver near Wahiawa, and a Mililani man has been arrested after Manago's friends located a vehicle thought to be involved.

Everybody’s Responsible

As Ryan Tishken’s letter to the editor in the Star-Advertiser noted on Christmas Eve:

“Everyone is to blame for the high number of pedestrian fatalities each year.
“Pedestrians: You think because you are in a crosswalk you are automatically invincible and cars will just see you. You cross when you are not supposed to (there is a reason for the ‘Don’t Walk’ sign); you are too lazy to walk to the crosswalk; you wear dark clothes at night; you are texting on your phone, listening to music or just not paying attention to what’s going on.
“Drivers: You are on the phone, eating, doing makeup, etc. (makes it a little hard to focus on the actual driving of the car); you are speeding to work or late for something (leave earlier); you are not driving correctly or just getting lazy (not waiting to turn right on the green arrow only, not looking in your blind spot, not using turn signals, etc.).
“City/county/state: Many crosswalks are faced, not well lit in most cases, sometimes in places that drivers would least expect them (no traffic light or intersection nearby), andor the crosswalks have no reflectors to help alert drivers.
“A New Year’s resolution: Why don’t we all take some responsibility?”

In this most dangerous week of the year, we all must assume that responsibility.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Dickensonian Christmas Tale with a Difference: Three Ghosts of Traffic Past, Present and Future

It’s probably not a “tradition” if it’s only happened once, but Yes2Rail is giving it a shot anyway. One year ago today on Christmas Eve, Yes2Rail filled this space with our twist on Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” which truly is a Christmas tradition. (So are the 24 hours of Jean Shepherd's "A Christmas Story" on TBS; we can't wait.) But nothing escapes change that the passage of time demands. It’s next to impossible to find a turkey hanging in a butcher shop window anymore; you can’t even find a butcher shop! And the Honolulu rail project has seen changes, too. Its EIS has indeed been accepted by our new governor, and groundbreaking could occur early next year. Even traffic congestion has changed. It’s worse! The three ghosts of traffic are as relevant as ever, so here they are again.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
  It was the night before Christmas in Kapolei, and all three of the family’s generations were in a happy mood after watching “A Christmas Carol” on TV. Mean old Scrooge turned out to be a great guy after all, and Tiny Tim was just fine.
  Everybody was happy but dad, that is. He stormed in as the show’s credits rolled up the screen from another of his last-minute Christmas shopping sprees, and his mood was as grumpy as Scrooge’s had been two hours earlier.
  “Merry Christmas!” the kids shouted. “Mom was just telling us how scary the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future were when she was little.”
  “I’ve been stalled on H-1 for the last hour,” dad growled, “and I know something a lot scarier than anything Charles Dickens dreamed up – the Ghost of Traffic Present!
  “Tell us more! Tell us more!” cried the kids as they egged him on. Rush-hour traffic always made dad’s face red and eyes bulge. It’s a pretty good show, and the kids are always up for it.
  “Come to think of it,” dad obliged with a twinkle in his eye, “I have a story with three ghosts -- the ghosts of Traffic Past, Traffic Present and Traffic Future.”
  And so began another of dad’s “good old days” tales about driving to town in half the time it takes today. Just like Dickens’ ghost of Christmas Past, dad’s ghost of Traffic Past has fond memories – of free-and-easy driving, open highways, low-cost gasoline and reasonable parking fees.
  But then the story takes a turn. Traffic congestion grew along with the population, and the city tried to build an elevated transit system so commuters could ride a train and avoid traffic altogether – just like they do in cities around the world.
  “We…came…THIS…close!” the kids sang along with dad. They’d heard it before, so all three held their fingers barely apart as dad recalled the City Council vote that killed those plans in 1992. “It would have been running for six years now,” dad sighed.
  “But that’s the ghost of Traffic Past,” he grimaced as he warmed to the juiciest part of his tale. “Here’s where my three-ghost story departs from Dickens. His scariest vision was the Ghost of Christmas Future. Mine is the Ghost of Traffic Present!
  And off dad went on his rant – about getting up way too early to beat H-1 congestion, about arriving late for work nearly every time there’s an accident, and on and on.
  “The Ghost of Traffic Present toys with us,” he said as the kids giggled in anticipation. “This ghost sometimes gives you a wide-open road when you first hit the freeway, lets you think today will be different, that maybe you’ll breeze through the merge. But nine times out of ten, it’s all wishful thinking and you crawl the rest of the way to town. When there’s a major accident, forget about it! And when you finally get off the freeway, you’re caught in street traffic.”
  Mom had escaped to the kitchen by now, and the kids sat crowded around dad’s feet, because their favorite part was coming. The Ghost of Traffic Future would be the one they’ll live with for the rest of their lives.
  Dad did a quick circle around the kids to stretch his legs, then settled in again to pick up the story. “The Ghost of Traffic Future is the best ghost of all, because the future is when your generation will triumph over traffic! You won’t even have to worry about it.”
  The kids knew all about the plan to bypass traffic in the future. Dad read every newspaper story out loud to the family about the city’s elevated rail project. They all had tracked the project as it moved from the early planning days when the kids were in pre-school, through the City Council votes, into the environmental process. And on Christmas Eve 2009, the Final EIS was expected any day now.
  “When the FEIS is accepted by the Governor, it’ll be clear sailing for the project’s groundbreaking!” dad exclaimed as the kids clapped their hands in unison. “Your uncle and cousins will have years of construction work ahead of them.”
  Again in unison and on cue, the kids put on worried faces and cried, “She will accept the FEIS, won’t she, dad…won’t she!?” Dad waited until everyone had grabbed hands so they could shout it together: “She’d better!!” Even mom and the grandparents laughingly joined in – as always.
  “You see, kids,” dad said in his serious voice, “this entire project would come to a halt if she doesn’t accept the FEIS, and that would be a bad thing – for you, for your cousins, for the entire community, and especially those who don’t want to sit in traffic.
  “Actually, I think what she said in that story I read to you a few weeks ago about not rubber-stamping the rail project was just her way of saying she’s doing her job, being a prudent elected official.”
  Granddad chimed in: “The Governor knows we need this train,” he said. “You kids will use it to get to jobs in town or to school in Manoa. Gas prices will be far higher in a few years, and so will parking costs. The train will be so convenient and cost-competitive, it would be terrible for anyone to block this project and toy with your future.” The kids nodded.
  “Granddad’s right,” mom called from the hallway. “Once commuters see how easy it is to ride the train and connect with buses or walk from the stations, you kids might even have to fight for a seat!
  And so this balmy Christmas Eve 2009 progressed in Kapolei as dad ended his tale of the three Ghosts of Traffic and the family’s three generations sat down around the Christmas tree to hear a much older story.
  When the kids opened their presents on Christmas Day, the youngest said she dreamed all night about Santa arriving in Kapolei with a sleigh full of toys. Something was different this year, though.
  Instead of eight tiny reindeer leading Santa’s sleigh, it was riding high up on an elevated guideway – pulled by a train.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Friends Find SUV that Allegedly Struck Bicyclist

The transportation community’s tent is a big one. That’s why we’ve linked to the StreetsBlog site at right. Pedestrian/bicycle safety, drunk driving, rapid transit all have a common denominator – their connection to our streets, highways and other thoroughfares.

The alarming spurt in pedestrian deaths on Oahu in October and November prompted our hope that the island would record none of them in December, and so far, that goal is being met. One man died after he was struck by a vehicle on a local farm, a tragedy that nevertheless won’t appear in official statistics as a pedestrian death.

The hit-and-run killing of Zachary Manago (at right) last Friday night has aroused the Honolulu community. A star pitcher while playing for Moanalua High School’s baseball team, Manago was a freshman at Hawaii Pacific University and was expected to begin practice with HPU’s team in a few weeks.
According to today's Star-Advertiser, Manago’s friends searched for and found a SUV that police have impounded for further investigation of the incident. A 25-year-old Mililani man was arrested.
Since the Honolulu rail project also is inside the big transportation tent, Yes2Rail will continue to follow road-related safety concerns and developments, including Zachary Manago’s tragic and avoidable death.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Editorial Urges Early Work on Transit Authority

It was yesterday’s editorial, but Sunday’s major rainstorm set a new 24-hour downpour record (5.3 inches) and was just about all we could concentrate on. That’s a deceptive total, though; official readings are taken at Honolulu International Airport on Oahu’s lee side. We’re pretty sure we’ve had at least that much rain on our roof at times.

But the editorial is worth mentioning a day late. It cautions rail proponents against losing focus in the aftermath of Governor Abercrombie’s acceptance of rail’s FEIS.

Other hurdles remain, including establishment of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, which Oahu voters approved last month. (We hope it doesn’t take another city charter amendment to shorten that name; replacing “Transportation” with “Transit" would lose no meaning and make headline writers happy.)

Landslide Approval

“Making the transit authority a priority concern would be one way to gain public trust,” the editorial concludes after noting that the project has been “endorsed by a slim majority of voters.” The writer apparently was referring to the 2008 election when voters approved the steel-on-steel rail concept with 53 percent of the votes cast on the measure.

Whether that was a “slim majority” depends on your perspective; it was Barack Obama’s national winning percentage, and nobody’s calling that “slim.” More telling we think is the 63.6 percent approval the transit authority charter amendment received.

That’s a landslide in anybody’s book.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

With No Pedestrian Deaths Recorded This Month, There’s Still Hope December’s Goal Will Be Met

Unless we’ve missed it, Oahu has recorded no pedestrian deaths in December following a rash of fatalities in October and November, including three in just over a week late last month. One of those was a hit-and-run; the driver has not been caught.

December’s good record is not to say there have been no fatalities among people hit by vehicles. A farm worker was killed two weeks ago when struck by a truck at Aloun Farms. His death was as regrettable as any other, but it’s doubtful it will be recorded as a “pedestrian death” since it occurred on private property and not in a street or crosswalk.

A motorist ran down a bicyclist last night in a hit-and-run on Kamehameha Highway near Wheeler Army Airfield. Zachary Manago, 18, was riding with lights on the shoulder with other cyclists when struck from behind by a white sport utility vehicle that sped from the scene. The victim had just graduated from high school and was a freshman at Hawaii Pacific University on a full-ride baseball scholarship.

The 2010 pedestrian death total stands at 19 and hasn’t moved since November 27. That’s nearly double 2009’s total of 10.

Yes2Rail optimistically suggested a goal of no pedestrian deaths on Oahu in December. We might just achieve it if motorists practice pedestrian awareness the next two weeks, especially during our long winter nights.

Out there somewhere on Oahu are two hit-and-run drivers who've killed two people within the past few weeks. Authorities are asking for the public's help in finding them. See the comment below.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Governor Abercrombie Accepts Rail’s Final EIS; Mayor Carlisle Sees Groundbreaking early in ’11; City Says IMG Study Went off the Tracks

Ten days in office was all it took for Governor Neil Abercrombie to officially accept Honolulu rail’s Final Environmental Impact Statement and declare that the State government is satisfied with the project’s plans to mitigate potential impacts.

Other major steps are required before the project can break ground, including the issuance of a Record of Decision by the Federal Transit Administration. Mayor Peter Carlisle said he anticipates a construction start early next year.

Abercrombie’s four-paragraph statement began:

“The role of the state in this step of approving the environmental impact statement for Honolulu’s rail transit system is to ensure that all economic, social and environmental risks have been properly addressed under law. After a thorough review by and consulting with the state Office of Environmental Quality Control, I conclude the City and County of Honolulu has met these obligations. I continue to support a transit system in Oahu. Projects with it will be central to Oahu’s future development.”
Abercrombie pledged “continuing open communication at the state level with the city authorities and communities across Oahu and all the islands.”
Mayor Carlisle called a press conference (at right) within an hour of receiving Abercrombie’s decision. “Moving forward with rail transit creates much-needed jobs for our communities, provides long-term traffic relief and offers a dependable transportation alternative that starts us on the right path toward our preferred future,” Carlisle said.
"I want to thank Gov. Abercrombie for accepting the project's EIS, the former mayor, the City Council, Hawaii's Congressional delegation, the State Legislature, labor and business organizations, the Federal Transit Administration and other federal partners who have helped us and pledged funding."

About that Funding

Nobody is predicting clear sailing for rail, not even the City. Rail opponents already are pledging to file lawsuits against the project, continuing their decades-long attempt to block fixed guideway transit on Oahu. And then there’s the study of rail’s financial plan ordered up by former Governor Linda Lingle conducted by Infrastructure Management Group.

IMG’s study continues to generate some media interest, but virtually all of it is at two relatively obscure online sites – Civil Beat, the subscription news service, and Hawaii Reporter, which is a frequent outlet for anti-railers Panos Prevedouros and Cliff Slater.

The City today released an eight-page review of IMG’s study, which suggested a $1.7 billion shortfall in the project’s financial plan. Civil Beat found a $277 million mistake in IMG’s calculations, and the City’s assessment digs in deeper. The document’s summary:

“While the IMG report purports to focus on the financial implications of the City’s rail transit project, much of the report discusses bus issues that are independent of the rail project. Concerning both bus and rail, the report’s conclusion of a resulting $1.7 billion shortfall is not adequately substantiated. A review of IMG’s methods show that important and more relevant data was not recognized or considered and the report’s authors used incorrect figures and assumptions that allowed them to reach unsupported conclusions. The report also reflects a lack of understanding of transit financials and fails to recognize key economic indicators used by the State of Hawaii. This further reinforces the City’s position that the rail transit Financial Plan is sound. In addition, the FTA has already reviewed the City’s Financial Plan, and found the project to be financially sound and allowed it to move forward. The FTA also continually reviews the project’s Financial Plan and will do so again as the project enters its next phase of final design."
So does the Governor’s acceptance of the FEIS “green light” rail, as the Star-Advertiser suggested in its headline over its first online story on today's developments? Not hardly in light of the steps ahead, but there’s no denying the importance of this one.

We’re expecting quotes in Friday’s morning paper by the aforementioned rail opponents. They’ve been at it for two decades, and we know their criticisms by heart.

They’re not going away, but neither are rail’s supporters, who have much to celebrate and be heartened by tonight.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Rail Study Back in News with $227 Million Error; National Passenger Group Supports Honolulu Rail

Here’s a story you probably won’t be reading in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Civil Beat, the $20/month online subscription news service, continues to do some of the best journalism in town and has another news break on Infrastructure Management Group's study of Honolulu rail’s financial plan.

CB’s first ground-shifter was its revelation that anti-rail activist Tom Rubin helped write the study, which says the project will cost $1.7 billion more to build than the City’s projection.

Civil Beat reports today that IMG made a $227 million error in comparing its estimate with the City’s figures. CB says IMG used a City construction estimate that did not include finance charges, then compared it to a number recommended by the federal government that does include finance charges.

The difference between the two dissimilar estimates was $227 million. “It’s as if (IMG) compared apples to oranges,” CB writes in its Members-Only content.

The City is doing its own evaluation of IMG’s study and will release it at a date as yet uncertain. The rail project’s deputy manager provided an assessment a few days ago.

NARP Wants To Ride

The National Association of Railroad Passengers has issued a statement that also notes activist Rubin’s involvement with the IMG study.

“The inflated cost projections in a study led by an anti-train ideologue should not dissuade the people of Hawaii from taking advantage of this extraordinary opportunity to make a great American city even greater,” NARP’s statement says.
“While the rail line will have higher initial costs than bus rapid transit, the enhanced ride comfort, greater passenger capacity, higher ridership potential, superior energy efficiency, and capacity to spur transit-oriented economic development make rail well worth the additional cost. Honolulu’s train stations can become the focal points of lively town centers with high-quality places to live, work, shop and play, all within walking distance. Such places give people a real choice in how to get around and promote a healthier, more physically-active lifestyle.”

NARP members are used to long train trips across the continent, but we hope they’ll make long-range plans to ride Honolulu’s 20-mile elevated line in a decade or so. The view from the trains will be spectacular.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Breaking Through the ‘Nobody Will Ride’ Mindset

We came across a comment on a website the other day posted by someone who charitably could be called a rail skeptic. His several posts suggest he’s really a rail opponent, but he manages to maintain a patina of objectivity. Here’s some of the post:

“Do you know anyone who ride the train? This is just anecdotal, but I’ve been asking people I know, and so far no one has said they will ride the train…. Do you know personally who will be riding it?”

Readers who live in cities with well-developed rail transit systems probably smile when you read this. It’s standard “nobody will ride” fare that can be knocked down fairly easily, especially due to the anecdotal nature of this observation.

He’d find different results if he conducted his survey while walking at car-crawl pace along the H-1 freeway or other congested roads during morning rush hour. (We emphatically are not recommending this!)

He could ask actual cross-town commuters whether they would rather be fighting traffic at a snail’s pace or sitting in a train reading the morning paper while whizzing above surface traffic on the elevated track, making the trip in half the drive time or less.

Cost Per Mile

He might ask those drivers if they know their cost to operate their car. According to the AAA (as reported by a Florida transit website), the composite national average per-mile cost for a car driven 10,000 miles per year is nearly 75 cents.

The average price of regular gas on Oahu is just under $3.50 today compared to a national average about 50 cents below that, so it’s safe to infer that the per-mile cost to drive on Oahu – where nearly everything costs more than the mainland – is higher than the national average.

Fuel costs undoubtedly will rise this decade, so it’s no stretch to envision a $1/mile cost a decade from now when all the expenses of owning, operating, insuring, parking and maintaining a car are included.

Using that figure, a 40-mile round trip from Kapolei to a destination in town will be a $40 expense in that not-distant future. Compare that to riding the train, which will cost the same as TheBus fare when fully operational over its 20-mile length.

The cost of today’s monthly pass (which is what a hardcore commuter undoubtedly would purchase) is $60. Even if the price were to increase by one-quarter by the time the train is operational (that's just a hypothetical guess), the monthly pass would cost $75.

Nobody Will Ride?

A rough back-of-the-envelope calculation for a 40-mile roundtrip five times a week by car at $1/mile for 50 weeks/year (excluding holidays) comes out to a nice round $10,000. That's $9,100 more per year than what commuting by train would cost in 2020 if our pass estimate is correct!

Car ownership costs will increase over the years, and so will traffic congestion despite the investment of $3 billion on improving traffic flow on roads and highways by 2030.

Nobody will ride? The assertion is ludicrous unless Oahu residents lose all interest in saving time and money, and that’s not going to happen. Honolulu rail will be a fast, frequent, reliable and safe travel mode for decades, even generations far into our island’s future.

Rail will be an obvious option for scores of thousands of Oahu residents for the simple reason it will save them thousands of dollars each year. When they factor in the time advantages rail will offer, the savings will be priceless.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

City’s Response in a Nutshell: IMG Got It Wrong by Cherry-Picking Data To Match Result it Wanted

The City has responded to Civil Beat’s analysis of Infrastructure Management Group’s study of Honolulu rail’s financial plan. Deputy Project Manager Mark Scheibe’s memo to CB is published at the subscription news service’s website today “in the clear” – available to all visitors, not just subscribers. We therefore reproduce the memo in its entirety here:
Editor's Note: The City of Honolulu issued this memo to Civil Beat in response to its article Friday, Civil Beat Analysis: City's Rail Tax Plan Optimistic. The article explored the differences between the city's perspective on tax revenues to pay for the project and the projections of a consultant hired by the state. Civil Beat invited the city to respond.
The IMG Report includes the summary statement “GET revenues are most likely to grow at a compounded rate that is approximately 30 percent lower than the forecast included in the current Financial Plan.” The report further states “the GET tax growth is unlikely to grow beyond a 4 percent compound growth rate over the forecast period, well below the 5.4 percent in the current Financial Plan.”
The IMG Report paints a picture of two competing forecasts, theirs and the one presented in the August 2009 Financial Plan. Amazingly, the IMG Team, while working for the State of Hawaii, ignored the source of forecasts specifically prepared for the Governor and the Legislature, by the State’s Council on Revenues. If the IMG Team had explored this source they would have discovered that the Council on Revenues most recent report forecasts state general fund tax revenues for FY 2011 through FY 2017 will grow at a compound rate of approximately 6.7 percent per year, certainly more than 4 percent per year.
Further, other than creating several charts showing how historical GET revenues compared to the certain economic variables (employment, population, etc.) it does not appear that the IMG Team completed any statistical analyses to determine whether there was a statistically significant relationship between GET and these economic variables. Rather, to generate its forecast of GET surcharge revenues, the IMG Team appears to have merely selected a historical period of time, calculated the compound annual growth rate of GET revenues over that historical period of time, and then extrapolated that calculated growth rate to every year of its forecast.
Regardless of their actual methodology, however, the IMG Report’s discussion of GET growth rates draws a comparison between the Hawaii economy and the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The Report describes a forecast of U.S. GDP from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which “is expected to average between 4% and 4.5% for the next ten years” in order to support their 4 percent growth rate conclusion. In reality, the most recent forecast of nominal GDP published by the CBO in August 2010 shows average annual growth over the next ten years (2011 to 2020) of 4.7%, even exceeding 6% in the short term (2013 and 2014) during CBO’s projected timing of an economic recovery.
In contrast to a nebulous process that may or may not be tied to U.S. GDP, for the GET forecast used in the August 2009 Financial Plan complex statistical analyses were performed that tested data on the historical GET tax base against several economic variables in order to identify which had the greatest explanatory power, and the degree of that effect. These data combined with independent forecasts of economic variables (e.g., retail spending, hotels and lodging spending, etc.) were used to create the Financial Plan’s forecast for the GET surcharge revenues.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Lingle’s Legacy Seen in Rail Finance Analyses; Her Study Stirred the Pot but Ignored Project Benefits

Linda Lingle, Hawaii’s two-term anti-rail governor who left office on Monday, had it figured out when she ordered up a study of Honolulu rail’s financial plan. Governor Neil Abercrombie correctly observed that the study wasn’t within her responsibilities, but he undoubtedly also sensed what she was up to.

Lingle correctly anticipated that Infrastructure Management Group’s study would be highly critical of the City’s plans and projections. Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle and others have noted the involvement of an anti-rail activist on the study team who helped IMG reach its “pre-determined” conclusions.

So Lingle knew that a study released in her final days would be like a smoke bomb tossed into the room, clouding the issues and giving heart to anti-railers who now split their time defending both activist Tom Rubin’s reputation and the study itself from charges of bias.

It also kick-started subscription news service Civil Beat’s own analysis. Civil Beat posted the first part of a series of articles today headlined “Civil Beat Analysis: City’s Rail Tax Plan Optimistic”

The “If Factor”

Civil Beat’s analysis itself is “problematic” because of its own assumptions and use of the “if factor.” Most of CB’s analysis is available only to subscribers, and while we respect the service's reasons for limiting access to the meat of its online stories, we feel compelled to quote from this section if we’re to address CB’s methodology.

CB said the City’s predictions for General Excise Tax collections 2007-2010 were close to actual collections – 98.5 percent close.

“(Fiscal year 2011), however, hasn’t gone according to plan. Earnings received by the city during the first half of Fiscal Year 2011 totaled $78.3 million. IF (emphasis added) pro-rated for the rest of the fiscal year, that would add up to 91.3 percent of the $171.5 million in surcharge revenue projected by the city.
“Many may say 91.3 percent is pretty darn good – an A-minus, perhaps. But IF (emphasis added) the city’s $3 billion projections for GET surcharge revenue for the next dozen years are 91.3 percent on target, that would create a $250 million shortfall. And that assumes the city’s projections remain as accurate in 2022 as they have been in 2010.”

You can see where we’re headed. “If this, if that” is not a sound methodology with which to judge the City’s financial plan. It just as easily could be argued that IF the economy turns around aggressively at home and abroad and IF tourism mushrooms and IF the green energy revolution takes root in Hawaii and IF…IF…IF…. GET collections might just as easily be higher than projected IF the economy is stronger than predicted.

“Analysis Is Not Foolproof”

CB’s piece continues with an evaluation of the forecast model developed by Parsons Brinckerhoff, noting that it has five main components – retail spending, personal and professional services, construction contracting, miscellaneous rentals, and hotels and lodging.

While certainly sophisticated, this type of analysis is not foolproof….,” CB says. “In short, there remains no certainty that the model is an accurate predictor of the future. And while its average annual growth rate of nearly 6 percent is not impossible, it’s certainly optimistic.”

When Civil Beat finds an accurate predictor of the future, we hope it will post it in the open-access section of its website. Very little accurately predicts the future except the prediction of change from previous predictions. In short, CB’s skeptical tone is worthy of rebuttal, and Yes2Rail hopes to see one from the City and its consultants soon enough; the City already is preparing a response to the IMG study.

Project Benefits Missing

What’s missing from all the financial plan analyses is any mention of the anticipated benefits rail will have for Oahu. Finances are one component, and so far the analyses are focused a dozen years out. Rail will benefit this community for generations, not decades.

With increases in population and traffic congestion also predictable, an analysis that ignores the imperative to restore commuting mobility by building a congestion-free transportation mode is like watching a football game while focused only on one half of the field or only on your team’s offense.

Analyzing a game’s likely outcome while ignoring half the action would be foolish. Linda Lingle's study did that by not addressing project benefits. Will Civil Beat?

12:25 pm Update: Unfortunately, the preceding paragraph's question has been answered in the negative by CB reporter/host Michael Levine, who wrote CB's analysis. Here's his comment added less than an hour ago to the story's Discussion section:
"My story did not suggest that not building the project is preferable. This first story was limited to a review of the GET revenue projections. The entire series will be limited to a review of the conflicting financial documents. I do not expect that Civl Beat is going to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of rail as a whole, and I do not expect that we're going to reach a conclusion this week or next on whether the city should continue to move forward with building rail."

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Anti-Railer’s Spin of Rail Study Has Hollow Sound

Panos Prevedouros weighs in again with another of his typically high-energy, low-persuasion columns at Hawaii Reporter, and once again, we urge you to read it.

We previously directed you to his columns precisely because their arguments help the rail project much more than they deter it. His latest piece attempts to boost Infrastructure Management Group’s study on Honolulu rail’s financial plan that was ordered up by anti-rail Linda Lingle in her final months as governor.

As we noted here in the past few days, the study itself is highly suspect. Included on the IMG team was famously anti-rail Tom Rubin. IMG’s Steve Steckler incredibly told Civil Beat he didn’t know of Rubin’s anti-rail reputation before bringing him aboard. And as pro-rail Hannah Miyamoto said here in her critique of the study, IMG’s assumptions on revenue and costs were so dismal as to be unbelievable.

Even (IMG’s) ‘best-case’ scenario is considerably more pessimistic than the one currently being used to manage state government,” Miyamoto wrote, yet Prevedouros relies on it to conclude that if rail is built, “the city cannot build anything. For 30 years.”

Prevedouros wants to be mayor of the City and County of Honolulu. He has run on the “I’ll stop rail in its tracks” single-issue platform twice already and says he’ll run again in 2012 when Mayor Carlisle’s two-year term ends. We’ll continue calling your attention to his columns, and it’s likely his future election opponents will do the same.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

How To Write a Biased Rail Transit Financial Study

That’s how long-time Honolulu rail supporter Hannah Miyamoto has titled her commentary on the study by the Infrastructure Management Group (IMG) that former Governor Linda Lingle commissioned. Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle has called the study a waste of taxpayer money, and his administration has its own detailed analysis of the IMG report.

Miyamoto earned a degree in civil engineering, specializing in transportation engineering, from the University of Minnesota, and she’s now studying sociology as a graduate student at the University of Hawaii. Miyamoto says she applied her economic analysis knowledge in studying the IMG report to produce this commentary. We’ve appreciated her insights on rail transit over the years and requested a copy of her analysis of IMG’s study, as well as permission to use it. It originally was posted in Civil Beat’s subscriber-only pages and Miyamoto's Facebook page; CB says it is fact-checking the IMG study on its own.

Here’s Miyamoto’s description of How To Write a Biased Rail Transit Financial Study:

1. DO BE UNDULY PESSIMISTIC. Make economic forecasts without considering all the economic forecasts made by others before you. For example, the "Downside" forecast in the IMG Report portrays a local economy that is as depressed as it has been since 2007. Even their "Best-Case" scenario is considerably more pessimistic than the one currently being used to manage state government.
2. DO BE IGNORANT ABOUT THE ECONOMY YOU STUDY. The IMG Group report blithely presumes that the Hawaii economy expands in direct relation to the state population, and criticizes the project financial plan's GET projections for this. We know that the Hawai'i population is more responsive to the state economy than the other way around. The state tourist economy responds to the global economy as much as the U.S. economy. The state's military economy is set by Congress, not the U.S. economy.
3. DON'T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THE LOCAL GEOGRAPHY. The IMG Group report assumes that the state's island location will complicate transportation of materials, creating the potential for cost overruns. We know that Honolulu has modern port facilities and that construction materials are readily available for any building project.
4. DON'T STUDY THE PROJECT YOU ANALYZE VERY CLOSELY. The IMG Group report adds $29 million to O&M costs for "dead-heading" trains, or running trains empty at the start of their run. However, the rail yard will be next to the rail line, and trains will only have to travel a neglible distance before serving passengers. Furthermore, the trains will probably run automatically, with only roving monitors passing through occupied trains.
5. DON'T EXPECT PROJECT MANAGERS WILL RESPOND TO CHANGED CIRCUMSTANCES. The "Base" and "Downside" cases presume that construction will not begin until 2012 or 2013. However, contracts have already been awarded to build the line from East Kapolei to Pearl Highlands (Phase 1), and Pearl Highlands to Aloha Stadium (Phase 2). If construction begins on both Phases in spring 2011, and is finished at the originally planned rate, the project will be ahead of schedule by nine months when the track is opened to the stadium.
6. DO BE INTERNALLY CONTRADICTORY. For example, the IMG Group report presumes that if the state economy does not recover over the next 10 years, construction prices will still rise at a faster-than-predicted rate. The Report concludes that O&M costs are under-estimated, while also criticizing the ridership projections for being too optimistic, even though O&M rises and falls in response to utilization of equipment. The Report, after claiming that the ridership projections are too high, argues that the rail line will demand more city subsidy because too many people will use it.
7. DON'T GIVE EVIDENCE FOR YOUR CLAIMS. The IMG Group report insists that the rails will demand rehabilitation and replacement less than 12 years after their installation. I was unable to find an instance of such a requirement arising less than 25 years after the rails were installed, and yet the project financial plan includes a rail rehab and replacement program starting only 12 years after the first phase opens. The IMG Group team mysteriously includes findings like this in its secret "model", without providing any factual basis for its conclusions.
8. DO BE EVEN MORE INTERNALLY CONTRADICTORY. Furthermore, if the rails wear out faster than expected, then ridership must also be greater than predicted. Basically, the IMG Report considers any "problem" that any transit operator would be likely to have, such as higher-than-predicted ridership, as a disaster.

Miyamoto might have added: DO ASK AN ANTI-RAIL ACTIVIST TO HELP PREPARE THE STUDY. Tom Rubin's involvement on the IMG team has attracted considerable attention already. It’s presumably for these and other reasons that Mayor Carlisle said IMG’s study had a pre-determined outcome. If you want to comment on Miyamoto’s analysis, please do so by posting it below.

Monday, December 6, 2010

New Governor Should End State Bickering on Rail

Neil Abercrombie will become Hawaii’s seventh governor since attaining Statehood in 1959 at noon HST today. It’s widely anticipated he will end the State’s intrusion into the City’s rail project on issues for which it has no legal responsibility.

That includes the project’s financial plan. Outgoing Governor Linda Lingle insisted she was required to assess whether Honolulu can afford to build and maintain the system. She commissioned a $350,000 study by Infrastructure Management Group, which released its report last week.

Abercrombie disagreed with Lingle’s position, saying State financial oversight is not what the law requires. He said he’ll ensure the project’s environmental impacts have been properly addressed and leave the financial analysis to City and Federal officials.

About the Study

Almost as soon as IMG’s study was released it became controversial and was attacked by Mayor Peter Carlisle as an “appalling waste” of taxpayer money. Carlisle and others noted that anti-rail activist Tom Rubin, whose views are well known across the nation, was a member of the study team.

IMG chairman Steve Steckler compounded the controversy by saying he was unaware of Rubin’s anti-rail reputation, a seemingly incredible assertion that invited more questions about the team’s study.

We urged readers yesterday to enter Rubin’s name along with “rail” in Google’s search window to find dozens of references to Rubin’s opposition to rail projects. One website mentions Rubin seven times in that context.

But beyond the obvious appearance of bias Rubin’s involvement suggests, there are other problems with IMG’s conclusions. The study has no factual basis for predicting a worst-case scenario for GET collections, which are running at 99 percent of projections despite a bad economy in recent years.

The study’s prediction of low rail ridership because of Honolulu’s well-used bus system also seems at odds with reality. Across the country, experience shows that strong bus transit usage actually translates to high rail patronage.

The fact that IMG and Rubin are closely associated with the anti-rail Reason Foundation, for which Honolulu resident Cliff Slater has proselytized against rail for years, is another reason to agree with the Mayor’s assessment.

The Abercrombie Administration is expected to bring fresh approaches to a wide variety of island issues, from education to environmental protection. Among them will be encouragement rather than pessimism about Honolulu rail, a project that will restore mobility to Oahu commuters and employ tens of thousands of workers at just the right time to spur economic growth.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Beyond Bias: What Rail Study Leader Didn’t Know

“Unbelievably unbelievable” was our call yesterday on the Governor’s $350,000 study of Honolulu rail’s financing plan due to a well-known anti-rail activist participation on the study team. Tom Rubin’s involvement tainted the findings in the view of Mayor Peter Carlisle and former Mayor Mufi Hannemann, and many others undoubtedly share that assessment.

But that’s just for starters. Civil Beat, the online subscription news service that was first among Honolulu media to report Rubin’s activist background on Thursday, carried an equally baffling piece of news yesterday:

The head of the consulting company that performed the study claims he didn’t know of Rubin’s anti-rail reputation before bringing him aboard.

Unless you’re a Civil Beat subscriber, you can’t read this story beyond the first two paragraphs, and we’re not repeating more details here out of respect for the service’s proprietary postings. But knowing just this much about the alleged cluelessness of Infrastructure Management Group Chairman Steve Steckler (at right) regarding Rubin’s background darkens the cloud shadowing the study.

Steckler evidently didn’t check out his team member by entering “Tom Rubin” and “rail” in Google’s search window. Try it yourself and count the hits. Here’s a quote from one of them:

“Ken Yunker, Executive Director, Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, recently responded to inaccuracies contained in a study prepared by transit consultant Tom Rubin, California, and sponsored by the Reason Foundation. Ken Yunker has overseen over a decade of studies on KRM Commuter Rail and has an intimate knowledge of the KRM project. He successfully presented his corrections to Mr. Rubin's study in a point-counterpoint presentation with Mr. Rubin on January 13, 2009 at the Wisconsin Club in Milwaukee. Virtually every major component of Mr. Rubin's argument was shown to be false or inaccurately represented. Click here to download Mr. Yunker’s PowerPoint.”

Revelations like we’ve seen since Thursday may have Steckler wondering whether his firm’s $350,000 fee was worth the aggravation. Honolulu residents are wondering about more than that.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Lingle a Secret Rail Admirer? What Else Explains Hiring Anti-Railer To Write Financial Plan Study?

The “mainstream” media have caught up with Civil Beat’s break on the key piece of information that has become the story surrounding the Governor’s study of rail’s financial plan. The subhead of the Star-Advertiser’s print and online top story today carries what CB published Thursday:

“An opponent of city train systems helped write an analysis”

That’s really all we really need to know, isn’t it? The study was tainted from the moment anti-rail activist Tom Rubin became part of the analysis, so in an odd way, the report actually helps Honolulu rail by being so biased from the start.

Rubin’s participation is so obviously egregious that the best parallel we could think of on this last major college football Saturday is Ohio State coach Woody Hayes throwing a punch at a Clemson player in the 1978 Gator Bowl. Hayes was fired the next day, and the Honolulu community is in the process of “firing” the rail study Rubin helped write.

Thinking the Unimaginable

Our headline today is fanciful, of course, but putting an anti-rail activist on the study panel seems like such a strange undercutting move that almost anything is possible. It’s all the more surprising from an Administration loaded with allegedly media-savvy staff.

Governor Lingle has used every opportunity to put Honolulu rail in a bad light, from insisting an at-grade system would be better than the City’s elevated plan (it wouldn’t) to ordering up a $350,000 study that Mayor Peter Carlisle calls an ”appalling waste” of taxpayer money.

Former Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who deserves credit for restarting the rail project about 15 years after the Fasi Administration’s efforts failed, also faulted the study as biased from the start.

“They had a predetermined mindset that they wanted to come up with – that this project is going to bankrupt the city of Honolulu and the state of Hawaii,” Hannemann said. “So they looked at the most pessimistic, weakest scenarios to come up with their conclusions. To me that’s not being balanced.”

Hannemann’s case is an easy one to make, and the study group’s meeting with anti-rail and apparently perennial mayoral candidate Panos Prevedouros helped make it. Ask yourself: If you were guiding a study on rail’s finances, would you reach out enthusiastically to someone whose views couldn’t conceivably be called “fair and balanced”?

You wouldn’t if you were truly “independent” and “objective.” This panel seems to have been blind to those standards and the appearance of built-in bias and conflict of interest.

So is this anti-rail study a Machiavellian plot to actually help rail succeed by being so unbelievably unbelievable? At this late stage in the project, anything is possible.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Friday Afternoon Update: Mayor Carlisle Calls Rail Financial Study a ‘Shoddy Biased Analysis’

Mayor Peter Carlisle waited about 24 hours to comment on the $350,000 study of Honolulu rail’s finances, release of which apparently was Governor Lingle’s last official act.
Carlisle held a mid-afternoon press conference to let fly:
“It is no surprise the report is a pre-determined anti-rail rant. Spending a third of a million dollars for this shoddy, biased analysis is an appalling waste of our tax dollars.”
That much was on the 5 o’clock news, and we’ll include additional details from later newscasts and newspaper coverage.

The Mayor was reacting to yesterday’s revelation that one of the study’s authors, Tom Rubin, is an ardent rail opponent who sometimes begins his presentations “Bus is good. Rail is Bad.”

If Rail Financial Study Was To Be Objective, Why Was It Written by a Known Anti-Rail Activist?

Linda Lingle’s final act as governor turned out to be both unsurprising and controversial – unsurprising because the $350,000 study on the Honolulu rail project’s financial plan she released last night was critical of the project, and controversial because of whom she chose to write it.

Civil Beat, the Honolulu-based online subscription news service, posted a long piece late Thursday under the headline, "Lingle Rail Consultant: ‘Bus Is Good. Rail Is Bad’"

Only the first three paragraphs of the article can be read by non-subscribers:

“One of the members of the team Gov. Linda Lingle hired to conduct an independent review of the finances of Honolulu’s proposed rail project is an outspoken rail critic.
“Tom Rubin is an expert in transit finance who began a 2004 lecture on transit with this summary of his views: "Bus is good. Rail is bad."
“Rubin came to Honolulu this fall to examine the project's finances under a $350,000 contract from the state. The governor must sign off on the project before construction can begin and Lingle has expressed pessimism about the city's financial projections. The consultant's report was forwarded to the city Thursday, but its findings have not been made public.”
The rest of the piece backs up the writer’s assessment that Rubin is an anti-rail activist and notes that including what Civil Beat calls a "vehement" rail opponent on the study can only raise doubts about the report's credibility.

Civil Beat even documents Rubin’s meeting with Dr. Panos Prevedouros, the University of Hawaii highway expert who has twice run for mayor on an anti-rail platform (“I’ll stop rail in its tracks”) and vows to do so again.

Rubin’s pro-bus, anti-rail sentiments were mentioned in the New York Times story we linked to yesterday when calling attention to the expansion of rail transit in Los Angeles, CA.

Rubin has called a subway project there fiscal folly, and he’s urged LA to add more buses and not build trains. He's gone on record as a pro-bus, anti-rail advocate there on other occasions.

Rubin’s anti-rail views are well-known in transit circles, so the Governor knew who she was hiring when she selected him to analyze Honolulu rail. With public funds expended on the effort, the question must be asked: Why him?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Don’t Let Them Tell You Angelenos Won’t Ride Rail

LA's Exposition rail line construction (NY Times photo)
Honolulu anti-railers have made Los Angeles their car-loving poster child city. The place couldn’t survive without the private automobile, they insist, and LA's development in the decades after World War II made their case. The entire region became dependent on the car, and the calculated dismantling of Los Angeles’s existing rail system helped the process.

By extension, they insist the same thing about Honolulu’s future rail system. “Oahu residents will never give up their cars,” they say, but that attitude doesn’t synch with 21st century realities. Says one rail advocate:

“There’s a whole new type of Angeleno who has no cultural opposition to riding. The whole old-school L.A. thinking that people don’t ride subways, that’s a thing of the past.”

Los Angeles is well along in developing its rail transit system, as detailed in a recent New York Times article that contains the above quote. Traffic congestion has made urban living almost unbearable for vast numbers of Southern California residents.

Traffic Freedom

The same is true on Oahu, and congestion will only get worse with population growth on an island with no room for new highways. Honolulu rail will attract riders for the same reasons Angelenos start using the city’s new subways and other rail lines, such as the planned Exposition Light Rail line – freedom from traffic congestion.

“The science of public transit is not too complicated,” says Robert B. Cervero, director of the University of California Transportation Center in Berkeley, as quoted in the Times article.

“It comes down to how time-competitive transit is with the private car. If it takes two or three times longer to get from Point A to Point B by transit, the vast majority of folks will drive. If it’s faster going by bus or train, then most will forsake their car and ride transit.”

Anti-railers argue that multiple tasks during the day (dropping clothes at the cleaner, kids at school, etc.) will keep commuters in their cars, and that’s surely true for some of them. But many others will rethink their car use once they grasp that Honolulu’s grade-separated rail system offers congestion-free travel. Honolulu rail will be superior to driving for both cost and convenience, the two primary reasons drivers become riders.

Like Angelenos who adopt rail transit for their commute, kama`aina will do the same.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Good Economic News Piles Up as Prelude to Governor’s Rail Plan Financial Assessment

Q: How could the State’s $300,000 study on Honolulu rail’s financial plan resemble a bad Broadway musical?
A: It could “open” and “close” with barely a ripple.

That scenario seems likely the more we read about the improved health of Hawaii’s economy. October visitor arrivals were 13.6 percent higher over a year earlier and continued the visitor industry’s trend in 2010.

Sure, “hotel owners fret over lower rates,” but they always have something to complain about, even with spending up 24.7 percent over last October.

So what does this mean for the Governor’s financial review? The Maryland-based authors undoubtedly have filled their report with charts and perspectives only economists can love that will justify whatever conclusion they've draw about Oahu’s ability to pay for Honolulu’s rail system. Knowing who hired them, that conclusion will likely be pessimistic.

But it will arrive this week after months of positive page-one economic news that most Oahu residents can appreciate with no effort. Its reception could read like a review of a bad Broadway play: “Good pre-opening hype, but production simply doesn't deliver.”

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

December Goal: Not One Oahu Pedestrian Death

An image from a Montana Meth Project video.
This is a Honolulu rail website, but any local transportation-related condition that has degraded to unacceptable depths and nearly predictable fatalities deserves space here and elsewhere.

Oahu’s 2010 pedestrian death count is 19, nearly double last year’s total. A dozen of those fatalities were pedestrians in marked crosswalks. Every one of them was a family tragedy.

Pedestrians get no respect on Oahu, and now authorities say they're going to launch a campaign to change driver and pedestrian behavior. But is traffic enforcement alone the way to achieve that change?

More patrols citing more speeders, red light runners and illegal turners might help, but street enforcement is after the fact – after the speeding, running and turning. As a society, we need to prevent that behavior before it even starts.

A full-on multi-media campaign would complement the Police Department’s stepped-up enforcement. Are we ready to launch one similar to the Montana Meth Project? You’ve seen the videos on TV and in theaters.

Eliminating pedestrian fatalities is the goal. Getting there may require more than one tactic.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Rail Is a City Project, but Its Anticipated Start Will Synch Nicely with Governor Abercrombie’s Term

Governor-elect Neil Abercrombie’s swearing-in ceremony one week from today will mark the beginning of what’s expected to be an era of stronger cooperation between the State government and the City’s rail project.

The final shot across the City’s bow by outgoing Governor Lingle will likely occur this week, when she presumably will release the findings of her $300,000 study on the rail project’s finances.

The subject is not within her legal responsibilities, as pro-rail Abercrombie noted a few weeks ago, but it gives her one last opportunity to criticize the City’s project, which she’s gone out of her way to do in recent years.

Her critical assessment of Honolulu rail is somewhat ironic, since she herself proposed building a 22-mile rail system early in her first term. Her proposal also included a highway “flyover” and would have required unspecified tax increases – possibly of the fuel tax, registration fees, vehicle weight tax and general excise tax.

Honolulu’s share of the rail project’s financing is coming from the one-half percent increase in the GET that began in January 2007 and will continue through 2022. The Federal government has repeatedly signaled its intention to fund $1.55 billion of the project’s cost.

Lingle has refused to sign off on rail’s Final Environmental Impact Statement until the financial review is concluded. Abercrombie is expected to do so once the State Office of Environmental Quality Control gives its final approval of the FEIS no matter what Lingle says about financing.

Other approvals are required before rail can break ground, but Abercrombie’s move into the Capitol’s corner office surely marks the end of the contentious political wrangling between the State and City administrations over Honolulu rail. (And we’re not calling you “Shirley.”)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday Shopping vs Sandy Beach Surfing

Slip-Sliding Away in Seattle.
It’s a laid-back holiday weekend, but transit never sleeps, so if it’s more transit news you want, there’s plenty to be found at the StreetsBlog Network linked at right.

We’re doing our part for Hawaii tourism today by posting a couple contrasting transit images – one from a video showing how slippery bus transit has been this week in Seattle, and the other featuring the "personal mobility body board" in action.

Today may be Black Friday, but the smart kama`aina is browsing for beachwear on the beach. Enjoy your weekend.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Among Reasons To Be Thankful Today: Pro-Rail Votes for Mayor, Governor, Transit Authority

It’s time to bring out the hook for anti-railers’ contention that most Oahu residents are opposed to building the Honolulu rail system. Election results since 2008 for mayor and governor and on ballot measures for a charter amendment and rail technology have demonstrated strong support. We’re thankful for the citizenry’s common sense on this Thanksgiving. Up next: FEIS acceptance.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Rail Transit Will De-Stress ‘Black Friday’ Shopping

Look for more of the same by week's end.
We’re getting a little ahead of ourselves, but without long-term visioning, where would Honolulu be? Regarding rail transit, it’s where we are right now – without it – and that means Black Friday shopping this week could be a driver's nightmare.

Honolulu came close to building a rail system two decades ago with the Fasi Administration’s elevated guideway project. That effort failed in large part due to an anti-rail campaign that continues to this day, and by the same actors, no less. (No, we’re not linking to Mr. Slater’s latest anti-rail screed this time; there’s nothing much new there, and you can find it easy enough.)

Had rail supporters’ vision of the early 1990s been realized, a rail system would have been in operation since 2003 linking Leeward Community College, the University of Hawaii’s Manoa campus, Waikiki and points between. One can only imagine its impact on traffic reduction.

But a new vision is now close to being realized, and anti-railers notwithstanding, it’s OK to look ahead to how rail will improve the lives of Oahu residents.

Take Shopping – Please!

Ala Moana and Pearlridge shopping centers will be two of the stops along Honolulu’s future 20-mile rail route. With little chance of error, we predict newspaper photographs (like the one above) and TV news stories in the days ahead with images of jammed parking lots at those shopping magnets.

We won’t belabor the obvious advantages of taking transit to the centers, especially on mega-shopping days like Black Friday. But the Atlanta, GA transit system is doing just that in encouraging residents to participate in Blue Friday – part of the Clean Air Campaign to use transit and carpools on the biggest shopping day of the year.

It’s a good idea for Honolulu, too, and the options will be even better once Honolulu rail is up and running.

Yet another H-1 Smash-Up
It's becoming almost commonplace -- car crashes on the H-1 freeway, Oahu's major east-west throughway. Three crashes ("accidents" is to forgiving a word) happened within a few minutes of each other five evenings ago.
Last night's four-car crash at the height of the rush hour resulted in one driver being in critical condition, and the homeward commute was disrupted once again for countless others.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Driver's Responsibility in Pedestrian Safety

The number of pedestrian deaths on Oahu – seven* in the past two months, including some killed while in crosswalks – has the community searching for answers on how to prevent them.

The impression one gets from reading this morning’s Star-Advertiser story is that officials really don’t know the cause of these family tragedies and therefore don’t know where to concentrate their efforts to safeguard pedestrians. “There’s no specific reason or even any particular areas,” says one official. “It’s probably a combination of things.”

Here’s the problem: Drivers don’t respect pedestrians.

They don’t respect pedestrians’ right to “be in their space” on the streets by treating streets as their territory and theirs alone. Drivers just don’t care.

* 11/30 Update: Oahu Pedestrian Deaths on Pace To Double.

Having lived in Hawaii for decades and in California a much shorter time, it’s obvious to this writer that California’s “protect the pedestrian” ethic is absent in the Aloha State. Golden State drivers have it drilled into them from an early driving age that pedestrians must be respected in all circumstances – even in mid-block.

Pedestrian awareness stands out in California even though both states’ drivers manuals make it clear pedestrians are to be protected and respected. California’s drivers manual accentuates pedestrian safety at the top of its Right of Way Rules section:

“One-in-six traffic fatalities is a pedestrian…. Pedestrian safety is a serious issue…. Drive cautiously when pedestrians are near because they may cross your path…. Remember, if a pedestrian makes eye contact with you, he or she is ready to cross the street. Yield to the pedestrian….”

Hawaii’s manual also is filled with directives designed to enhance pedestrian safety:

“In Hawaii 20% of all traffic fatalities are pedestrians. Most of those killed are non-drivers…. Give motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians plenty of room on ther oad and use extra caution to look for them when making turns or changing lanes…. You MUST STOP for pedestrians in crosswalks….”

Making Comparisons

One can wander into a statistical mine field when comparing the two states’ pedestrian deaths, but it can be useful, too. In 2008, Hawaii’s 20 deaths occurred at a rate of 1.55 per 100,000 population; California’s rate was 1.69. Hawaii in 2008 had significantly fewer vehicles per capita than California – 0.37 and 0.54 respectively.

There may be dozens of reasons why one state’s pedestrian death rate is higher than another’s – demographics, climate, urban density, etc. Bottom line, Hawaii has a higher percentage of pedestrian fatalities among all accidents than California, and authorities are searching for ways in the near- and long-term to reduce their number.

Crafting the Message

The absence of a California-like “pedestrian safety ethic” may explain a good deal of Hawaii’s experience. You just don’t get the same community-wide top-of-mind feeling that pedestrians are vulnerable and drivers must respect that vulnerability.

We’d feel a lot more comfortable that our authorities were prepared to improve this situation if they were communicating a definitive message about the causes of these deaths – not wondering about it, as suggested in the official’s quote above.

Enforcement of existing speeding and right-of-way laws by the Honolulu Police Department may be one area to examine. According to today’s story, police have cited motorists 2.5 times per day so far this year for failing to yield to pedestrians. They've cited pedestrians 11.1 times daily in the same period – more than 4 times as often as driver violations.

Maybe the discrepancy is explained by jaywalking being easier to spot at a distance. But just maybe driver behavior isn’t receiving an appropriate amount of attention and top-down command emphasis in the pedestrian safety campaign. Drivers are the ones doing the killing, after all.

The Rail Tie-In

Once Honolulu rail is in operation, the train stations will be magnets for pedestrians – attracting them to access a system that will provide fast, frequent, reliable and safe transportation across the city.

Pedestrian safety in the station's neighborhoods will be a key component of the system’s eventual success or failure, a point that receives ongoing attention at the StreetsBlog Network linked near the top of this page.

Those rail system concerns are years away for most of us, but the issue of pedestrian safety and law enforcement is with all of us today. Greater awareness among drivers of their responsibilities and more emphasis by authorities on driver behavior undoubtedly would improve pedestrian safety now.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Hawaii’s Economic Outlook Is Sunny

Economic Optimism Grows

A state forecast puts the recovery at a faster pace than expected, thanks to strong visitor numbers

The state forecasts a speedier recovery, thanks to strong visitor numbers

The four headlines above trumpet the Star-Advertiser’s top business story today and were a little repetitious (“thanks to strong visitor numbers”), but if the news is this positive, it can’t hurt to shout it out more than once.

Even the visitor-number rebound is starting to sound repetitious, inasmuch as it’s been happening for months.

You have to believe the improving economic climate will be reflected in the current governor’s $300,000 study on Honolulu rail’s financing plan. She has refused to sign off on the Final Environmental Impact Statement until her Maryland-based consultant assesses Honolulu’s ability to pay for the system.

Since rail is planned to operate for the remainder of this century and beyond, the consultants undoubtedly brought a crystal ball with them.

The one dark note in today’s story concerns the construction industry, which is still lagging the tourism sector.

“Hawaii construction jobs, which peaked at 40,000 workers a month in 2007, continue to hover around 28,500 per month today, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,” the Star-Advertiser reports.

Anti-railers are fond of saying Honolulu rail is a “jobs project." It’s not; rail is a mobility-restoring, traffic-avoiding reliable-transportation project, but it will create tens of thousands of jobs during this decade.

That's exactly what Hawaii's economy needs now. Surely our Maryland visitors will notice.