Friday, July 25, 2008

City Transportation Priorities: Phoenix versus Honolulu

The American Association of State and Highway Officials reports this week that Arizona finished the freeway network in Phoenix area that was authorized by voters 23 years ago.

The Arizona Department of Transportation completed a 137-mile regional freeway network in July 2008. The $195 million project to finish the final 4.8-mile stretch of Loop 202 opened three months ahead of schedule. Its completion marks the end of a Phoenix regional freeway enhancement plan, known as Proposition 300, that Maricopa County voters approved in 1985. The proposition authorized a half-cent sales tax dedicated to freeway construction.

“The project represents the culmination of a 20-year partnership between the public, the Arizona Department of Transportation, local cities and tribal governments, and the Maricopa Association of Governments,” ADOT Director Victor Mendez said in a news release announcing Loop 202’s completion Sunday. “It is the final segment of Arizona’s largest-ever public-works project. On a national scale, our progress is unprecedented.”

ADOT is now working on a subsequent transportation plan known as Proposition 400. The blueprint, endorsed by voters in 2004, includes additional freeway, street, and transit construction. As can be seen in the Proposition 400 report the transportation revenue is allocated as follows: 56.2% on freeways, 10.5% on arterial streets and 33.3% on the public transportation fund which includes regional bus services, special transportation services (like Hawaii’s HnadiVan), and high capacity transit services such as light rail, bus rapid transit and express buses.

It is depressing to realize that if the proposed rail goes ahead on Oahu, about 70% of the entire transportation budget on Oahu will go to fund public transportation that will serve about 10% of the trips. This is why both rail and the current mayor must be stopped.

The same progressive city, Phoenix, in which people are flocking in (as opposed to oppressed and overtaxed Honolulu which is actually losing population) did a careful cost analysis of rail, HOT lanes and other major transportation infrastructure. The cost per passenger mile was reported as follows:

HOT lane = 1.2 to 2.7 ¢
General purpose lane = 1.9 to 4.2 ¢
HOV and bus lane = 2.6 to 5.7 ¢
Exclusive bus lane = 6.6 to 14.7 ¢
Light rail line = 16.1 to 35.8 ¢

Notably, for Phoenix, HOT lanes are roughly ten times cheaper per passenger mile than light rail. Furthermore, comparing these costs to the over 1,000 cents per passenger mile of Honolulu’s fully elevated heavy rail proposal, makes it clear that a $6 billion rail project is entirely inappropriate for Honolulu

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Parsons Brinkerhoff: HOT Lanes “benefit everyone”

The above was just one of the findings of the Congestion Relief Analysis, a report conducted by the Washington State Department of Transportation, with much assistance from many consulting firms, among which was Parsons Brinkerhoff. The report’s purpose was to answer two questions: “What would it take to significantly reduce expected future traffic delay due to congestion in the State’s major urban areas?” and “What are the associated costs and impacts?”, questions which are also being asked by many here in Honolulu.

Instead of looking for and finding solutions to Honolulu’s congestion problems, the Hannemann administration has chosen to pursue, from the beginning, an elevated heavy rail system, which every analysis has shown to do little or nothing to reduce traffic congestion.

The Washington DOT report, in a section titled “Why is Congestion Growing in the State”, two points are made which also exemplify the source of Honolulu’s congestion woes:

[1] Capacity expansion has not kept up with the pace of population and travel demand growth, resulting in an imbalance between demand and capacity.

[2] Most travelers are auto dependent due to lack of population and employment density, which is essential to make alternative travel options more viable.
Several alternatives were studied in the Washington DOT report. Each one was analyzed with the goal of maximum congestion relief in mind. One of the alternatives was transit, which included busses and rail as the only means of reducing congestion – exactly as proposed by Hanneman. The study found that (bolding added for emphasis):

“Major transit expansion in the adjacent urban areas [Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane and Vancouver] would provide an alternative to single occupancy vehicles for people traveling congested corridors during peak periods. However, according to the computer modeling, transit expansion alone is not shown to be effective in reducing total delay at the system level. The lack of supportive land use densities and the difficulty in serving non-commute travel limits the ability of transit to serve trips that are now customarily made by auto.”
High occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, with value pricing (tolls which vary depending on congestion levels), similar to what I propose, were, however, deemed effective solutions:

“Region-wide value pricing is indicated to be very effective in reducing total delay. Roadway tolling helps to dampen travel demand, shorten trips, shift travel to non-peak periods, and encourage use of other travel options (transit, carpooling, biking and walking) that are not subject to toll charges.

Value pricing in the form of High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes is found to reduce corridor delay and make the corridor operate more efficiently. HOT lanes make corridor travel time more reliable, which benefits everyone, including occasional users.” also has a commentary and link to the Washington State DOT report.

The main lessons for Honolulu are that (1) fixed mass transit is an inferior solution, and (2) An express transitway for high-occupancy (HO) buses, vanpools and carpools, and toll-paying (T) low occupancy vehicles is an effective solution to congestion and mobility. HOT lanes combined with Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is an affordable, effective and sustainable solution for Oahu.

Not only is the Bay Area developing a network of HOT lanes, but an extensive application of HOT lanes is also getting done in Washington, D.C. (Capital Beltway HOT Lanes: On the other hand, also in 2008, an expansion to the D.C. Metro was not funded.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Potholes... Hawaii 2nd worst in the nation!

Why do we have so many potholes here on Oahu? Why are our roads among the worst in the nation? These are questions many of us ask when our cars hit yet another pothole.

There are two common types of pavements: asphalt and concrete. Concrete pavements are strong and durable. They are expensive to build. They are used mostly for freeways and for bus lanes. City streets are almost always asphalt pavements.

Pavements are structures. Like buildings carry people and furniture, pavements carry traffic. The weight of traffic makes the pavements flex. After millions of flexes, the pavement cracks. If it is not maintained before or as soon as it cracks, potholes appear.

A pot hole is a complete failure of the pavement. The more potholes there are, the more we conclude that proper pavement maintenance is not done. How does a crack become a pothole? With the help of water and traffic.

Water gets in the crack, traffic passes over it, the pavement flexes downward and that pushes the water upward which loosens and carries pavement material through the crack. Soon enough, a quarter-inch wide crack is a one-inch-wide crack and with enough rain and traffic, a large pothole can appear in just a few days.

What’s a good way to maintain pavements? There are many ways:

1: Crack filling, where crews have a system to patrol roads and fix them.

2: Chip sealing, where a special thin layer is added every 4 or 5 years while the pavement is in excellent or very good condition. This can keep a pavement excellent practically forever if it is done on schedule.

3: Pavement management system where each mile of roadway is in a database along with its condition and annual traffic load. Then, pavement repair and replacement jobs can be prioritized and done regularly and on schedule.

A good thing about asphalt pavements is recycling. The top layer of pavement can be recycled forever, which cuts down on the amount of stones we need to quarry. In addition, used tires can be added to the mix. This is very useful, because tire rubber is among the least biodegradable products.

When chipped and used in asphalt mixes, tires become 100% recyclable and they make pavements cheaper and quieter.

How bad are our pavements? The Honolulu Advertiser pointed out in March 2008 “Honolulu roads rated 2nd-worst in nation”.

The City and County of Honolulu is many years behind modern pavement practice. They use very old methods to patch potholes. This is a waste of labor and the results are poor.

They deploy very expensive ½-inch overlays on damaged pavement. This basically makes a road “look good” for a year or so. Like these two:

They do not have a pavement management system. They do not know how heavy traffic is on every road.

They do not use chip sealing and they do not do crack filling.

Basically, they are fighting a losing battle by using expensive band-aids on or very sick roads.

Honolulu’s pavements need a complete overhaul. More than one billion dollars is required to bring city road pavements to a near-excellent condition.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

How good can it get if traffic lights are optimized?

I summarize for you the results published in the most recent issue of the Journal of the Institute of Transportation Engineers (June 2008.)

After decades of neglect, the city of Balimore, Maryland decided to replace 1,300 old controllers and then optimize the traffic lights in the central business district and arterials that lead to and from it. The focus of detailed data collection and optimization was 425 intersections with traffic lights, of which 250 were in downtown and the rest on gateway arteries. Ten gateway arteries were identified numbering 175 traffic lights along their 30.5 miles of total length.

There are interesting similarities between Baltimore's past experience and Honolulu's current experience. I have been complaining that all traffic lights along Vineyard Boulevard run a very long 165 second cycle. That is exactly the old cycle in some of Baltimore's arterials.

What did this cost for the city of Baltimore? $762,500. How much did it save in delays, stops, fuel consumption, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides? $32,666,123. For a cost-benefit ratio of 43 to 1.

Delays (an engineering term for wasted time) dropped from 11,351 hours to 7,952 hours per day resulting in a value of time savings of $26,132,499. A drop of 30% means that a 20 minute trip on Honolulu arterials could be reduced to less than 15 minutes.

The article concludes as follows: "the benefits derived from this project proved that signal timings should not be compromised in the field, and an effort like this to perform city-wide signal timing optimization is well worth the money. The benefits outweighed the costs in less than three months and exceeded the expectations of city and public officials."

If the people vote in favor of rail and you win the election, how do you handle this?

John H. sent me this question. Here is my answer:

I will not support Hannemann's six-plus billion dollar 34 mile fully elevated heavy rail.

But I will respond directly to people's vote by redesigning for a true light rail system (planners and architects prefer at-grade stations), developing other alternatives, doing an honest alternatives analysis with full disclosure of costs, and letting people decide which alternative to build. It will take about 10 months to have honest estimates of benefits and costs. Then in one year we can start with the option that people choose based on quality information.

At the present time, the community cannot decide on rail with the information that Hannemann has put forth. What we have been given is a sales brochure with a promotion campaign. We need at least a "Consumers Report" level of analysis in order to decide.

If this leads to light rail, then I will support light rail as long as the majority of the public also supports the extra taxes that will be needed for its development and operation.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Rail Failures, Maintenance and Overhauls

Mufi Hannemann’s proposed rail system has an exorbitant construction cost. We will talk about this in the future. Today I want to address an overlooked cost: maintenance and overhaul. Rail cars run 20 or 24 hours per day, full or empty. Unlike a car or bus that it can simply be replaced (and a large part of the old one recycled,) rail systems need complete rehabilitation. As a result, after 35 years in operation the Bay Area BART needs no less than $11.6 billion for overhaul. I will keep this short by providing you with telling excerpts from the New York City subway and the Washington, D.C. Metro.

Note that I include heavy rail or rapid transit systems in this post because this is what Hannemann is proposing. “Light rail” is a verbal spin that is used only locally. Nowhere in Honolulu's official documents does the "light rail" word appear. Ask Hannemann to point you to at least one city that has built a 30 mile fully elevated "light rail" system.

A Transit System That Feels Its Age

By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 14, 2008; Page A01

Four major Metro disruptions in 10 days underscore the strains facing the region's largest transit agency as the system ages. Its infrastructure is old and needs to be replaced. It is the nation's only major transit system without a significant source of dedicated funding. And its two-track design, comparable to a two-lane road instead of multi-lane superhighway, gives transit officials little flexibility when trains and other systems break down, as they are doing with greater frequency.

Two track fires yesterday in the heart of downtown Washington, on Metro's highest-ridership Red Line, and blackouts at several key downtown stations from a Pepco power failure ended a difficult week for Metro. The fires and blackouts yesterday followed a derailment and a heat-related track problem that caused disruptions and delays earlier in the week.

In the first passage she tells us that the Metro’s 2-track design is a problem. No express trains and no way to get around a broken down train. Hannemann is proposing the same 2-track design.

Fires, smoke, blackouts and derailments. Also add suicides, homelessness and drug trafficking. If you wish to read more of this Washington Post article please follow this link: We’ll talk about crime and other problems along rail lines in a future post.

$1 Billion Later, New York’s Subway Elevators Still Fail
New York Times, 5/19/08

New York City Transit has spent close to $1 billion to install more than 200 new elevators and escalators in the subway system since the early 1990s, and it plans to spend almost that much again for dozens more machines through the end of the next decade. It is an investment of historic dimensions, aimed at better serving millions of riders and opening more of the subway to the disabled.

These are the results:

One of every six elevators and escalators in the subway system was out of service for more than a month last year, according to the transit agency’s data.

The 169 escalators in the subway averaged 68 breakdowns or repair calls each last year, with the worst machines logging more than double that number. And some of the least reliable escalators in the system are also some of the newest, accumulating thousands of hours out of service for what officials described as a litany of mechanical flaws.

Two-thirds of the subway elevators — many of which travel all of 15 feet — had at least one breakdown last year in which passengers were trapped inside.

A conservative estimate is that the proposed rail will require over $4,000 per resident in taxes and a 40% increase in property taxes in order to be built, and generous subsidies for routine maintenance.

At the end of a 30 year period, the system will require a multibillion dollar overhaul.
This is a guaranteed tax black hole.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Problems with Oahu's Rail EIS

As attempts to push ahead with a rail-only environmental impact statement (EIS) move forward, I would like to draw attention to these comments made by the Army Corps of Engineers to the city’s alternatives analysis, dated April 10, 2007.

(1) “Existing and modeled traffic data from the 2006 Alternatives Analysis Report suggest the implementation of the locally preferred alternative (LPA) will not improve the level of service (LOS) on most segments of the Interstate H-1 Freeway, including the high-occupancy vehicle and Zipper lanes, within the corridor study area [therefore] … the stated goal to “improve” existing conditions, or LOS, is somewhat misleading …”
My interpretation of this is that the City is set on selecting a solution and transportation alternative that is not likely to be of benefit to the people of Oahu.

(2) “… the inclusion of the verbiage “ provide high-capacity transit...” is appropriate, but again, caution the use of language that is unduly restrictive.”
My interpretation of this is that the City is working with restrictions that are likely to be challenged successfully in court. The fixation on a fixed guideway violates both common sense and fair play, and is forcing the implementation of high-cost options that are detrimental to both taxpayers and commuters.

(3) “The Council on Environmental Quality regulations require an EIS objectively and rigorously examine all reasonable alternatives to the proposal. Towards this end, the range of alternatives should include reasonable alternatives that are not within the jurisdiction of FTA and/or DTS, if they exist.”
My interpretation of this is that the EIS should include a wide gamut of feasible alternatives, even those that are not under Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and Departmation of Transportation Services (DTS) jurisdictions. The Council's fixation on fixed guideways and FTA New Starts funds is not an excuse for improperly designing and analyzing alternatives in the EIS.

Bottom line: the EIS must include regional bus rapid transit (bus only based alternative with many express buses) and a mixed use transitway (Managed lanes/HOT lanes alternative with many express buses) in its detailed environmental assessment. The specifications of the alternatives should be subject to extensive public and expert comment before any results are produced. The Council must put the brakes on the city administration’s railroading of the project. It follows the path of the DC Metro Dulles extension for which FTA withdrew $900 million of funding.

This environmental process is biased and rushed. Please remember that there are no federal New Starts funds for this project before 2011 at the earliest.

I am also glad to see that Mr. Henry Curtis over at Transforming Hawaii has published a well-written and comprehensive post on the concerns with the rail-focused EIS. He leads of with:

There are rumors that the Honolulu Mass transit proposal has eliminated all alternatives except the preferred solution. This can't be so, as it would invalidate the EIS.

At a minimum, the Draft EIS must cover at grade and elevated rail, elevated toll road, expanded bus service, alternative technology and alternative routes and spurs.

and it just gets better from there.