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 ( 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.