Monday, January 25, 2010

Panos for Mayor... subject to incumbent's departure

Today, on the Rick Hamada show, I announced my intent to become a candidate for mayor of the City and County of Honolulu when the office becomes vacant.

As you know, the regular election for mayor is not until 2012 but Mufi Hannemann has declared an interest in the race for Governor. However, unlike U.S. Representative Neil Abercrombie who declared his intent to resign, Mayor Hannemann has not declared any such intent, thus today I am simply saying that if he resigns then I will run for mayor.

Our campaign’s committee of advisors has remained active since the 2008 elections and so did our website and campaign filings with the office of elections. Our new website is and our campaign phone number is 63-PANOS. However, the phone line won’t be live until a formal campaign starts. On the other hand, the “contribute” button of the website is open for business!

I have lived on Oahu for 20 years and the condition of the public infrastructure has deteriorated to the point that we are ranked among the worst in the nation in traffic congestion and road quality. The city lost its lawsuit against the EPA so we now have a billion dollar obligation for secondary sewer treatment. None of it is being done.

Instead of addressing the trash problem, the city extended the life of the landfill and sued the company that can export our trash. Water main breaks are almost a daily occurrence with paralysis in Waikiki and Nanakuli recently.

There is little planning for resilience. What happens when a hurricane or a tsunami hits? What’s the plan for residents and for 100,000 frantic tourists?

There is a slate of four pro-rail candidates for mayor and a few more may join. However, I am more certain than ever that the proposed elevated rail is unsightly, unaffordable and unnecessary. In the 2008 vote, millions of dollars of false advertising were spent to deceive Oahu voters that the city was planning an affordable light rail system. However, all along the city was planning for an expensive, fully elevated heavy rail system.

When Bishop Estate and the architects of Hawaii voiced strong support for a partial light rail system, the city admitted that light rail was dismissed early in the process without much analysis. Also the Oahu Railway which is largely intact from Waianae to the airport was ignored. The inescapable conclusion is that the proposed rail is not about transit service. It’s about land development and expensive construction.

In a letter to the editor, mayor Hannemann promised a $3 billion rail system and fiscal restraints. (Read it at

Despite his wishful thinking, no private monies were realized and the rail’s budget ballooned from under $3 billion to over $5 billion. Based on past experience, the actual cost will be over $6 billion. And it does not serve UH or Waikiki. And tax collections are low.

So the city plans to steal over $300 million from TheBus capital budget to balance the rail financial plan! We simply do not have the money for this system. If it’s built, then it will undermine our ability to issue bonds in order to pay for vital road, water, sewer and maintenance projects, as well as for bus operations and maintenance.

We need to focus on the economy, jobs and taxes. The only way the city can help is by focusing on its infrastructure and services. As mayor I will scrap the rail and replace it with real solutions and necessary maintenance. It is not acceptable that beautiful Oahu is a prime example of congestion, dilapidation and substandard infrastructure.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Reality vs Livability

Which new word Mufi will bring us from Washington, DC? LIVABILITY.

This time it is not Mufi's fault. It's President Obama's through the mouth of his transportation secretary (and past pork meister) Ray LaHood.

Obama promised that large projects won't be done based on political whim and strong arming. He promised transparency, accountability and (indirectly) cost-effectiveness. In other words, only good, necessary and justifiable projects with strong local support and big bang for the buck will be done. Now he does exactly the opposite when it comes to urban rail systems.

All rail systems are money losers in the U.S. Before Obama there was a formulaic determination at Federal Transit Administration so that the taxpayer won't be taken on a wild ride by spending hundreds of millions of dollars on projects that are grossly ineffective. Honolulu's systems is grossly ineffective because it costs over three times more that the next most expensive system in the nation, and about 20 times more the typical light rail system in the nation in terms of money taken away from city residents to built it.

This long standing FTA safety valve was thrown out. It was replaced with Livability.

Problem is there is no definition of Livability. Car haters may define it as taking cars out of the street. One can hate cars all he wants, but inside them there are human beings. Take cars away and the corresponding activity is largely taken away. Simple math. Greater automobility equals greater prosperity and a better life style.

With "livability" instead of building affordable roads or adding lanes in proportion to population (these lanes will be occupied by low to no emissions vehicles in 20 years) we proposed to build rigid, expensive neighborhood dividers such as elevated rail.

Livability is very similar to Beauty. As in "beauty is in the eye of the beholder. " Some Honolulu residents view the elevated rail as a necessary alternative and a technological asset. Most view it as unnecessary, ugly and largely useless.

Rail systems do little for "livability" and similar vague "smart growth" metrics. What rail systems do is waste money and serve far fewer people that they were planned for. Latest example, is the Sounder light rail in Seattle. Emory Bundy estimates that "as of 2008, $1,430,000,000 capital cost for Sounder, 2.22 times the price proffered in 1996 ($647,000,000 YOE$), a cost overrun of $783 million, 122%."

But that's the good news. The actual ridership story is fantasy versus reality: Numbers out of mouths of politicians ans their hired "experts" versus the number of people actually using the rail systems. Let's follow their history from fantasy to reality. Note that their system took 13 years to materialize so the 1996 local politicians are now at a law firm, Congress or prison, fully unaccountable for this boondoggle.

The 1996 Sound Move Plan promised at least 105,000 Central Link light rail daily (one-way) trips in 2010.

By late 2001, with light rail trimmed-back to Airport/Initial Segment, the target was lowered to 45,000 daily boardings by 2020.

In 2008, with Airport Link nearing completion, Sound Transit's 2010 target was lowered to 32,600.

In 2009, as opening day for Airport/Initial Segment approached, the target for 2010 was reduced again, to 26,000.

In 2009 roughly 15,000 daily trips are being recorded.

So in 2010 the expectation is that actual daily riders would be less than half those promised in late 2001 and less than a quarter those promised in 1996.

Evidence like this does not phase Hannemann, Caldwell, Apo, Carlisle and the (mostly paid in cash, in jobs or in kind) Go-Rail-Go rail advocates.

Good thing Governor Lingle promises to take a hard look into the Final EIS and the numbers and proposed mitigation plans in it. By all accounts the public is on her side. Here is a sample from Pacific Business News: 64% believe that the governor is asking important questions.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mufi's Rail: Scrap the Whole Thing

A couple of local TV stations posted online polls after covering the presentation by the Hawaii Chapter of the American Institute of Architects at the Capitol hosted by Governor Lingle on January 18, 2010.

A fairly comprehensive and neutrally worded poll was developed by the FOX affiliate KHON as part of their well-watched Channel 2 News.
The poll asked "How should the City and State proceed with the rail transit project?" and gave four options [my comments in brackets]

Elevated as planned [this is the city's proposal or Mufi's Rail]

At ground level [this is the vaguely described option supported by the Hawaii Chapter of the American Planning Association]

Mix of above and at ground level [a specific design has been presented by rail expert Phil Craig funded by Bishop Estate and supported by American Institute of Architects-Hawaii]

Scrap the whole thing [this is the Panos and Stop Rail Now preferred option]

Conclusion? Basically two thirds opined that the whole thing should be scrapped!

Below I show a snapshot of the poll at 10:30 AM the next day with numbers only slightly changed from those reported by Joe Moore at the 10 PM news. [Polls unpopular to the establishment tend to disappear quickly.]

There is wisdom into not rushing mega-projects but contemplating them carefully. It took about four years but the public now gets it: The proposed rail is a boondoggle that we don't need and we can't afford.
Will elected officials get it soon enough?

Monday, January 18, 2010

State of the Rail? Stuck!

The panel presentations of the Hawaii Chapter of the American Institute of Architects hosted by Hawaii governor Linda Lingle on January 18, 2010 revealed many of the weaknesses of the city's proposed rail plan. Here is a sample:

  1. The city is stuck with its environmental compliance and cannot issue a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS.)
  2. The city's EIS is too deficient to withstand scrutiny at courts.
  3. The city's EIS failed to study a true light rail system. (Note that the voters in 2008 were told that the city was proposing a light rail system.)
  4. Even if the governor wanted to sign an environmental approval, there is no document for her to sign.
  5. There is no federal environmental approval.
  6. There is no federal approval of any funding in any amount.

The governor's panel was a good example of open process as apposed to Mufi Hannemann's lectures and the Parsons Brinkerhoff's smoke and mirrors shows.

There were several references to the Alternatives Analysis, so I spent a little time reviewing this November 2006 document for which two past Hawaii Department of Transportation directors voted in approval (Hirata and Hayashida).

On page 5-2 the Alternatives Analysis says that the East Kapolei to Ala Moana cost would be 3.6 billion dollars, and the full project from West Kapolei to UH and Waikiki would be 5.5 billion dollars. In late 2009 Mufi Hannemann gloated that construction costs have dropped and that Honolulu will get a bargain for building the proposed rail. Really? Why is today's cost for the East Kapolei to Ala Moana system 5.3 billion or 47% higher than the cost estimated in 2006?

Table 5-9 of the Alternatives Analysis projected that in 2009 249 million dollars would have been spent for rail construction. Yet no construction has taken place and this has nothing to do with rail lawsuits or state administration approvals. Simply the city promises big and delivers small.

The governor is correct is pointing out that 2010 is not 2006. Money is a huge issue now at all levels. (It is not an exaggeration to say that now the U.S. builds projects by borrowing money from Asia.)

The proposed rail that is on the table now is dangerously unaffordable and it will undermine the overall ability of the state to deliver other vital projects. This is clearly shown by a desperation act of the city in the latest version of the rail budget. In order to balance the proposed rail budget, it stole $330 million from TheBus budget. This is before any real construction cost overruns have taken place.

Honolulu must not forget San Juan's experience where costs projected by the same consultant actually doubled.

AIA-Hawaii panelists insisted that for this transit project to succeed it must serve the UH-Manoa campus and Waikiki. In this case, the cost of the project is about 8 billion dollars, and, if San Juan experience is repeated, the actual cost could be 16 billion dollars. At this rate, no other project can be built in Hawaii for 20 years. No sewers, no water lines, no roads, no new schools, airport buildings or harbor piers.

The elevated rail system proposal is economic suicide for current residents and their children.

Now some think that solving the congestion problem is worth this risk. Unfortunately nowhere has a rail line solved any traffic congestion problem. The city's numbers clearly show this. At the present time TheBus carries 7 out of 100 trips on Oahu. With TheBus and TheRail combined in 2030 this will explode to ... 8 out of 100 trips. Sorry, over 90% of the trips will be stuck in traffic!

Unfortunately the news is even worse for those who hope that TheRail will reduce road congestion. Both San Juan and Seattle recently opened rail lines and their ridership is only one third of the hoped for level. What does this mean for Honolulu? After paying well over five billion dollars, transit trips will increase from 7 percent to 7.3 percent. More taxes, no relief.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Washington Metro

Today Sunday January 10 is my second day in a five day day visit in Washington, D.C. where I attend the 89th annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board, a unit of the National Academy of Engineering.

I decided to introduce Metro to Katie and 15 month old Endie so they can visit the Capital Mall, the Smithsonian and other fine museums while I am at the conference.

You will not believe the state of disrepair of this well-over 10-billion dollar public investment. Our station is more than four stories deep into the ground but the ADA-mandated elevators do not work. People who cannot ride the 3 minute long steep escalator have to wait for buses to take them to other stations.

None of the elevators in the platform of our station were working. They were closed with long messages about "pardon our appearance" followed by specific messages of when the improvements will be completed. Yet there were stickers on the original dates extending the delivery of the fix to February 2010.

On the way back from Metro Center, half of the Red line is single tracked for "scheduled maintenance". Those who go to near destinations have trains every five minutes. Those who go to far destinations have trains every 15 minutes.

It is 28F today in DC and the stations are very cold. Waiting a few minutes with a baby in the cold is very uncomfortable. Waiting at the Kapolei and other leeward stations in the summer will be similarly uncomfortable. And if you pile up the walk, elevator, escalator, ticketing and wait times, plus transfers to buses, the door to door travel time by mass transit is twice the travel time by car. That's what the U.S. Census reports for 2000.

The condition of the Metro is only a small and sad indication that the nation is broke and its transportation is in distress. Having the Metro in such disrepair and at the same time handing out billions to Honolulu for its ridiculous 20 mile train to suburbia is very bad public policy.

In most U.S. urban areas metro rail is too inconvenient, too expensive and too unproductive. The sunny and touristy city of Miami's rail system is an example of all these negative outcomes combined. The single rail line in the 2.2 million population San Juan in Puerto Rico is another example of negative outcomes. Honolulu hopefully won't become the next victim of misguided planning and political ambition.