Thursday, November 12, 2015

How Do You Design an Electric Train without Considering the Electricity?

Honolulu’s electric rail is short of cash and answers on about power: Who will pay for a new substation? How will line relocations be handled and paid for? Who’s undergrounding the wires and paying for that? Not to mention, what will the train’s power bill be for decades to come? When we hear all these challenges, it means one thing. Cha-ching,” said Panos Prevedouros, an engineering professor at the University of Hawaii.
... and the cost of a substation needed to power the rail operation center that HART didn’t budget for?  I suspect it’s something in the $150 million or more, since it was not planned part of the design,” Prevedouros said.
...HART has talked about the option of going independent, creating its own utility.
This would have been a very smart idea to do from the get-go. Go independent, and then connect to the H-Power plant, which is not too far from where the rail line terminates,” Prevedouros said.

Friday, November 6, 2015

WaPo: The Politics of Transportation Infrastructure

Politics is meddling with transportation infrastructure, much to the detriment of the traveling public.

What side is Hawaii on?  The blue one.  What side was I ten years ago and counting?  The green one.



How transportation became the latest victim of America’s culture wars

In the past few years, the bitterly polarized “culture wars” have managed to blow apart the traditionally dull and parochial issue of infrastructure policy. As counterintuitive as this reality may be, it explains why Congress cannot agree on how to reauthorize — let alone modernize — federal surface transportation legislation, a.k.a. the highway bill.

How did this happen?

Since the 1990s, there has been a growing political divide between the cultural left and right, with one side favoring monocultural individualism, free markets and devolution to state and local government, and the other favoring multicultural communitarianism, government intervention and a strong federal hand. Issues that are intuitively cultural, such as abortion, guns and immigration, have long been front and center whenever these two worldviews collide. But now, in federal infrastructure policy, we are seeing what happens when self-segregated communities of common interest clash over how to manage our physical spaces.

As recently as the mid-2000s, there was general consensus over infrastructure issues, as reflected in the typically strong bipartisan support for reauthorizations of federal transportation legislation. The big differences were mostly sectional (“donor” and “recipient” states fighting over funding) or interest-based (trucking vs. transit vs. automobiles). But those humdrum days are gone. Longtime infrastructure supporters now find themselves befuddled over how a game of technocratic “inside baseball,” traditionally characterized by bipartisan consensus with a good measure of logrolling and earmarking, got so sidetracked.

The answer is that the partisans have gotten much more ideologically strident, and their differences have become much greater than their areas of agreement.

One side — call it the “congestion caucus” — claims to be infrastructure supporters, but it supports only what it deems the right kinds of infrastructure. Overwhelmingly urban and liberal, this group’s goal is not mobility or even infrastructure. It’s social engineering: getting people out of their soulless single-family suburban homes and into vibrant multiethnic communities; having them ditch their environment-destroying SUVs in favor of sustainable light rail; and supporting the urban disadvantaged instead of a privileged suburban class.

For the congestion caucus, expanding highways to reduce traffic jams is wrong, because it means more single-family homes, more SUVs and more suburbanization. This neatly summarizes why they oppose increased infrastructure funding for road expansion. As one presidential appointee to the Transportation Department told me when I asked why the Obama administration does not support a gas tax increase, too much of the Highway Trust Fund goes to, well, roads.

The other side — call it the “liberty caucus” — also claims to support infrastructure, but only insofar as it’s for roads, and only as long as the federal government’s role shrinks. Generally suburban or rural — and decidedly conservative — this group’s view is that infrastructure spending is politicized and wasteful. And unlike Ronald Reagan, who rightly saw the gas tax as a user fee, those on this side see it as just one more tax, deserving to be cut in the name of damn-it-all small-government purity.

The congestion caucus has been hammering home its message at every turn: Federal support for expanding roads actually makes congestion worse. Nonsensical though this notion is, it is nonetheless now widely believed. To be sure, better urban planning and an increased role for non-auto alternatives will have to be a part of the future transportation landscape. But if this comes at the expense of road expansion, the 85 percent of Americans who commute to work by car, and who waste nearly 7 billion hours yearly stuck in traffic, will suffer.

Meanwhile, from the liberty caucus, we hear the constant refrain that federal infrastructure spending is wasteful. How many more times do we have to hear about former Alaska senator Ted Stevens’s “bridge to nowhere”? Clearly this was an expensive “earmarked” project that defied reasonable cost-benefit calculations. But the liberty caucus fails to mention that, even at their peak, earmarks were a tiny share of transportation funding, and the majority of earmarks were for good projects. That’s because the liberty caucus’s goal is not to better manage federal funding — if it were, it would support proposals such as a national infrastructure bank and increased performance-based accountability for governments receiving federal transportation funding. Instead, its goal is devolving funding to the states — which would, let us be clear, inevitably lead to a significant reduction of overall funding for infrastructure.

So we are stuck. Both sides, each for its own ideological reasons, demonize infrastructure spending.

If we are to have any hope of shifting infrastructure policy away from these culture wars and back toward solution-oriented pragmatism, it is incumbent on true infrastructure supporters to call out both sides’ arguments — the social engineering congestion caucus and the devolutionary liberty caucus — as flawed and damaging to the national interest. And both sides will need to get back to compromising in Congress. For example, lawmakers could increase the gas tax, but use some of the revenue to incentivize tolling; they could appropriate more money for “smart growth” policies, but only if there is results-based accountability. Only then will a greater share of Americans get the mobility we all want and deserve.

© 1996-2015 The Washington Post

Friday, October 9, 2015

Link Update for a Old Favorite: Albert Einstein and Neil Armstrong Discuss Honolulu's Rail

XTRANORMAL has closed as a website but all the cartoon movies they helped us develop are now on YouTube. Here is mine from four years ago and spot on accurate todayAlbert Einstein and Neil Armstrong Discuss Honolulu's Rail.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Driverless Cars Update

Progress is rapid in this area.  Several Chinese companies have gotten into this arena currently dominated by US, Germany and Japan.  The following report from 60 MINUTES is a realistic assessment of what is available now: CBS "60 Minutes," Hands off the Wheel.

The Guardian: Driverless robot taxis to be tested in Japanese town. Apparently professional drivers are the main target of current efforts: Taxi drivers, city bus drivers and intercity truckers.

Driverless cars (also called autonomous or self-driving cars) can be fully integrated and remarkably successful in China's ghost cities when they become populated.

At the UH we are conducting research to assess how different traffic operations may be with the presence of driverless vehicles in traffic ranging from them being a tiny portion such as 0.1% to 100 driverless vehicles.  Our scientific article below was accepted for the 2016 conference of the Transportation Research Board, a unit of the National Research Council in Washington, D.C.

Shi, Liang and Panos D. Prevedouros, Effects of Driverless Vehicles on the LOS of Basic Freeway and Weaving Segments, Paper 16-3034, 95th Annual Meeting of TRB, Washington, D.C., 2016.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Factors that Explain Honolulu's High Pedestrian Accident Rate

Honolulu has a high number of pedestrian accidents. There are several factors at play. If properly adjusted, Hawaii's pedestrian accident rate is moderate.

1. Weather. Hawaii provides comfortable walking conditions year round.  That's not true for many other US urban areas. Many are too cold, e.g., Chicago and New York City, or too hot, e.g, Phoenix, and Houston.  Because of these conditions Honolulu pedestrians have many more opportunities, maybe more than twice the opportunities of Phoenix or Minneapolis pedestrians to get into accidents. However, national accident rates are not adjusted for this, nor for walkability.

2. Walkability. Honolulu historically has been a walkable community as it draws from Asian culture. Most other US cities developed more around the horse-and-buggy and later the car. Many US cities have skyways and underground pedestrian ways that eliminate traffic/pedestrian interactions. Honolulu's higher walkability comes with a higher risk for pedestrian accidents, particularly nowadays when many people connect to the digital world and partly depart from the real one.

3. Aging.  Compared to many other US cities of about one million people, Honolulu has a higher percentage of old people.  Unfortunately I have witnessed several of them making risky crossings. The city has removed several pedestrian crossings and has added crossing signals at high pedestrian volume locations.

4. DUI.  This is one area where Hawaii takes the lead in the nation (see Figure below).  Drug or alcohol impairment affects both drivers and pedestrians.  Poor judgement under the influence of substances greatly increases risk for all types of accidents, including pedestrian accidents.

5. Busy highways next to popular beach and surf spots.  Hawaii clearly needs some bypass roads in such areas because of the unsafe mix of heavy through traffic, multiple parking maneuvers and disorganized pedestrian crossings, e.g, Turtle Beach and several other spots statewide.

While Hawaii is shown to have the 4th worst pedestrian accident rate in the nation, if the data are properly adjusted, Hawaii's pedestrian accident record will be average.  Some of the reasons above also apply to bicycle and motorcycle accidents.  However, there are no reasons to adjust and excuse Hawaii's worst in the nation for DUI.

Monday, September 28, 2015

2014 American Community Survey: Honolulu Mode Shares

Transportation modes are the means by which people move around in a city, particularly for their commute to work. The mode shares for "Urban Honolulu, HI Urbanized Area (2010)" are listed in Table B08301 of the 2014 American Community Survey. They are as follows:

The same data in pie chart form:

There are several important observations:
  • Personal transportation (cars, bikes and motorcycles) is used for 80% of the trips.
  • Bicycling in Honolulu is only 1.1% of the trips.
  • Work at home is a welcome 3% of the trips, similar to the US average.
  • Walk is over 5%, which is better than the US average.
  • Public transit (bus and taxi) is almost 10%, which is much better than the US average.
Almost 90% of the trips shown require roads and another 8.4% of the trips shown do not require substantial infrastructure (just sidewalks and the Internet.)

So how does the state, city and OMPO address the people's preferred use of transportation?  They provide an obscenely expensive elevated rail alternative that saps transportation funds for much needed road and sidewalk repair and expansion.

Rail Projects: Excerpts from a National Discussion

Last week one of my students asked why rail projects don't get stopped. The following quotes are from recent discussions with national leaders in transportation, regarding the  proposed $2 billion Purple Line for the Washington Metro.  Notice that their quotes are as if they are talking about Honolulu rail... [My comments]

1   One thing that always has to be remembered is that no FTA staffer, or FTA as an institution, is EVER going to take credit for killing a project – and, when it comes down to a GS-12 vs. a Congressperson on a project going forward, who do you think is going to win in the end?" [In Honolulu' s case, Senator Inouye had 40 years of congressional seniority,  i.e., he was unstoppable.]

2  This is what has become of urban transit planning: US Senators playing the role of God in disbursing --or threatening the loss of-- oodles of tax money.  Every FFGA now must come with the Good Housekeeping seal of approval of the state's senior Senator. Alternatives analysis, schmalternatives analysis.*  Its just good old-fashioned pork.  The Senate doesn't work. (* the AA in Seattle for light rail was a sham.) [So was Honolulu's AA that eliminated the PH tunnel with a couple lines of discussion.]

3  It's all about getting elected and staying elected until they die. When they get money for a local goodie, they tell their constituents that its free money just for them.  The other thing they say to the folks back home is that they create jobs but those jobs are mostly for workers from somewhere else. [No comment is necessary.]

4  One thing that you have to understand about building rail lines, most particularly those in urban areas, is that speed is not really a high criterion, particularly compared to the need to keep costs down.  Now, when I say, “keep costs down” in a discussion of urban rail lines, the first reaction of many people is to say, you have got to be kidding, this is not a priority at all – and you cite the $200 million/mile for the Portland Orange MAX line. Urban rail costs have become unbelievably high. When I was working on the Long Beach-Los Angeles light rail Blue Line in the 1980’s, it was coming in at about $877 million (actual cost was over $1 billion, but this wasn’t really known at the time, and it certainly wasn’t publicized) [This is why Honolulu will be "lucky" if the cost per mile stops at $500M, that is, the $4.6 billion Honolulu rail will have an actual cost of $10 billion.]

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Honolulu's Recycling Plan Needs Important Revisions

Throughout my campaigns for mayor of Honolulu I focused on the flawed recycling efforts of Honolulu. Huge amounts of effort and fuel are wasted to recycle things instead of safely burning them and making free electricity for Honolulu.

Back in 2013 I developed a pictorial guide for Honolulu.

Later in 2013, a graduate student of mine and I published an article in the Pacific Business News which revealed that "Waste to energy is superior to any other technology in the long term."

Then in July 2015 HONOLULU magazine quotes me about a dozen times in their detailed article Should Honolulu’s Recycling Program Go Up in Flames?

“Trash is treasure,” says Panos Prevedouros, chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UH Mānoa and a former mayoral candidate. “Not only do you make energy, you remove something that is bad.” Prevedouros adds that a waste-to-energy plant can make “serious money” charging tipping fees, selling its electricity to the utility and harvesting the valuable metals for what he calls “a win-win-win” situation: The plant helps the state meet its renewable energy goals...

Paper and cardboard are heavy and hard to compact further for efficient shipping to recycling plants; they burn beautifully, and are depressed in price. “Paper, oh, my God, it’s really perverse to recycle. We’re losing the opportunity to make energy, and we’re wasting more fossil fuel to ship it somewhere else. If you have paper, put it in the gray bin,” says Prevedouros.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Driving Automation ... Sooner?

Automatic Cars Or Distracted Drivers: We Need Automation Sooner, Not Later argues professor Don Norman.  Technology is moving that way. It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when.

In 2005 Stanford's "Stanley" a driverless VW SUV won the DARPA award for negotiating a grueling 132 mile off-road race in the California/Devada desert.

By 2010 Google had several driverless Prius cars plowing streets in California practically accident free.

In 2015 the Google car is unveiled with no steering wheel and a top speed of 25 mph.

When will the ability of driverless vehicles meet and exceed the ability of drivers? Driver distraction and age effects are helping technology by raising risk which is better controlled in driverless cars.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Driverless Cars: Does Google Have Answers?

Lou Frenzel who writes and teaches about electronics and communications recently opined Just Say No to the Driverless Car. His article includes 15 questions and the 16th one is Does Google Have Answers?

I have an answer for Google, but first, Frenzel's 15 questions for driverless cars:

  • Can driverless cars operate as safely at night as they do during the day?
  • Can driverless cars handle rain, fog, and snow?
  • Once a driverless car gets you to your destination, can it find a parking place in a parking garage or on the street? Can it navigate your garage?
  • What if you want to go for a casual Sunday drive with no particular destination? Does the car have a “browser” that lets it just wander in a highlighted area, or what? Or will that even be allowed?
  • Will drivers get frustrated in navigating around slower, more-cautious driverless cars?
  • Can a driverless car ever make a left-hand turn across traffic, make a right turn on red, or merge into heavy traffic? In many cases, some risk is necessary to make any progress.
  • Can a driverless car find a toll lane, navigate road construction, or find a detour?
  • Can a driverless car operate in New York City traffic?
  • Will the driverless car really improve a person’s productivity if relieved of driving duties, as proponents claim?
  • Will there be an increase in the incidence of motion sickness in non-drivers, as some expect?
  • Whose insurance company pays in case of an accident?
  • Will driverless cars really reduce deaths and injuries? Supporters say yes, but this has not been proven.
  • Will driverless technology come to 18-wheelers? Scary thought.
  • Will driverless cars really be affordable, or just too expensive like electrics?
  • Why not just apply all the good technology to regular cars or make a driverless mode an option?

  • The last three questions are easy to answer.
    18-wheelers? Yes, for testing purposes: Daimler’s Driverless 18-Wheelers Approved to Cruise Nevada’s Highways
    Affordable? No. Driverless cars: 15 things you need to know. System costs start at $70,000 (plus the car.)
    Optional driverless function? Yes. It has started with intelligent cruise control, lane keeping, and other piece-meal components available now in mid-range priced vehicles and above.

    So, does Google have answers to all these questions? Google rarely published or debates the merits and demerits of their current state of the art.  My guestimate is Yes, a Google Car can do all of the above with over 99% reliability if, and it's a big if, all traffic is limited to 30 mph or less.

    Tuesday, June 9, 2015

    Understanding Public Transportation Policy

    This is a eureka moment.  The following is the only rule one has to know to understand public transportation policy in the US and first world socialist countries.

    "It must always be remembered how cost-effectiveness works in the public sector: the cost is the benefit." --Thomas Rubin

    It is finally distilled!  The Cost is the Benefit.

    A region or a nation prospers when benefits outweigh costs for all public projects.  If Benefits are $$$$ and Costs are $$, then the benefit/cost ratio is 2.  That's a good project. It yields $2 of benefits for every $1 spent to build it!

    But look at Honolulu's rail where the benefits are $ and the costs are $$$$$$$$$$. The benefit/cost ratio is less than 0.1 and the entire public sector and political elite are strongly in favor. Why? Because, following Rubin's Rule, its enormous cost of $6 Billion and counting is the benefit!

    The alternatives analysis eliminated a $2 Billion light rail and a $1.5 Billion HOT lanes.  Not enough Cost... excuse me, not enough Benefit.

    Unfortunately this is a certain indicator that a society has began its Roman Empire decay.

    Monday, May 4, 2015

    Hawaii rids itself from Ethanol Mandate

    Hawaii is poised to repeal ethanol in gasoline. Better late than never. This was another loser that I advised against back in 2007...

    Friday, April 17, 2015

    Rail Cracks

    20 miles of concrete bridge and 21 large elevated stations will come with many construction problems. It is surprising however that large problems have developed in the first two miles of the guideway of Honolulu's elevated rail.

    "There is evidence for concern at this point. There are some obvious failures," said Panos Prevedouros, a frequent rail critic and a University of Hawaii civil engineering professor.

    Large-sized cracks are not normal, only hairline cracks are acceptable in concrete,” said University of Hawaii engineering professor Panos Prevedouros.

    Thursday, April 2, 2015

    The March 31, Zip-geddon

    The disablement of the Zipmobile on H-1 Freeway cause a major lane imbalance for the afternoon commute in west Oahu by reducing available freeway lane capacity by two lanes.

    My immediate reaction od Facebook got over 160 "likes" as of this writing:

    I am sorry folks. I am at home now watching the rivers of red lights all over town. They'd be the same with or without rail. We used to have two or three of these a year. Now its a half dozen per year and getting worse... Just wait for the prolonged lane closures for the rail stations. So sorry that our place is run by smooth talking lawyers and uninformed voters. What an avoidable lose-lose!

    Hawaii News Now's Ben Gutierrez interviewed me for a piece on After traffic nightmare, other options may be reconsidered:

    University of Hawaii civil and environmental engineering professor Panos Prevedouros has advocated reversible express lanes from the H-1/H-2 merge to the downtown area, which he calls a critical stretch for commuters.

    "If we had it yesterday, two or three lanes, express to the H-1/H-2 split, it would be like nothing happened," he said.

    Star Advertiser's  Kristen Consillio quoted me extensively in her article Jam costs $1 million in lost gas and time:

    The economic loss of more than 75,000 vehicles carrying more than 100,000 people stuck in an hourslong traffic jam was estimated by Panos Prevedouros, professor and chairman of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Hawaii.

    Prevedouros, a former mayoral candidate, calculated the loss based on a typical one-hour trip growing to four or more hours, and using the minimum wage and current cost of gas to value the time and energy wasted.

    "Obviously it's disruptive to people's schedules so it's a waste of time and money," added UH economist Carl Bonham. "At the end of the day, it's really wasted time when people could've been doing something productive."

    The severe congestion that started around 2 p.m. delayed deliveries, while some flights were missed.
    "Some people arrived home so late that they were planning to call in sick the next day — that's another loss," Prevedouros added. "Every major event has both positives and negatives. Yesterday's horrendous congestion was no exception."

    Many bus drivers gained extra overtime, some taxi drivers had some large fares and many restaurants in town had an unusually busy Tuesday dinner business, Prevedouros said.

    "Of course, idling for hours makes drivers fume and it is highly polluting, but empty tanks is more business for gas stations," he said.

    Tuesday, March 31, 2015

    U.S. Cities, Some Growing, Some Shrinking

    The large population change from the snow-belt to the sun-belt of the U.S. continues unabated.

    In the five years between 2010 and 2014, the four snow-belt cities of New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, DC and the mismanaged city of Los Angeles lost a combined 270,000 loss in population, or net out-migration as demographers call it.

    The state of Texas alone was a major attractor with four of each large cities, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and Austin gaining 80,000 population in the same years.

    More analysis in Wendel Cox's  Still Moving to Texas: The 2014 Metropolitan Population Estimates.

    Monday, March 30, 2015

    Ugly Traffic Poles

    The city must stop installing these huge, ugly and expensive light poles. They are wider than a car door! These ugly poles and masts have already defaced Kailua and Puck's Alley. The Caldwell administration has no sensibility and environmental sensitivity. Cease and desist!

    Thursday, March 19, 2015

    It Depends What You Study, Not Where

    The Economist: What you study matters far more than where you study it: Engineers and computer scientists do best, earning an impressive 20-year annualized return of 12% on their college fees.

    Wednesday, March 4, 2015

    18th Century Infrastructure

    In her article in the LA Times "Some Perspective on What We Have to be Thankful for" Marian L. Tupy presents a startling summary of 18th Century infrastructure that sounds so remote from first world today yet it was only 300 years ago...

    "The palace also was ill equipped to deal with human waste. People relieved themselves wherever they could. Thus, shortly before Louis XIV died [in 1715], an ordinance decreed that feces be removed from the corridors of Versailles once a week. All that filth meant that disease-spreading parasites were rife. Before the 19th century, people had no idea about the germ theory of disease, and doctors often caused more harm than good."

    "If this was the life of Europe's richest and most powerful man, imagine what ordinary people's lives must have been like. People lacked basic medicines and died relatively young. They had no painkillers, and people with ailments spent much of their lives in agonizing pain. Entire families lived in bug-infested dwellings that offered neither comfort nor privacy."

    And here is a depiction of 18th century London's life and hazards.

    Tuesday, March 3, 2015

    Letter to the Honolulu City Council: Hoopili Doesn’t Fit

    Mahalo to Honolulu Civil Beat for publishing my Letter to the Honolulu City Council: Hoopili Doesn’t Fit.

    This version includes the pictures in Appendices A and B.

    I concluded by saying that it baffles me beyond belief that the Honolulu City Council is serially approving future development such as Ho'opili and transportation projects like the rail that are certifiably calamitous for our island community.

    Monday, February 16, 2015

    HHUA Expert Panel with Robert Poole and LaVonda Atkinson

    ACCOUNTABILITY OF BIG INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS was an expert panel presentation in Honolulu, Hawaii organized by the Hawaii Highway Users Alliance.  The event took place at the Pacific Club on February 6, 2015.

    MIT Engineer Robert Poole spoke about Reducing Risks in Transportation Mega-Projects 

    [S p e e c h]  [S l i d e s h o w]

         Robert Poole is a co-founder of Reason Foundation and its president from 1968 to 2001. Los Angeles based Reason Foundation is committed to advancing "the values of individual freedom and choice, limited government, and market-friendly policies." Bob is an MIT-trained engineer and the author of Cutting Back City Hall. Bob has advised the Ronald Reagan, the George H.W. Bush, the Clinton, and the George W. Bush administrations.
         Bob has also advised many agencies and state DOTs. For example, in 2008 he served as a member of the Texas Study Committee on Private Participation in Toll Roads, appointed by Gov. Rick Perry. In 2009, he was a member of an Expert Review Panel for Washington State DOT, advising on a $1.5 billion toll mega-project. In 2010, he was a member of the transportation transition team for Florida's Governor-elect Rick Scott.

    Cost Engineer LaVonda Atkinson spoke about The Billion Dollar Mile 

    [S p e e c h]  [S l i d e s h o w]

         LaVonda Atkinson has worked as a program cost control analyst for 20 years.  Mrs. Atkinson has managed billion dollar projects for NASA, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Federal Transportation Agencies and others in both the government and private sector. 
         Mrs. Atkinson began cost control and analysis of the San Francisco T-line extension in 2012, a project funded with $1 billion dollars per mile by Federal tax payer dollars.  Mrs. Atkinson blew the whistle for civil servant abuses of power, misappropriation of congressional funds and an overall misuse of the American citizens’ trust.  Mrs. Atkinson found a brood of unethical government contractors and incapable government enforcers.
         Just two days after her presentation in Honolulu, Ms. Atkinson was announced as a recipient of the 2015 James Madison Freedom of Information Award!

    Monday, February 2, 2015

    What Can We Do About The Rail? Nothing. Tackle Traffic Congestion!

    Various groups are energized and urge me and each other to do something about stopping Honolulu’s rail project.  The recent commotion has been brought about by (1) the large delays;  the project is roughly three years behind schedule because the city did a poor job with the archaeological inventory and then deliberately delayed and obstructed the two lawsuits; (2) the revelations last December that the project is already about $900 million over budget, and (3) the City Ethics Commission’s investigation on the non-disclosure of rail project related gifts to five City Council Members, which could potentially reverse some important pro-rail votes and approvals.

    So what can be done about stopping the rail project now? Nothing, other than holding HART and the City accountable for project expenditures. Unfortunately this is easier said than done given that between FY 2008 and FY 2012 more than $550 million were spent and hardly any project was laid on the ground!

    Other agencies on the mainland can complete a 10-mile multilane freeway including all planning, design and clearances for this sum of money.  But for $550 million we got TV and newspaper ads, building and office rentals, salaries, travelling expenses for planners and officials, piles of Xeroxing and plain and 3-hole paper, laptop and desktop computers, cellphone and courier bills, and magazine subscriptions.
    And a lot more traffic congestion since 2006 when the rail project started.

    What’s the bottom line on traffic congestion on Oahu?
    Honolulu has among the worst traffic flow conditions in the nation because it is grossly lane deficient, that is, Honolulu has too few lane miles for its population and travel patterns.

    Honolulu rail will never provide any congestion relief for the traveling public. By the time some usable portion of the project is done, say, Kapolei to Pearl City, its (tiny) traffic reduction will be already surpassed by traffic growth given the tens of thousands of planned new homes west of Aloha Stadium.

    Starting this year, there will be extensive lane closures to build the guideway and the street-spanning stations.  HART can’t build 21 roughly football field sized concrete stations 30 ft. in the air and leave lanes open to traffic under it during construction. In a typical scenario, half of Farrington Fwy., Kamehameha Hwy., and Dillingham Blvd. will have to be closed for many months at a time.  

    Next year the project may be in the vicinity of Pearl Harbor and Aloha Stadium. As a result, word will get out in the tourist market that Oahu is one huge traffic and construction mess.

    Assuming that construction progresses normally, around year 2017, construction by the airport will have major impacts on the access and land-side operations at the Honolulu International Airport. This will be quite annoying to frequent interisland travelers and on occasion it may result in missed flights.

    Around year 2020, several street blocks in downtown and Kakaako will be closed for months at a time. A long, dissecting portion of Kakaako will be an active construction site. Neither shop owners nor patrons can be allowed in a construction site. Mauka-makai movements between Chinatown and Ala Moana will be critically affected. Kakaako’s revitalization will be heavily impacted.

    Despite all this, given Hawaii's political and decision making reality, at this time there is no point to “fight the rail.” But there is a clear need to fight for traffic congestion solutions. This is what Oahu needed to begin with.

    What can be done about congestion?
    First let’s not forget that the Hawaii State DOT added a lane on each side of the central part of the H-1 Freeway in 2014. This has helped a lot!

    Also, the Hawaii State DOT is adding a lane on each side of the Pearl City viaduct on the H-1 Freeway. It’ll help somewhat, but this one lane per direction addition is not enough for the current, let alone future levels of demand to/from west Oahu.

    There are also some plans to add a lane at the H-1/H-2 merge.  This lane addition, if implemented, will be “too little too late” but will provide some congestion relief. The long queues and long periods of stop-and-go congestion will get a little shorter.
    There are many more options. Here is a sample of past suggestions, many of which are readily applicable today:
    How can Oahu get congestion relief?
    Fundamentally, we must:

    • Get a grip with reality and stop believing that rail will reduce traffic congestion on Oahu at any time in the future.
    • Aggressively install lane additions, contraflow lanes, bypass lanes and bus-on-shoulder operations before the impacts of rail construction choke west Oahu’s mobility.
    • Realize that Saudis and fracking will keep the cost of fossil fuels at moderate levels, and Congress won't tax transportation fuels in a substantial way. Economic brakes to driving won't apply for several more years.  Thus traffic will grow and so will congestion.
    • Promote effective solutions for traffic congestion relief through the government channels. Additions of new traffic lanes should be a priority.
    • Create a non-governmental Oahu Mobility Group. Currently businesses and business organizations are asleep at the wheel when it comes to traffic congestion, which costs them dearly, while government is relying on silly projections of congestion relief with public transit, smart growth, TODs and complete streets. The government is working on improvements for the 10% of the travelers with “alternative transportation and life styles.” It largely ignores the 90% of the travelers that use cars, carpools, mopeds, motorcycles and buses on congested streets. A strong voice is needed to set transportation priorities right.

    Once again, what can be done about Honolulu’s rail project?
    I think that in a few years there will be substantial appetite to terminate the rail at the airport or at the Iwilei end of Dillingham Blvd. and to continue the rail's original Ala Moana, Waikiki and University routes with bus circulators on priority lanes. The powers that be may adopt this as a win-win compromise if the effect of rail construction is too much for locals, and for tourism arrivals and operations. Or if the electorate (finally) gets mad at them.

    Wednesday, December 17, 2014

    Hawaii's Demise Through the Eyes of the Economist

    Homelessness in Hawaii is now international news. The local socialist mindset proposed to offer the homeless houses for free so we can get them off the streets so Honolulu doesn't look bad.  If this happens, the result is predictable: We will get even more of them.

    In fact all this is old news: Homeless? Buy a One-Way Ticket to Hawaii -- Hawaii "is attracting homeless people from the mainland US by offering food, a bed, and health care for just $3 a day."

    Obviously we are seeing the payoffs of decades of socialism:
    • Homelessness
    • Dilapidated infrastructure
    • Poorly performing public schools
    • Unfunded pensions
    • Quick approvals for million dollar apartments in Kakaako
    • Destruction of agriculture for cookie-cutter homes (Ho'opili)
     and of course,
    • A useless multi-billion dollar rail.
    In another article, the political base of Pres. Obama, Illinois, is called America's Greece!

    Next year they'll do a follow up: Is Hawaii America's Spain? Spain sunk billions in renewables, trains and overbuilt subdivisions. And they sunk their country.

    Thursday, December 11, 2014

    Smart Growth v. Suburbanization Score is 0-1

    The Economist: A Suburban World explains that urban trends are driven more by the masses and less by the political, academic and "environmental" elites that love to dictate how the hoi polloi should live.

    In short, despite rules, penalties and incentives Smart Growth lost to Suburbanization.  The following highlights from the article show why.
    • The planet as a whole is fast becoming suburban. In the emerging world almost every metropolis is growing in size faster than in population. Having bought their Gucci handbags and Volkswagens, the new Asian middle class is buying living space, resulting in colossal sprawl. 
    • Neither the car nor the motorway caused suburban sprawl, although they sped it up: cities were spreading before either came along. Nor was the flight to the suburbs caused by racism.  The real cause was mass affluence. As people grew richer, they demanded more privacy and space. Only a few could afford that in city centers; the rest moved out.
    • Romantic notions of sociable, high-density living—notions pushed, for the most part, by people who themselves occupy rather spacious residences—ignore the squalor and lack of privacy [that comes with high density].
    • The Western suburbs to which so many aspire are healthier than their detractors say. Even as urban centers revive, more Americans move from city center to suburb than go the other way.
    • Suburbanites tend to use more roads and consume more carbon than urbanites. But this damage can be alleviated by a carbon tax, by toll roads and by charging for parking. 
    • It is foolish to try to stop the spread of suburbs. Green belts [urban boundary policies], the most effective method for doing this, push up property prices and encourage long-distance commuting.
    • A wiser policy would be to plan for huge expansion. Acquire strips of land for roads and railways, and chunks for parks, before the city sprawls into them. This is not the dirigisme* of the new-town planner—that confident soul who believes he knows where people will want to live and work, and how they will get from one to the other. It is the realism needed to manage the inevitable.

    (*) Dirigisme is an approach to economic development emphasizing the positive role of governmental intervention.

    Monday, December 8, 2014

    Made-in-China May be Costly for the Planet: The Case of Solar Panels

    A team from Northwestern University lef by prof. Fengqi You performed a comprehensive evaluation called life cycle analysis on solar panels. LCA accounts for the energy used to make a product including the energy to mine raw materials, the fuel to transport the materials and products, the electricity to power the processing factory, and the cost and impacts of most resources required. This yields a more complete picture of costs environmental impacts for making and using solar panels.

    The primary differences, the researchers found, are the less stringent enforcement of environmental regulations in China coupled with the country’s more coal-dependent power sector. “It takes a lot of energy to extract and process solar-grade silicon,” says co-author Seth Darling. “And in China, that energy tends to come from dirtier and less efficient energy sources than it does in Europe.”