Thursday, September 18, 2014

Ho'opili Development on the Island of Oahu--Comments to DPP


This is a picture of today (left) and the proposed development of Ho'opili (right.)  DPP is poised to issue permits for Ho'opili to begin construction on prime agricultural lands on Oahu.


I sent the following comments to the Department of Planning and Permitting of the City and County of Honolulu.  The bottom line is that with or without rail, the Ho'opili Development will be a traffic impact disaster for Central Oahu and no meaningful road capacity accommodations are planned, therefore no permits should be granted. My main comments against the (untruthful) assessments of Ho'opili's traffic impacts are as follows.
  • The traffic models used to assess the impacts of the Ho'opili development are too limited in scope relative to the size and regional impacts of this very large development. Most outputs in the TIAR are unacceptable underestimations.
  • In Ho'opili-related traffic analyses, the H-1/H-2 freeway merge which is a critical bottleneck in the region was completely ignored and no mitigation to the existing severe congestion has been proposed.
  • Most analyses I have reviewed present year 2020 projections with only about 1/3 of Ho'opili developed. Comprehensive analyses with the full 100% of the project developed are not available. This is an obvious “salami” tactic and under-representation of the development’s full scale of impacts.
  • The Ho'opili TIAR claims that the OMPO model allows them to take an up to 30% trip reduction in trip generation by the development due to the “integrat-ed character” of the Hoopili community. However, there is no proof that this is a valid or prudent assumption. I cannot think of a more integrated community than Kalilhi with its rich mix of light industrial, services, offices, storage, retail, food, school and residential land uses. Arguing that Kalihi folks make 30% fewer trips than the rest of Oahu is wrong. At any rate, there is no proof, so Ho'opili taking such huge “discounts” in traffic generation is wrong.
  • Ho'opili’s generation of trips by transit is not large. For example, the number of trips made by rail is the equivalent of a few bus loads in the morning peak. Regardless of whether rail is fully operational by 2020 (which is unrealistic in my opinion,) Hoopili’s traffic impact will be immense with or without rail. Well over 90% of the commuting trips generated by Hoopili residents will be made by auto, bus or bike, all of which require lanes. Only localized but no regional lanes are proposed to be added, therefore Hoopili will cause huge increases in traffic congestion in the region.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Incompetence of HART. Cheapest Bid for 9 Stations Comes 75% Over Budget!

Here is good coverage of the situation in the Hawaii Reporter.

Some additional comments:
  • The pain in cost overruns and construction congestion will be severe. The only thing we can do now is kick the people responsible for rail out of office.  Six are out already (Mufi, Peter, Linda, Neil, Stanley, Rida*)
  • These nine stations are the relatively easy ones to build... A couple of them are in empty fields. Imagine the cost of remaining 12 stations in Kalihi, downtown, Kakaako near the water...
  • The next traffic calamity by the elevated rail is the passing of the guideway over the H1/H2 merge.
  • After that is the partial loss of Kamehameha Hwy. in Aiea for a year or so.
  • After that is the debilitating impacts at and near the airport (Hawaii's tourism economy lifeline.) 
 So far we've been talking about politics, trials, concrete poles, contracts and money. We have not seen much of the rail's traffic congestion. The real suffering should start early in 2015.

Recall that the geniuses at HART purchased miles of steel rails in 2010 and since then they rot unused at Barbers Point Harbor.  These rails won't be put in service for about ten years!



(*) ex mayor Mufi Hannemann, ex mayor Peter Carlisle,  ex governor Linda Lingle, ex governor Neil Abercrombie, ex council member Stanley Chang, ex representative Rida Cabanilla.)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Gas or Electric Car? Website Estimates Fuel Costs

The Institute for Transportation Studies at the University of California-Davis has a tradition in researching alternative propulsion systems for light duty vehicles such as cars, vans and pickup trucks.  They recently unveiled an interesting website called EV Explorer.

People can input various types of cars and their point to point trips such as their daily commute. The EV Explorer uses Google maps to find the best route and then calculates the annual cost of round-trips depending on how many times a week a person makes this trip.

The website also allows for comparisons that take account of the local cost of living. In fact the user should include his/her local cost of gas and electricity instead of using the default national averages.

Not surprisingly, the results are startling for Honolulu compared to the average U.S. city. Not because Honolulu has expensive gasoline (it does) but because it has outrageously expensive electricity (almost three times the national average!)

I used a popular family car, the 2014 Toyota Camry in two versions, one with the standard 4-cylinder engine and one with the hybrid powerplant.  I left unchanged their two electric vehicles, the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf. The trip I used was from the UH-Manoa where I work to Kailua where I used to reside. An even 30 mile round trip.


Using average U.S. prices with regular gas at $3.8 per gallon and electricity at 14 cents per KW-hour, the electric vehicles have a clear advantage in terms of money spent on fuel. Just for this trip over a year a Nissan Leaf could save be $500 over the regular Camry.  But wait!


I need to adjust the prices for Honolulu where the price of regular gas is $4.1 per gallon and the price per KWh is 40 cents (including the fixed charges added by the utility.).

The picture changes dramatically.  The EVs cost almost as much to make these trips as the regular Camry! For Honolulu, the Camry Hybrid is the right choice.  I run similar numbers about 15 months ago and indeed I got a hybrid version of a sedan that offers a 30% better city mpg compared to the version with the same gas engine alone.

If you are in Hawaii, drive an EV and brag about fuel cost savings, I am sorry to say, but your savings is a figment of your imagination.


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Highway Funding: Do Roads Pay for Themselves? No Because of "Theft"

Here is a brief analysis by Jack Mallinckrodt,  PhD in Electrical Engineering, Stanford University who made U.S. transportation planning his retirement hobby and has developed a series of well thought out articles at his website www.urbantransport.org:

"
The current intense search for additional sources of highway user revenue is grossly misdirected.

Based on FHWA “Highway Statistics” data for 2004 (typical), “highway user fees”, defined as all tax payments by highway users paid as a “necessary condition of their use of the highway system”, are already yielding revenues of $245 billion/yr (2004).  That’s enough to easily pay the full current annual costs of right-of-way, planning, building, maintaining,  and operating, and financing  the entire U.S. highway system, with a surplus (in business called  a “profit”) of $98 billion/yr.

 The fact that they don’t do so is due entirely to:
  1. An arbitrary (not rational) redefinition of “Highway User Fees” hs that counts only about half of the ACTUAL highway user fees paid, and
  2. State and federal politicized congressional misappropriation of those  surplus revenues, (“Diversions) to earmarked political favorites (street cars, bullet trains etc.) that provide little or no congestion reduction capacity at 90 or more times the net the cost per passenger-mile.
As someone might have said: “We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a revenue distribution problem.”. The revenue distribution process is a leaky sieve. The revered “Highway Trust Fund” initiated long ago as a solution to highway funding, with its latter day revisions has become instead, part of the problem.

No conceivable additional revenue collection mechanism, not increased fuel taxes, not tolling, nor mileage charge system, will resolve this funding gap until we fix the real highway fund leakage problem.  Our first priority must be to fix the highway user fee receipt distribution process. Otherwise we will simply be spinning our wheels faster. There is much more to this story, derived and explained in “Highway User Fee Surplus.”
"

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

CitiBike? No, SillyBike

  • "The CitiBike program aimed at putting 10,000 bikes in 600 locations around New York City for commuters to share in the name of environmentalism, health and being hip."
  • "CitiBike has put out 6,000 bikes at 325 locations at a cost of $6,833 per bike."
  • "For a $95 annual fee bike-share members in Manhattan get all-you-can-use access to the silly looking CitiBike in 45 minute increments."
  • For $200 one can find a good used bike from an online list, pay $200... and keep it!
  • Worse yet: "In recent months, the program’s operators approached the administrations of Mr. Bloomberg and his successor, Mayor Bill de Blasio, about raising the cost of an annual membership, proposing rates up to $140"

Sample Sources:
Another Liberal Amenity for the Urban Upper Class Courtesy Taxpayers

Citi Bike System Successful, but Wobbly From the Start

Bike Share’s Rough Ride

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Hawaii State Task Force Recommends Jones Act Exemption

This is a very informative article written by Michael Hansen, Hawaii Shippers Council.

Debate in The U.S. over the Jones Act is very lively these days. For example, on April 25th, Mark Perry, a University of Michigan-Flint business professor wrote: Want energy independence? Waive the Jones Act.

To which a pro-Jones Act shippers lobby quickly responded: Missing the mark on the Jones Act.

In my opinion, the Jones Act, hurts all U.S. island and non-contiguous regions. At a minimum, non-contiguous U.S. states and territories, and the LNG trade must be exempted from Jones Act immediately!

AIKEA FOR HONOLULU No. 36 – Offshore Nuclear Power Plants Can Be Effective. Well, I Said So Four Years Ago!

The Economist: Researchers find advantages in floating nuclear power stations. You may recall that I proposed this as mayor candidate in 2010: Nuclear Power in Oahu's Future?  I know that my proposal went nowhere, but it feels great to be four years ahead of MIT. Furthermore, my idea is more economical than theirs. There is no need to construct floating platforms.  The Navy has many large decommissioned ships that float just fine and can be refurbished at a lower cost.

Before Honolulu hits the energy wall and desperation sets in, problems with potable water may arise due to drought, sea level rise or other reasons. So another billion dollar project may be needed for Desalination, as I explain in this article based on a large desalination plant currently under construction in San Diego.

The impact of executive priorities is clear if one compares the economic trajectories of a few countries say since 1990: Greece vs. Israel, Russia vs. China, Argentina vs. Brazil, and France vs. Germany to name a few. All of them faced a number of local and regional adversities but each pair has a clear economic winner now. Priorities and selection of wise transportation, infrastructure, energy and investment options made most of the difference.

Here are two examples of infrastructure where Hawaii made major wrong choices and placed itself in the loser column.

Renewables. They are expensive and their intermittency is highly problematic.  They depend on heavy subsidies.  To deal with intermittency HECO plans to invest heavily on … batteries. (Our politicians needed wind mills with giant labels: Batteries Not Included.) See Hawaii Wants 200MW of Energy Storage for Solar, Wind Grid Challenges. This is purely throwing good money after bad.

Rail. Simply put, rail is way too much buck for the bang. For the five billion dollars of Honolulu heavy rail we could have spent:
  • One billion dollars on LNG conversion and a modest floating nuclear power plant to reduce Oahu’s dependence on oil from over 75% to 25% or less, instead of blowing tens of millions in the wind.
  • Two billion dollars on HOT lanes and other mitigations to truly reduce traffic congestion.
  • One billion dollars to redevelop ex-Navy lands and buildings at Kalaeloa to preserve the rich history of the site and relieve Oahu’s pressing homeless and low income housing problems.
  • And one billion on desalination to anticipate water shortage problems.

Join me at the 38th Annual SBH Business Conference, Tuesday, May 13, 2014, 8:00 AM to 2:00 PM, Hibiscus Ballroom, Ala Moana Hotel. Luncheon keynote speaker is entrepreneur, author, coach and motivator, Patrick Snow, who will speak on “Proven Principles for Prosperity.”

The business  program features Mike McCartney (Hawaii Tourism Authority), Tom Yamachika (Tax Foundation), Bob Sigall (Author and Educator), Mark Storfer (Hilo Hattie), Naomi Hazelton-Giambrone (Element Media), Dale Evans (Charley's Taxi), and Peter Kay (Your Computer Minute). Contact: Sam Slom (349-5438) or SBH (396-1724). Don’t miss it!

Aloha!
Panos


Panos D. Prevedouros, PhD
Professor of Civil Engineering
Member, SBH Board of Directors

Monday, May 5, 2014

Desalination Works but It's Expensive


A recent large deployment of desalination in San Diego is useful to Hawaii where Oahu and Maui may approach the need for manufactured potable water in the next 20 years or so if population and tourism growth trends continue and appreciable sea water rise continues (e.g., 0.32 cm water rise was noted between 1993 and 2013, which, if remains steady, results in 32 cm or 13 inches mean sea level rise every 100 years.) Recall that as sea water rises it makes larger parts of the aquifer brackish, thus unusable for drinking and irrigation.

The project in San Diego was smartly located right next to a large powerplant which means that a comparable location for Oahu would be next to the Kahe powerplant and Electric Beach.  This is because desalination requires vast amounts of both water and electricity, and pumping requirements can be reduced by taking advantage of the seawater pumped into a pre-existing powerplant.



The deployment in San Diego is currently under construction. It is designed to produce 50 MGD of water, that is 50 million gallons per day. This amount of clean water can supply 112,000 typical single family homes or more than one third of the current s.f. homes on Oahu.  This would be the upper limit of desalination plant that would be needed for Oahu. This plant would require more than 30 MW of electricity which is what the H-Power plant was producing for decades, before its boiler capacity was doubled in mid-2013.

The budgeted price of San Diego's Carlsbad desalination plant?  One billion dollars including a 10-mile distribution pipe, if the project is completed on time and on budget in early 2016.  Come 2020, Oahu may need to start budgeting for such a large project.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Transportation Engineers Would Be More Relevant if They Did Not Peddle Ineffective Transit Systems

As I opined in the Journal of the Institute of Transportation Engineers.

Mr. Schwartz’s call for making the transportation engineer relevant is important. Sharing this realization, I ran twice for Mayor of Honolulu on an infrastructure preservation and traffic congestion relief platform and I garnered almost 20% in both 2008 and 2010.  Mr. Schwartz' advise to transportation engineers is good except for his instruction to “get people out of cars.” New York City may boast that 70% of commutes occur on non-auto modes, but it’s an exception. The next U.S. city with a low auto-mode share barely has 30% of commutes occurring on non-auto modes. Telecommuting is surpassing transit. Car-sharing, and intelligent and autonomous zero emission vehicles will maintain the auto mode’s dominance.

In 30 years or so, my kindergartener son and his cohorts will be commuting in driverless electric cars that can reach 0-60 mph in 5 seconds, follow at a headway of under 0.5 seconds on narrow high capacity lanes (some four lane urban highways will convert to automated guideways with six 8 ft. lanes), be a full office away from home or work, and still be exciting to drive in off-drivereless mode outside the city.  

The future of transportation engineering in the U.S. will be great as long as we do not expend substantial resources on modes of the past millennium such bicycles and ordinary trains, except for limited applications where they may be both practical and cost-effective.


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Useful Uses of Light Duty Drones


Small, light duty remotely controlled (RC) drones(1) that fly at a height between 20 and 200 ft. may perform a large number of useful tasks quickly and relatively cheaply. Here's a partial list of the things that can be done by a $5,000 multi-rotor drone that can lift 2 to 4 kg (4 to 10 lb):

Infrastructure Services (2)
  • Assess road and bridge surface condition with 3D mapping that is far easier than deploying expensive custom profilometers on specialized vehicles.
  • Inventory and condition of road and highway signs, signals, lane markings and barriers.
  • Remote assessment of tree growth, land slide slopes and condition, rock outcrops along highways.
  • Detailed external inspection of newly delivered projects such as roads, bridges, buildings, etc.
  • External inspection of pipelines.
  • Inspection of utility lines.
  • Harbor patrol and inspections for leaks, etc.
  • Area monitoring of air quality: traffic, chemical, other leaks.
  • Traffic management at the site of an incident with no or poor CCTV coverage.
  • Rapid regional land surveys and photogrammetry (i.e., centimeter accuracy GoogleEarth).
Commercial Services
  • Extra live capture of events such as surfing, racing, skiing and other sports where camera placement is challenging. (Example of 2013 RallyX near Honolulu.)
  • Real estate, architectural, promotional and educational videos.
  • Spraying of crops and fertilizers -- used in Japan for over 20 years; see picture above.
  • Wildlife monitoring and rounding of livestock.
  • Remote sensing for archaeology, minerals, other resources.
Security and Rescue Services
  • Police, security and similar quick-deployment surveillance that deploys from the trunk of a police vehicle, and supplements helicopter surveillance.
  • Remote sensing and discovery of lost hikers, avalanche victims, etc.
  • Quick emergency supply drop before "big help" can be mobilized, if necessary.
Small, private drone use may need to be regulated appropriately such as this example: Drones banned from Yosemite, other parks.


Notes (1): Some call them Personal UAVs -- (2): See additional discussion: Researchers Have High Hopes for Drone Use in Transportation



AIKEA FOR HONOLULU Newsletter Kudos

About ten times a year I send out my AIKEA FOR HONOLULU Newsletter in which I usually summarize some of my more important blogs.

I received over fifty responses for issue No. 35 which basically replicated the article below, Sopogy's Demise is a Huge Victory for Honest Engineering and the Taxpayer, including a response from past governor Ben Cayetano who wrote:

"Panos, I suggest you submit a condensed version as an Op-Ed to the Star.advertiser.  Mind boggling stuff.
Aloha, Ben"

Past University of Hawaii President and State DOT director Fuj Matsuda said:
"Thanks for the update:  I had heard that Sopogy was in trouble, but had no idea it was that  bad."



Also, the following response came from a well known person in the area of renewable installations in Hawaii. It reads as follows:

"Always appreciate your emails but couldn't keep myself from responding to this one in particular.

The entire sector has from its birth, been driven by pure "emotion".

Your mature, dispassionate, logical point of view on energy, rail, politics, waste and abuse are appreciated and far too rare.

From the 70's "Japan is taking over the world"and "we're out of oil"... To Y2k's "end of the USA as we know it" .. To today's message of "renewable energy AT ANY COST" ...

I've learned that everyone needs a life mission.  Unfortunately, choosing one's life mission is typically an emotional descision.

A couple more HOKU's from now, just on the other side of Hawaii's very own "Big Dig" (rail), people will be looking for a grownup to lead them, and remember Panos.

HANG IN THERE!
we need ya"

============

Thank you all for your support.  That's my "payment" and it's more than enough!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Sopogy's Demise is a Huge Victory for Honest Engineering and the Taxpayer

Along with a trio of highly capable mechanical and systems engineers I spent dozens of hours poring over the specifics of the micro-concentrated solar power touted by Sopogy which shut down several months prior to this April 22, 2014 article.

Sopogy was told by numerous engineers that their Kona projections were absurd and violated the second law of thermodynamics.  Sopogy proceeded anyway with their original plan.

My multi-year effort was particularly painful because this incompetent technology had received the 2009 Blue Planet Foundation Award and my own Dean sat at the board of directors of BPF when this award was made. Keahole Associates, an Oahu venture of Sopogy, was promoted in University of Hawaii, College of Engineering literature.

Here is some of the 2009 hyperbole: "Sopogy is developing the next generation of high efficiency solar panels and energy storage technologies for Hawaii and the World.  Keahole Solar Power developed and constructed a 2 megawatt solar thermal project and is developing an additional 30 megawatts of fossil fuel free power.  Together his companies employ and support hundreds of green collar jobs and kept over $500 million in Hawaii’s local economy through energy savings. In addition his work has off-set over 2 million metric tons of CO2 emissions which is the equivalent of reducing 27,000 tankers of gasoline or eliminating the consumption of 4.6 million barrels of oil."

The most factual evidence suggests that throughout its existence, Sopogy generated 0.1 MW!  This is roughly equal to 50 modest solar installations on residential rooftops.  It took $20 million (yes million) of Hawaii technology tax credits to accomplish so little.
Sopogy is developing the next generation of high efficiency solar panels and energy storage technologies for Hawaii and the World.  Keahole Solar Power developed and constructed a 2 megawatt solar thermal project and is developing an additional 30 megawatts of fossil fuel free power.  Together his companies employ and support hundreds of green collar jobs and kept over $500 million in Hawaii’s local economy through energy savings. In addition his work has off-set over 2 million metric tons of CO2 emissions which is the equivalent of reducing 27,000 tankers of gasoline or eliminating the consumption of 4.6 million barrels of oil. - See more at: http://social.csptoday.com/technology/sopogy-ceo-receives-blue-planet-foundation-award#sthash.1MB5Q8Cs.dpuf
Sopogy is developing the next generation of high efficiency solar panels and energy storage technologies for Hawaii and the World.  Keahole Solar Power developed and constructed a 2 megawatt solar thermal project and is developing an additional 30 megawatts of fossil fuel free power.  Together his companies employ and support hundreds of green collar jobs and kept over $500 million in Hawaii’s local economy through energy savings. In addition his work has off-set over 2 million metric tons of CO2 emissions which is the equivalent of reducing 27,000 tankers of gasoline or eliminating the consumption of 4.6 million barrels of oil. - See more at: http://social.csptoday.com/technology/sopogy-ceo-receives-blue-planet-foundation-award#sthash.1MB5Q8Cs.dpuf

In 2010 is was announced that DHHL was about to enter into a (tragic) agreement with Sopogy. It would have cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars to develop a 30 MW solar power plant.

Then in 2011, Sopogy won the APEC 2011 Hawaii Business Innovation Showcase award for Honolulu.

Throughout this period Sopogy CEO Darren Kimura was the energy darling of Governor Neil Ambercrombie. The Gov would not grant me an appointment to talk about energy issues for Hawaii despite repeated requests. Of course his energy point man, Bryan Schatz is so pro "renewables" that logic and cost are not an issue.

Despite everything being stacked in favor of Sopogy, I summarized the analysis and warned DHHL that they should be cautious about this type of power plant and investment. The local media ignored my article. Only the Hawaii Reporter printed my opinion.

In January of 2013 the Hawaii Venture Capital Association gave Sopogy the 2012 HVCA Deal of the Year Award for a deal that (thankfully) went nowhere!

All these august bodies failed to do even minimal due diligence. For example they simply could have looked at HEI's Securities and Exchange Commission filings which list the power they purchase from power sources other than their own.  Sopogy's Kona power plant appears nowhere.

Before publishing my analysis in 2011, I met with Darren Kimura at the Pacific Club. I informed him that I can find no power sold to HELCO and he said that he'll furnish me data, although most of the power was used "internally."  Darren never got back to me.  It was clear to me that he was selling duds for millions.

On April 23, 2014 greentech referred to my 2011 article and commented as follows: 

"Kimura and the company always seemed to be on hand to receive an award, bond, or tax credit in Hawaii but rarely could the firm be found making competitive energy, despite the CEO's claims.

"We have about 75 megawatts under contract and in the process of being deployed," claimed the CEO in a 2011 interview. In a much earlier interview he spoke of a 50-megawatt solar farm in Spain and $10 million per year in revenue.

"Even before the price of silicon photovoltaics plunged it was difficult to see how Sopogy could ever be competitive."

This is only one sample of international humiliation for Hawaii.

Several lessons were observed but likely were not learned, as follows:

1.  Good, honest engineering can reveal technical and economic duds.
2.  Once a project (or company) is an engineering or economic dud, it will fail.
3.  The demise of Sopogy is fortunate because duds like it can become a tax supported scheme concocted by greedy rent seekers and enterprising politicians who also create legal supports for the schemes. For example Hawaii's PUC considered preferential pricing for concentrated solar power to make sure that the 30 MW Kalaeloa scheme would make money (while the taxpayer would get fleeced.)
4.  Media, politicians and environmentalists know nothing about engineering stars and duds, but they have bestowed upon themselves arbitrary decision wisdom  that determines winners and losers.
5.  Many people go along to get along, or do the wrong thing for money regardless of what the right, ethical or moral thing to do is.
6.  There was abundant "me too" or follower behavior and scarcity of prudent analysis and caution.
7.  The truth rarely comes out, or comes out after precious funds have been lost. In this case millions of tax dollars were lost at the Kona plant and large acreage in the Ewa plane was bulldozed.
8.  HEI, the parent of HELCO and HECO knew the facts about Kona's Sopogy plant but did not make any apparent public disclosures when DHHL was proposing a mega version of the Kona power plant. Worse yet, HECO ran a Sopogy television commercial repeatedly from 2011 to 2013, touting Sopogy technology and HECO’s commitment to ecology.
9.  Hawaii’s blind promotion of a sub-standard technology sets a bad precedent in an area were Hawaii already is weak.
10.  Nobody will likely be held accountable for the wasted tax credits or apologize for rewarding incompetence. Will there be an AD's inquiry of DHHL and HECO?

Many well-known people such as Governors Lingle and Abercrombie, Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw, Blue Planet Foundation's Henk Rogers, and Hawaii's only billionaire Pierre Omidyar have Sopogy egg on their face. But given that this is Hawaii, the Sopogy scandal will likely die off quietly and the charlatans will have the last laugh.

PS. The counsel of attorney and engineer Eric Beal is greatly appreciated. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Honolulu Traffic Lights: 12 Minutes for One Half Mile in Waikiki!


On Good Friday I had the opportunity to observe the typical gridlock traffic conditions of a busy Friday in Waikiki.  Then I found a perfect object to monitor.  An articulated (bendy) city bus with the number 154 stencilled on its roof. I tracked it as it motored along on Kalia Street, made a left turn onto Saratoga Street and eventually crossed Kalakaua Avenue and disappeared from my view.




The total distance from the Hale Koa hotel to Kalakaua Avenue is 0.55 miles.  An acceptable speed for buses is 7 miles per hour including stops so this distance would have taken 4.7 minutes.

Bus 154 took 6 minutes to reach Saratoga at an average speed of 3 mph, and took another 6.5 minutes to cross Kalakaua Avenue at an average speed of 2.3 mph which is much slower than walking speed for most people (3.1 mph according to Google.)

Fantastically, a day earlier I get a call from KHON2 News. They wanted my opinion on the city's
new multimillion dollar proposal to synchronize its traffic lights.  So I marvel at the fact that instantly upon getting elected to City Council, Stanley Chang knew that rail will be Oahu's savior for traffic congestion.  (I met him and he told me that.) Yet it took Stanley three years and a candidacy for U.S. Congress to figure out that Honolulu's traffic signals work poorly and now he wants to fix all of them at once with a five million dollar study!

Ineffective hyperbola rules the day in Honolulu. A day before the traffic project announcement, the president of HART promised to deliver 10 miles of elevated rail with ten stations and operating trains 36 months from April 2014.  I'll bet him $36,000 that this is NOT possible!

What can I say?  We certainly need more lawyers like Kirk Caldwell (Mayor), Stanley Chang (City Council), Ivan Lui-Kwan (HART president) and Mike Formby (City Transportation Director) in charge of Oahu traffic and mobility. All blah-blah and promises while traffic and buses crawl at 3 miles per hour.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"Modern" Light Rail: Worth the Investment?

The answer comes quickly in the introduction of this well-researched article in The Atlantic Cities: No!


  • Five U.S. metros (Buffalo, Portland, Sacramento, San Diego, and San Jose) opened light rail systems in the 1980s to great fanfare. 
  • Portland became transportation models for the country, pointing toward a transit-friendly urban future.
  • Based on the decisions to build these projects, which were made by hundreds of local officials and often endorsed by residents through referenda, you might think that the experience building light rail in the 1980s had been unambiguously successful. 
  • Yet it doesn't take much digging to find that over the past thirty years, these initial five systems in themselves neither rescued the center cities of their respective regions nor resulted in higher transit use — the dual goals of those first-generation lines.
  • According to an analysis of Census data, in four of the five cities with new light rail lines, the share of regional workers choosing to ride transit to work declined.
Read the article: The Perfect Commute: Have U.S. Light Rail Systems Been Worth the Investment?

Monday, April 7, 2014

U.S. Infrastructure Projects Cost Way More Than They Should, Explained

The Atlantic Cities magazine published a condensed analysis of seven main reasons that explain why U.S infrastructure project cost more than elsewhere. They are:

 1. Davis-Bacon Laws: Passed in 1931, the Davis-Bacon Act mandates that laborers for federal public works projects receive local prevailing wages. (+22%)

2. Project Labor Agreements: In 2009, President Obama signed an executive order mandating that contractors for federal projects exceeding $25 million sign Project Labor Agreements, which guarantee the hiring of union workers. (+13~15%)

3. 'Buy America' Provision: For decades, this provision has discouraged projects from being built with manufactured goods made outside the U.S. Obama strengthened it in the 2009 stimulus package to include projects besides just highways. (+10~500%)*

4. Lengthy Environmental Reviews. (+10~25%)*

5. Transportation Alternatives Program: Everyone can agree that walking trails, complete streets, historic renovations, landscaping, and bike lanes are public goods, but should they be paid for with highway fund money? This is the current policy of the FHWA. (+5~20%)*

6. Administrative Costs: Currently, U.S. transportation revenue is like a boomerang, going from the states to Washington and back. Naturally, this process adds bureaucratic costs. (+10%)*

7. Toll Bans: Although tolls exist along some stretches of interstate, they are generally not permitted by the federal government. This has stripped the government of a key revenue source that could be used for repairs, and for cheaper borrowing. (+10~50%)*

Note: (*) Author's estimates.
SOURCE: 7 Reasons U.S. Infrastructure Projects Cost Way More Than They Should

Friday, April 4, 2014

2010-2013 U.S. Metropolitan Area Changes

This domestic migration three year snapshot indicates that Americans are moving out of Democrat, cold and mismanaged cities with expensive transit systems to Republican, warm and business-friendly cities with small or medium transit systems.  Smart!



See more in New Geography: Special Report: 2013 Metropolitan Area Population Estimates

Monday, March 31, 2014

Hawaii's Electric Company Suffers National Humiliation (Forbes)

On September 6, 2013 Hawaiian Electric Company or HECO changed the rules for connecting solar systems. Based on DBEDT data, the number of residential permits in December 2012 were 2,452.  With the new rules in effect, the number of residential permits in December 2013 were 1,218, a 50.3% reduction.

FORBES:  A Hawaiian utility has tried to slow the growth of solar. In December, Hawaiian Electric Company shut down rooftop solar installations, citing “grid stability.”

“That’s another bullshit argument,” said Chu, a Nobel Prize winning physicist who served as energy secretary from 2009 to April, 2013. Solar installations don’t threaten grid stability until they approach 20% of the customer base, Chu said. In Hawaii solar is at 2%.

(Hawaiian Electric disputes Chu’s 2% figure, and spokeswoman Lynn Unemori says the company has not halted solar installations, but has adopted “a more cautious approach to applications for new PV systems on circuits with a large amount of PV already installed, solely for reasons of safety and reliability.” ) END QUOTE


But Roy Skaggs of Alternate Energy, Inc. won't let Lynn's "word-smithed" response stand:

Lynne,

To quote Mr. Chu above, that’s a bullshit response. The only thing I agree with you on, is that rooftop solar has exceeded 2%. The rest of your canned response is the same vomit regurgitated by Scott Seu and sadly what we have been sometimes even seeing from the PUC. HECO has blocked many people, including ones who you were supposed to grandfather. This “approving new installations daily” statement is so exaggerated that you would have to work for HECO to believe it. But hey, I guess if you approve 1 installation a day and block 20, then you can get away with that line!

How can you say HECO “strongly supports” PV? Since September, the entire industry has been cast away by HECO. How many hundreds of lost jobs and millions of dollars does it take before HECO admits they do not support anything but their own profit margins? You have hundreds of customers stuck in limbo for months who signed contracts and committed to PV before Sept 6th, and HECO has still not resolved those poor families troubles. Many are paying bank loans AND HECO!

And let’s talk for a second about this “grid saturation” that HECO holds onto and tries to pass off as truth. Scott Seu admitted in front of Senators and Representatives in October that there are grids over 200% DML. Where are the voltage spikes of record? Surely, with such “unsafe” levels, HECO would have examples to provide, right? The newest delay HECO is pushing is something already in place. The inverters being used by most, if not every single company, have protection in place from the bogus claims of “voltage spikes” that HECO has been spewing. These fast trip invereters are there and have been there. So why are solar companies just now getting word to provide proof that the inverters do indeed have this in place? We have been telling you they do for months.

What is HECO’s next delay tactic? The jig is up. More and more news outlets and industry professionals, like Mr. Chu, are calling you on your bullshit. If HECO doesn’t work with solar and the customers who want it, you will soon go the way of the land line.

How can a monopoly tell hard working Americans that they cannot capture the free sun on their own rooftops? You can’t. This is a losing battle for HECO. Innovate or go extinct.

Roy Skaggs


PS--Also recall that HEI president Connie Lau lead Move Oahu Forward... the big bucks lobby that is inflicting heavy rail on Oahu.

Monday, March 24, 2014

HECO's Renewable Watch

Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) has launched a website which displays in near real time the generation of electric power on each Hawaiian island by solar (photovoltaic or PV) and wind renewable energy: Renewable Watch.

Shown below is the image for the Island of Oahu caught at the time of this post...


At this instance at 11:54 AM, solar PV is making 142 MW whereas wind is making 58 MW.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Bicycling Safety Through the Eyes of TOP GEAR

TOP GEAR is an internationally syndicated car show of the BBC.  They specialize in both admiring and mocking all forms of transportation, with an emphasis on (super)cars.


In March 2014 they aired their "serious" TV adverts, as they call them, in response to calls by the City of London to improve bicycle safety.

You can search the web for the "outrage" the TOP GEAR TV ads caused.  Here is a sample from The Oregonian.

They are funny and they do have a bit of a point as well.  Enjoy the TOP GEAR YouTube threesome:
  1. Green, Red: Learn the Bloody Difference
  2. Act Your Age
  3. Work Harder. Get a Car.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Driverless Cars? Yes, GoogleCar, iCar, etc. are Closer than they Appear


No need for a driver's license?

Will the blind drive? 

Is this the end of accidents and insurance payments?

Will a multilingual automated car replace the taxi and handi-van?

Well, not so fast. Driverless cars are a Pandora's box of opportunities and challenges. One thing is for certain: They are coming.  First in simple versions; later on, in completely automated versions.

For example, Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Nissan and VW plan to offer 2016 model year cars that do at least half of these: braking and  throttle control (e.g., Delphi adaptive cruise control), self driving in stop-and-go traffic (e.g., BMW's traffic jam assistant), lane keeping (e.g., Toyota's lane keeping assist), gear shifting, and, if legal, unoccupied self-parking after all occupants and the driver exit the car (e.g., Audi's parking demonstration.)

Goggle has developed ten Google Driverless Cars (see sample photo) that have clocked well over 300,000 miles on California roads with only two reported accidents: One when the car was read-ended at a stop light and another near Google headquarters while driven by a person.  Google has produced a short video that shows a man driving around, picking up some food at a drive through store and arriving at home, opening his door and then extending his blind person cane to find his way to his house! Google expects sales of regular cars modified by Goggle to be drivereless in 2018. (Take a look at this CNN infographic.)


These developments cannot come soon enough because US, European, Chinese and other developing world cities are chocking in traffic.  Driverless cars will be a large part of the solution. They can follow each other at a distance of 0.5 seconds (engineers call this “headway”) instead of the average human headway of 1.5 seconds. This difference from 1.5 to 0.5 seconds of headway triples the capacity of a freeway lane from 2,200 vehicles per hour to over 6,000 vehicles per hour.

Sometime between 2030 and 2040, drivereless cars will become prevalent with more than one third of them in traffic. Then selected highways and arterial streets can be converted to driverless car highways with 8 ft. wide instead of 12 ft. wide lanes because driverless cars can adhere to a tight lane discipline.

The combination of tight lanes and close headways will have huge impacts to roadway capacity. Today two lanes on the Pali Highway have a capacity of roughly 4,500 cars per hour.  With only driverless cars on them the capacity of the same exact roadbed would be about 20,000 cars per hour. More than four times improvement; this will result in continuous 50 mph traffic flow. No congestion.

The driverless car technological innovation cannot come soon enough. For all but four U.S. cities (Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.) city transportation is done in private cars, vans and trucks 85% of the time or more. Telecommuting has already surpassed the share of trips by transit. Car-sharing, and intelligent, drivereless zero emission vehicles will maintain the car’s dominance here and abroad.

But before completely driverless car become ubiquitous, self parking cars will arrive.This will have a huge impact for complete parking lots because now a couple feet of clearance is required between cars for driver access.  The self-park cars will only need a couple of inches of clearance between their folded exterior mirrors. So the large parking structure at the University of Hawaii holding about 5,000 can easily store 6,000 much to the improved convenience of students and a few hundred thousand more dollars of revenue for the UH.

Recently there were rumors that a Tesla Cars-Apple Computer "affair" may be about a future (autonomous) iCar.

I have little doubt that thirty years from now my kindergartener son and his friends will be commuting in driverless electric sports cars that can reach 0-60 mph in 5 seconds, follow at a headway of under 0.5 seconds on narrow high capacity lanes, be a full office away from home or work, and still deliver an exciting drive in off-drivereless mode outside the city.  The future of transportation in the U.S. will be great as long as it does not invest on modes of the past millennium such bicycles and ordinary trains, except for limited applications where they may be both practical and cost-effective.

A shorter version of this article was originally published on February 15, 2014 in Hawaii's Filipino Chronicle.

Monday, March 10, 2014

"Get People Out of Cars" vs. Drivereless Cars

My opinion printed on pages 10 of the March 2014 issue of the ITE Journal.

Mr. Schwartz’s call for making the transportation engineer relevant is important. Sharing this realization, I ran twice for Mayor of Honolulu on an infrastructure preservation and traffic congestion relief platform and I garnered almost 20% in both 2008 and 2010.  Mr. Schwartz' advise to transportation engineers is good except for his instruction to “get people out of cars.” New York City may boast that 70% of commutes occur on non-auto modes, but it’s an exception. The next U.S. city with a low auto-mode share barely has 30% of commutes occurring on non-auto modes. Telecommuting is surpassing transit. Car-sharing, and intelligent and autonomous zero emission vehicles will maintain the auto mode’s dominance.

In 30 years or so, my kindergartener son and his cohorts will be commuting in driverless electric cars that can reach 0-60 mph in 5 seconds, follow at a headway of under 0.5 seconds on narrow high capacity lanes (some four lane urban highways will convert to automated guideways with six 8 ft. lanes), be a full office away from home or work, and still be exciting to drive in off-drivereless mode outside the city.  The future of transportation engineering in the U.S. will be great as long as we do not expend substantial resources on modes of the past millennium such bicycles and ordinary trains, except for limited applications where they may be both practical and cost-effective.

-- 
Panos D. Prevedouros, PhD
Professor of Transportation Engineering
University of Hawaii at Manoa
President of Hawaii Highway Users Alliance
Chair of Freeway Operations Simulation Subcom. (TRB AHB20)

Friday, March 7, 2014

Ken Orski: A 21st Century Approach to Transportation Funding

As states acquire more familiarity with credit transactions and develop more capacity to pursue public-private partnerships, and as federal budgetary constraints continue, long term financing of new transportation facilities and of multi-year reconstruction programs could become the states’ primary method of expanding and modernizing aging infrastructure. At the same time, states' growing fiscal independence points to a new approach to funding the nation's transportation needs in the 21st century. 

In this prospective new model, routine highway maintenance and system preservation would continue to be funded on a pay-as-you-go basis with current state and local tax revenue as supplemented with federal-aid highway dollars from the Highway Trust Fund . However, capital-intensive multi-year reconstruction programs and new capacity expansion projects ---investments that are beyond the states' fiscal capacity to fund out of current revenue --- would be financed largely through public-private partnerships employing long-term credit and availability payments. 
Provision of credit would remain a shared responsibility of the public and private sectors. Private Activity Bonds, the TIFIA program and State Infrastructure Banks would continue to serve as the main public sources of credit assistance while additional public credit facilities could be created, if need be, to handle a growing backlog of reconstruction needs. Potential candidates include Sen. Mark Warner's National Infrastructure Financing Authority (IFA) and Rep.John Delaney's $50 billion American Infrastructure Fund (AIF). The latter proposal would capitalize the AIF by selling bonds to U.S. companies. In exchange for purchasing the bonds, companies would be able to repatriate a portion of their overseas earnings tax-free. (A somewhat similar approach forms part of Rep.Camp's tax reform proposal).

The Highway Trust Fund--- freed from the obligation to fund new infrastructure and large  reconstruction programs on a cash basis---would be placed on a more stable financial footing, while an ample supply of long-term credit ---both public and private---would reduce the need for contract authority and multi-year transportation authorizations. Meanwhile, states and localities would gain more independence to plan and fund infrastructure improvements on their own terms, free of excessive federal regulatory oversight.
It's a highly plausible answer in our judgment to the nation's search for a long-term solution to the infrastructure funding problem.  

Earlier versions of this commentary were presented at the Transportation Research Board workshop,  "States are leading the charge on transportation revenue initiatives," January 12 2014; at the Conservative Policy Summit of the Heritage Foundation on February 10, 2014; and in a Governing magazine interview dated February 27, 2014.


Kenneth Orski
Editor/Publisher
Innovation NewsBriefs (celebrating our 25th year of publication)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Free transit: A case study from Estonia

SOURCE: Free public transit in Tallinn is a hit with riders but yields unexpected results

In January 2013, Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia, did something that no other city its size had done before: It made all public transit in the city free for residents.

Researchers at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden found modest results.
  • They calculated an increase in passenger demand of just 3 percent — and attributed most of that gain to other factors, such as service improvements and new priority lanes for buses. In their analysis, free pricing accounted for increased demand of only 1.2 percent.
  • Traffic speeds in Tallinn had not changed — a sign that drivers were not shifting over to riding transit as intended.
  • If any modal shift is happening, it’s that some people are walking less and riding transit more.
All this at a city with far lower income and far lower auto ownership than most of the EU and the US.  Meanwhile fare box revenues have been lost.

Bottom line: Free public bus fares are a losing proposition even in transit dependent first world cities.

By the way, this was a Social Democrat proposal that, once a suitable mayor was elected, went to effect.
January, Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia, did something that no other city its size had done before: It made all public transit in the city free for residents. - See more at: http://citiscope.org/story/2014/free-public-transit-tallinn-hit-riders-yields-unexpected-results#sthash.uhflpuH4.dpuf

Household Electricity and Solar Panels

This brief analysis is a simple case of a picture is worth one thousand words.


The GREEN line is our house's monthly electricity consumption which averages about 450 kilo-watt-hours or KWh.

The ORANGE line is our house's monthly solar panel electricity production which averages about 250 KWh.

To make them directly comparable both averages were normalized to the level of 100. Also these were further smoothed to account for HECO's accounting variability because some monthly bills include as few as 28 days or as many as 33 days. So power consumption was estimated on a per day basis and then converted to a monthly basis.

What is there to observe?  Simply that the solar (renewable electricity) production profile is not at all in tune with our household's monthly electricity consumption. Humid days call for more A/C use, Christmas celebrations call for more lights and cooking, summer months take us to vacations or time away from home, but the sun's trajectory and cloud density do not follow any of these habits.

The lesson on a grand scale is that a city, state or country cannot possibly depend on renewables such as wind and sun for more than a small fraction such as 10% for its power generation because of significantly negative productivity, health and safety implications.

One must be a great fool to believe that the large deviations shown in the graph (which can be extreme on an hour-by-hour basis) can be covered by ... batteries.

On the other hand, renewables from geothermal, nuclear and tidal wave harnessing are in a different class and can offer base-load reliability that covers the fluctuating needs of a large population concentration. But even them they need supplementation by true base load power generation from nuclear, coal, oil or natural gas power plants. As mentioned in an earlier article, waste-to-energy for Maui, natural gas for Oahu and geothermal power plant development on the Big Island are best near term choices for Hawaii.