Thursday, October 20, 2016

55 All Around

55 year old driver driving his car through the 55,000 mile mark at 55 mph in a 55 mph speed zone at 1:55 pm. It took a bit of engineering and planning to get all these done legally and safely on I-55*!
* Alas, there's no I-55 in Honolulu, so I did it on the H-3 Fwy.

New Commuting Data: Same Old Trends

The informative summary below was developed by Robert Poole at the Reason Foundation.

Last month brought the release of the 2015 American Community Survey data from the U.S. Census. The data on commuting from ACS are generally accepted as the most-representative national-average figures. And what is most notable about these latest numbers is how little change they reveal, compared with their counterparts over the past decade.

Commuting expert Steve Polzin of the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida posted an excellent summary, with 10-year graphs, on Planetizen.

Most of the commuting mode-share data show very little change over the decade from 2005 through 2015. Drive-alone remains the choice of slightly over three-fourths of all commuters (76.6%), with virtually no change over this time period. Interestingly, nearly as many millennials (age 20-24) drive alone (72.5%), despite all you read about them being new urbanists who walk, bike, or use transit.

The two most significant trends over the decade are the continuing decline in carpooling and the ongoing increase in telecommuting. Despite all the guff about the sharing economy and future "mobility as a service," there is no sign of this so far in terms of increased willingness to share rides with others; carpooling is down to 9.0%, from nearly 11% a decade ago (and from just under 20% in 1980). Telecommuting has increased from about 3.4% in 2005 to 4.6% in 2015 and seems to be catching up with transit's mode share of 5.2%. Biking (0.6%) and walking (2.8%) are largely flat over the decade.

Polzin notes that average commuting time (heavily influenced by the drive-alone super-majority) is now 26.4 minutes, up from 25.1 minutes a decade ago. But he also provides some useful perspective by comparing the 2005 U.S. figure with average 2005 commute times in other OECD member countries—e.g., 33 minutes in Spain, 36 minutes in France, 40 minutes in Belgium, 45 minutes in Germany, and 46 minutes in the U.K. These countries all have a higher transit mode share than the United States, and since transit trips generally take longer than driving trips, that may help to explain the difference between the U.S. numbers and Europe's.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Honolulu Rail: From $4.6 B to $8.6 B In Eight Years. Now What?

My article "Honolulu Rail: From $4.6 B to $8.6 B In Eight Years. Now What?" with Cliff Slater and Randall Roth was published in New Geography, a national urban issues and news website.

With its official cost now having risen to $8.6 billion and a funding gap of $1.8 billion, both of which are certain to rise, Honolulu’s rail project will run out of money before construction reaches the downtown area, perhaps even before it reaches Middle Street.
The Federal Transit Administration says it will demand a return of all federal money if rail does not reach Ala Moana Center, which is possible only if the state Legislature or Honolulu City Council increase taxes dramatically:  An average family of five would have to pay more than $1,000 per year just to complete rail, according to the Tax Foundation of Hawaii. Once completed, the annual cost of operating and maintaining a safe and reliable rail system would require comparable tax payments each year for the lifetime of the rail system.
State and city lawmakers are reluctant to raise taxes so dramatically, but abandoning the project at this late date would make those who had been supporting it look like idiots.  They must be asking themselves, “How did we get ourselves into this mess?”

Monday, October 3, 2016

Federal Funds Will Help State Conduct Study on New Ferries

Kevin Dayon reports in his article Federal funds will help state conduct study on new ferries in the Honolulu Star Advertiser that "The U.S. Maritime Administration has agreed to help finance a feasibility study for establishing a publicly financed Hawaii ferry service, a plan that may reignite public debate over one of Hawaii’s hot-button transportation and environmental issues."

I was quoted in the article as follows:

Honolulu established a ferry dubbed TheBoat in 2007 that ran between Kalaeloa and Aloha Tower during former Mayor Mufi Hannemann’s administration, but the city scrapped the effort in 2009. That ferry ran at about 30 percent of its 149-passenger capacity.

Prevedouros said the door-to-door travel times for TheBoat* were long, including the time needed to get to the docks to board the vessel, and to get from the docks to the passengers’ final destinations. The small boats used for the service were also unreliable, and provided a bumpy ride, he said.

“The people were not pleased with the whole experience, and the passengers never showed up,” he said. “Unless you really have a very good, stable and very fast boat, you’re going to have issues with travel times.”

Prevedouros is more optimistic about interisland ferry service, which he calls “a necessity” for an island state. The Superferry was popular with the public, and the community lost out when it was forced out of business by litigation, he said.

It is unlikely any private investor will want to invest in a ferry in Hawaii now, and publicly run enterprises in Hawaii tend to be expensive, he said. “I don’t like public systems in Hawaii,” he said. “Like everything that we touch, it becomes double and triple the cost.”

In a 2008 comprehensive study of commuting alternatives for Honolulu we estimated that the cost of removing one peak hour commuter from the traffic for 20 years was about $4 million for TheRail, about $1 million for TheBoat and about $80,000 for an express toll lane.

Below is an example of a high people and vehicle capacity vessel operating between the Greek Islands in the Aegean Sea:

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Honolulu Star Advertiser: Road Woes Roll On

I was quoted extensively in the headline article Road Woes Roll On of the September 28, 2016 edition of the Honolulu Star Advertiser, the main newspaper in the state of Hawaii.

The latest Reason report found that Hawaii, with the nation’s smallest state-run road network at 1,016 miles, in 2013 spent about 2-1/2 times the national average in total costs per mile: $405,269.

Despite that heavy spending, the report further found Hawaii’s roads to be the worst in the U.S. for urban pavement conditions.

Unfortunately, it’s the worst of both worlds. We overpay and we under-receive,” said Panos Prevedouros, who heads the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department.

The statistics are reliable because these are self-reported numbers. They don’t paint a good picture for us,” added Prevedouros, who specializes in transportation.


Having the nation’s smallest road network also helps drive up the state’s average cost per mile, he said.

Prevedouros agreed.

“It’s like a small apartment and a big apartment — they still have the same appliances,” he said Monday, making a comparison to state road networks and the agencies that must maintain them.

It’s impossible for us to be at the top” of Reason’s list, Prevedouros said. But “there is a lot of room for improvement.

Hawaii might face some unique challenges, but it also avoids problems faced by mainland states, such as heavy interstate travel, Prevedouros said.


“The administration now is making significant improvements to make the maintenance better,” Sakahara said, adding that policy could lead to better grades in subsequent annual Reason reports for the Ige years.

Prevedouros said he believed the policy “may make the numbers even worse.”

Without adding more highway capacity, the state’s congestion grades for the Reason reports will likely worsen, he said.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Getting out of Gridlock: Should UH Start Later?

Last week Jim Mendoza of Hawaii News Now developed the story Getting Out of Gridlock: Should UH start later?

Traffic planners believe if UH started school at 9 a.m. instead of 7:30, 5,000 cars could be eliminated from the morning rush.  Students don't balk at the idea. "I can see it possibly alleviating some traffic," Ioane Goodhue said.

But UH communications director Dan Meisenzahl said that many students who start at 9 a.m. or later come to campus early anyway to find parking and eliminating early classes wouldn't change that.

In other words, he provided a reason to not look further into this.  But his statement is wrong.

First of all, many of the students who do not have permits come very early, park and go back to sleep or study in their car. But they are only 20% of the traffic-to-town generated by the UH.

UH-Manoa, HCC and KCC, that is, UH's three main campuses inside Honolulu, have a combined parking capacity of over 10,000 stalls of which at least 8,000 are assigned to annual or semester permit holders consisting of faculty, staff, seniors and graduate students.

Say half of those 8,000+ cats come from places west (Ewa) of Kalihi Street. If most of them arrive during the 6:00 to 8:00 AM rush, then these cars need a whole freeway lane to themselves.

As a result, when the UH is not in session, this lane goes back to non-UH traffic and congestion levels are markedly lower.

Another important point is this scientific finding: "Scientists have found that current school and university start times are damaging the learning and health of students. Drawing on the latest sleep research, the authors conclude students start times should be 8:30 or later at age 10; 10:00 or later at 16; and 11:00 or later at 18."

An additional advantage is that if UH started at 9:30 AM, it would be easier for its professors and lecturers to offer late afternoon and evening classes that working people can take. Now most of the classes are over by 3:30 PM.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Traffic Expert: Honolulu Ideal for Driverless Vehicles

I, the traffic engineer, should be more careful with these driverless cars... if they become all knowing, autonomous and self-managing, they will need no drivers. And cities will need no traffic engineers ;)
Panos Prevedouros, chairman of the University of Hawaii's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, agrees that Honolulu is ideal for driver-less cars.
"Not only because of congestion but because we're really not an interstate state. Our speeds everywhere are modest to low. That makes the risk quite lower than Montana," he said.
The federal government believes automated vehicles will make roads safer and reduce gridlock.
But Prevedouros said self-driving cars could initially slow down traffic.
"In the future they can be aggressive. In other words, they can be tailgating each other to save a lot of space. But in the early stages this is not going to happen," he said.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Not Too Late to Make the Right Decision on Rail

By Panos Prevedouros and Randall Roth
Panos Prevedouros is a Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Hawaii at Manoa where Randall Roth is a professor on the law faculty.

The Federal Transit Administration says it will demand its money back if rail does not reach Ala Moana Center.  Rather than view this as the beginning of a negotiation, both mayoral candidates used it as leverage to convince voters that the city has no viable option other than to find the additional billions needed to satisfy the FTA. 
Fortunately neither the FTA nor the winner of the mayoral election will decide rail’s fate.  The members of the state legislature and the city council will decide whether to raise taxes enough to cover the cost.
Assuming these decision-makers approach their task logically, they will begin by addressing four questions: (1) How much more money would be needed to finish rail? (2) Where would that money come from? (3) What would be accomplished? And (4) What could be accomplished if the same amount of money was spent on something else, instead of rail? 
If they approach this with open minds, we believe that they will reach the following conclusions:  
  1. Another $5.75 billion, over and above the non-recoverable $3.5 billion already spent, will be needed to reach Ala Moana Center (i.e., total construction costs of $10.8 billion, less $3.5 billion already spent or irretrievably committed, less $1.55 billion federal money yields $5.75 billion);
  2. The chances of getting an additional federal grant for rail are virtually nonexistent;
  3. It is unrealistic to expect the private sector to provide more than an insignificant portion of the needed $5.75 billion;
  4. The bulk of the new money will have to come from local residents, who will have to pay an average of $200 per person ($800 for each family of four) every year until construction ends;
  5. The rest—roughly 15% of $5.75 billion—will come from tourists or other non-residents;
  6. After construction ends, each family of four will continue to pay an average of $800 per year, to cover the annual cost of operating and maintaining a safe and reliable rail system; and
  7. Traffic congestion will be much worse when rail becomes fully operational than it is right now.
Anyone who questions this last statement should see the Final Environmental Impact Study in which the city admits, "traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than what it is today without rail."
Other ways to spend the money:  Working together, the city and state can reduce traffic congestion, for example, by aggressively adding new traffic lanes to existing roads, as has already been done successfully on each side of the central part of H-1 Freeway; by installing flyovers and bypasses in chokepoint areas like the Middle Street merge; and by adding new contra-flow and bus-on-shoulder options.  Each is a proven strategy that, unlike rail, would directly benefit all commuters.
Equally important, the city could afford to greatly improve its award-winning bus system.  This might include increasing the number of express buses that go where commuters want to go, rather than eliminating most of them as is part of the rail plan.  
All of the above could easily be done for less than half of the money that would be saved by pulling the plug on rail now.  The legislature and city council could spend the rest on other areas of need, such as a comprehensive homeless plan, heat mitigation and other improvement for our schools, sewer and road repairs … or simply leave it in the pockets of island residents. 
The existing guideway could be modified for walking, biking, and other community activities, and provide unique views of the island.  The High Line in New York is a wildly popular public park built on an abandoned rail line above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side.  While no one would set out to spend $3.5 billion for a High Line trail/park in Hawaii, it could become a tourist attraction. 
And last but not least, twenty years from now traditional mass transit will be functionally and technologically obsolete for cities like Honolulu thanks to autonomous vehicles and ride-hailing apps. Who’s the future of urban transportation: Apple, Google and Uber or Caldwell, FTA and HART?
We appreciate that The Star Advertiser published our article and KSSK's Michael W Perry posted it with the remark "Must Read: Great Article About Rail!"

Notice our concluding sentence: Who’s the future of urban transportation: Apple, Google and Uber or Caldwell, FTA and HART? We originally wrote it on September 9, 2016.

On September 17, 2016 the Washington Post published this article: Washington searches for new streetcar riders in an Uber era (!)

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Green Light, Red Light Ratio

Today I received a very interesting question: Has there ever been a study on if the ratio of red lights to green lights that a driver encounters during a trip has an effect on the driver's mood? My response follows.

If the ratio green-to-red is 1:1 then this means that the driver has a 50% probability for either green or red as he or she drives down a street with a series of signalized intersections.  This is a poor ratio for a main arterial. A well managed arterial street should have at least a 7:3 green-to-red ratio; that is, many more greens than reds. This requires traffic signal optimization to accomplish.

Surprisingly, Honolulu is often the opposite, which makes it easy to fix, if anyone bothered to work on it. I demonstrated this to reporters in the two times I run for mayor. The best we could do was 1:1 which means the traffic lights operated at random!

As to the behavioral implications, I'm not aware of literature on past research associated with this ratio, but there is plenty of literature associated with congestion and loss of time. Of course one of the most irritating things is when one departs from a green, drives toward the next light which is green, but soon before s/he arrives at the intersection, the light turns red. This is terrible for loss of time, pollution, schedule failure for buses, etc.

The picture below shows the "bandwiths" of green light for both directions of a two way street.  Signal coordination is easy to do for one street, but it's complicated for a large city network, However, computers and software can optimize those with ease.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Chinese Straddle Bus -- Take 3

It looks like the Chinese Straddle Bus that I covered at length here (in 2012 and 2013) has moved from a video concept to an experimental prototype phase.  There was a huge interest in this concept when it first came out in early 2012... by late 2012 my blog post "Enough with the Chinese Straddle Bus!" had over 2,000 reads.

This is indeed an interesting development. The main problems will be much more related to driver behavior, and much less related to technological feasibility, although the sheer size of it and maneuverability limitations may make it suitable to limited locales and arterial streets.

Friday, July 29, 2016

HART and City Nominated for Prestigious Award

The Federal Transit Administration was delighted to receive our submission in mid-July.

The Transportation Planning Excellence Awards Program is a biennial awards program co-developed by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). This program recognizes and celebrates outstanding transportation practices performed by planners and decision makers in communities across the country (see Award Criteria).

Cliff Slater, Panos Prevedouros and Randall Roth nominate the City of Honolulu (City) and Honolulu Authority Rapid Transportation (HART) for the following, barely believable feats:

  1. Against all odds and at a time of record federal deficits and a slumping local economy, the City and HART somehow managed to extract and divert more than $5 billion in local funds (the upper range of which is still a mystery) and garner FTA support for $1.55 billion in federal funds – all to build an elevated heavy rail system that was out-of-date before construction even began (Antiquated Rail System)!

  2. Making the funding for this Antiquated Rail System all the more remarkable is a population of potential commuters on Oahu that is dramatically smaller than the smallest urban area in the U.S.A. that still has an Antiquated Rail System.

  3. One could perhaps argue that San Juan, Puerto Rico pulled off an equally amazing accomplishment by securing its own Antiquated Rail System relatively recently, but Puerto Rico is just a territory (so heaven alone knows what really goes on there) and San Juan did not have itself to point to as evidence that Antiquated Rail Systems invariably cost a lot more, and attract considerably fewer riders, than self-interested planners and politicians tend to predict.  We now know that the actual cost of San Juan’s Antiquated Rail System exceeded the final funding agreement estimate by 78% and that actual ridership is less than a third of the projected number.  In fact, the combined ridership of bus and rail is now less than just bus ridership before rail (see p. 25 of 32 and
p. 23 of 29).

  4. The City and HART even managed to impede and then ignore the work of The Infrastructure Management Group (IMG), an independent expert retained by the then-governor for a second opinion on the likely cost of an Antiquated Rail System.  Here’s how IMG described its experience and findings:
“[T]he IMG Team found the extreme difficulty in being able to obtain information from the City and its consultants both unique in our collective experience and [a hindrance to] our ability to perform the project.  This was also a puzzlement – why would the City wish to restrict the team engaged to review the project's financial plan from being able to obtain the information necessary to perform its work?
“A multi-billion dollar transportation improvement project, particularly one that is proposed to be operated in, and funded by, an urbanized area that is far smaller than the norm for such projects, should have its financial plan developed with methodologies that incorporate the highest professional and technical standards and techniques.  As we demonstrate [in this report], the financial planning and modeling process for [this] Project fails this ‘best practices’ test in many ways.”
  5. Making the pursuit of an Antiquated Rail System all the more remarkable was the discovery that senior people at the FTA had commented in interagency email about the City’s “lousy practices of public manipulation,” use of “inaccurate statements,” and culture of “never [having] enough time to do it right, but lots of time to do it over.”  FTA also noted that the City had put itself in a “pickle” by setting unrealistic start dates for construction, and criticized the City’s “casual treatment of burials.”

  6. Speaking of which, who could have predicted that the City and HART could skirt federal burial laws, essentially by denying the high likelihood of unearthing protected remains and promising to be “respectful?”

  7.  Equally noteworthy was the City and HART’s mischaracterization of the viable alternatives to rail—you know, the ones that would have been affordable and actually relieve traffic congestion, protect the environment, and preserve the Hawaiian sense of place.

  8. We would be remiss in not mentioning that the City and HART managed to convince much of the public that an Antiquate Rail System would actually reduce the current level of traffic congestion despite an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that said the exact opposite.  In all fairness to other nominees for this award, however, the FTA assisted that particular ruse by stating in a press release a belief that “this project will bring much needed relief from the suffocating congestion on the H-1 Freeway.”  This statement from the FTA was directly contrary to the FTA-approved Final EIS in which the City acknowledged that “traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than what it is today without rail.”   

  9. On their own, the City and HART started construction without even beginning to plan for the eventual payment of operating costs.  Just imagine, more than $100 million per year in added operating costs (roughly 5% of the City’s entire budget), and the City/HART does an Alfred E. Newman imitation: “What, us worry?”

  10. Similarly, the City and HART have not said where it will find money for repairs and maintenance to the Antiquated Rail System.  With the Washington DC rail system literally falling apart one might have expected someone in our nation’s capitol—perhaps even someone with the FTA—to mention that.  Likewise for the City and HART’s failure to plan for security, fare collection, adequate parking, and accessible bathrooms. 

  11. In 2004 Mayor Mufi Hannemann claimed it would cost $2.7 billion to build a 34-mile Antiquated Rail System.  The estimated cost is now $8.1 billion, and climbing, while the planned length is down to 20 miles, and shrinking. 

  12. When an independent financial audit found in 2016 that HART had “failed to perform qualitative analysis” and had relied on “insufficient cost-control,” HART called the audit “a joke,” and kept doing what it had been doing.  Booya! 

We hope that the FTA can detect satire, and that it will someday hold itself accountable, along with the City and HART, for Honolulu’s rail fiasco.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

"Mandating V2V Connectivity Is a Waste of Time"

Ronald Bailey, Science Correspondent, Reason magazine (adapted from "Will Politicians Block Our Driverless Future,", June 18, 2016)

There are two "equally important components that will determine the future of autonomous vehicles," Lyft's vice president for government relations, Joseph Okpaku said at a March Senate Commerce Committee hearing. "The first is the interaction of everyday people with these new vehicles, and the second is the much more unpredictable interface of government with this entirely new transportation resource."

University of Texas engineer Kara Kockelman notes that traditional automakers tend to "see the transition to self-driving as a very natural, very normal process adding over time features like GPS, adaptive cruise control, cameras, lane-keeping-assist systems, dedicated short-range communication, and so forth." Such semi-autonomous vehicles can safely operate only in predictable traffic environments, so some manufacturers are suggesting that dedicated additional infrastructure, such as separate highway lanes, be built for them.

But "special lanes are a bad idea," says Kockelman. "They would be incredibly expensive and constraining." Planners, politicians, and regulators may think that establishing dedicated infrastructure for self-driving cars is helpful, but autonomous vehicle pioneer Brad Templeton notes that "such rules could easily lead to them not being allowed in ordinary lanes."

Kockelman argues that semi-autonomous vehicles, or what NHTSA calls "limited self-driving automation," present a big safety problem. With these so-called Level 3 vehicles, drivers cede full control to the car for the most part, but must be ready at all times to take over if something untoward occurs. The problem is that such semi-autonomous cars travel along safely 99 percent of the time, allowing the attention of their bored drivers to falter. In an August 2015 study, NHTSA reported that depending on the on-board alert, it took drivers as long as 17 seconds to regain manual control of the semi-autonomous car. "The radical change to full automation is important," argues Kockelman. "Level 3 is too dangerous. We have to jump over that to Level 4 full automation, and most manufacturers don't want to do that. They want protection; they want baby steps; they want special corridors. They won't get that."

Consequently, the first law of the robocar revolution, according to Templeton, is that "you don't change the infrastructure." Whatever functionality is needed to drive safely should be on board each individual vehicle. "Just tell the software people that this is the road you have to drive on, and let them figure it out," Templeton says. "Everything you must do is in the software, or you lose." Some self-driving shuttles confined to specific areas—airports, pedestrian malls, colleges campuses—will be deployed, but they are not the future of this technology.

Another infrastructure mistake would be mandating the deployment of "smart roadside infrastructure," such as traffic lights and sensors to monitor conditions like icing on bridges and communicate the information via radio to autonomous cars. In 2015, Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D, MI), Gary Peters (D, MI), and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) embraced this idea when they introduced the Vehicle Innovation Act, which included spending more than $300 million on various favored tech, including vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications systems.

Before embracing such external information systems, keep in mind that the U.S. DOT estimated in 2007 that 75% of the nation's 330,000 traffic lights are mistimed or use obsolete control systems. "If city and county street and road agencies can't keep traffic signals up-to-date, how long would it take them to install and upgrade smart road systems?" Randal O'Toole asked in a 2014 Cato Institute study, "Policy Implications of Autonomous Vehicles." It's all most states and cities can do to fix potholes, much less deploy and maintain sophisticated networks of roadway sensors.

Other regulators and politicians want to require automobiles to be equipped with V2V communications tech using dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) protocols. The idea is that cars could talk to one another to provide warnings of traffic jams, accidents ahead, or vehicles in front that are braking. They might even cooperate with one another to get through intersections. A good bit of the Obama Administration's promised $4 billion for autonomous vehicles would be earmarked forV2V research and development.

"DSRC is already obsolete," argues Kockelman. "Regulators simply can't write down a communications standard that will be useful for a long time." Templeton agrees. "People outside the industry think it's essential, and the car companies are just going along with it to keep them happy," he says. "It's something designed in 2000 [that] wouldn't be fully deployed until 2030 or later." The bottom line: "Mandating V2V connectivity is stupid and a waste of time."

Templeton cites the internet as a model for how to roll out the technologies that enable self-driving cars. "The internet is a dumb network that connects smart devices," he explains. "You want smart cars running on stupid roads." Dumb networks push innovation to the edge, giving end-users control over the speed and direction of change.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Manila Traffic Congestion

Philippine Daily Inquirer, June 14th, 2016: Citing a six-hour commuting “kalbaryo” for Metro Manila commuters, the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) has reiterated its call for President-elect Rodrigo Duterte to declare a traffic crisis so that he could be given emergency powers to solve the problem.

Then two weeks later...

GMA News, July 1, 2016: Senate President Franklin Drilon on Friday filed a bill seeking to grant President Rodrigo Duterte emergency powers to address the perennial traffic problem not only in Metro Manila but also in other major urban areas as well.

Indeed Manila's traffic congestion is extraordinary and a simple screen capture from Google tells the story:

I was in Manila in mid-July and I decided to book a 3-hour ride in a taxi to take in the sights... and the congestion.  This was on a Saturday when traffic is slightly less hectic than weekdays. However, around the two hour point I have had did and asked the driver to take me back!

Traffic flow in Manila is very disorganized. The root cause of the congestion are the jitneys and city buses that stop anywhere, including the third or fourth lane of a five lane boulevard to embark and disembark passengers. They fiercely compete and block each other in order to secure the tiny fare.

This is a brutal system the at various times reduced roadway capacity from upward of 5.000 vehicles per hour to under 2,000 vehicles per hour.  I witnessed a jitney driver on a 3-lane road (3 lanes, no shoulders) stopping and blocking a lane to relieve himself in the jersey barrier. I saw one lane left turn becoming a two or three lane left turn because road connectivity is poor. I was told but I did not witness it, that passenger processing occurs ever on freeway! Taxis and buses stop and pick up people on the freeway. The traffic flow situation in Manila is brutal, chaotic, wasteful and nonsensical.

I also spent a few days in Legaspi City, population about 200,000 where most roads are basic 2-lane roads, one lane per direction. Legaspi has better planning and road capacity for its current level of traffic, but again, random stops by the ubiquitous trikes and jitneys waste over 50% of the road capacity, sometimes creating a quarter mile queue when none should be there given the amount of traffic present.

However, the political moves made in the Philippines government do not seem to address the problem.  The changes are more about contracting and less about flow management and transportation service regulation. Strict penalties for lane blockage must be enacted. The rampant police officer bribing which allows the chaos of passenger processing to continue must stop.

Buses need to be organized into scheduled transit service (not necessarily government transit, but organized, regulated transit) with drivers being professional operators nor highway sharks. Most jitneys need to be regulated out of existence. They are slow, cumbersome and very polluting.  Some of the jitneys (a Manila icon) may be retained and upgraded for neighborhood (feeder) service.

And one more "to do": The Philippines must regulate 2-stroke engines out of existence by 2020.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Making the Most of the Rail Fiasco

This is a fuller version of the article I co-authored with Cliff Slater and professor Randy Roth that appeared on the Honolulu Star Advertiser on June 29, 2016.
It’s now painfully clear, even to Mayor Caldwell, that the likely cost of taking rail all the way to Ala Moana Shopping Center would greatly exceed available funds.  That’s why the new plan is to stop at Middle Street, eight stops short of Ala Moana, at least until an additional $4 billion can be found.  Just weeks earlier, Caldwell and others were saying that it would make no sense to stop at Middle Street—rail needed to reach Ala Moana, at a minimum, or so they were saying before realizing that that money simply wasn’t there.

This financial nightmare only gets worse when one takes into account its impact on the Full Funding Grant Agreement.  This is a legal contract the City signed with the Federal Transit Administration as a condition of receiving a series of federal payments totaling $1.55 billion.  Because of the decision to stop at Middle Street the FTA, is now legally entitled not just to stop providing funds, but to demand the immediate return of nearly $0.5 billion already provided.

We believe that the FTA will be extraordinarily flexible in dealing with this financial train wreck, partly because the FTA’s own hands are dirty.  It knew very early on that City officials were neither competent nor honest. We base this on interagency email in which FTA officials commented on the City’s “lousy practices of public manipulation,” willingness to “deceive with no remorse,” use of “inaccurate statements,” and having a culture of “never enough time to do it right, but lots of time to do it over.”

FTA officials also noted that the City had botched three projects and were “well on their way to a fourth,” started construction this time “without authority despite warnings that it would create an ineligibility for the project,” and put itself in a “pickle” by setting unrealistic start dates for construction.

We also know that FTA officials had ready access to the report of independent experts hired by Gov. Lingle to provide a second opinion on the likely cost of the proposed rail system.  The group’s bottom-line assessment should have alarmed the FTA:  “A multi-billion dollar transportation improvement project, particularly one that is proposed to be operated in, and funded by, an urbanized area that is far smaller than the norm for such projects, should have its financial plan developed with methodologies that incorporate the highest professional and technical standards and techniques.  As we demonstrate [in this report], the financial planning and modeling process for [this] Project fails this ‘best practices’ test in many ways.”

The FTA also aided the City in its dishonest efforts to convince people that rail would reduce the current level of traffic congestion.  For example, the FTA publicly expressed belief that “this project will bring much needed relief from the suffocating congestion on the H-1 Freeway.”  This was contrary to the FTA-approved Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in which the City had acknowledged that “traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than what it is today without rail.”  The FTA's statement also contradicted its own previous position in its January 2011 Record of Decision in which it stated:  "Many commenters [on the Draft EIS] reiterated their concern that the Project will not relieve highway congestion in Honolulu. FTA agrees..."

Despite these and many other indications that the City could never build rail “on time and on budget,” as Mayor Caldwell repeatedly promised, the FTA apparently buckled under political pressure when it entered into the FFGA.  Because of the FTA’s complicity in Honolulu’s rail fiasco, the FTA should now allow the city to use the $1.55 billion of federal money to make the best of a terrible situation that it could and should have prevented.

We believe the most attractive of the available options is to convert the existing rail guideway into dedicated lanes for a state-of-the-art Bus Rapid Transit system that extends not just to Middle Street but far beyond to Manoa, Waikiki and other parts of the island, including Waianae.  As the figure below shows, regular, articulated and double-decker buses will fit the existing rail guideway and will operate normally and safely with a guided-bus system similar to those running in Essen, Germany,  Adelaide, Australia and several other cities.

This could be done with the money that otherwise would be wasted on a rail system that was out-of-date before construction even began. A BRT conversion will use familiar technology, will have a higher ridership, will preserve bus routes, and will provide more traffic congestion relief than rail.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Autobahn: Where "Speed Kills" Dies

The German autobahn is a traffic safety paradox. Countries like Australia, the US and the UK have made freeway speed control a major objective of their traffic safety code. Many high class roads in the US are limited to 55 mph and sometimes lower speeds. The top BBC television program Top Gear has scored big laughs with US speed limits.

Speed kills they say.  That can be true. In a case of loss of control or other accident conditions, a modest impact accident can become a severe or fatal accident if the speeds are high.  But speed itself does not kill. In a recent (June 2016) presentation at the German federal department of transportation that I witnessed in Berlin, the statistics clearly showed that the Autobahn is the safest German road.  Germany in general has better traffic safety that the US.  But the speeds on the Autobahn are insane.

Recently I drove about 1,000 km on several German autobahns connecting Berlin and Frankfurt.  When the road was not wet, I was typically using the middle lane and cruised at 150-160 km/hr for long stretches where no limits were in effect. That's 93-100 mph in a loaded car with a family of four!

But on occasion like the one below I'd move up to 176 km/hr or 109 mph and get passed quickly by a Hyundai SUV as in the instance below. The speeding of Hollywood car chases is common place with common cars on the German autobahn.

Note in the picture that the dashboard indicates to me the speed limit in the sign with the red circle and three dashes.  The dashes mean that no speed limit is in effect on that segment of the road. The dashes are replaced with applicable limits, most commonly 120 or 90 km/hr in sections with curves or other difficulties.  The Germans were very cognizant of these limits and adhered to them. On occasion I'd drive a little faster on those restricted stretches to pass the Porsches so I can enjoy the whoosh of being passed by them minutes later... Even when did 194 km/hr (120 mph) they zipped by me at , I'd guess, 155 mph which is a common governed speed limit (based on the tire type fitted).

And nobody died; not even close.  It was fun to see that the next city was 50 miles away and arrive there in about half an hour!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

$10 Billion Is the Ultimate Price Tag for Honolulu's Rail Boondoggle

Back in January 2016 the Honolulu Civil Beat published my opinion with the title: $10 Billion: The Ultimate Price Tag for Honolulu Rail?

On Friday, May 13, 2016 the cost or rail was pegged by HART at $6.9 Billion.

On Sunday, May 15, 2016 the cost or rail was pegged by FTA at $8.1 Billion.

On March 20, 2016, the New York Times published an article that included my opinions with the title: Hawaii Struggles to Keep Rail Project from Becoming A Boondoggle.

Given these cost updates (while less that one third of the project has been built), clearly the question mark is no longer necessary, and the project is a verifiable boondoggle.  Thus:

$10 Billion Is the Ultimate Price Tag for Honolulu's Rail Boondoggle

I am sorry that Honolulu voters did not pick me in 2008 or 2010, or past Gov. Ben Cayetano in 2012 for mayor. Honolulu's punishment in now too severe, and we haven't seen the half of it yet. 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Engineering experts raise quality concerns over Honolulu’s rail construction

With Gina Mangieri of KHON Channel 2 News Always Investigating...
“One of the cracks in this area was pretty alarming and it was along the line of the segment,” he pointed out.

Other concerns have to do with the amount of rust, starting with tracks that the city bought early to hedge on steel price.
“Basic rust is not a problem. It’s actually a protective coating that, when the rail starts running, it will clear a lot of it,” Prevedouros explained.
But when it gets installed, more problems can arise. “One of the issues is that it creates problems with the labor that tries to install them. They may need extra protection because when you’re bolting them, there may be excessive dust of rust,” Prevedouros warns, which can be dangerous when inhaled.
Other rust hot-spots lie in the rebar forms that start each pillar.
“Here we see the rebar for the support columns,” Prevedouros pointed out, “and I am a little worried that it’s quite rusty, because when you pour the rebar around it, it creates problems with adhesion of the concrete to the rebar itself. In the long term, it may cause spalling problems, delamination problems.”
That’s not the only worry about the pillars, especially in certain parts of the route.
“The problem in general with Waipahu is it was famous for springs and underneath water caves,” Prevedouros said, “and this is a very heavy, very long bridge. Some of these pylons may have settlement issues. There have been reports that at least a couple of them have issues of settling. They’re going into the ground. Beyond a few inches, it becomes tremendously stressful for the structure and we probably need to add more to support the bridge.
“It could be sudden, but it could take several years,” Prevedouros added. “First, we’ll hopefully see cracks, but then we’ll have to react to it before we have a collapse.”
Quick reactions have to be at the ready on other key jobs along the building process, like when crews go to snug the segments together with cables in something called “post-tensioning” — something that brought a near disaster near the Banana Patch — which was memorialized in HART’s report as Span 258, NCR 509.
“They had a failure with a segment they were trying to post-tension it, which is the process this thing is getting built,” Prevedouros said, “but the tendons failed. There was essentially a minor collapse. Now they’re shoring it up to try to connect it with the two pieces to the left and the right. The whole segment seems to be supported from the bottom and they’re trying to fix the situation.”
“Does it run a future safety risk?” Always Investigating asked.
“The problem is now, by having this failure, it is costing a lot of time and resources to fix it,” Prevedouros said. “But they will fix it in a way that will probably be quite durable.”

Monday, April 18, 2016

Liang Shi: Will Driverless Cars Improve Traffic Congestion?

Many colleges and universities have a quick but tough competition among their graduate students called the 3MT or the Three Minute Thesis. Students stand up and deliver, in three minutes or less, a coherent and interesting summary of their research leading to their Masters or Doctorate degree.

I am very pleased that my PhD student Liang Shi competed among ~60 University of Hawaii at Manoa graduate students and got 2nd place.  Congratulations!

"You may have seen the news that Google is testing their Driverless cars in California. The car was designed to drive itself without any human intervention. It uses a rotating roof top light radar system (aka LIDAR) that maps critical components of the road environment, including curves, signals, traffic lanes, vehicles, pedestrians and bicycles. It also maps cones and construction zones for avoidance. It has no driver controls, such as steering wheel or pedals. It is believed that driverless cars can reduce traffic accidents and congestion. But last November, a Google car was pulled over by the police for driving too slowly, which generated my research question ”will driverless cars improve traffic congestion?” My research is to estimate how driverless cars affect the traffic flow of freeways and city streets.

For example, take an intersection controlled by a traffic light , when the traffic light turns from red to green, it takes 1 second to 3 seconds for human drivers to perceive the change of the signal and react accordingly by switching pedals. For a driverless car, it only takes 0.3 seconds to do so. Driverless cars use sensors and cameras to detect the traffic lights.  They can communicate with the local controller that operates the traffic light. For advanced driverless cars, called connected vehicles, they can talk to each other exchanging information of location, speed and other parameters. Imagine if all the cars at the signalized intersection were driverless cars: They would all start at the same time without the human response delays. So the road can serve a larger amount of traffic in the same amount of time. In addition, driverless cars are equipped with collision avoidance technology, so if a regular motorist violated the red light, the driverless car would not enter the intersection and it would avoid the collision.

Based on my analyses, if all vehicles are driverless cars, capacity of the road will be doubled. This means that every city intersection would have twice as many lanes at no cost to the city.  But if in the future we only have 1% of driverless cars in traffic, traffic flow will not improve. If we have 5% driverless cars, congestion will improve by about 5% if they are regular driverless cars, or by 12% if they are connected driverless cars. So with 5% driverless cars, traffic flow will begin to improve in a noticeable way. However, if the cars are designed to drive conservatively, they will cause more delays than humans do.

To answer my research question, which is “will driverless cars improve traffic congestion?” the answer is that if driverless cars become dominant in the market and if they are designed to drive very closely to each other, then they will reduce traffic congestion, possibly by a lot. "

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Rail critics offer ideas on how they would do it better

Quoted in Richard Borreca's editorial in the April 12 issue of the Honolulu Star Advertiser.

The question is not whether the city’s over-budget, $6.57 billion rail project is good or bad; the question is what are you going to do with this turkey?

Already bailing from the project, estimated to be at least a year behind schedule, is Don Horner, the retired First Hawaiian Bank chairman, who resigned Monday as chairman of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation.

Council Chairman Ernie Martin last week called for both Horner and HART CEO Daniel Grabauskas to be removed from their positions.

Earlier I asked four of Honolulu’s most perceptive rail critics what they would do if they were running the train instead of Grabauskas and Horner.

The question went to Ben Cayetano, former governor who ran for mayor unsuccessfully on a platform of stopping rail; Scott Wilson, former AIA Honolulu president; Panos Prevedouros, University of Hawaii civil engineer professor and unsuccessful mayoral candidate; and finally Cliff Slater, businessman and longtime rail critic.

First, Slater said, “Grabauskas and Horner should go; they have not been honest with the public about the purported benefits of the project nor have they been forthcoming about the projected costs.”

The problem, Slater said, is that the route should be shortened, but that won’t happen unless “a mayor is elected this fall who is willing to take on the ‘Rail Establishment.’”

Wilson noted that “AIA Honolulu has advocated against elevated rail in central Honolulu since the 1990s when Mayor (Frank) Fasi first raised the idea.”

Honolulu architects aren’t against rail, Wilson argued, but the hope is that an “at-grade, light rail system” would cost less and not devastate the landscape, which will happen with the 20-mile parade of concrete columns and 21 elevated train stations.

Wilson said stopping the heavy rail system at Aloha Stadium or Middle Street and switching the rest of it to light rail, “will save approximately $2 billion over the final 10 miles of the route.”

The UH’s Prevedouros expanded the thinking about the rail system. He said if he were running the rail line, he also would stop the rail line at Middle Street. Then he would “negotiate with FTA (Federal Transit Administration) and instead of the four miles downtown I’d propose adding about 5 miles in the other direction to fully serve Kapolei, Honokai Hale and Ko Olina, including a 4,000-stall park and ride structure for the Waianae Coast commuters. Half of this rail extension could be done at ground level for a much lower cost per mile.”

Monday’s news of Horner’s resignation takes care of half of Cayetano’s first suggestion. Like Slater, he also said he would ask for Grabauskas to resign.

“Both have been less than honest with the public,” Cayetano said.

If the former governor were in charge, the new rail system would be changed into a combination rail and bus system.

“I’d ask the HART board to commit to stopping rail at the Middle Street bus hub and begin planning for a bus rapid transit system running on a dedicated existing lane on King Street to downtown, Ala Moana Center and, if feasible Waikiki,” Cayetano said.

Also, Cayetano would work on a plan to satisfy the federal requirements for spending the transit money without a penalty for changing the plan.

“I would recommend that whatever federal funds have not been used for rail be returned to the FTA ASAP,” Cayetano said.

The existing plan and its execution, Cayetano said, “is a disaster,” but he thinks there is still a way out.

“A bus rapid transit system running on an existing, dedicated lane will avoid the enormous costs of an elevated, heavy-rail system running through downtown; no condemnation of real property will be needed, the huge costs of relocating HECO’s underground utility lines will be avoided and the city’s environment and beauty preserved.”

Monday, March 21, 2016

Hawaii Struggles to Keep Rail Project From Becoming a Boondoggle

Major article about Honolulu's rail project in the Sunday New Your Times: Hawaii Struggles to Keep Rail Project From Becoming a Boondoggle.  In it I'm quoted as follows.

“It’s a disaster. In my view, we are worse than how we expected,” said Panos D. Prevedouros, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Hawaii, who has twice run for mayor opposing the project. “We were saying at the beginning we would be lucky if it could be done for $6.4 billion, and people thought we were close to lunacy. We are sitting here today, and we are now computing about $7.1 billion cost.”

“We have become numb to these numbers,” Mr. Prevedouros said. “But it’s very dear for a small place like us, with only like 400,000 taxpayers.”

I loved this part: As construction jams traffic and upends neighborhoods, a poll conducted in February by Civil Beat, a Hawaii news site, found an overwhelming number of respondents who said they either considered the rail plan a bad idea or were troubled by its progress. Just 15 percent of those polled called it a good idea.

Although the NYT did not take a position, it is imperative that Honolulu cuts its losses, terminates the project at the Middle Street Transit Center and, in the future, consider expansion west to Honokai Hale and the Ko'Olina resorts, including a large park and ride lot for the Waianae coast commuters.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Distracted Drivers? A $20,000 Honda to the Resque

Interesting excerpts from [a] $20,000 Self-Driving Vehicle Hits the Road:

  • There is a growing availability of advanced-driver assistance systems, or ADAS, such as lane-keeping assist, automatic braking or adaptive cruise control in the market. As auto makers offer the components needed to power these functions in option packages as low as $1,800, they are being snapped up at a far higher rate than electrified vehicles.
  • Reckless behavior is standard on America’s highways as people spend more time with their thumbs and eyes on a smartphone rather than on the road. Data indicates drivers are aware of their need for help.
  • NHTSA estimates 10% of all drivers 15 to 19 years old involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted—the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted at the time of the accidents.
  • Auto makers are scrambling to accelerate autonomous technology. Tesla Motors Inc. has led the way with self-piloted features; Daimler AG ’s Mercedes-Benz is proliferating ADAS across its lineup; and General Motors, planning to introduce a “Super Cruise” semiautonomous system on pricey Cadillacs next year, is sinking $1.5 billion into two Silicon Valley startups that could help its cause.
  • Honda’s new Civic, much of the drive can be completed with hands off the wheel and foot off the accelerator as long as lane markings remain visible and another vehicle is in front of the car. A camera mounted at the rearview mirror watches the road, and the car’s central nervous system tells components when to slow down, swerve or slam the brakes.
  • People will pay more than the $20,440 that Honda is asking. Executives at Nissan Motor Co. ’s Infiniti brand estimate 15% of buyers for the Q50’s $3,200 “technology package”—a suite of features that lets the $55,000 car drive on its own. That’s three times as many people who pay extra to buy a hybrid-electric version.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Kapolei should have never happened

In her article titled Kapolei Hale turns 15 and the accompanying video Kapolei: Oahu's Second City?, reporter Jayna Omaye and videographer Kimberly Yuen present the story of Kapolei which, starting in 1990, took pure agricultural or unimproved land and began changing it into a "second city."

“Kapolei is a planning disaster,” said Panos Prevedouros, a civil engineer who has taught at UH for 25 years and specializes in transportation engineering and infrastructure sustainability. “It’s a bedroom community. It didn’t develop into a Second City. It developed as pure mainland-style suburbia.”

Prevedouros said traffic congestion and the lack of infrastructure and jobs point to Kapolei continuing on the path to become “Anywhere, USA.”

George Atta, DPP director, said Kapolei should have been developed with higher densities and in clusters, adding that building heights are 150 feet. Kapolei should grow in nodes, with each having its own characteristics and that should eventually connect — similar to downtown Honolulu and its Ala Moana, Kakaako and Waikiki neighborhoods, he said.

Kapolei should have never happened.  Honolulu should have developed into a dense urban strip from Salt Lake to Waikiki, a 10 mile corridor. In it mass transit would have succeeded with a compact high capacity, partially underground rail line.  But the powers that be and the planners who serve them opted for a double disaster. Kapolei's suburban sprawl 20 miles away from the city and an expensive, elevated rail system to permanently tether the second city to the first.  Bad plans lead to bad solutions and high costs.  And that's all we are reaping.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Why Could Driverless Cars Fizzle Out?

I have been collecting materials to compose a "contrarian article" to the hype about driverless vehicles.  I should be clear that I support driverless technologies but I am skeptical of fully autonomous, driverless vehicles.

I believe that many more components to automate driving will be added to the existing adaptive cruise control available to several mid-range and most luxury vehicles. These technologies improve both comfort and safety and they are quite readily accepted by the vehicle owners and users. For example the loaded version of the new Toyota Prius will have automated lane keeping and car following. (See Toyota's extensive list of automated driver support systems.)

Fully automated pods, cars, trucks and buses is another story, as explained in Why Driverless Cars Will Screech to a Halt.

The article may be off putting with remarks like .... "It’s clear that Uber and some of the other companies are professional carnival barkers engaged in an amazingly brash self-driving con."

However, it is spot on for huge issues like this... "But here is where we have to stop for a moment and think a bit more deeply about the unfolding plot of this science-fiction movie. Approximately 1.6 million Americans are truck drivers, and their jobs are on the hockey-mask-wearing villain’s chopping block. Is it really all that “efficient” to unleash a technology that will wipe out all these jobs? Isn’t it also efficient for people to have gainful employment?"

Remember, when it comes to politics... "it's the economy, stupid"... is the bottom line.  Killing off millions of bus, truck and taxi driver jobs is a vastly unattractive proposition.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Hawaii's Coastal Highways

Sea level rise and extreme weather events can wash out portions of coastal highways.  This has happened several times on Oahu and many other locations.  With increasing population and traffic volume, the temporary loss of lanes or entire roadway cross sections becomes a major threat to public health and safety, let alone a threat to daily life and long term economy. Coastal roadway segments must be made more resilient to weather effects and reliable for operations regardless of storm surges.

As I outlined in a report that was the top story on Hawaii News Now (on Feb. 17, 2016--also see note 1) "Long-term solution for erosion along Kamehameha Highway won't come cheap", in general terms, the solution may come in three options, each one more suitable to various coastal highway segments (i.e., not one size fits all.)

1. Maintain the location of the current highway and elevated it by, say, 10 ft. This is a land protection option similar to those in low lying countries such as The Netherlands.
2. Relocate the highway several hundred feet inland and at a higher elevation.
3. Keep the highway largely as is and add jetties, lagoons and breakwaters to widen the coastline and isolate the highway from the forces of the ocean.

The first option requires no transportation work, but it has tremendous impacts by separating the community from the coast and a host of drainage issues. However, this "walling" option may be necessary for the effective protection of property and lives along specific sections, and at locations were current and other ocean forces make the deployment of option 3 impractical.

The second option attempts to develop a new highway in mostly agricultural, Hawaiian homestead or pristine nature areas, all of which are likely to generate insurmountable community and environmental impacts. However, there may be short segments where this option is economical and the impacts are small or moderate. For example a re-alignment of Kam. Hwy. away from Turtle Bay has been outlined in Hawaii DOT plans. Also for this option, the highway may be elevated which minimizes the disruption to lands underneath but it increases costs and reduces accessibility. Low height elevated segments may be necessary for wetland protection.

The third option, jetties and artificial ponds, is the most attractive because it protects the highway and communities, substantially reduces beach erosion and at some places adds beach or ocean recreation space. Its downside is some destruction of marine environment but some of this may be offset by the creation of traditional Hawaiian fishponds. This option also has the potential to be combined with wave action or high/low tide power generation by devices at key locations of the ponds (i.e., tidal power plants). An approximation of the proposed ponds is the lagoons at Ko'olina pictured below.

1: Two weeks later, on February 29, 2016, another segment of the same road failed due to waves, as covered in: Contraflow to last another week as crews shore up second stretch of crumbling highway.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Experts split on rail’s options

Experts split on rail’s options was the title of an article by Kathleen Gallagher in the Pacific Business News on November 20, 2015.

The experts are I, Paul Migliorato, research analyst at the Pacific Resource Partnership, and Mayor Caldwell.

My take was as follows: “The pain of having the project go through town is insufferable,” said Panos Prevedouros, department chairman and professor of transportation engineering at the University of Hawaii. “It’s only going to get worse, the council should do their best to shrink the project. It’s not just about financials, it will kill our reputation and quality. We will become the laughingstock of the tourist industry.”

Paul Migliorato made excuses: the issue with the budget is that the original estimate was “unrealistic”. “The problem is when creating the budget they didn’t make it project specific so it wasn’t realistic.”

Paul's statement directly points to the failure of the Federal Transit Administration to insist on a reasonable instead of a rosy budget, as I exposed in $10 Billion: The Ultimate Price Tag for Honolulu Rail.

And the mayor is wrong, as always: "Stopping the project now also sets Honolulu at risk of[to] become a “laughingstock” of the federal government, according to Caldwell."

Honolulu, HART and its contractors are the laughingstock of the not only the federal government but the nation as a whole for achieving expenditures similar to the Big Dig for their "light rail."

Mayor Caldwell, nobody is stopping your rail.  We are asking you to use good sense and make lemonade with the lemons that you bought instead of railroading our town for the sake of wasting ten billion dollars.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Is HART's train factory a joke?

I received this commentary for the picture of train assembly that HART put in their newsletter. It raises a lot of questions...
"I am a senior electrical engineer, so I have no problems with the engineering aspects. But this picture does not make sense. You gotta look at this picture full size to get the full impact.
This is the latest picture of the first four rail cars that are “expected to arrive this Spring”. These four cars will make up one train. This picture is from the Hitachi Rail factory in Pittsburg. No, not Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Pittsburg, California. It sits nestled between Bay Point and Antioch. End to end Pittsburg is about 4.2 miles long, with just one main road running through it. It is conveniently close to the Delta de Anza Regional Trail dirt road.
The cabs of the four trains are propped up on horses. There is one small forklift in the foreground. I can only spot three or four workers in the picture. They are working with drop lights.
There is a lot of heavy machinery that goes into a train. The motors themselves are of impressive size. The wheels and suspension weigh many tons. You need tracks so that you can roll it out when finished."

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Honolulu Rail Project Cost Approaching One Half of Boston’s Big Dig!

Thanks to Honolulu's Civil Beat for publishing my article with the title $10 Billion: The Ultimate Price Tag for Honolulu Rail?

Below is the same article but this version includes three graphs that clearly illustrate why the FTA is partly responsible for HART's cost overruns and deserves to be sued.

Many people can recall Boston’s Big Dig, the nation’s largest infrastructure fiasco with a final price tag of about $15 billion. Surprisingly, Honolulu is building a rail system that’s expected to cost at least one-half the cost of the Big Dig! On a per-capita basis, this will be the nation’s largest infrastructure fiasco.

Despite the preponderance of evidence that Honolulu’s rail will do little to mitigate chronic traffic congestion on the island of Oahu, the project garnered marginal (50.6%) public support on a 2008 referendum. Despite a couple major lawsuits, it completed the Federal Full Funding Grant Agreement process in 2012.  A summary of the highlights of Honolulu rail’s development can be found in my blog.

What are the major causes of this project failure in progress? First is the local political preference for a “gravy train” e.g., why build a $1 Billion taxpayer project such as Bus Rapid Transit when you can build a $5 B rail project? Second is local decision making incompetence in terms of having a clue about the constructability, cost and payoff of heavy rail, e.g., decision makers paid client-focused consultants to tell them what they wanted to hear. And third is FTA’s project-approval-by-politics and vested interest in transit empire expansion.

A major infrastructure project is considered a failure if it exhibits at least two out of three bad outcomes: 1) Large cost overruns, 2) Long project delivery delays, and 3) Much lower usage than forecast.  Tren Urbano in San Juan, Puerto Rico is a peer project that HART rail will likely match in failure-to-meet-targets. Tren Urbano’s actual construction cost was 80% over the planned estimate, and its ridership has been only one quarter of what was projected! HART rail and Tren Urbano were planned by the same consultant (PB) and had the same oversight (FTA.)

At the end of 2015, five miles of the HART guideway, and the rail yard appear to be complete. HART, the voter approved “independent authority” that runs the project with many of its budget strings controlled by the city council, claimed a 25% project completion in December 2015, although 15% is a more realistic estimate given what can be seen on the ground. Several segments and columns have suffered large cracks, concrete delamination and segment misalignment, and in less than two years, the guideway construction company (Kiewit) submitted 40 work change orders and recently demanded a $20 million price adjustment. Then on January 5, 2016 HART discovered an (unbelievable) annual cost escalation of 10% and increased the cost of current contracts by another $240 M. Yet these increases are minor compared to the total escalation of cost figures.

The world authority the analysis of big infrastructure projects is Oxford University professor Bent Flyvbjerg whose “Over Budget, Over Time, Over and Over Again: Managing Major Projects” and “Megaprojects and Risk: An Anatomy of Ambition” have detailed the consistent flaws in big project development and have identified rail projects as particularly susceptible to these flaws. One of the flaws is strategic misrepresentation, or cleverly worded lying to the public and decision makers such as the HART board members and the Honolulu city council members, none of whom have any expertise in rail.

For decades we know that costs tend to escalate as projects go from planning to design, to initial construction and finally to completion.  It’s the rule, as shown in Figure 1 by Dr. Flyvbjerg (2009); the red line is mine.

Figure 1. Generic project cost escalation.

However, project advocates including the FTA turned a blind eye to facts and in 2009 they presented to the people of Hawaii Figure 2, a gem of strategic misrepresentation, which simply fit the political line that the proposed 20-mile rail will cost $4.6 billion, as applicable during the 2008 rail referendum.  Notice that the FTA cost development in Figure 2, line labeled MEAN, goes against decades of real world evidence shown in Figure 1. This FTA-sponsored report contains one point of truth: There is a 10% chance that HART rail will cost about $10 B. This is where HART construction costs are headed.

Figure 2. HART expected cost over time.
Source: FTA, Project Management Oversight Program, Honolulu High-Capacity Transit Corridor Project, July 2009, Final.

One would think that only three years into construction, with only about 15% of the project completed and only about half of the project gone to bid, HART would be sitting comfortably on a pile of money generated by a general excise tax surcharge being collected since 2007 (about $140 M per year) plus $1.55 B from the full funding grant agreement. Not so. In late 2014 HART announced a $910 M expected shortfall and lobbied the Hawaii legislature to extend the 0.5% surcharge from end of 2022 to end of 2027.

In another move of strategic misrepresentation, rail planners pretended that the rail is like an electric car that one buys and then goes homes and plugs it in. Likewise, HART builds rail, which “just” plugs into the city grid.  However, rail’s 30 MW to 50 MW power draw is a major requirement. The utility’s reaction was unpleasant for HART which is now negotiating another expensive arrangement. 

The combined cost of substations, power generation agreement, and the (still in limbo) airport utility relocation tasks are likely to cost about $500 M plus the construction cost escalation charge of $240 M brings the known total to $6.9 B with none of the 21 stations constructed and the second half of the project not gone to bid.

HART rail’s cost development is plotted in Figure 3. Not surprisingly it agrees with Figure 1 and is opposite to Figure 2. A smart mayor would sue the FTA for their negligent cost data representations which were used by city mayors to manipulate the public and City Council votes of approval.

Figure 3. Actual and expected cost plot.

Looking at the bigger picture for Honolulu which includes a $5 billion consent decree with the EPA for secondary sewer treatment, increasing dependency on imports, including 90% of food, with prices escalated by the Jones Act requirements, and the nation’s fifth worst unfunded pension liability, the future is worrisome: At best Honolulu will experience large increases in taxes and congestion, at worst those plus bankruptcy.

The second half of the project includes the complex construction through urban Honolulu. There are discussions to terminate the project at the Middle Street transit terminal which is approximately at the 16th mile of the rail route. This is a welcome possibility because Honolulu will be spared of the heavy construction and debilitating lane and road closures which will be deleterious to general economic activity and tourism. But local leadership appears to be too weak in taking on FTA and sparing Honolulu from crippling rail construction congestion and cost. I expect that the last four miles of rail from Middle Street to Ala Moana Center will cost $1 B each in combined construction costs and economic losses, so the option of a 16 mile route should be given a serious consideration.