Monday, September 24, 2012

Less Traffic Thanks to Telecommuting and Young Adults

"In 1888 Bertha Benz, wife of the carmaker Karl, drove 66 miles from one German city to another to prove to the world that the “horseless carriage” was suited to everyday use. Mrs. Benz succeeded beyond her wildest dreams."

This is The Economists' introduction of an article on urban transportation and the evolving trend of less car travel: "The road less travelled: Car use is peaking in the rich world. Governments should take advantage of that." Less travel? Can this be right? See Figure 1 below.

A few more quotes from the full article "The future of driving -- Seeing the back of the car -- In the rich world, people seem to be driving less than they used to" are as follows:
  • Modern life is unimaginable without the car. The automobile has powered the growth of cities and steered their sprawl. Its manufacture has created millions of jobs and eased the development of many millions more.
  • Cars are integral to modern life. They account for 70% of all trips not made on foot in the OECD, which includes most developed countries. 
  • In the European Union more than 12 million people work in manufacturing and services related to cars and other vehicles, around 6% of the total employed population.
  • The equivalent figure for America is 4.5% of private-sector employment, or 8 million jobs.

An interesting revelation of the research reported in The Economist is that current and future young people tend to travel less. There are several reasons for this:
  1. Young people tend to socialize more via digital media and meet less often.
  2. Car use has become more expensive for young people's parents to afford a car for them or for the young people to afford the sky-high insurance fees.
  3. At least some of young people's college or professional education can be via distance learning.
  4. Job opportunities for young people are less and lower rewarded in the stagnant economy of the EU and of several debt-laden states in the US.
  5. Young people are getting their licenses later than they used to (see Figure 2 above.)

In addition the full democratization of the automobile (meaning that women own and use cars at rates similar to men) concluded at the end of the last century. So this "catch up" trend leading to traffic growth has ended.

More and safer bikeways, subsidized vanpooling, supported telecommuting and, in some cases, clean and reliable mass transit chip away at the dominance of the car. See for example below the gains in vanpooling and telecommuting in Washington State.

Recall that Honolulu rail will increase transit share roughly from 6% of TheBus today to 7% for combined bus and rail. It would be much easier to obtain this 1% with more vanpools and telework!  There is a real world example  for this: Portland, the poster child for light rail. From 1980 to 2011, working at home (mostly telecommuting) increased by 55,000. This is more than three times the growth in rail transit commuting (17,500). During the last decade, working at home passed transit as a work access mode in Portland, and with virtually no public expenditures as opposed to the billions spent on rail lines.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Car or Train? The Choice is Yours.

A picture is worth 1,000 words. 

Two pictures are worth 2,000 words.

Picture 1: A 2013 new mid-size car.

Picture 2: Typical rush hour train commute.

 Any questions?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Island Heavy Rail Calamity: San Juan Repeats in Honolulu

Tren Urbano (or City Train) in San Juan, Puerto Rico is a perfect comparison with Honolulu's heavy rail:
  1. Both are heavy rail systems with a very high cost per mile of rail line.
  2. Both are systems on similar tourist/agriculture/military island communities.
  3. Both are under Federal Transit Administration oversight.
  4. Both received US federal funds.
  5. Both have the same lead planner, Parsons Brinkerhoff.
I have written in the past about Tren Urbano:
Recently, Cliff Slater of has developed a documented 2-page summary of the consequences of Tren Urbano such as:
  • Huge escalation of construction costs (+74%).
  • Huge escalation of combined bus and rail operation and maintenance cost after the line was opened (+250%).
  • Downgrade of Puerto Rico’s bond ratings.
  • Dramatic decline of total transit ridership (bus and rail) because the Tren cannibalized their bus. This is happening to TheBus now.
  • It is now more than five years since its opening and Tren has not reached 50% of its opening year forecast ridership! (See link above where I provide comparisons that show HART ridership estimates are 2 to 4 times too high.)
Now all these terrible transit and financial outcomes occurred in San Juan where population is much higher, and average income and car ownership is much lower than Honolulu's (see 2000 data below). The Tren (like history) is repeating itself in Honolulu. The deliberate discounting of history by current elected officials and certain candidates is truly bewildering.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Enough with The Chinese Straddle Bus!

The Straddling Bus has attracted a lot of attention. I got an early video of this concept developed in China almost two years ago. Now I get two emails a week about it. At least!

Here's my take on it. It's a cool concept, but in reality, it is impractical and difficult as a retrofit. However, it can be adopted in new cities in China, India and other new, highly populated urban areas.

Challenges of the Straddling Bus include but are not limited to these: 

1.       Very few real world streets and traffic lanes are perfectly straight or level... traffic lanes are not built to airport runway standards. Therefore, at a minimum, expensive lane strengthening and re-alignment would be needed in order to operate this bus.
2.       How do we manage a crash of such a huge vehicle on the street? How do we tow it or lift it if it becomes sufficiently incapacitated?
3.       We do not know how "the common distracted driver" will react when a “tunnel” drives over him or her. Driver startling and related crashes will be an issue. This is why I proposed that the straddle bus runs as an Express Bus over existing BRT lines.
4.       The concept requires elevated stations which adds significantly to the cost because all elevated stations need to be ADA compliant. Obviously this will be an express service with stops at intervals of 1 km or longer.
5.       Overpasses, cross wires, sign and signal gantries, and trees will present significant challenges.
6.       Trucks, buses and other large vehicles have to be regulated out of the two lanes that go under the Straddling Bus. Writing the ordinance is easy. Enforcing it is not, and one unfamiliar trucker will block the Straddling Bus for a while.
7.       Receiving U.S. DOT certification to operate it on US city streets won’t be trivial.
As of mid-2012 not a single prototype exists. So let China build it, and then we can copy it. That'll be a first!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Old Tires into New Roads: Save Cost and Cut Noise

Engineers are designing quieter streets by adding rubber “crumbs”, reclaimed from shredded tires, to the bitumen and crushed stone used to make asphalt.

Enough tires are recycled in America each year to produce 20,000 lane-miles of road pavement mix, enough to re-pave about 0.5% of America's roads, according to Liberty Tire Recycling, a Pittsburgh firm that handles around a third of America's recycled tires.(1)

It is now possible to make rubberized asphalt less expensively than the traditional sort because rubber can partially replace bitumen, the binding agent used to hold the crushed stones together in ordinary asphalt. Bitumen is derived from oil, which means its price has risen over the past decade alongside that of crude oil. (1)

Discarded tires are cheap and are likely to get cheaper. In rich countries, around one tire is thrown away per person per year. (1)

In Hawaii we burn tires at the AES coal plant. This is much better than dumping them in a landfill or wasting fuel to send them out of state. But we should be making new roads with them.

(1) The Economist, When the rubber hits the road, June 2012.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Honolulu Rail Forecast 2 to 4 Times Higher than Actual Systems

The City estimates that TheRail will have a ridership of 116,000 (boardings) in 2030, about 10 years after the system is supposedly completed.

While TheRail is actually a fully elevated, steel-wheel-on-steel-rail heavy rail system, it is designed to fail by combining two poor choices:
(1) It is fully elevated which means it costs well over 5 times the typical light rail system.
(2) It does not use large, heavy rail style, high capacity trains, but smallish light rail trains.
These two choices make it a high cost and low capacity system.

Because of its low capacity, it is comparable to existing light rail systems. The table below includes all US light rail systems that (a) may be characterized as "modern" by having been developed after 1980, and (b) are over 8 miles of length. This comes to 11 comparable systems with route miles ranging from approximately 10 to 42 miles.

The average daily boardings of these 11 existing systems is 38,852 and the average route miles is 28. This yields 1,536 daily boardings per mile or 1,500 boardings per mile for a round number. (Remember we are talking about year 2030 and roughly 20% of TheRail’s users have not been borne yet.)

When one looks at statistics, it is advisable to remove the highest and lowest values and re-check the averages. By doing so for daily boardings and route miles, systems 3, 6 and 9 drop out. The resulting average daily boardings of the eight systems is 37,822 and the average route miles is 27. This yields 1,528 daily boardings per mile. This again rounds to 1,500 so this estimate is quite robust.

Using this estimate of 1,500 times the 20 miles of TheRail yields 30,000 daily boardings. Now let's give a huge break to Honolulu because of the H-1/H-2 congestion, the high cost of living and the higher average density (although high density does not apply west of Middle Street): Let's double this estimate to 60,000 boardings. This will be the likely maximum boardings of TheRail.

What's the City's estimate that FTA approved? 116,000 daily boardings, which is laughable.

Both Parsons Brinkerhoff and FTA received dozens of eggs on their face for the island heavy rail Tren Urbano in San Juan, Puerto Rico where they estimated 80,000 boardings on the opening year and they got 25,000 in 2006.

There is no lesson for PB, FTA and HART to learn. There is no accountability or penalties. They are all dedicated promoters of TheRail. Honolulu's ridership estimates simply prove that history (and unabashed deception) simply repeats itself.