Sunday, January 31, 2010

How To Lie With Statistics: Architects Are Trying To Squeeze Through the Eye of a Needle with a Claim At-Grade Rail Is as Safe as Elevated; Plus:

Advertiser Reporter Misquotes City Official

Let’s start with a few photographs in response to another tortured attempt by the local AIA chapter as reported in the Advertiser by Sean Hao to suggest at-grade rail transit is as safe as the elevated system Honolulu intends to build:
Fatality narrowly avoided in Phoenix at-grade rail crash.

These photos show accidents involving Phoenix Metro’s new at-grade system, which opened in December 2008. You don’t have to look long and hard to find many reports on crashes involving this at-grade rail system. Phoenix averaged one crash a week in its first year of operation. (About half of those collisions were along a mile and one-quarter strip in a dense part of Phoenix; the AIA wants Honolulu rail to run at-grade through densely-packed Chinatown.) Luckily, there were no fatalities, but that indeed was pure luck, as photos of a van wrapped around a utility pole suggest.

Today’s story in the Advertiser recalls a book graduate students in Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism were required to read way back when. Here’s part of a review of “How to Lie With Statistics” at

“Although many of the examples used in the book are charmingly dated, the cautions are timeless. Statistics are rife with opportunities for misuse, from 'gee-whiz graphs' that add nonexistent drama to trends, to 'results' detached from their method and meaning, to statistics' ultimate bugaboo--faulty cause-and-effect reasoning.”

A generation ago, journalism students were cautioned about over-reliance on statistics tossed out by their sources. That caution seems to be missing today.

The Architects’ Futile Argument

The local architects want you to believe their preferred at-grade rail system is just as safe or even safer than the fully elevated system Honolulu intends to build. Just ask yourself: How can a train that crosses dozens of streets, crosswalks and intersections be as safe as a train that crosses none of them? It can’t be, no matter what statistics the architects want to push your way through the seemingly most gullible and/or complicit journalist in town. Which prompts the second major topic of today’s post:

Sean Hao’s Inaccuracies Revealed

Advertiser reporter Sean Hao’s journalistic integrity has become an issue in the paper’s coverage of the Honolulu rail project. The slant of his reporting – taken as a whole – has a decidedly anti-rail bent that’s revealed by what he chooses to highlight, whom to interview and what to ignore.

He ignored (and continues to ignore) the results of a City-sponsored public opinion survey scientifically conducted in September by local firm Q-Mark that revealed strong support for rail. His only mention of the poll has been about its cost and the fact that Q-Mark is not listed as a subsidiary of City contractor Parsons Brinkerhoff. That’s because Q-Mark is not a PB subsidiary.

Hao’s reporting for today’s story is an obvious continuation of his anti-rail slant – plus, it reveals a lack of enterprise and an inattention to accuracy, to wit:

• Sean Hao’s Selective Use of Quotes

Hao quotes architect Peter Vincent today and presumably obtained these quotes specifically for the safety story. He also quotes City Transportation Director Wayne Yoshioka, but Yoshioka’s quotes are old quotes – his remarks at a January 21 City Hall press conference. There’s nothing new from Yoshioka in response to Vincent’s statement that the City has “a skewed perspective” on safety.

I attended the January 21 press conference, recorded Yoshioka’s comments and transcribed them for a post here at Yes2Rail the next day. Both Yoshioka and APTA President William Millar addressed the safety issue at that event, but I have to believe Yoshioka would have said even more to refute architect Vincent had he been given the opportunity to do so. Hao appears to have simply used an old Yoshioka comment on safety that lacked the punch of a strong refutation he could have given to the architects’ recent at-grade assertions.

• Sean Hao’s Inaccurate Reporting

My video recording contains what Yoshioka actually said at the press conference. It's standard practice for both broadcast and print reporters to record interviews and press conferences to ensure accuracy, but accuracy eluded Sean Hao in this story. Here’s Hao’s reporting of Yoshioka quote in today’s story:

“You’re elevated. You’re completely separated from the roadways (and) you’re in a protected environment,” he said. “What incidents are we going to have as opposed to an at-grade transit that’s crossing active streets? That doesn’t make sense to me.”

Here’s what Yoshioka actually said on January 21. Not only is Sean Hao’s version inaccurate, the words and phrases he selectively chose to use eliminated much of Yoshioka’s strong description of at-grade rail's hazards:

“You’re elevated. You’re totally separated from the roadway. You’re in a protected environment and completely separated out…. What cars are flying at that level above the ground? And what people are flying through the air at that level above the ground? As opposed to an at-grade transit that’s crossing active streets with active vehicles turning in front of the train, with pedestrians crossing in front of the train. That (comparison) doesn’t seem to make logical sense to me.”

Putting quote marks around a newsmaker’s statements suggests only one thing – that this is exactly what he said. Hao did not accurately report Yoshioka’s remarks, and I’d bet the farm that he did not attempt to contact Yoshioka for fresh comments in response to architect Vincent's disparaging remarks about the City’s perspective on safety.

• Sean Hao Reports Half the Story

Deep in the story, reporter Hao gets around to mentioning the safety record of Phoenix’s new at-grade system, which completed its first year of service in December. Here’s what he wrote:

“No fatalities were reported during the first year of service, although the train was involved in several major accidents with autos.”

What Hao couldn’t bring himself to report was that Phoenix Metro experienced an accident a week in that year. By avoiding that fact, Hao misrepresents the record of the nation’s newest at-grade rail system – a fact easily accessed from numerous on-line reports by Phoenix news media.

When taken in its entirety, Hao's reporting on rail is highly suspect at best, and in his apparent determination to convince us at-grade is as safe as elevated, his reporting has taken a darker turn. Honolulu citizens must use common sense in assessing the architects' claims of at-grade safety. Unfortunately, Honolulu Advertiser readers must also be wary of the paper's reporting on the entire rail story.

Friday, January 29, 2010

3 More At-Grade Rail Myths Debunked, Plus AIA Internal Poll Shows Low At-Grade Rail Support

This makes the third consecutive day we’ve focused on what we call the myths about at-grade transit that the AIA Honolulu chapter dispensed to an overflow crowd at the State Capitol last week.

The architects’ passion for their at-grade rail transit proposal is obvious, and so is their lack of expertise. We've been pointing that out this week; for the City rail project’s responses to myths 1-8, please see our 1/27 and 1/28 posts. Let’s move ahead to the final three myths identified during the Capitol “hearing.”

3 More Myths Meet the Truth

• Myth 9—At-grade rail is better for Transit-Oriented Development.
The Truth: Not so. The number of riders a station attracts is key to TOD. The higher ridership of an elevated system indicates greater opportunities for TOD. If at-grade transit is so beneficial to adjacent business districts, why is Hotel Street still the way it is, years after cars were banned in favor of bus-only usage of that street?

• Myth 10—It will take only six months for a supplemental rail transit Environmental Impact Statement that includes a route with at-grade rail sections.
The Truth: This is completely false and misleading in the extreme. The Federal Transit Administration has indicated any decision to change the alignment from elevated to even partially at-grade would require a totally new EIS. It’s taken the City five years to get to where it is now, and renewing the EIS would require much longer than six months and jeopardize federal funding.

• Myth 11—The Draft Environmental Impact Statement is deficient because it does not address the five transit technologies in the federal Notice of Intent.
The Truth: The technology selection process in the DEIS covers the same technology choices described in the Notice of Intent. The Notice states: “Comments on reducing the range of technologies under consideration are encouraged,” which clearly recognizes that fewer technologies may be under consideration at the time of the DEIS.

What Do Architects Really Want?

A few architects within the AIA Honolulu chapter have voiced these myths and have implied widespread agreement within the entire architect community. They don’t go out of their way to disabuse audiences of that impression, and it’s another regrettable example of AIA “airbrushing.”

We first called attention to the tactic two weeks ago with regard to AIA’s airbrushing out of crosswalks on Hotel Street in front of an artist’s rendition of an at-grade train – presumably to make the train seem less threatening.

This new “airbrushing” involves the spinning of the chapter’s internal survey of its members’ views on rail. You can visit the chapter’s website to see how little support at-grade rail actually had in that survey. Highlight the Advocacy menu on the chapter's home page, then click on View AIA Transit Page and scroll down to “AIA Members-Only Poll Helped Inform AIA Transit Position.”

The results are remarkable in light of the chapter’s impassioned advocacy of at-grade rail. Using the figures in the poll summary reveals only 5.3% of the chapter’s membership responded in favor of at-grade rail. Larger percentages favored elevated rail (6.3%) and below-grade rail (8.4%).

Another way to parse these numbers is that nearly three times as many respondents favored grade-separated rail (96) compared to at-grade (35).

So how can the AIA Rail Task Force members go before the community with a straight face and say at-grade rail is such a favorite among local architects?

Let’s call that one Myth #12.

12 Noon Update: A reader had a good suggestion -- to give the survey's percentages in favor of the various rail options. Here they are:
• At-grade -- 24.3%
• Below-grade -- 38.2%
• Elevated guideway -- 28.5%
• It does not matter -- 2.8%
• N/A -- 6.3%
The reader also pointed out some additional AIA "airbrushing." The chapter's explanation of the poll results combined the at-grade and below-grade numbers to conclude that 62.5% of the respondents favored a mode other than elevated rail. The chapter did not bother to explain that at-grade rail actually had fewer votes than elevated rail! Given the options, 75.7% of the respondents chose not to select at-grade rail--a remarkable outcome in light of the chapter's campaign in favor of that option.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Continuing To Dissect AIA Myths on Rail Transit

Yesterday’s post started the dissection of the architects’ myths about the Honolulu rail project that they disseminated 10 days ago, but we’re wondering whether “myth” is the right word. The architects are trying to stop Honolulu's progress in building a fast, frequent and safe elevated rail system by promulgating these so-called myths. With such big stakes, a word like “falsehood” seems to fit the intent better.

But we’ll stick with “myth” as we examine four more AIA statements they made about their at-grade rail scheme in the January 18th State Capitol “hearing.”

More AIA Myths Meet the Truth

• Myth 5—A combination at-grade/elevated rail system can carry as many riders as an elevated rail system.
The Truth: Not even close to true. At-grade trains can be no longer than the shortest city block to ensure they don't block cross streets, and in Honolulu, the shortest blocks are in Chinatown. At-grade trains therefore can have only two vehicles attached together. Elevated trains can be twice as long because they’re completely free of surface considerations. In addition, because they have drivers at the controls, at-grade trains must have greater separation between them than automated elevated trains. Shorter and less frequent trains means much lower carrying capacity.

• Myth 6—At-grade rail can be built with a track bed 2 feet deep or less and 8 to 10 feet wide.
The Truth: No. To construct an at-grade train route would require digging a trench for a two-lane track bed approximately 30 feet wide and up to 5 feet deep continuously along the route. This would require additional right-of-way acquisitions and relocating most or all underground utilities – water, sewer, storm drain, electrical, gas, telecommunications, etc.

• Myth 7—A hybrid system that combines at-grade and elevated rail can be built in six years.
The Truth: This is highly debatable, since at-grade rail construction isn’t necessarily faster than elevated. At-grade requires more utility relocations and results in more traffic disruptions and can lengthen construction times. For example, a 4.9-mile at-grade section in the Rainier Valley segment of Seattle’s light rail line that opened last year took about five years to complete – more than a year per mile.

• Myth 8—Building portions of Honolulu’s system at-grade won’t require significant additional right-of-way acquisitions.
The Truth: No. Building at-grade rail correctly is not small-scale construction. Street corners must be widened, driveways relocated and many streets widened to compensate for the loss of traffic lanes. Right-of-way acquisitions would be required from businesses and homes next to the route, creating a much greater impact on the community than elevated rail.

We’ll wrap up our list of at-grade transit Myths vs. The Truth in tomorrow’s post.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Dissecting AIA Myths about Honolulu Rail Project

The dust that had settled after last week’s Governor Linda Lingle-sponsored AIA “hearing" in the State Capitol on rail transit was stirred up again yesterday with Mayor Mufi Hannemann’s assertion that the Governor opposes rail. (The Mayor's Tuesday press conference can be seen on YouTube: Part 1 and Part 2.)

The architects had criticized the Honolulu rail project and pushed their own version of rail – at-grade transit, which from all appearances has attracted the Governor’s attention. If the Governor “believes (the architects) have some valid concerns that we need to look into,” according to an aide, it’s time to closely examine the AIA’s statements at the hearing. We call the City rail project’s assessment of those statements:

AIA Myths Meet the Truth

• Myth 1—Building 10 miles of Honolulu’s rail system at-grade would save $1.8 billion.
The Truth: It’s highly unlikely that could be the case, since the AIA didn’t figure in the considerable costs of at-grade transit, such as relocating underground utility lines that would be dug up, additional right-of-way acquisitions and the cost of delaying construction. The Mayor says that delay could add an additional $200 million a year. Totally ignored by the AIA are at-grade’s impact costs on the community – safety hazards for vehicles and pedestrians and the inevitable congestion increases due to dedicating traffic lanes to rail.

• Myth 2—Operating costs are lower for at-grade rail.
The Truth: Not so. At-grade rail requires more trains because they operate at slower speeds. What’s more, they can’t be automated since they’d be in the mix of traffic, so each train would require a driver. Do that on all trains 20 hours a day and you jack up operating costs big time. The AIA’s “transit experts” showed how little they really know about transit on this myth alone!

• Myth 3—At-grade trains are safer.
The Truth: This one is a real whopper, and something elementary school children can figure out. Put trains on the ground, run them through intersections, over crosswalks and along pedestrian sidewalks and the inevitable result is an accident. Make that plural; Phoenix’s new at-grade system racked up a crash a week in its first year of operation. Grade-separated transit is the “gold standard” of public transportation (Honolulu’s will be elevated) for the obvious reason trains have their own right of way completely separated from traffic.

• Myth 4—At-grade rail is nearly as fast as elevated rail.
The Truth: Once again, myth meets common sense. Check out this map of downtown Honolulu showing the proposed at-grade route of the AIA’s New Jersey-based consultant (in red) and the City’s elevated train route (in blue). We’ve used it here before because it does such a good job destroying this “fast at-grade” myth. Imagine a train moving diamondhead on Hotel Street. It comes to Richards and makes a hard right, goes one block makai and hangs a left onto busy King Street. It continues on Kapiolani at the merge with King. On the return trip, it turns right at that merge onto Alapai Street, then left onto busy Beretania past the Capitol, then left onto Richards and right back onto Hotel. How in blazes can a train on that route slowed by vehicle and pedestrian traffic even come close to the same elapsed time as elevated trains traveling on the blue route? Answer: They can’t!

And so it goes with the myths promulgated by local architects who want you to believe they’re transit experts, too. We’ll cover more of their myths in the days to come.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Legislature-Created Construction Task Force Says Honolulu Rail Top Priority, Urges FEIS Acceptance

An advisory body of local business and community leaders created by the 2009 Legislature recommends building the Honolulu rail transit project as its top priority to provide “a significant boost to the state’s economy.”

The state's Construction Industry Task Force released its findings this week and puts the Honolulu rail project at the top of its priority list:
The task force considers the Honolulu Rail Transit project to be its top priority. The project is expected to create 10,000 jobs during its construction phase – 4,000 jobs in construction alone – and provide a significant boost to the state’s economy. Recommendations include:
• Encouraging state approval of the rail project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) as expeditiously as possible;
• Asking the Legislature to preserve the county surcharge to fund Honolulu’s rail project;
• Encouraging the City & County of Honolulu to establish a semi-autonomous Public Transit Authority, which would oversee and manage construction, operations and expansion of the rail system; and
• Along with the Honolulu Rail Transit project, the construction of the University of Hawaii’s West Oahu campus will have a huge economic stimulus benefit to our economy.

Other priorities are workforce housing, improved efficiencies in the state’s procurement and permitting processes to reduce project delays and accelerating regulatory approvals and permits for large renewable energy projects.

The task force is chaired by Warren Haruki of Grove Farm and Maui Land & Pineapple. Other members are Perry Artates, Hawaii Operating Engineers Industry Stabilization Fund; Stanford Carr, Stanford Carr Development; Tom Foley, Thomas M. Foley, LLC; Michael Fujimoto, HPM Building Supply; Don Horner, First Hawaiian Bank; Rick Kahle, former director, State Department of Taxation; Ray Kamikawa, Chun Kerr Dodd Beaman & Wong; Micah Kane, former director, State Department of Hawaiian Home Lands; Glen Kaneshige, Nordic PCL Construction; Paul Oshiro, Alexander & Baldwin, Inc.; Bruce Robinson, Gay and Robinson; John Sabas, Sabas & Associates; Harry Saunders, Castle & Cooke Hawaii; Jeff Stone, The Resort Group, and Ron Taketa, Hawaii Carpenters Union.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Editorial: Elevated Rail Best Deal for Taxpayers; Also Commuters, Drivers and Property Owners

The string of editorials supporting the City’s plan to build an elevated rail system remains intact with today’s Honolulu Advertiser offering. While the headline focuses on cost, the editorial goes far beyond that single issue. It pretty much blasts every argument the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects uses in its dubious promotional campaign for an at-grade system.

For instance, imagine as the editorial does what putting at-grade rail would be like on a six-lane street like Kapiolani Boulevard, the AIA’s New Jersey-based consultant's idea that the local architects apparently have endorsed. A minimum of two lanes would have tracks laid on them in their scheme – presumably the outside lanes for discussion’s sake. Would drivers then be denied use of those lanes? To keep the trains moving, you’d have to assume so, which means six lanes of traffic would be reduced to four. (The map shows the proposed at-grade route in red, the City's elevated line in blue. Guess which one would move commuters more efficiently and quickly through town.)

Then imagine how drivers would make turns right and left from Kapiolani onto intersecting streets such as Ward Avenue, Pensacola, Piikoi and Cooke. They’d have to cross over the tracks and through the pathway of the at-grade trains – a maneuver that has resulted in dozens of vehicle-train crashes in the first year of Phoenix’s new at-grade system.

Also for the sake of discussion, let’s say the double tracks are in the center lanes, which would require passengers to wait for a “walk” signal (or go against the light) to cross the outside two lanes to go to and from the at-grade system’s “stations.” That hardly seems conducive to building ridership.

And if six lanes were to be retained for traffic while adding two tracks of rail, Kapiolani would have to be widened. Do you see any way that could happen without taking dozens of properties along Kapiolani Boulevard alone?

The editorial also dismantles the AIA’s arguments on expense and timing, issues covered in our two most recent posts here on Thursday and Friday – the summaries of the City’s response to the AIA’s hearing in a news conference. The editorial’s final sentence wraps up the issues nicely:

“If we’re going to spend billions of dollars on a rail system to handle Oahu’s long-term transit needs, we should at least buy one that’s going to work.”

Friday, January 22, 2010

City’s News Conference, continued: AIA’s Transit Experience Lacking; Lingle Should Accept FEIS; At-Grade Safety Much Worse than Elevated Rail

Last evening’s post focused on the remarks of APTA President William Millar at yesterday afternoon’s City Hall news conference. Today we continue with the comments of Department of Transportation Director Wayne Yoshioka as he addressed comments earlier in the week by architects about their proposed at-grade rail system for Honolulu.

Yoshioka focused on the thoroughness of the environmental process. As we noted last evening, he began by noting his frustration with the attention the architects’ have attracted (all his comments are recorded quotes or have been edited slightly to delete non-essential phrases):

"The frustration that I have is that, while I have great respect for architects…., we have a group of architects that clearly are not transit professionals, did not ever build a transit system, and here is our project led by our Chief of Rapid Transit Toru Hayamasu who’s been in this business for over 30 years, and we have a line of exceptional professionals who have tremendous years of experience in transit. These are the experts, and yet, we have a forum (Monday’s hearing) and much ado about this forum with a small group of architects who have no transit experience whatsoever. And it seems people are giving credence to an 'alternative' brought up by this group of architects who have no transit experience.

Transit Qualifications

“My primary frustration is an ‘alternative’ raised by an inexperienced group of individuals. They may be great architects and great professionals, and I’m sure they are, but they are not transit experts. On the other hand, we have years of experience and five years of intense effort on this project, detailed design, detailed analysis against a guy named Phil Craig who says he knows what he’s talking about because he has walked the corridor. He’s been here a couple times…. What we really have to focus on here is that we have to put our faith in the fact that the effort has been put forth by the City with a very professional team, thorough analysis, very very thorough results, and we’re that close to getting this thing done. We’re going to see this process through. I know that people keep asking us when the Final EIS is going to come out. It’ll come out when the FTA tells us it’s ready to come out, because we’re not going to short-change the environmental process. We’re going to address the issues as we go through them, and we will come out with a solid Final Environmental Impact statement.

Environmental Process

“We’re very close, and I think we can get there in the near future. When that comes out, we really sincerely hope the Governor will be expeditious in reviewing it and accepting it. This is not an ‘approval’ process. All she has to do is accept this thing as a valid environmental document, and we believe this is a valid environmental document. So again, we encourage the process to move along. We will not short-change the environmental process, and we believe we’ve done all the work necessary. We don’t need to rehash this. Alternatives were looked at in the Alternatives Analysis. Let’s move on and let’s get this thing done.”

City Managing Director Kirk Caldwell also addressed the environmental process after Yoshioka’s comments:

“We cannot allow this small group of architects to come forward and throw out an ‘alternative’ that’s no alternative whatsoever and that was looked at and voted on, and we moved forward. One thing we’ve requested of the Governor is that politics not come into this. We’re walking up the steps to Washington Place (the Governor’s residence). We have the FEIS in its final stages. We will answer every last question raised by any agency that asks it. The Mayor has instructed us to leave no question unanswered and cut no corners. If it takes a little longer, it takes a little longer.

“But we do hope that when we get to the stop of the stairs and knock on the door of Washington Place and we deliver the FEIS as approved by the FTA to her, that politics will not be part of this and that she will look at it in the same way that any FEIS should be looked at. That’s not going backward to the first step and asking should there be another alternative. That is not what is supposed to occur in this review, and we hope that she’s perhaps learned this lesson after the failure of the Superferry and the fact that no EIS was done.…. We see our kids furloughed. We don’t want to see rail furloughed. It is our best hope for true job creation. We’ve heard the Governor say in her State of the State that the focus is going to be job creation. We heard her yesterday on many of your channels saying she’s looking to the State Legislature for ideas on how to create jobs. This is that idea! It is the best idea. It is truly the only idea that will create jobs now. And so let’s go forward. Let’s get the FEIS done, and let’s get the Governor to then accept it."

Reporter’s question: “There were two safety-related issues that the AIA raised…. One, there’s an absence (in the City’s plans) of screen doors at the stations… And on a per-mile basis (inaudible but related to accident rate comparison of at-grade vs elevated transit).”

Yoshioka: “Let’s go back logically and look at this. You’re elevated. You’re totally separated from the roadway. You’re in a protected environment and completely separated out…. What cars are flying at that level above the ground? And what people are flying through the air at that level above the ground? As opposed to an at-grade transit that’s crossing active streets with active vehicles turning in front of the train, with pedestrians crossing in front of the train. That (comparison) doesn’t seem to make logical sense to me.

“Platform screen doors are a possibility. Right now, I think the station designs have not shown it, but that’s always a potential, and I think that will go along with the further design of the stations. The stations have not gone through final design yet, so that’s an issue that can be addressed during final design of the stations.”

APTA President William Millar: “As far as a claim someone might make that a sealed corridor (grade-separated transit) is less safe than an at-grade system, experience does not show that. Certainly the best safety records in rail transportation are either when you have a complete subway or complete elevated system. That is the safest kind of system to have. The at-grade street crossings, as we’re learning, automobile drivers for whatever reason in many cities try to race the train to the intersection or something, and they lose! And so again, statistics are clear. Houston may be the poster child for this, but you can go to Los Angeles, you can go to many other communities and find the same set of problems. So I don’t understand the factual basis for a question like that. It’s certainly not in my experience."

Reporter’s question: “Any concern about the Governor planning to hold more hearings when the FEIS comes out?”

Managing Director Caldwell: “We’ve heard mention that perhaps they would hearings, also that the City Council has talked about holding hearings. Our position is that we’re not opposed to them. We do believe that, while it’s not part of the process and there’s no requirement of Chapter 343 of Hawaii Revised Statutes and under the federal due process to hold such hearings, if they wanted to hold hearings we’d be participants in them. But we don’t believe that those hearings should be a reason to hold up approval of the FEIS. If they want to expeditiously hold hearings and have received comments that are directed specifically at the FEIS and not revisiting issues that were heard in 2005, that is something that we’d participate in at the table and cooperate and share this information that you hear today.”

'Positive' News Challenged

Although the Honolulu Star-Bulletin prominently displayed a story on Tuesday that the Governor is “not sold on elevated project,” the paper did not send a reporter to this news conference. The Honolulu Advertiser’s reporter asked the safety-related questions, above, and nothing else. Honolulu’s four network-affiliated television stations sent three news crews among them, but only two of them aired coverage of the news conference at 6 pm. The others waited until their 10 pm newscasts, having missed the higher-rated 6 pm shows.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

National Transit Leader Calls Honolulu Rail Plan 'Gold Standard' of Transit, Says Elevated Rail Is Safer, More Reliable and More Attractive to Ride

Wayne Yoshioka, Kirk Caldwell and William Millar (L-R)
A City Hall press conference today managed to refute much of the AIA Chapter’s presentation at its Monday “hearing” in the Capitol, but beyond that, it was a veritable smorgasbord of quotes on why Honolulu’s proposed elevated rail system is right for our community.

American Public Transit Association President William Millar was the primary speaker and was joined by Honolulu Managing Director Kirk Caldwell and Wayne Yoshioka, director of the Department of Transportation Services. Millar is in town for the APTA group’s annual Business Member Board of Governor’s meeting.

I’m not sure how much of the three speakers’ comments will get through the media filter. The Star-Bulletin didn’t seem to be represented, and the Advertiser sent its usual super-rail-skeptic reporter. It's two hours after the 6 pm news as I write this, and the three TV outlets who were present have yet to post a story on their websites. Maybe there was TOO MUCH information for them to absorb, and there was plenty.

We’ll wait a day or so to post Wayne Yoshioka’s main thrust, which was a refutation of the AIA’s Monday presentation. Our focus here is on Mr. Millar’s extensive comments on elevated vs at-grade transit, safety, cost and the environmental process. The following statements are exact quotes in nearly all cases, with a few non-essential phrases deleted.

Going Elevated

“Can you build public transit on the surface? Of course, you can, but it becomes a completely different project and will serve a different purpose than what you have proposed here. Instead of it being a relatively high-speed safe system for commuters, (an at-grade system) will take on more of a local circulator characteristic. It’s not a bad idea, but as we’ve learned from Phoenix and a number of other cities, instead of carrying a large number of people, it will carry a much lower number of passengers.
Safety and Speed
“Street running will also bring with it its own set of complications by being mixed with other traffic and cross streets. One need only look at some of the experience in Phoenix, but probably the classic case is Houston, where regrettably there have been a lot of interface with automobiles, much to the detriment of the automobiles as well as to the rail system. So there have been many many accidents, injuries, property damage and things of that sort.
“Even if you’re skillful enough and lucky enough to be able to design your street portion if you were to go that way…you then are going to be slowing down the automobile traffic. I don’t pretend to know and understand your city totally, but it doesn’t look to me like slowing down automobile traffic is something people would expect or want. So I think that would be a problem.
Environmental Process
“I think in terms of process, you need to be realistic about this. I was reading in one of your local papers…and it quoted somebody as saying, ‘Gee, if we make this change, it’ll simply delay the project by six months.’ Ladies and gentlemen, that is not true, and I tell you from experience every time you make a significant change in a project, particularly a project that has gone through the amount of study that this one’s gone through…if you were to take several miles of your right of way and suddenly take it from being an elevated to a street operation, you’re going to have to go back through most of that if not all of the environmental process. Why? It’s not only the environmental laws themselves that are written to protect people and protect the decisions that are made. You can’t go through an environmental process with one set of assumptions and then change a key assumption and not have to go through the process again….
“It also will change the character, as I said earlier, of this particular program. Instead of being a relatively high-speed safe elevated automated system, as soon as you come down to street grade you’re going to not be able to be an automated system anymore. You’re going to be adding drivers to the system. That is going to change the cost characteristics of the system, and the list goes on and on. Slower speeds mean you’ll need more vehicles to carry the same number of people. Of course, that really won’t be a problem because you won’t have the same number of riders. You’ll have many fewer riders than you had before (as an elevated system). Many fewer riders means there’s less benefit for the project….
“We find in city after city, the people who benefit from it of course are first the people who use the system, but the second biggest group of beneficiaries are motorists. So if you have fewer people riding the system and more people driving – well, you figure it out. (An at-grade system) isn’t going to be as beneficial as it possibly could. So you need to move very carefully in that area. From personal experience, I know that changes in the environmental process can lead to years and many many millions of dollars more of study.
“We are in the worst recession the nation has faced since the 1930s. We need jobs and we need jobs now. A project like this that is very near its planning and environmental process and just about ready to get the federal approval is a project that could move forward quickly that could generate hundreds if not thousands of construction jobs, never mind all the supply industry jobs that come along with this. If there was ever time in this country and in this community when you needed jobs, now is the time, and you have a project ready to go.
Reduced Cost
“There’s another benefit to going forward that makes a lot of sense to me, and that is, because of the bad times in the construction industry, we’re seeing all over the country…the bids from the private sector to build these projects are coming in much cheaper than the engineering estimates. It depends on the project, but 20 percent cheaper is not an unusual number we’re seeing across the country. Now that won’t last, our economy will get better, people will get back to work eventually, and the cost of construction will continue to rise. So the jobs area strikes me as something you need to consider here.
Federal Funding
“Finally…in Washington where I do most of my work there is intense competition for money to do the kinds of projects you’re talking about here in Honolulu…. I’m sure there’s at least 40 different projects around the country that are in what’s called the New Starts pipeline. That’s projects that have done their initial planning, are well into their environmental work or perhaps even through their environmental work. The Congress is unable to fund all those projects, so there’s great competition for that, and in fact, here in Honolulu you have some experience with that. The last time you moved forward with as rail project that fell apart at the end, you had hundreds of millions of dollars that did not come to Honolulu that when someplace else…. The people of Salt Lake City are very grateful to you all, because when your project failed, the money that was to come here to Honolulu in part when to Salt Lake. It went to several other cities as well…. I guess the question I’d really ask you is, do you really want your federal tax dollars that are scheduled to come to Honolulu to go to somewhere else? Because there are plenty of somewhere-elses that would be happy to take that money off your hands.”
We’ll turn to Wayne Yoshioka’s comments soon. Here’s a taste:
"The frustration that I have is that, while I have great respect for architects…., we have a group of architects that clearly are not transit professionals, did not ever build a transit system, and here is our project led by our Chief of Rapid Transit Toru Hayamasu who’s been in this business for over 30 years, and we have a line of exceptional professionals who have tremendous years of experience in transit. These are the experts, and yet, we have a forum (Monday’s hearing) and much ado about this forum with a small group of architects who have no transit experience whatsoever. And it seems people are giving credence to an 'alternative' brought up by this group of architects who have no transit experience.”
Come back soon for more.

LA Residents Fighting for Grade-Separated Transit: At-Grade Rail Unsafe for Kids, Elderly, All

You have to wonder why some of us don’t bother to learn the lessons others have learned elsewhere. In the midst of our community debate over at-grade rail vs elevated rail, other communities are determined to run their tracks anywhere but at-grade.

In Los Angeles, residents appalled by at-grade rail’s poor safety record are fighting tooth and nail to prevent the City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority from building the Crenshaw Boulevard line at-grade, and they’re winning. From the Fix Expo Campaign’s website:

“For the first time in the history of the current process, MTA will now conduct a study and identify a funding strategy to keep the entire Crenshaw Blvd portion of the Crenshaw-LAX Line in a subway. A full Crenshaw Blvd. subway would allow our children, elderly and the public at-large to walk/drive across the street without having to negotiate with 225-ton trains….”

But here in Honolulu, architects in the AIA Hawaii chapter’s Transit Task Force are campaigning for at-grade transit through the heart of town. They want to build the system at ground level in the mix of pedestrians, cars, trucks, taxis, bicycles, motorcycles, skaters, scooters and Segway pilots.

Safety is #1

LA citizens understand the safety issue and Honolulu architects don’t. Anyone who isn't dazzled by the architects’ vision of planning purity can see that at-grade rail systems are more hazardous to the public welfare than grade-separated systems. LA residents want a subway, which they believe is the right kind of grade-separation transit for their community.

For financial and aesthetic reasons, Honolulu intends to achieve grade separation by elevating the rail line. Going underground in Honolulu would be prohibitively expensive, but beyond the cost, it would be unthinkable to build our core transit link underground below one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Doing so would be like draping blankets over paintings in The Louvre.

Regarding Aesthetics

The architects want you to believe a 30-foot-tall elevated guideway would be an abomination, while 300-foot high-rise buildings aren’t. They’re like stage magicians who attract your attention by waving one hand around so you don’t see the other hand stealthily setting up the trick. “Don’t look at the high-rises we’ve built,” they say. “Just look at this narrow canyon between them and how terrible it would be to put anything in it.”

It’s looks and sounds hypocritical, but whatever it is, they take it even further. The architects insist that the narrow view planes they’re intent on preserving are more important than the poor safety record of at-grade systems compared to grade-separated rail. Without any doubt whatsoever, at-grade rail in Honolulu would result in accidents, injuries and possibly deaths. Why wouldn't it? That's what happens everywhere at-grade is built.

In other words, preserving the makai view down Bishop Street is more important than building an elevated system that is virtually accident-free. They’re trying to convince the public (including the Governor) that building at-grade on Hotel Street through Chinatown’s crowded sidewalks and cross streets is preferable to putting a 30-foot-tall structure in our city.

That’s simply bogus. Citizens concerned about pedestrian safety and surface traffic congestion, which would increase with at-grade rail, must stand up to the building and interior designers who are passing themselves off as transit experts.

More better Honolulu architects use their expertise to integrate our elevated rail system into the urban landscape, including transit-oriented development. That’s something they may understand. Transit – not so much.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Honolulu Has USA’s 2nd Worst Traffic Bottleneck, Yet the AIA Still Wants To Build At-Grade Trolley

Nobody has to tell Oahu’s road-weary car commuters what The Daily Beast just confirmed: The H-1 Freeway is the Second Worst bottlenecked metropolitan highway in the country.

The H-1 experience is worse than the worst highway in the New York City region, worse than the worst in San Francisco, Washington, DC, Seattle, Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Minneapolis-St. Paul and everywhere else in the country except the Hollywood Freeway in Los Angeles.

Knowing presumably that we have tremendous commuting problems for drivers on our space-tight island, what does the local American Institute of Architecture chapter want to build? Not a fast, high-capacity rail system designed to move large numbers of commuters and therefore allow them to bypass the H-1 bottleneck.

That’s not what the local architects want. Instead, they are strongly advocating a people-mover – something closer to a trolley than a true commuter-serving rail system.

A trolley is what you'd have to call the AIA’s proposal for an at-grade rail line through downtown Honolulu. Trains traveling east on Hotel Street would be required to make right-angle turns at Richards Street, one block later at King and Richards, again eventually at the Kapiolani and South intersection, at the intersection of Alapai and Beretania, at Richards again at Beretania and finally at Richards/Hotel. This map shows that tortured route with six turns of close to 90 degrees.

Pedestrians might be able to walk fast enough to keep up with a train/trolley on this route, and if they couldn’t walk that fast, they undoubtedly could keep pace in a slow jog.

That’s not what Honolulu needs to address its commuting problems – no more than a baseball team caught in a batting slump would need new uniforms to cure its problems. Honolulu requires a true and attractive alternative to driving, a system to move 100,000 or more people a day quickly, efficiently, reliably and safely through our urban corridor.

The AIA’s proposal is the equivalent of dressing that ball club in new shirts. Its people-mover can’t do what Honolulu needs for reasons you’ll find among this blog’s many posts, but if you want to be pointed somewhere, you might want to spend some time at our January 15th post, below.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Strip Away Charges of Playing Politics and Ask: ‘Whose Rail Transit Vision Is Best for Honolulu?’

Do architects know transit better than career transit planners? That’s what the average Honolulu citizen needs to ask now that the local chapter of the AIA has entered the rail debate.

One of the architects told yesterday’s hearing in the Capitol Auditorium that they, too, are trained in planning – apparently to put the audience at ease about their transit suggestions. The message was, “We know what we’re doing. Trust us.”

But it’s simply unbelievable to think their training approximates in scope and depth the training and experience of career transit planners and engineers who’ve spent decades working in their profession instead of a few months the architects have been thinking about transit.

The architects spent most of their time yesterday explaining why at-grade transit would be perfectly fine for Honolulu, but let’s cut to the chase: The heart of their arguments is their belief that an overhead rail guideway would be aesthetically bad for our city.

I can respect that. They correctly assert that the elevated structure will be visible and will have impacts on view planes, especially when seen up close. The Draft EIS says so, too. The most critical location from the architects’ perspective is in downtown Honolulu, where the elevated guideway will pass over the highway at the foot of Bishop Street and create a new view obstruction where none exists today. But we must ask ourselves this:
Is concern over aesthetics enough reason to build a transit system that would fail?

From where I sit, that’s what an at-grade train would be – a failure. It might not interfere with mauka-makai views, but an at-grade train would fail to attract riders who desperately need an alternative to sitting in traffic congestion in their daily commutes -- the principal reason to build Honolulu rail.

This blog repeatedly has stated the reasons why at-grade rail would fail, but here's a quick review:
It wouldn’t be fast transit. Its trains literally would creep through Chinatown and other congested neighborhoods to minimize the hazard of operating only feet away from pedestrians. As planned, the elevated rail system would travel end-to-end in 42 minutes. At-grade transit would take much longer.
It wouldn’t be as frequent as elevated transit. With humans at the controls, at-grade trains would have greater distance and time between between them – as much as 6 minutes or more, compared to 3 minutes or even less between elevated and automatically controlled trains.
It wouldn’t be as reliable, since at-grade transit vehicles inevitably are delayed in the mix of traffic with cars, trucks, buses and pedestrians.
It wouldn’t be as safe as elevated transit. Phoenix and Houston are just two examples of at-grade systems that have attracted negative attention for their accident rate. Phoenix’s new system has averaged a crash a week in its first year of operation.

The local architects want Honolulu citizens to set all that aside for the sake of preserving view planes. So we citizens are left to ask, is it worth building a failure to protect the view of Honolulu Harbor?
Forget about job creation for the moment. Jobs certainly will be created in building the project, but that’s not the primary reason to build it.
Either build rail to provide an attractive, fast, frequent, reliable and safe alternative to travel through town while entirely avoiding traffic congestion, or don’t build it at all and spare us the expense of a failed transit system. That's the issue squarely before Honolulu citizens.

Monday, January 18, 2010

AIA Capitol Hearing Skirts At-Grade Safety Issue; Chapter’s Vision Won’t Do What Honolulu Needs

City rail project supporters waved signs at State Capitol.
The new transit experts within the local architecture community are still holding their panel discussion as we write this, so it’s possible they’ll be put on the spot about the accident-prone nature of at-grade rail. We left before the staged event got around to public comments.

But the panel avoided dipping into that swamp in its initial presentation, which dwelled on other issues such as noise, view obstructions and rainwater runoff. The panelists made a strong show of supporting rail – just not the City’s above-grade plan.

Jeffery Nishi said he’s pro-rail as long as it’s a “flexible system.” By that, he means it needs to run at-grade for at least part of the 20-mile route. Not mentioned was the inarguable fact that at-grade rail can’t be as fast and frequent as grade-separated transit.

Peter Vincent said rail will be a “solution to traffic,” betraying his lack of depth in the subject, since rail won’t be any such thing. Traffic will continue to grow, and the Honolulu rail project will restrain that growth, but a “solution” to traffic it’s not and doesn’t claim to be. Rail will be an option to commuting in traffic – a role it performs for millions of commuters around the world.

Vincent criticized the City’s EIS for allegedly not addressing other technologies – something he apparently is unaware was done exhaustively during the Alternatives Analysis and most particularly by the transit experts panel, which selected steel-on-steel by a vote of 4 to 1. And implausibly, he found fault with the system’s EIS for Phase 1 – Kapolei to Ala Moana – for not covering components of Phase 2 – Waikiki and UH Manoa. He then showed a slide of an overhead guideway crossing above the H-1 freeway near UH, a segment which isn’t in the Phase 1 plan.

Houston – Without the Crashes

Vincent continued the show with slides showing Houston’s at-grade system, but he failed to mention that at one point in its operation, Houston’s MetroRail trains had a collision rate about 25 times the national average for light rail systems.

And that’s as good a place to keep our focus on this predictable AIA presentation as any, because safety must not be brushed aside as we plan this major Honolulu infrastructure project. Architect Sidney Char though wasted no time sweeping right past safety and completely avoided the collision potential of his chapter’s preferred at-grade train.

Remarkably, he then pointed out how unsafe elevated trains can be if they have no platform screen doors. People dangling their feet over the edge of the station platform could be swept in front of the train, he said, or they could be electrocuted if they jumped onto the “hot” third power rail.

Char then played the crime card by suggesting elevated train stations would be rife with crime if built here, though he offered no basis for his assessment. And so it went – finger-pointing this way and that about safety without pointing at the obvious and most likely problem of at-grade rail – collisions with pedestrians and vehicles.

Learning from Elsewhere

We’ve written repeatedly about safety here at Yes2Rail, including our two most recent posts, and we’re going to continue doing so. The Arizona Republic carries a story today that should be required reading for the AIA’s transit experts.

The story says almost half of the Metro’s crashes in the past year happened on a single mile-and-a-quarter stretch that runs through downtown Phoenix.” That segment is “packed with bars, businesses, pedestrians and distracted motorists, a tough environment for even slow-moving Metro trains.” That sounds like a good description of downtown Honolulu.

Even more telling is the mention that Metro trains are “slow-moving.” That also would describe Honolulu’s trains if the system were built at-grade, and that would be exactly what we do not need in Honolulu.

Honolulu rail is designed to move large numbers of commuters quickly, reliably and safely through our urban core. Any part of the system built at-grade would defeat the very purpose of our system. At-grade can’t be fast; it would actually creep through congested Chinatown. It can’t be frequent, because with drivers at the controls, trains would require greater time separation between them. And it can’t be as reliable as elevated rail due to the inevitable crashes like Houston and Phoenix continue to experience. (Check out the video of a recent Phoenix crash that we think should be shown at the next AIA chapter meeting.)

The AIA chapter probably convinced some in the overflow audience that it knows what’s best for Honolulu. But quite simply and bluntly, it doesn’t. The audience couldn't understand that from sitting through this one-sided event with no panel participants to support the City’s project.

That’s quite a strange way to run a railroad they have down there at the State Capitol.
An overflow crowd listens to the AIA version of transit.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

3 ‘Crosswalk Pedestrian’ Deaths Already in 2010; AIA Still Pushes for At-Grade Train in Chinatown

Chinatown's Hotel Street -- on the AIA's proposed rail route
It’s one thing (and mildly humorous) when architects object to the Honolulu rail system’s 30-foot tall elevated guideway while seemingly ignoring the impact of architect-designed 300-foot high-rises that have walled off the ocean from many Honolulu neighborhoods.

But it’s far more serious when they ignore the safety issue and promote an at-grade transit system for narrow city streets through congested Chinatown and other neighborhoods.

After you finish reading today’s post, continue with Friday’s description of at-grade’s drawbacks immediately below. Notice in the graphic how close the tracks are to the sidewalks on Hotel Street, where the AIA implausibly wants its trains to run. Then consider this:

Hawaii leads the nation in elderly pedestrian fatalities, with a rate of 6.97 deaths per 100,000 people 65 years and older. Nationally, the rate is 2.33 pedestrian deaths per 100,000.

Honolulu drivers are killing pedestrians alarmingly often:
Jan. 7 – Sachiko Kojima, 52, was in a crosswalk while crossing Kaiolu Street in Waikiki when a car turned left from Kuhio Avenue and hit her. She died the next day.
Jan. 12 – Hideno T. Matsumoto, 81, died after being struck while in a crosswalk on Pali Highway near Dowsett Avenue.
Jan. 14 – Yui Tung Ng, 73, was hit by a car while in a crosswalk on North Vineyard Boulevard at Aala Street near Chinatown. He died one day later.

Anyone who’s spent time in Honolulu’s Chinatown knows it's a neighborhood with a high percentage of elderly who either live there or frequent its narrow streets on daily shopping trips. Introducing at-grade trains into this congested and constricted part of town is unthinkable.

Honolulu already has an ignominious reputation for showing too little concern for pedestrian safety. Let’s not add to that disgrace by putting aesthetics above safety as we build our rail infrastructure.
Hotel Street visitors await parade's start

Friday, January 15, 2010

At-Grade’s Drawbacks Can’t Be Airbrushed Away

Something's added to this photo, but something's also missing.
This artist’s rendition depicts the kind of train that the American Institute of Architects, Hawaii Chapter wants built in Honolulu. Several points of interest in this depiction are not obvious at first glance:
The first point is obvious; the train is at ground level, as would be cars and trucks crossing its path heading makai at this intersection of Maunakea and Hotel streets. Car-train interaction in Phoenix, AZ has produced an average of one accident per week for the city’s at-grade trains in their first year of operation.
The train is just feet from Hotel Street pedestrians, suggesting a significant safety hazard.
At-grade trains must travel slowly through crowded urban neighborhoods like this one, unlike overhead trains that are completely unaffected by surface congestion and hazards.
The train shares Hotel Street with TheBus, resulting inevitably in schedule conflicts and delays.
Unlike automated elevated systems, at-grade trains require drivers. Humans at the controls means greater accident risk, and time between trains must be at least twice as long as between elevated trains.
You have to look closely, but this is a short two-car train – much shorter than elevated trains. At-grade vehicles in Honolulu couldn't extend beyond the ends of Chinatown's short city blocks. This requirement significantly lowers the number of commuters transported on each train and therefore by the entire system.
Unless the architects think their trains will be powered from beneath street level somehow, trains will require overhead wires to supply electricity. Those lines are absent from this depiction.
And finally:
The artist has airbrushed out the pedestrian crosswalk across Hotel Street at this intersection; the existing crosswalk is easily seen in a photo taken from Google Maps (below). Pedestrians don’t just walk along Hotel Street but across it, too. Honolulu already has too many pedestrian accidents and deaths; adding trains every few minutes to congested neighborhoods would increase pedestrians' risk – especially among the elderly.
Monday’s AIA panel discussion at the State Capitol will be an opportunity for proponents of the City’s planned elevated system to highlight at-grade rail’s severe drawbacks during the open-mike session.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The View from Elsewhere: 'Transport Politic’ Says Honolulu Rail Must Be Elevated To Be Successful

It’s easy to get caught up in trench warfare here with the minority anti-rail faction. Just try dipping into the Comments sections of the newspapers’ online stories, editorials and commentaries on the Honolulu rail project.

That’s why it’s more than a little refreshing to lift one’s gaze above the trench line and read what others have to say about our local skirmish. The Transport Politic does that in a January 11 online commentary by Yonah Freemark, an independent transportation researcher.

Freemark’s column is another must-view (see yesterday’s recommendation to watch a Phoenix TV station’s video on the city’s at-grade accident rate). Here are a few excerpts:

Governor Lingle, who supported the project earlier in her career, is now making the rail line a political issue.

• Despite falling tax revenue, the city has not had to adjust the project’s size significantly because of lower-than-expected construction contract costs.

• The Mayor’s ambition for a rail line whose first phase would go into service in 2012 seems likely to be fulfilled, unless Ms. Lingle is able to raise enough concern at the FTA to put a halt to plans. For the sake of the mobility of Honolulu’s population, one hopes that she fails.

• The FTA has gotten better in recent years in getting transit project costs under control, and the Honolulu line does have more than $1 billion in contingencies built in already. The Governor’s support of a light rail alternative over the elevated heavy rail line planned would result in a far less-used project that would do far less to affect the island’s commuting patterns.

• Honolulu has an almost ideal population distribution for a major grade-separated transit line.

• It would be very difficult to either expand the (H1) or add bus rapid transit lanes because of the built-up nature of the areas around the road. The rail line would follow that linear density.

• The street-running system promoted by the AIA would eliminate most of the time-saving advantages of the train.

Light rail operating in the street, even with its own right-of-way, would be far slower; for example, the 20-mile Phoenix light rail system takes 1h05 to complete its journey, versus the 42 minutes projected for Honolulu’s slightly longer line.

• The fact that Honolulu’s population is heavily concentrated in single corridor that is expected to have 760,000 residents and 500,000 jobs by 2030 can’t hurt (ridership). Fourteen miles of planned extensions into Waikiki and to the University of Hawaii-Manoa will make the project all the more valuable.

Honolulu’s uniquely linear development will make its rail line useful for a huge percentage of commutes, especially because trains will be substantially faster than automobiles following similar paths on congested roadways.

• But those speeds will be only possible with a completely grade-separated line. Mayor Hannemann has to ensure that his vision of a truly rapid transit line is realized.

• (Honolulu’s rail line) will offer far more benefits to the daily lives of (Oahu residents) than the at-grade light rail project Governor Lingle is now advocating, which will attract far fewer passengers because of its slower speeds. One hopes her objections are simply a distraction before construction begins.

And there’s more to make reading the entire column worthwhile.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Here’s a Video That’s a Must-View for Everyone in Honolulu’s Elevated versus At-Grade Rail Debate

Leaping ahead to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day next Monday – the day selected by the Governor’s office to showcase the transit ideas of a group of architects – we can confidently predict these non-experts on transit issues will promote building all or part of Honolulu’s rail system at ground level.

We’ve seen their PowerPoint show, heard their speeches, read their newspaper ads. These designers of high-rise towers that have walled off the ocean from many parts of Honolulu object to an elevated guideway running through our city at a height of 30 feet.

Spotlighting the Blind Spot

Let’s leave that obvious disconnect aside and focus on something infinitely more important than aesthetics, no matter how taken some architects seem to be with aesthetics. Safety is that more important issue. If Honolulu is going to invest this much in a modern transit system, it must be safe to ride and not be a hazard to the rest of the community.

The video mentioned in the above headline can be found at the website of a Phoenix, Arizona television station. (Update: the video is no longer featured at this station's website; you might find it with a search.) You absolutely positively must watch it, and when you do, it will be obvious that at-grade transit poses serious safety issues that we just don’t need to deal with in Honolulu.

The architects shy away from this issue. At least, we’ve never heard them address it, and they probably won’t on Monday unless pressed to do so by the audience. Other issues that might be pressed upon them are the relative unreliability of at-grade compared to elevated transit, as well as the slower speeds and greater traffic disruption at-grade rail would experience.

What Do Architects Want?

A page one story in the morning Advertiser notes that the local AIA chapter is not united in opposing elevated rail. A dozen architects with personal experience and appreciation for the project held a press conference yesterday to support an entirely elevated system.

The funny thing about the AIA chapter’s position is that it doesn't accurately reflect the results of a survey it took among its membership. You really need to look closely at that survey, as well.

More respondents actually favored an elevated guideway than an at-grade system! And two-thirds of the respondents said they favor either an elevated or below grade guideway. That is an amazing result in light of the AIA leadership’s insistence that at-grade transit is the way to go.

Monday’s event will be heavily covered in the news media, and that’s good. The more light directed at this issue – including the AIA survey – the better off Honolulu will be.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Silent Majority Who Support Rail Told To Go Public

The Honolulu Advertiser today continues its consistent support for the Honolulu rail project. Both local newspapers have never wavered in that support, and today, the Advertiser calls out the silent majority to speak up.

Here’s the challenge: Show up at the Governor-sponsored one-sided presentation by the American Institute of Architects, Hawaii Chapter, on Monday in the State Capitol Auditorium. Speak up for rail in terms that can’t be mistaken.

This event is quite amazing. The invitation some received (not us) “cordially invites you to attend a special panel presentation…. This presentation will provide an opportunity for you to learn more about and ask questions regarding this major proposed project on Oahu.”

I supposed you could say this is about learning “more” since it’s impossible to learn “less,” but in this case, “more” represents the views of only some architects within the AIA. Other local architects disagree. Shouldn’t a government-sponsored event have some semblance of objectivity and balance?

Of course it should. This is the crazy atmosphere a vocal minority of anti-railers has managed to create here. The State government can hold a panel discussion about the biggest project in Hawaii’s history and make it slanted from the start!

The editorial’s first sentence says it nicely:

“It smells like politics on the rail transit front.”

You bet it does – and throw in bad decision-making by public officials, too. Someone posted a comment below the editorial’s online presence that attendees to this one-sided AIA PowerPoint show are advised to park either in the lot beneath the Capitol or across the street in the Department of Health lot.
That's right -- park. There’s no information in the invitation about bus routes that serve the Capitol. That omission says a lot about the mindset of the decision-makers who work on the Executive level of the Hawaii State Capitol on behalf of all citizens.

Transit riders? Forget about it.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Speaker Say: We Have Traffic Option Obligation

House of Representatives Speaker Calvin Say, who represents a district in East Oahu, answered numerous questions about the upcoming legislative session recently while on the Honolulu Advertiser’s “Hot Seat.”

One of the final questions in the session came from “Matthew,” who asked about the anticipated effort by some lawmakers to grab the rail transit tax for use by the State as a whole, although collection has been only on Oahu transactions.

Matthew: Speaker Say, I have always appreciated your support for rail, which we need to reduce traffic and improve our infrastructure. But I am concerned that some lawmakers may try to take the rail fund again. How can this be prevented?

Speaker Say: I’m only one individual in the State House, even though I’m the speaker of the House. I’ll leave it up to the members of the House to make that determination. I don’t believe in taking the money at this point in time because Calvin Say did not enact that half percent, all I did was just authorize it.

There have been members who have opposed it and I can respect that, too. But for those on the Central and Leeward Oahu side, we in East Honolulu and windward (side) have always said “no more growth, no more growth.” So we’re pushing the growth, the urban sprawl out to Central and Leeward Oahu. And if that is the case, I think we should be obligated to say to these people out in that area that we have an obligation to come up with some alternatives, and that’s what this rail issue is today.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Welcome to Wonderland, Where ‘Curious’ Thrives

What can you say about the latest news surrounding the Honolulu rail project that hasn’t been said already? We’ve noted repeatedly here why a rail project like this one saves time for commuters, saves them money, improves a community’s productivity, lessens congestion, is not accident-prone like at-grade systems and is therefore safer and more reliable, generates thousands of construction and other jobs, contributes to smart transit-oriented growth and on and on and on.

Yet now come headlines that the State’s chief executive thinks “rail cost risky for state” and “city’s rail plan costly, elevated tracks ugly”. If that thinking predicts her intention to not accept the Final Environmental Impact Statement, then Honolulu truly will have become the New Wonderland – where everything is curiouser and curiouser.

If she does do that and defies the will of the public (see November ’08 vote, see scientific opinion poll at, click Library, click General Information tab) and ignores the considerable impacts of at-grade transit, she may just become the new Queen of Hearts of Honolulu. You remember her:

“The Queen had only one way of settling all difficulties, great or small. ‘Off with his head,’ she said, without even looking round.”

In this case, the offing would kill a project with greater potential to improve commuting in our long and narrow city than any other idea to come along in decades, as well as the potential to create thousands of jobs at the exact moment Hawaii needs that stimulus.

Our whimsy about Wonderland is not a sign of disrespect for the Governor, who has a difficult job to perform, but she must do that job within the strict requirements of her review authority by looking around and weighing all the factors and all the consequences of whatever action she chooses.

To have come this far in the Honolulu rail process and then have it killed would be almost as unbelievable as Alice’s fall down a rabbit hole into that fantasy world.