Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Rail Transit: Are we Creating New Life or Resuscitating a Dinosaur? (part 2 of 2)

This second part provides excerpts from the last 12 commentators and our brief conclusions.

12. Ed Wytkind, President, Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO
"Transit investment will relieve road congestion and offer environmentally sound transportation alternatives to increase economic efficiency and global competitiveness." Sad to see that unions simply copy-paste boilerplate half truths.

13. Steve Van Beek, President & CEO, Eno Transportation Foundation

"Input straight-line assumptions about behavior today and out will come results which suggest public transportation will play a marginal role in the future. (Such an analysis when the Model T was invented would have led to a future replete with horses and buggies and with underbuilt road networks.)" Unfortunately Mr. Van Beek not looked into Bureau of Transportation Statistics showing that public transit share of trips is very small and diminishing, and that the increasing share of telecommuting begins to dwarf rail transit.

14. John D. Porcari, Secretary, Maryland Department of Transportation

"We have to start by leveling the playing field. While we get highway funds by formula, states and metro areas fight for transit monies primarily through earmarks, and the race to the bottom known as the New Starts program. End the false dichotomy between highway and transit funding by making system preservation needs the first call on federal dollars (whether highways and bridges, transit, aviation or port needs) and then using local, regional and state land use plans to drive new capacity (transit or highway) investment decisions with the remaining unified federal formula dollars." Highways, bridges, airports and harbors generate their own revenues from user fees and are rarely subsidized by taxpayers. Electricity, telephone, water and sewer services break even and can be profitable. Where is the revenue stream for rail and bus? It is remarkable that people who charge one dollar for a trip that costs over ten dollars are in leading and expert prositions.

15. Greg Cohen, President and CEO, American Highway Users Alliance

"The current funding arrangements are set up so that federal highway user fees subsidize transit expenses -- thus creating the unfortunate reality that transit does compete for funding at the expense of highway programs. It is important for policy makers and the public to recognize that (excluding air travel) between 98 and 99% of all passenger miles and vehicles miles of travel occur of our nation's aging roads. Both private auto use and efficient public transit use in most areas is largely dependent on a good network of safe and efficient roads."

16. Robert L. Crandall, Retired Chairman and CEO, AMR and American Airlines

"In the furor over finding ways to increase and sustain employment, and the understandable desire to use infrasturcture investment to attach that problem, we need to remember that money invested in the wrong tools is the equivalent of money wasted.
Bob Poole's thoughts on how to use buses and rapid transit lanes strike me as worth very careful thought."

17. Bob Poole, Director of Transportation Studies, Reason Foundation

"For the 22 Metropolitan Planning Organizations whose long-range plans were reviewed, transit spending averages 41% of the total, while transit’s projected mode share is just 5.5%. Something is wrong with this picture. First, MPOs project only modest increases in transit’s mode share by 2030, despite devoting more than 40% (on average) of all transportation dollars to transit. Second, they project that traffic congestion in 2030 will be significantly worse than it is today. There is a direct connection between under-funding the highway infrastructure that buses, car-poolers, and individual motorists depend on and continued increases in congestion. The key is to use congestion pricing for these express lanes. More than a decade of experience with HOT lane projects in half a dozen states has demonstrated the power of congestion pricing to provide reliable, high-speed, uncongested traffic flow on such lanes. Transit agencies would love to have exclusive busways, but a congestion-priced lane is, in fact, the virtual equivalent of an exclusive bus lane. The pricing simply allows enough paying automobiles to share the use of the lane, without degrading its uncongested performance."

18. Geoff Anderson, Co-chair of the Transportation for America Campaign, President and CEO of Smart Growth America

"There is an undeniable linkage between our broken economy, our broken energy/climate policy, and our broken transportation system. Investing in a 21st Century transportation system with an emphasis on mass transit solutions – while creating safe streets for walking and biking to with them -- is a three for one deal: it kick starts our economy and generates jobs, gives hungry Americans transportation options, and begins to solve our climate crisis." Pure "smart growth" nonsense. There is no significant link between broken economy, walkable streets, bikeways and the ozone layer. You can, however, wordsmith good looking paragraphs and drive up the deficits in the absence of cost-effectiveness and accountability.

19. Deron Lovaas , Federal Transportation Policy Director, Natural Resources Defense Council

"The short answer is that yes, the time is ripe for making a larger commitment to public transportation than has been the case in the last 50 years."
Why? Spending 20% of the transportation budget in the last 20 years on transit systems that carry 5% of the public has not been bad enough?

20. Paul M. Weyrich, Chairman and CEO, Free Congress Foundation

"I have my doubts about the effectiveness of stimulus bills, but since it is clear President elect Obama is intent on advocating one,I certainly hope the Congress will include $8 billion of American Public Transportation Association short-term transit projects in whatever bill they come up with."
This is $8 billion nationwide. Relatively tiny Honolulu would like to build a $5 billion rail ... pretty please Mr. Obama.

21.Robert Puentes, Senior Fellow and Director, Metropolitan Infrastructure Initiative

"Although almost all of our buses serve the top 100 metro areas but half are concentrated in just 10 large metros. Heavy rail (subways) exist in only 11 metros like Philly and San Francisco. Commuter rail is in only 14 metropolitan areas – primarily in the Northeast and California. And light rail can be found in only 26 – like Minneapolis, San Diego, and Denver. Based on the admittedly simple inventory of transit infrastructure available, 54 of the 100 largest metros do not have any rail transit service and also have relatively weak bus systems.
As employment has dispersed through metro areas, lower income workers are finding themselves increasingly isolated and therefore need to spend higher proportions of their income to reach their jobs." So how can a single rail line with 20 stations help them? Did I mention that it costs $5 billion?

22. Rich Sarles, Executive Director, NJ TRANSIT

"At NJ TRANSIT, we have experienced five consecutive years of record-high ridership with nearly one million trips taken on the system each weekday. Ridership continues to be strong, despite lower gasoline prices, especially on rail service on our busiest lines serving Manhattan. In the next 25 years, we expect ridership on these lines to more than double, creating new challenges to acquire the infrastructure (station capacity, track, rail yards, etc.), rolling stock (rail cars and locomotives) and resources needed to support this demand."
This is really where the nation should be spending its transit monies.

23. Pete Ruane, President and CEO, American Road & Transportation Builders Association

"According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT), there is $20 billion annual shortfall at the federal level between current highway investment levels and what is necessary just to maintain road conditions. For public transit at the federal level, the shortfall is about $4 billion annually." It is too obvious that priority one is maintenance and restoration of what we have, and cautious investment in new priced roadway capacity including exclusive busways and exclusive truckways.

To answer the original question in the subject line: All cases of rail transit in the U.S. excluding Chicago, New York City, and a few other legacy systems have been hyper expensive dinosaur
resuscitations at taxpayer expense.

It would be a remarkably poor and expensive choice of President Obama to sink taxpayer dollars in rail transit New Starts. We can barely afford to keep the CTA, MARTA, BART and other metro rail systems alive. Let's please leave all future dinosaur resuscitations to the movies.

Rail Transit: Are we Creating New Life or Resuscitating a Dinosaur? (part 1 of 2)

The title is paraphrasing a 1983 paper title by Dr. Joseph Schofer, Associate Dean, College of Engineering, Northwestern University. I think it is a more appropriate title than the biased question "Has Mass Transit Finally Arrived?" posed in the NationalJournal.com's transportation expert panel discussion.

Of course the majority of the 23 commentators answer that the time for transit has come (as it did in all previous oil/global economy crises.) We know that the results were poor from most of those deployments. But learning from history is not a priority in modern society.

If you have about an hour, do read the original text which includes a handful of well thought out positions and concerns.
If not, here are some highlights from each commentator. This part provides excerpts from the first 11 commentators.

1. Eric Britton, Managing Director, New Mobility Partnerships
"Before rushing out to pour many billions of dollars into mass transit, we will do well to recognize that as a phrase, it is a relic of another day, another way of thinking about cities. And indeed another way of thinking about people (mass?).

Here is what we can counsel with confidence to the incoming Obama team about "mass transit" and its appropriate role for the critical 2009-2012 period.

If you have it already in place, your main challenge is to get a lot better at using what you have in a cost-effective manner.

If you do not have it, forget about using scarce taxpayer dollars to build yourself a new one from scratch, because there are far better ways of getting the job done."

2. Nancy LeaMond, AARP's executive vice president of social impact
"To leave their cars behind, boomers will require the same level of convenience as they have had in their car-centered world.

A coordinated strategy of public transportation, paratransit, coordinated human services transportation, transit-oriented development, and “complete streets” sidewalk networks accessible to transit, can yield a multitude of benefits for people of all ages.

...making stops and vehicles more accessible and user friendly, helping newcomers understand how and where to access schedules and their closest transit with easy to use information, training drivers to understand and pleasantly accommodate the limitations of aging and in some areas offering neighborhood circulators or door-to-door service to grocery stores or shopping malls."

3. Robin Chase, CEO, GoLoco, Meadow Networks
"If we think back to Katrina, the lack of alternatives for people without cars to evacuate the New Orleans proved disastrous. Some policy experts claimed that the solution was to make sure the poor and carless had access to cars. A few weeks later, another hurricane demanded that Houston evacuate. The highways were backed up and people sat motionless in their cars for hours. Today, as I write this note, a huge snow storm is bearing down on Boston. Planes are canceled and roads will be dangerous. My homeward-bound college age son is stuck in Washington DC.

My point is not that we should build trains and transit to accommodate one-day freak storms, just as I do not advocate building parking lots to accommodate Black Friday shopping demand. But real diversity and redundancy in transportation systems is mandatory. This nation needs to accommodate the transportation needs of people of all incomes, of all ages, of all development densities. The last 50 years of supporting one mode -- cars -- to exclusion of others, has not served us well. It is time to right the balance."

Somebody needs to tell her that a few days after hurricane Ike hit Houston, all systems were up and running except for its rail that took two and a half weeks.

4. Michael A. Replogle, Transportation Director, Environmental Defense Fund
"Established rail systems need to be revitalized. But pouring money into poorly conceived transit projects will not make transit a viable alternative for the majority of Americans living in auto-dependent suburban areas.

The most cost-effective way to expand high performance mass rapid transit is Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT. ... And BRT can be used like rail to anchor transit-oriented development. ... A big advantage of BRT is that the bus can go anywhere. The same bus can operate in mixed traffic where there is no congestion, enter a busway in a congested area, and then leave the busway again.

Performance-based transportation investment plans should be required as a condition for funding, including operational plans for both highways and public transportation."

5. Bill Graves, President and CEO, American Trucking Association
"Although mass transit performs many important uses, particularly for certain niche communities in large urban areas, it cannot replace our nation’s need for good highways. While mass transit effectively moves people, infrastructure investment is critical to the safe and efficient movement of freight."

6. Judith Bergquist, Associate Director of Rural Programs in the Denver office of the Colorado Center for Community Development
"Sometimes we look past some simple and very viable alternatives to multi – modal transit for bigger glitzy solutions: We should look at road and bus systems that could effectively be started today and get buses to run every 10 minutes from suburb to suburb and suburb to work centers and downtowns. We need the buses to run often with lots of quick stops to increase this ridership before other transit is even in place. We will lose the cars because there will be ease of access."

7. Paul Yarossi, President, HNTB Holdings Ltd.
"Public transit supporters definitely have the clout to influence the next transportation bill. In no way will this effort to fund more public transit projects replace the much needed investment in maintaining and expanding our national highway system."

Solid advice for worsening the already huge budget deficits (to the benefit of mega contractors.)

8. Christopher B. Leinberger, Real estate developer, Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution, Professor and Director of the University of Michigan graduate real estate program
"Why rail transit? Middle class Americans like it far better than bus transit. In addition, real estate developers and investors have increased confidence in it since rail transit implies permanence; it is easy to change a bus route but not so with fixed rail. The combination of middle class preference and the permanence of rail transit have resulted in far more real estate development being sparked around rail stations than bus stops."

Great paragraph but there is little proof that any of this is true. Most US cities developed quite well in the complete absence of rail.

9. Emil H. Frankel, Director of Transportation Policy, Bipartisan Policy Center
"How can transportation best serve national goals and purposes like economic growth, environmental and energy sustainability, national connectivity, metropolitan accessibility, and safety?

Before we allocate funding - whether to give transit or highways more money - let’s ensure that we have a performance-based approach that can help us identify and prioritize programs that achieve national goals."

10. Frank Busalacchi, Secretary, Wisconsin Department of Transportation
"The current transit programs send much of the funding to mass transit systems in our largest metropolitan areas. Our metropolitan areas rely on mass transit to provide a needed mobility option for those who don’t want to use their cars or don’t have cars to use. However, in many parts of the country bus fleets are old, far beyond the time frame in which they should have been replaced."

11. Tim Kaine, Governor, Commonwealth of Virginia
"Transit and rail investments are expensive up front and even more so when operation and maintenance costs are factored in over time. These long term financial commitments only make sense if there are different land use patterns to take advantage of the transit and rail investments.

Increased funding should not come at the expense of other modes, particularly given the dire need to repair and replace our existing bridges across the country."


A few common themes emerge from these diverse opinions:
  • Need to maintain what infrastructure we have and expand it.
  • Look into buses, BRT and other affordable solutions first.
  • Performance-based decision making and accountability for infrastructure projects.
The latter means that a systematic way is used to look at urban transportation problems and address the issues in a cost-effective away.

This is the opposite of what occurred in Honolulu where a politician was elected in 2004 and made rail the number one priority: Total top-down dictum. The lack of accountability is obvious in that there is no accounting of $107 million spent on rail studies and the shameless use of taxpayer money to defame those opposing the system and produce an avalanche of TV, radio, newspaper and home-mailed ads and fliers.

Stay tuned for the second half and the conclusion.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Operationalizing Sustainability

In a practical sense, sustainability may be defined as a process that supports a standard of living or quality or life forever given the known availability of natural resources and population trends. Wikipedia has a comprehensive definition.

As chair of the Freeway Operations Simulation Committee of the Transportation Research Board I intend to steer national discussion in this direction. Sustainability is the overarching principle that is engulfing most types of engineering and operations practice and research.

Congestion and energy consumption reductions are large components of sustainability. These, in turn, are affected by freeway and traffic operations. Our committee is embarking on an effort to establish sustainability parameters and requirements for freeway and traffic simulation models including vehicle fleet parameters, fuel consumption parameters, and modules capturing real time pricing and demand shifts in response to fuel, toll and congestion levels.

So far, my understanding of the status quo is roughly as follows:
  • Green mobility policies and incentives: HOT lanes, tax credits for electric vehicles, light rail lite, etc.
  • Green management options: Signal coordination, corridor-wide ramp metering, variable speed limits, peak hour shoulder lanes, etc.
  • Green travel choices: hybrid car, parking cash out, locate close to work or school, etc.
  • Green trip decisions: carpooling, 4X10 work schedule, telecommuting, etc.
  • Green parameters for traffic simulation: __________________________?
In other words, there is a lot of room in improving simulation models to explicitly account for green options.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Upside of High Oil Prices: Part 2, Long-term Effects

The U.S. and several other countries are in an economic recession which was caused in part by the extraordinary increase of crude oil prices from $16 in 1999 and several years afterward, to $147 in July, 2008. This 1,000% spike was followed by a precipitous fall of crude oil prices to about $55 in November 2008 and still falling.

High oil prices despite their obvious high cost disadvantages have several benefits and long term advantages. Some effects are realized almost immediately and others take several years to develop. This part covers the longer term effects, the majority of which are likely to be observed after five years of high crude oil prices.

: High oil costs take a toll on unit production, distribution and delivery cost. Therefore some local industries may be better off near large cities in the developed nations instead of relocating at a region or country with a low labor cost. This is good news for local economies at developed nations but it reduces employment opportunities at developing and underdeveloped countries. Some see the slowing down of globalization as a good thing (e.g., less exploitation of cheap labor, lesser loss of local jobs.)

NUCLEAR ENERGY: The scarcity or cost of fossil fuels makes the development of expensive nuclear energy a more cost-effective proposition. High electric bills for residences, businesses and industry may decrease the emotional opposition to nuclear power plants. France and Japan are leading examples of reliance on nuclear power with no or minimal safety concerns. At the first oil crisis in 1973, only 1% of Japan’s electricity was produced by nuclear energy. By the second oil crisis of 1979, 4% was from nuclear; in 2000 the ratio was up to 12% and the 2010 goal is 15%. As of 2005, Japan had 52 operating nuclear plants, 3 in construction and 8 in planning and design. France is even more ahead: Its 59 nuclear plants produce 88% of the country’s electric power. There are about 440 nuclear power plants on the globe. France, Japan and the U.S. combined produce over 55% of the nuclear power energy on the globe.

: A lot of low-priced agriculture products are less affordable when processing, transportation and distribution costs are high. This improves the chances of local agriculture for profitability and long term survival. On the other hand, the benefits for third world from exporting agricultural products are reduced.

UNAFFORDABLE LIFE IN THE SUBURBS: The high cost of energy makes the low density living in the suburbs and its corresponding demand for long trips less attractive and less affordable particularly for young couples with children and retired seniors. As a result, central city apartments become attractive and office and apartment development in central city follows the market demand. In the same vein, office and retail development in the suburbs softens the impact of long, expensive commutes.

: High energy prices are also a strong incentive to develop alternative fuels as well as processes to convert trash, biomass, used oils and other lubricants into combustible fuels or other forms of fuel that can be converted into electricity.

: The expensive production, transportation and distribution of goods makes the effort of recycling and remanufacture more worthwhile. Remanufacture is the developing industry of creating useful products out of wastes. Economies of size are important. For example, one or more used-aluminum processing factories can be profitable in the greater Los Angeles area, but none can break even in Honolulu. However, remanufacture of oils, refrigerants, other chemicals and plastic products can be profitable in small markets.

: The development of ultra light and low friction materials so that machinery does more work with less energy is an advancing field. Nanotechnology also contributes in this arena. High fossil fuel prices make research and development in such specialized sciences more urgent and better funded.

: Over time, the high cost of energy make people re-think of their decisions in home, work and school locations, local and long distance travel, and consumption of goods and services. They look for ways to downsize, optimize and economize. All these have a large aggregate reduction in resource consumption and pollution on Earth.

The Upside of High Oil Prices: Part 1, Short-term Effects

The U.S. and several other countries are in an economic recession which was caused in part by the extraordinary increase of crude oil prices from $16 in 1999 and several years afterward, to $147 in July, 2008. This 1,000% spike was followed by a precipitous fall of crude oil prices to about $55 in November 2008 and still falling. India’s growth, hurricanes in the Gulf, refinery shut downs for repairs and most importantly China’s hyper development in preparation for the 2008 Olympic Games contributed substantially to an unprecedented spike in oil prices, which in turn were manifest as high prices at the pump, shipping surcharges, and high electric bills and airfares.

High oil prices put oil producing counties in a significant advantage, oil consuming countries in a significant disadvantage and they are indifferent to countries who have achieved substantial fossil fuel independence (e.g., Brazil via sugar cane ethanol and France via nuclear power.) The discussion below is focused less on politics and more on energy, economy, technology, transportation and personal effects of high oil prices. High oil prices despite their obvious high cost disadvantages have several benefits and long term advantages. Some effects are realized almost immediately and others take several years to develop. This part covers the short term effects; the majority of which are likely to be observed within five years.

: There are forms and deposits of crude oil that when the price per barrel is low they are financially unprofitable to explore and exploit. But many of them break even and become profitable at a per barrel cost of over $50.00. Others require even higher prices.

: The large swings in oil prices have the potential for quick fortunes to be made (and lost) through investment in futures and energy funds by investors and large retirement funds. The Sacramento Bee reports that “CalPERS [California Public Employees' Retirement System] has racked up a 68 percent return playing the commodities market in the past 12 months.”

: Most forms of renewable energy such as solar (photovoltaic), wind energy, geothermal, deep ocean upwelling and wave energy are expensive ways of converting natural forces or energy to electricity. High crude oil prices make several of these profitable.

: High energy prices are a strong incentive for carpooling, bicycling, telecommuting, condensed work weeks (4x10) and switch to mass transit.

: Obviously, high prices at the pump make large cars with large engines much less affordable to operate. The market for them shrinks, and this becomes a strong incentive for manufacturers to develop lighter, smaller vehicles with more efficient engines. It also provides strong incentives for both government and private R&D to work on less conventional car power plants such as direct gas injection, diesel, electric, compressed natural gas (CNG,) alone or in hybrid combinations.

: Redoubles efforts for freeway and arterial management, incident management, traffic light coordination, fleet management and optimum routing of vehicles through congested networks. Some private fleet operators work with very low profit margins, so congestion and high fuel prices can quickly turn a profitable operation to a money losing one.

High oil prices can have a large positive effect on the sustainability of modern societies. Alas, reduced demand has caused a precipitous reduction in crude oil prices. Now is the right time for the U.S. Congress to take the following actions:
  • The fuel tax at the pump should be adjusted to reflect the nation’s highway infrastructure funding needs. This may cause the 38 cent tax to triple, but it is a necessary action.
  • After this is done, a simple inflation adjustment formula should be legislated so that the “infrastructure purchasing power” of the gasoline tax retains its strength over time.
  • In the longer term, more thought should be given about the nation’s highway needs, the impacts of congestion, the critical contribution of freight and the effects of non-taxable fuels used in hybrid, electric and fuel cell vehicles. The highway funding mechanism should provide tax collections that are proportional to the vehicle miles traveled on the nation’s highways.
  • Finally, a small “renewable energy surcharge” such as two to five cents per gallon should be added to generate funds for much needed research and development. The proposed National Cooperative Renewable and Alternative Energy for Transportation Program can be administered by the Transportation Research Board which administers similar programs.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The EZWay Transportation Plan for Oahu

The basic goals of this plan are to provide (a) substantial congestion relief largely caused at the H-1/H-2 and H-1/Moanalua freeway merges by adding critical high occupancy capacity, and (b) express bus mass transit primarily in the west Oahu to downtown corridor. In addition, the plan addresses other major congestion spots in Honolulu and provides express transit connections to the University of Hawaii at Manoa. The basic ingredients of the plan are:
  • the EZWay which consists of three elevated reversible zipper lanes from the H-1/H-2 merge to Iwilei,
  • express buses having exclusive use of freeway shoulders in order to travel at near free flow speeds from/to the EZWay,
  • a downtown underpass for efficient in-town traffic distribution, and
  • a priority BRT from downtown to the UH and a new transit center for west Oahu bus passenger distribution in downtown, Kakaako, Ala Moana and Waikiki.
The elements of the EZWay transportation plan are briefly described below.

(1) Kapolei and Ewa Beach Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) connectors to Waipahu: Hybrid or fuel cell buses will be allowed to use shoulders on on-ramps and a number of elevated passages or priority lanes at intersections (queue jumpers) which allow them to get by chronically congested spots. Includes a Waipahu (Farrington Hwy.) on-ramp to/from the EZWay.

(2) Express buses from Waianae and Makakilo may use upgraded H-1 freeway shoulders to get to the EZWay quicker. The same priority treatment applies to express buses from Mililani and Waihiawa.

(3) The EZWay structure is a fully managed expressway facility that can be described as three reversible elevated zipper lanes starting at the H-1/H-2 merge and terminating at Pier 16 with off-ramps at Aloha Stadium/Pearl Harbor, Lagoon Drive and Waiakamilo Street. The right lane is an exclusive bus lane throughout the length of the facility. At Iwilei, one elevated lane goes to Hotel St. to connect with King/Beretania BRT (University spur BRT).

EZWay will open with a minimum occupancy requirement of three people per vehicle. This requirement may be increased in the future to avoid congestion. No tolls will be collected. Automated steep fines applied to low occupancy violators. No trucks allowed at any time. Open to all emergency vehicles at all times. Open to green vehicles with greater than 35 mpg EPA highway fuel consumption. This threshold is also subject to change in order to maintain at least 50 mph speeds in peak periods.

(4) Ala Moana Blvd. Downtown Underpass (mini-tunnel) starting east of River Street and ending both at Alakea Street and Halekauwila Street. Same tunnel reverses in the PM period from Halekauwila Street and Bishop Street to Nimitz Hwy. contraflow lane onto the elevated zipper lanes. The underpass may continue to large new parking lot(s) east of Punchbowl Street. As a result, a large portion of vehicular traffic may actually "disappear" from downtown by going from the EZWay, through the mini-tunnel directly into a parking structure.

(5) New Ward Centers bus terminal on Auahi Street. Express buses that arrive from the EZWay stop at this terminal and either return to origin, or continue as regular bus to Ala Moana Center. Contracted tour buses may be deployed at this terminal for direct worker distribution to Waikiki hotels.

(6) University BRT runs on priority lanes and with priority signaling along King Street and Beretania Street.

(7) Other elements include traffic signal optimization, other underpasses, several freeway bottleneck fixes, upgrades to TheBus and TheHandiVan scheduling and routing with advanced technologies, contracted express bus and special passenger service, deployment and incentives for 4x10 work hours, and encouragement to UH-Manoa to change start time for students, faculty and administration staff to 9 AM.

Features and Advantages
  • Elevated zipper lanes with no tolls -- Bus lane running at 50+ mph: Waipahu to downtown in 12 minutes -- Express point-to-point buses every 5 to 10 minutes
  • Same or better travel time than rail – Much fewer transfers. No transfers for major origins and destinations, e.g., Waipahu-Pearl Harbor and Airport, Waipahu-Kalihi, Waipahu-Downtown, Waipahu-Waikiki
  • Congestion relief on H-1 freeway (remove high occupancy and green vehicles) -- Congestion relief downtown
  • The plan works with buses which are adaptable to non-fossil fuel propulsion technology such as fuel cells and electric drives
  • Twice the service reach (length) compared with the 20 mile rail at about one half the cost
  • Reliable travel times between Ewa and Kapolei in Leeward, and Kakakao and UH in town
  • Flexible, expandable, adaptable with familiar technology; no specialized labor to install or maintain vehicles or structures of the plan
  • FTA New Starts fundable exclusive bus lanes and BRT
  • Nimitz Hwy. flyover has approved EIS.
  • Key parts of the plan can begin construction or operation in late 2009
  • Removes all buses and vanpools from zipper lane and allows HDOT to convert it to a HOT lane

Monday, December 8, 2008

UH-Manoa Announces Competition on Sustainability

I am thrilled that the UHM has put sustainability front and center with today’s announcement of an internal $1,000,000 research competition, an unprecedented undertaking in and of itself. I quote from the announcement by the Vice President for Research:

“Sustainability, or lack thereof, is most critical in Hawai’i given our geographic isolation, fragile ecosystems, limited resources, and resulting increased costs (monetary and otherwise) to function in an island economy/ecosystem. To this end, it is imperative that we focus our efforts to reach and ultimately move beyond a plateau of sustainability. The University of Hawai‘i at Mânoa should play a key leadership role in this endeavor, as the flagship UH Campus and a leading research institution.”

“As an initial step in support of the stated objectives the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education is pleased to announce an internal competition open to University of Hawai‘i-Mânoa faculty for a single 1 million dollar research grant in the broad area of sustainability.”

“The proposals will be reviewed by a committee of internal and external scholars and the recipient(s) of the 1 million dollar grant will be announced on Earth Day (April 22, 2009). Project funding will run from June 1, 2009 through May 31, 2011.”

I am also pleased that a group of faculty at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) took the initiative to develop some ideas for sustainability for which civil engineers are uniquely qualified to research and develop. A brief summary of draft ideas under the umbrella concept of a SIT Center is given below.

Advanced work on sustainability will put both the University and the entire state in the front lines of development for the long term survival of the human race on Earth. I look forward to this competition and results.

Sustainable Infrastructure and Transportation (SIT) Center

Mission: The Sustainable Infrastructure and Transportation Center (SIT Center) will contribute directly to both national and Hawaii security and mobility. The mission of the SIT Center is to lead heavily populated island communities like Hawaii to a path of sustainability through the
• careful management of energy resources,
• expansion of renewable sources of energy,
• optimization of urban travel, and
• minimization of solid and liquid wastes through remanufacturing the wastes into useful products.

The mission will be accomplished via research, education, technology transfer, and advocacy. Sustainability is critical to Hawaii as a remote island state, and the lessons learned are applicable to many populated island communities such as Guam, Caribbean Islands, Cyprus, Crete, Sicily, Corsica, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Philippine Islands, Taiwan, Singapore, and Okinawa. In addition, the transformation of Hawaii into a resource-sustainable society will demonstrate to the rest of the nation what can be done to increase sustainability nationwide.

Definition: The goal of sustainability is to provide efficient and effective infrastructure and transportation for people, services, and goods while optimizing energy requirements and minimizing the usage of non-renewable energy resources. It addresses system design and operations, management, policies, technology transfer and deployment, and public-private partnerships.

Organization: The SIT Center is planned to consist of two main tracks, one focusing on sustainable infrastructure and the other on sustainable transportation and energy.

Sustainable Infrastructure focuses on 1) resource efficiency of the built infrastructure; 2) recycling and reuse of wastes, which leads to a no-landfill solution for household waste; and 3) the remanufacture of useful products from the waste stream. All activities will stimulate local economic development, as industry develops to commercialize the technology. SIT will serve the technology transfer needs for this new industry. Already, the CEE department has established research in the recycling and reuse of waste materials ranging from discarded glass and tires in concrete and asphalt, fly-ash produced by the H-Power plant, and reclaimed wastewater.

Sustainable Transportation and Energy focuses on ways to reduce dependency on fossil fuels while maintaining high levels of urban mobility. Constantly evolving intelligent transportation systems (ITS) are currently a national focus and provide the means to optimize traffic operations and management. Economic research provides the foundation for pricing and tolling schemes that externalize the full cost of trip-making. Renewable energy sources are the long term key to energy independence, particularly in places like Hawaii where solar, geothermal, wind and wave energy abound. SIT will complement the new UH National Renewable Marine Energy Center.

The overall goal of SIT is to promote technology transfer and deployment of sustainable transportation and energy operations via research, outreach, and education using Hawaii as the demonstrable test bed. The Center will provide a critical mass for expertise to conduct research, educate, and collaborate with public and private partners.

Some Options for Architects Who Dislike Traditional Elevated Rail

The architects’ society, AIA Honolulu, drafted comments on the rail DEIS. Basically they are in favor of the rail concept but they do not want elevated rail. To quote their December 4, 2008 draft letter to the City: “In comparison with elevated systems, at grade systems would require less taxpayer funding and offer greater flexibility and affordability in planning for future extensions.”

On Oahu, at grade rail will be cheaper in terms of guideway costs, and it will have a much lower aesthetic impact, but its requirements for condemnation and roadway congestion will both skyrocket. Condemnation would be extensive (and very expensive) because at grade space must be found for the wide turns that trains make and for 20+ stations. Roadway lanes will be lost to light rail; not only one lane per direction, but also adjacent lanes to install stations. For example, an at-grade light rail installation between downtown and the UH will practically take all of Beretania Street and maybe allow for one lane left for local access and deliveries. Lane-taking in Honolulu, one of the most lane starved cities in the nation, is not rational. Overall AIA’s recommendation for at grade rail is not a practical one.

Would a light version of the Japanese roof-mounted monorail make better sense?

This is the Ofuna Enoshima monorail. The guideway and posts of this system can be made slimmer by designing them for smaller and lighter trains, so the visual impact when a train is absent is small. But of course its stations would still be big and obtrusive. Such a system was not presented or evaluated in the DEIS.

Another fixed guideway option is the PPT, or personal public transit, but all of them are experimental or drawing board concepts. There are several concepts but the SkyTran concept for personalized magnetic levitation (Maglev) rapid transit (http://www.unimodal.com/) is exciting and All American. Its light structure makes it much more suitable for beautiful Honolulu.

If Honolulu were to develop 12 miles of HOT lanes now to solve its leeward Oahu congestion issues, in 20 years some of the PPT could be market ready and they have the potential to be fast, quiet, convenient and inexpensive. With HOT lanes, underpasses, smart traffic lights and PPT, Honolulu in 2030 would be an international transportation technology capital. This would be accomplished at a locally affordable cost and with minimal impact to aesthetics, cultural and historical sites.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

20 Simple but Important Questions for the Rail DEIS

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) of the City’s proposed rail system is the document that should provide answers to all reasonable impacts. It is available at all public libraries. It is also available at the city’s website honolulutransit.com along with a lot of the rail propaganda that your tax dollars paid for.

Below I list 20 simple but important questions. Does the DEIS answer them clearly?
  1. The bus routes will change. What happens to your route? What happens to express buses?
  2. Lanes will be taken away, some temporarily for construction and some permanently. Where are those lane closures and what is their duration? Are there traffic rerouting plans?
  3. Will there be bike racks on the train and where will they be located? Will bikes be allowed on the train? Will there be a place for surfboards? What about luggage? What about construction workers’ tools? Will there be a place for people to put large items they purchase at a big box retailer? What’s the size limitation?
  4. Will there be washrooms at the stations? How about convenience stores, vending machines? Will the platforms have seats? How many?
  5. Under land use, Aloun farms needs to relocate. Is that possible? Where will they go?
  6. A relatively simple job of sewer upgrades in Kailua and Kapiolani lead to the loss of businesses and jobs. Are details provided about similar effects during the construction of the rail?
  7. Is there a detailed plan for the effect of rail construction on water, sewer, gas and electric utilities? Will there be disruptions of service? Who pays for all these?
  8. About $107 million will be spent on the soft costs of this project. This “paperwork” cost is rather exorbitant for a single 20 mile rail line. How did $107 million get spent?
  9. The DEIS list of preparers for technical content shows that it was done almost exclusively with out-of-Hawaii engineers, planners and specialists. (See this document under Consultants: http://www.honolulutransit.org/library/files/end.pdf.) H-3 freeway was designed mostly with Hawaii based engineers. If Hawaii engineers are not able to design rail, who will supervise and build this unfamiliar-to-Oahu infrastructure?
  10. Rail construction involves unique skills and certifications that Hawaii construction workers do not have. How will this be addressed?
  11. The city has declared that in many cases only a portion of a parcel needs to be condemned and taken away. Can the business survive with the remaining portion? Are they forced to mandatory downsizing and some loss of employment?
  12. There are 16 schools that are adjacent to the alignment. Will the overhead structure, the continuous high current exposure and the intermittent noise and vibration affect the learning environment? Is it prudent to relocate the schools?
  13. Does rail fit our Hawaiian Sense of Place? How was the impact to tourism and local quality of life by a large elevated structure through town been assessed?
  14. Does the DEIS address the impacted vistas and scenery? Are the aesthetics of the structure and each station explained and presented adequately?
  15. What will happen in the event of a hurricane? Will the train operate? The train in Houston was shut down for 10 days due to hurricane Ike.
  16. BART in the Bay Area uses rail cars made of aluminum to combat corrosion. Is the city’s position that corrosion is not an issue?
  17. It appears that General Excise Tax surcharge proceeds for rail will be much lower than expected for at least four years in a row. How is this deficit going to be made up?
  18. If ridership turns out to be lower than forecast, then what? If the city is forced to provide free train rides like in Puerto Rico, how is the shortfall going to be covered?
  19. I heard that the Ala Moana station will now be at a lower elevation, at the west end of Kona Street and not above Nordstrom’s. What is the exact plan for the Ala Moana Center station and how is the train going to Waikiki and UH afterwards?
  20. Starting construction in Kapolei makes little sense. It may be expeditious and convenient but it is not smart. Why can’t a temporary rail yard be established near the airport or Aloha Stadium and build rail east into the city and west out to Kapolei simultaneously?
The billion dollar question that no DEIS could address is this: With President Obama at the helm and Senator Inouye chairing the Senate Appropriations Committee can we get four billion for rail? How about splitting the bill 50-50 with the feds? Other cities got a 50% or better federal match. Why does Honolulu get less than 25%?

These and many more questions require simple and clear answers.

In addition to the 429 page DEIS, the following files contain information and visuals. The City distributes them on a DVD.
  • Historic Resources.pdf
  • Land Use.pdf
  • Transportation Tech Report.pdf
  • Street Trees.pdf
  • Electric and Magnetic Fields Technical Report.pdf
  • Visual and Aesthetic Technical Report.pdf
  • Historic Appendix B.pdf
  • Cultural Resources.pdf
  • Economics.pdf
  • Geology, soils, farmlands, and natural hazardsTech Report.pdf
  • Haz Waste and Mat Tech Report Appendix A.pdf
  • Natural Resources.pdf
  • Noise&Vibration.pdf
  • Haz Waste and Mat Tech Report.pdf
  • tEISTravelForecasting ENTIRE.pdf
  • Community Impacts.pdf
  • Archaeological Resources.pdf
  • Water Resources.pdf
  • AQ&Energy.pdf
The City released this huge document just before the November 4 elections and in a period that includes the most holidays and days off. (The deadline for comment is January 7, 2009.) The hearings on the adequacy of the Alternatives Analysis were also conducted and concluded in the late November to late December 2006 period to make it as hard as possible for citizens to participate. (If it looks like a Banana Republic and acts like a Banana Republic ...)