Monday, March 16, 2020

HART: Despite COVID-19, “Right Now We Are on Our Schedule” To Begin Rail Operations Late this Year

                                                                     Honolulu Star-Advertiser photo

It’s way too soon to know for sure, but the head of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit (HART) is sticking to his prediction that Honolulu’s elevated rail project will launch service late this year – coronavirus notwithstanding.

Andrew Robbins, HART’s chief executive officer, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser“We talked to our contractors. … They’ve all been advising their employees about hand-washing, safe practices, if you don’t feel well, who to call; but other than that, it’s been business as usual. They’ve been out there working.”

Hitachi Rail, the project’s contractor, has warned that its supply chain may be affected by the worldwide coronavirus pandemic and has thereby taken the position that it should not suffer “force majeure” penalties if it can’t stick to its schedule. As the Star-Advertiser story notes, HART doesn’t agree.

                                                         Platform safety doors (HART photograph)

In other “news” (that’s nearly 7 years old), Honolulu’s elevated rail system will be far safer than planned when we broke off writing Yes2Rail in 2012.

HART approved the addition of Platform Safety Screens back in 2013 that will prevent passengers from accidentally falling, being pushed, or deliberately jumping onto the tracks.

We had seen these safety doors in action in Paris when we visited more than a decade ago; the photo (below-right) was taken from inside a train car. Two sets of doors are visible in the photo -- doors on the train itself (the shiny chrome set) and doors on the platform (showing as white). The doors open simultaneously in sync with one another, just like the elevators in a building.

These doors were on the high-traffic Line #1, which runs east-west through the heart of Paris. The doors were added long long after the Paris Metro began operating.

The change to add doors on the Honolulu system is likely an under-appreciated feature by future riders. If you’re like us, you edge away from the tracks as a train arrives in a subway or metro station. The safety doors may even convince parents and grandparents that young school-age children in their families can ride Honolulu rail safely.

For now, stay safe by maintaining your social distancing during the COVID-19 crisis!

Monday, March 9, 2020

How Is it that Honolulu Isn’t Ranked in the Inrix Annual Traffic Study this Year? Our Eyes Tell Us Oahu’s Traffic Is Increasing, so What Gives?

The new international study is out today, and unlike every other year we can recall, Honolulu’s not in it. At least, we couldn’t find any mention of driving hours lost to congestion in Honolulu due to traffic in 2019.

That seems curious. The 2018 study ranked Honolulu #18 on the national list, with the average 92 hours lost to congestion. The ’18 report said congestion had dropped 4 percent from the year before, so Honolulu appeared “to be on the right track.”

But does anyone believe Honolulu’s traffic improved so much in 2019 that the city dropped completely off the list of America’s 50 most heavily congested cities?  

Not likely 

TomTom, a company that uses a different methodology, ranked Honolulu #9 just last year in the mix with mainland cities using its Traffic Index. As recently as 2012, Honolulu edged out Los Angeles for the infamous #1 rank among mainland cities for hours lost to congestion. In 2013, it was the second worst; 2015 had the city as 10th worst.

So for the city to slip completely off the list seems not likely. Maybe one of our media friends can figure out why Inrex's new ranking excludes Honolulu.** 

Or is it simply that congestion elsewhere is increasing so fast that Honolulu's been surpassed.

It sure doesn't feel like traffic's getting better in Honolulu. Maybe this is just another example of Hawaii being "left out" of the United States -- something that used to happen so often in mainland publications that it would drive Pacific Business News Editor George Mason to distraction!

** A local reporter saw my Twitter post (@DougNorCal) and responded: "I wondered about that too -- reached out to @INRIX this morning; haven't heard back yet..." Will be watching to see if he writes about a response from Inrix.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Defeat of Bay Area Rail Funding Measure Shows Why It’s So Important for the Public (and News Media) To Understand Rail’s True Purpose

San Jose Mercury-News headline on March 4:

Contra Costa County tax measure to tame traffic appears headed for defeat

The San Francisco Chronicle’s coverage of the vote noted the funding measure “drew criticism from government watchdogs who said the money would do little to unclog roads and freeways.”

The Mercury-News headline and Chronicle story may reveal a touch of media misunderstanding about why rail systems are built. If the news media don’t get it, the public may not have understood it either.

Rail projects don’t “tame traffic” or “unclog roads and freeways.” They provide the public with an alternative to road congestion. 

Tired of fighting traffic? Take the train!

Researchers have written extensively about the tendency of car drivers to fill any perceived open space on highways; you can read about it here. But enough Honolulu commuters will resist that tendency to make Honolulu rail a tremendous success.

Rail’s supporters would do well to keep reminding their friends and neighbors of the project’s goals. The train will deliver commuters from one end of the system to the other in only 42 minutes -- with no traffic congestion to slow the trip!

There’s nothing “government watchdogs” can say that will diminish rail's no-traffic appeal.