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.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Highlights of HART Rail Project (2004 to 2015)

2004: Newly elected mayor Hannemann asserts that 34 miles of rail will cost $2.7 Billion.

Mid-2006: Hannemann switches to the Minimum Operating Segment: 20 miles will cost about $3 B.

Late-2006: Alternatives Analysis sets the cost at $4.6 B (this figure and all following figures include contingency funds).

Spring 2008: Hawaii legislature approves a 0.5% tack-on to Hawaii’s GET tax that applies to every transaction. Against expectations, Republican Governor Linda Lingle opted to save her political career and let the rail tax stand without a veto. The rail is expected to generate about $2 B. The gravy train has thus been established.

Summer 2008: Mayor Hannemann up for reelection gives a helicopter ride to Senator Oberstar who then says that the Feds will give Honolulu $900 M. Hannemann declares that “the train has left the station.”

2008: The author runs against Hannemann in a three way ray, garners 17% of the vote, and forces Hannemann to the general election which he won. The public is deluged with city, union, Hannemann campaign and FTA-approved “Light Rail” commercials, emails and letters, and a 50.6% “yes to rail” is obtained. Hannemann’s was clearly an rail project financed campaign.

2009: Rail’s budget cannot pass scrutiny – President pro tempore Senator Inouye of Hawaii joins the rail party. FTA is strong-armed to pay $1.55 B.

2010: Four years after the Alternatives Analysis was completed, and three years after the start of tax collection, the project has no environmental clearance, no cultural resources clearance and no robust budget. During the elections, a referendum to create HART is approved. Hannemann quits, runs for governor and loses. A three way race for the remaining term for mayor among Carlyle, Caldwell and the author is won by city prosecutor Carlisle.

2010: The cost is up to $5.4 Billion not counting the expensive Airport Runway proximity error; $150 M realignment is necessary to avoid coming near a major runway. Nobody is punished for this error that HDOT had informed the city in advance. Costs were “absorbed” by contingencies.

2010: Outgoing Governor Linda Lingle releases an independent financial analysis of the project by IMG and Thomas Rubin which concluded that construction cost will likely be more than the $5.4 B projection, ridership projections were both very high and would require passenger loads significantly higher than that of any U.S. transit operator, future rail renewal and replacement costs were ignored, operating subsidies were significantly understated, and many projected revenues were significantly overstated.  Mayor Carlisle dismissed the report as “a product of rail opponents.”

2011: Mayor Carlisle performs a “ceremonial groundbreaking” but only utility relocation occurs afterwards. The project still aims for a 2019 completion.

2011: Mayor Carlisle claims a steel price reduction due to the slowing of the Chinese economy and the project’s budget drops to $5.17 B. However, at this point the budget language has changed and the “unallocated contingency” is only about $300 M. FFGA is signed at year’s end.

2012: Both a NEPA and a Hawaiian burial ground desecration lawsuit are filed, the former in Federal court the latter in State court. Only the second lawsuit causes construction restrictions in areas where archeological surveys had not been done.

2012: Construction accelerates at the casting yard and the first piers appear in the middle of prime agricultural land. The first four miles of the project are on agricultural land. Carlisle loses in the primary. Two Democrats, Kirk Caldwell (pro rail) wins the mayor race over past governor Ben Cayetano (anti rail.) Although some frame it as another victory for the rail project, Cayetano’s battles with unions during his eight years in the governor’s office were a major cause for his loss.

Mid-2014: 9th Circuit court appeal ends unsuccessfully for the plaintiffs of a NEPA-based suit.

December 2014: HART reveals a $910 projected deficit and asks and gets for more tax monies.

December 2015: HART proposes to open 10 miles of rail service in 2018.

Friday, December 4, 2015

250 Miles with a Made in the USA Supercar, the Tesla P85D

The surprising acceleration of the Tesla S prompted Jay Leno to race his 700 HP Cobra two-seater against a grandmother driving a Tesla P85D in the opening segment of a recent episode of Jay Leno’s Garage shown on NBC-SN.  With minimal effort, the grandma handed Jay’s Cobra a clear defeat. Jay retorted: “Horsepower wins sales, torque wins races.” This is where electric motors reign supreme with their instant, large and constant torque. Torque is the actual force that turns the wheels and propels a vehicle forward.

Through a school fundraiser I got a weekend drive of a Tesla S. I asked if they had the 2015 top-of-the-line model available for the drive, the P85D, and they did!  I kept the car for almost three days; offered rides to over a dozen wowed passengers, then loaded the family and completed a tour around the island… Honolulu, Mililani, Haleiwa, Kaneohe, Waimanalo, Hawaii Kai, and back to Honolulu.

A fair comparison would pit the Tesla against the $150,000 Maserati Quatroporte for size and luxury or a $300,000 Ferrari FF for performance and luxury, but hardly anyone is familiar with those Italian exotics. Instead, I’d compare the Tesla S by with two popular cars that I and a lot of other people are familiar with, that also have elective drive: The BMW 335i in hybrid version, which is sold as the Active Hybrid 3, and the top selling sedan in the US, the Toyota Camry, in Hybrid and XLE trim.

F U L L   R E V I E W

People who can deduct expensive car leases or who can buy cars in the range of $60,000 and above owe it to themselves to test drive a Tesla S and its more powerful variants.  I will wait for the 75% scale version of the P85D or its 2016 sister the P90D. I’d love a Tesla M, M for motor sport; 25% smaller, 25% lighter and 25% cheaper than the P85D.  Hopefully one of these days Elon Musk will read this and oblige me …

Thursday, December 3, 2015

UC-Berkeley Professor: Rail TOD Isn't Sustainable Development

One of the conclusions that can be drawn from the article Does Transit-Oriented Development Need the Transit? by Daniel G. Chatman, Associate Professor of City and Regional Planning at the University of California, Berkeley is that rail transit is ineffective in reducing auto ownership and in reducing auto ownership use for commuting.

Interesting quotes include the following (my underlining):
  • Auto ownership: Once I controlled for housing type, parking availability, population density, bus availability, and other built environment measures, the results were striking. ... rail proximity was not an independently significant predictor of auto ownership.
  • Driving to work: When I controlled for other factors, the apparent effect of rail access on auto commuting vanished entirely.
  • Grocery trips: Again, when controlling for parking supply, housing, and built environment characteristics, neither housing age nor walking distance to rail showed any association with the frequency of auto grocery trips.
  • Conclusion 1: Developers are aware that public opposition is often lower near rail stations, and policy makers and urban planners believe that rail access will mitigate traffic impacts. But such a policy will not improve long-term sustainability when rail investments and rail-proximate housing, in and of themselves, make little difference in auto ownership and use.
  • Conclusion 2: If access to rail is not a primary factor in reducing auto use, it could be a blessing, not only because rail infrastructure is expensive, but also because the amount of available land near rail stations is limited.

My conclusion: Rail based TODs are unsustainable. They are sub-optimal projects that waste public resources on marginal (at best) mitigations of mobility problems.

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.