Thursday, March 19, 2015

It Depends What You Study, Not Where

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

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

18th Century Infrastructure

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

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

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

This version includes the pictures in Appendices A and B.

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

Monday, February 16, 2015

HHUA Expert Panel with Robert Poole and LaVonda Atkinson

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

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

[S p e e c h]  [S l i d e s h o w]

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

Cost Engineer LaVonda Atkinson spoke about The Billion Dollar Mile 

[S p e e c h]  [S l i d e s h o w]

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

Monday, February 2, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Hawaii's Demise Through the Eyes of the Economist

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Smart Growth v. Suburbanization Score is 0-1

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

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

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

Monday, December 8, 2014

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

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

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

How to Lose Market Share in Public Transit?

Simple: Invest in urban rail systems!

Evaluating Urban Rail

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Two Reasons Why Sun and Wind Don't Work

One may ignore all the fluff about the talented comedian (but energy clueless) Jimmy Fallon and go straight to the second page of this article in Forbes for the reasons why sun and wind energy is unsuitable and often counter-productive. The numbers from the heavily invested in sun and wind Germany are startling.  One can't run an industry, city or country with such swings in energy supply!
Sometimes sun and wind in Germany can cover 25% of the demand for electricity.  Other times they supply only 2.5%.  Overall in a year these renewable sources of energy can be "dependent upon" to produce only about 5% of the country's needs despite the hundreds of billions invested.  In fact Energiewende is expected to cost close to $1.4 billion by 2040!

Monday, November 24, 2014

America's Infrastructure: Roads are Crumbling, Congress is Fiddling

America's transportation infrastructure, once an engine of mobility and productivity, has fallen into such disrepair that it's become an economic albatross.
From the article Shoddy U.S. roads and bridges take a toll on the economy in LA Times.

A comprehensive summary with startling video by 60 Minutes is titled Falling apart: America's neglected infrastructure where Steve Kroft reports on why roads, bridges, airports and rail are outdated and need to be fixed.

All along the American Society of Civil Engineers has been providing biannual assessments of American infrastructure with overall grades typically ranging between D- and D+. Here's is ASCE's 2013 report card for the American infrastructure.

Ironically, Congress and States "cannot find" monies to fix and improve what we have, but they do find (pork barrel) billions for boondoggles such as the California High Speed Rail and the Honolulu Snail Rail.

Much like Nero, the roads are crumbling while Congress is fiddling (and misappropriating.)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Honolulu Rail -- Who Pays for the Electric Power?

Gina Mangieri's investigation at Channel 2 News:  People close to the Honolulu rail project including federal advisers have flagged electricity as a major unresolved matter and cost risk for rail. Whether HART or HECO end up paying, either way folks on Oahu are picking up the tab.

“If we don’t have a new power plant,” Prevedouros said, “HECO is not ready to handle all this additional demand, period.”

 MidWeek's Roy Chang accurately depicted the situation.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

PANOS 2050 O'lelo Shows

Between 2011 and 2013 I produced 18 thirty-minute shows on Hawaii’s O’lelo public television titled “PANOS 2050: Solutions for a Sustainable Hawaii.”

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Surprising Downward Trends

What do golf, convertible cars, crime, American journalists and infant mortality have in common?
The answer is in my recent article in the Honolulu Civil Beat.

The article describes some downtrends. Our world is obsessed with up and more, whereas down and less are equally important but rarely discussed...unless there is a major recession or a downed aircraft!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Driverless Cars. What's Really Possible?

I was pleasantly surprised to see so many views and comments on my brief article on driverless cars: Driverless Cars. What's Really Possible?  The best and brightest are working on this subject, largely under wraps.

[Sample photo by BMW.]

Thursday, November 13, 2014

As the Nation Turns, Hawaii is Still Driven

As the Nation Turns, Hawaii is Still Driven is an comprehensive and detailed article in the November 2014 issue of Hawaii Business Magazine, by Carlyn Tani. I am quoted extensively throughout the article as follows:
  • “Hawaii’s driving never really went down – it just flattened out and then started going up again as opposed to the mainland, which made a U-turn,” observes Panos Prevedouros, who teaches civil engineering at UH-Manoa and chairs the freeway operations simulation subcommittee of the Transportation Research Board, a division of the National Research Council. He projects that Hawaii’s thriving economy and tourism sector will buoy VMT even higher.
  • Prevedouros cites three economic forces driving Hawaii’s trend toward more vehicle miles driven per capita: a rebound in tourism, which puts more visitors on the roads; the construction boom on Oahu, which stimulates the transport of people and materials; and the large number of Hawaii residents who hold more than one part-time job and drive between workplaces.
  • According to Prevedouros, the general tolerance threshold for congestion is 75 minutes for a one-way trip by car. When commute time exceeds that, people are more likely to move, change jobs or relocate to another region or state.
  • But what does Hawaii’s transportation future look like? Prevedouros predicts that cars will continue to dominate because of the state’s tourism-dependent economy, high private-schools enrollment and large number of people holding more than one job.
    “We don’t have mass transit that is flexible and quick enough to take you to drop off your kids or take you to your multiple jobs. You cannot be a resident in Kailua with kids at Punahou and try to do these things by bus,” he explains. “The only mode that can deliver that is private transportation.”

    Prevedouros predicts we will see more cars on the road in the future, but says traffic congestion will eventually be reduced by autonomous cars that drive better than people-driven cars, while more energy-efficient cars will ease environmental concerns.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

AIKEA FOR HONOLULU No. 37 – 2014 Election Commentary

I hardly ever give election advice.  You, my readers, mostly independent and almost evenly split Democrat and Republican have your opinions.  So I just offer some brief comments.

For governor my choice is between Duke Aiona and David Ige.  Duke was a judge and he’s trustworthy. He’s pro small business of which Hawaii has plenty. David is an engineer with a keen knowledge of the state budget.  He has a good working relation with Hawaii’s one-sided Legislature. Both have a grasp of Hawaii’s problems and what a governor can do about them.  I think Hawaii will do OK with either of them. 

Both Duke and David appear to be calm and collected enough to weather a major storm. It’s almost certain that the next economic recession will occur in the coming four years and it won’t be mild. Hawaii’s fragile economy will be clobbered by pension and EUTF liabilities, by Obamacare cost increases and by military cuts; and by the constant parasitic impacts of rail’s construction and tax.

My advice to the next Governor: Take the time to focus on transportation and energy.  The renewable mandates make Hawaii more unaffordable and the mothballed interisland cable is yet another boondoggle; it costs more than the funds needed to mitigate Oahu’s dependency on oil! Rail won’t do anything for traffic congestion, not upon opening (when?) not ever.  Do get serious about tackling the mounting traffic congestion. Upgrade the Honolulu Airport, now ranked 3rd worst in the nation: Fully enclose and air condition all terminals, expand and improve the passport control area, and electrify the Wiki-Wiki asap. Promise to work on these and you’ll get my vote!

I definitely know who to vote for Congress.  Both Charles Djou and Mark Takai are smart, decent and knowledgeable candidates. I think Charles has better answers to important issues for Hawaii. The important question is this: What’s the right choice for Hawaii in the U.S. Congress? Answer: A Republican. Luckily, we have a highly competent moderate Republican candidate.

Hawaii’s congressional seniority has dropped from stellar to minimal.  In a Republican controlled Senate and House, sending four Democrats is stupid, plain and simple. We’ve already been pushed to the back burner; next we’ll be permanently delegated to the pantry.  Charles has congressional seniority and will be positioned in the right side of the aisle. It’s a strategic move to Hawaii’s advantage.

I wish that we finally elect some (centrist) energetic people who will own the mess of state and national debt which jeopardizes the long-term well-being of our state:

Five states with Highest Liability per Taxpayer. Hawaii is in the top-5, of course.

Government Debt per Person. The U.S. has a larger debt per capita than Greece!

The New York Times on Los Angeles' Infrastructure Woes. And an astute commentator wrote: “Can't repair the pipes; can't repair the sidewalks; can't repair the roads. But come hell or high water (pun intended) LA is going to find many tens of $billions for toy trains. Lala Land is no misnomer.”  Honolulu does the same. Is it then Honolala Land?


Monday, October 20, 2014

Farmer's Rail?

Behold! The nation's first heavy rail guideway in 40 years designed exclusively for the commuting needs of corn, string beans and watermelons.

 [Photo courtesy HART]

Climate Change and Hurricanes in Hawaii

While many journalists and some scientists attribute more, and more severe storms to climate change, trajectory plots of major storms and hurricanes in Hawaii over the past of 65 years shows an "inconvenient truth": There is no association with climate change. Hurricane frequency in Hawaii appears to have peaked in the 1980s.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Jones Act Is Irrelevant to Merchant Marine Shipbuilding

A picture is worth a thousand words and in this case even more.

So much is being discussed about the value of the protection that the Jones Act offers to U.S. shipbuilding.  What shipbuilding?  U.S. shipbuilding is less than 1% of the world share!

This is clearly illustrated in the picture above from an article in The Economist. The graph clearly shows that after 1985, the U.S. shipyard merchant marine building supply is practically zero. Japan, South Korea and China provide almost the entire ship building supply.

U.S. shipyards are kept busy with U.S. Navy work and the occasional small order by a U.S. shipper.  Like the recent one by Matson Navigation who in order to comply with the U.S. built requirement of the Jones Act agreed to pay $418 million for two modest container ships that would have cost less than half this amount if they were built in S. Korea. As a direct result of the Jones Act, the people of Hawaii received a direct punishment in the order of $200 million on this transaction alone.

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.)