Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Romy Cachola’s Scoops on the Rail

Councilmember Romy Cachola has provided a useful summary of findings after meeting with the Federal Transit Administration on March 9, 2010 along with Councilpersons Apo, Anderson and Kobayashi.

The partial summary of Cachola's findings from this fact finding mission in Washington, DC are copied below and his entire report is available at the city's docushare (see link at bottom.) Of course Cachola’s report, without saying it, makes a case for rerouting the rail route through Salt Lake Boulevard. Unfortunately, this is one of many omissions in the Draft EIS, and several months of study are needed to assess those impacts, plus time for public review and comment.

Rather foolishly the FTA approved that the City enter Preliminary Engineering, so now we are spending money engineering a rail route that is impractical. This is but a small piece of evidence why rail proposals are “gravy trains” for architects, planners and engineers … the more the mistakes, the more the taxpayer financed fees to professionals to fix those mistakes.

Note that these significant objections do not even address the multitude of problems between the airport and Waikiki (Dillingham Boulevard, Chinatown, downtown, Ala Moana.)

My conclusion has been that even if Hannemann serves his entire term as mayor, there will still be no rail on the ground by 2012, or ever, if a recent survey by Hawaii News Now is to be believed.

Cachola's summary points:

  • The FTA won’t give special treatment to any jurisdiction that applies for federal funds for transit. Everyone will be treated the same way. Thus, the airport route, until resolved, is unlikely to receive special treatment as hoped for by the administration.
  • The governor has every right to review the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) based not only on federal guidelines but also state laws governing environmental review. The FTA stressed to council members that without the governor’s approval, the project cannot proceed.
  • A main sticking point on the Final EIS is that the transit alignment is encroaching too close to the runway protection zone. FTA officials also stressed that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will not sign off on the Final EIS until the airport issue is resolved.
  • To resolve the encroachment on the runway protection zone, the FTA stated the following alternatives:
1. Move the alignment to the mauka side of the viaduct.
2. Move the alignment onto the median of the viaduct.
3. Extend the affected runway(s) to the opposite direction (makai) so that it would no longer encroach on the runway protection zone.
  • Based on the FTA’s statements, the following may need to be done:
-- Amending the alignment may require a supplemental EIS to determine the impacts and other considerations.
-- Since Honolulu International Airport is under the state’s control, any extension of the runway needs state approval. The state may not agree to any extension until an EIS is completed and approved by HDOT. Without the State’s approval, the City will be forced to look at other alternatives.

Link to Romy Cachola’s report

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Better Pavements for Safety and Low Noise

On a recent trip in a driving rainstorm on Interstate 80 and I-680 (California), there were a variety of pavement types. Some seemed to collect a thin layer of water that was tossed into the air by cars and trucks, creating a blinding fog, which made for near-zero visibility. However, on some blacktop sections with equally heavy rain, there was no layer of water and no wall of spray coming off other vehicles. The visibility there was excellent. Why the difference?

The latter is open-graded asphalt, which Caltrans (the California Department of Transportation) now uses on most paving projects, and it is wonderful. It allows water to drain off the surface and into a top permeable layer — almost eliminating the spray kicked up on older pavement.

This asphalt uses pieces of gravel 3/8 of an inch thick. Underneath are 2 inches of rubberized asphalt, flexible material that withstands the wear and tear of heavy big rigs twice as long as conventional asphalt.

The uniform pieces of gravel on top do not bind as tightly as varied sizes used in other paving, so water seeps through the first few inches of pavement and drains off.

When open-graded asphalt was used on a curvy stretch of Highway 17 a few years ago, crashes dropped 41% in the first three months. On I-880, where a 26-mile repaving job ended in 2002, crashes fell 15%, from 3,172 in 2000 to 2,696 in 2004.

When you saw water being kicked up by traffic, you probably ran into an older section of I-80 that will get the better pavement this spring.


Unfortunately neither open-graded asphalt or rubberized asphalt are common practice on Oahu.

There is an additional advantage of open-graded asphalt that Caltrans did not mention: Noise reduction.

Environmentally, open-graded asphalt reduces road noise for drivers, passengers and those who work, live or play near a busy highway. Studies have found that open-graded asphalt pavements, when compared to traditional dense-graded asphalt pavements, reduce road noise by 3 to 7 decibels (dBA) which make them a viable alternative to noise walls for areas with moderate noise problems.

Source: Asphalt Intitute,

Monday, March 22, 2010

Island Sustainability Primer: Trends on Income, Energy, Tourism*

The goal of this on-going research project is to collect and summarize rich data sets and data sources for world’s islands. Fifty islands for which complete data could be collected are currently in the database. Islands may be part of a country or a country. Islands with population of less than 50,000 people were excluded.

Nine major variables were used for each island: Population , Area (km2), Density (citizens/km2), Political Status (independent country or part of a country), Gross Domestic Product or GDP (million U.S. dollars in 2008), Annual Electricity Consumption (Terra Watt hours), Carbon Dioxide or CO2 Emissions (million metric tons), Annual Tourist Arrivals, and Combined Road and Rail length (km per 1000 people). Some of the early results are highlighted below.

For developed islands the incremental cost and needs to serve large numbers of tourists are relatively small, thus tourism can be quite cost effective. But for small and less developed islands the cost to provide for tourism is high in terms of energy and pollution.

In general, the higher the GDP per capita is the higher the electricity consumption. For electricity consumption higher than 6,000 kWh per person, the relationship curve flattens. Also, electricity consumption per person is proportional to CO2 emissions per person.

When electricity consumption is in the range of 6,000 to 11,000 kWh per person the CO2 emissions appear to be low for a group of islands (9 to 11 metric tons per person) and higher for another group (16 to 19 metric tons per person). The islands in the low group of carbon emissions have approximately equal GDP with the islands in the high group of carbon emissions. The high group of islands consists of the Hawaiian Islands (Oahu, Maui, Big Island), Bahamas and Australia whereas the low group consists of European islands (Ireland, Iceland, UK, Cyprus) as well as Japan and New Zealand. Availability of hydro and nuclear power is likely what makes this large difference in carbon footprint.

Japan, with the highest population of all islands, has the 9th highest GDP per capita; however, it is 44th in tourists per capita, 12th in infrastructure per capita 10th in electricity consumption and 13th in CO2 emissions.

New Zealand is 16th in GDP per capita, 30th in tourists per capita, 4th in infrastructure per capita, 8th in electricity consumption and 16th in CO2 emissions per capita. As shown below, Oahu has woefully inadequate infrastructure when compared with Japan and New Zealand.

Similar to both New Zealand and Japan, our extremely large Pacific Ocean “neighbor,” Australia, is the largest island in the list, is in 7th place in GDP per capita, 37th in tourists per capita, 3rd in infrastructure per capita, 4th in electricity consumption and 5th in CO2 emissions per capita.

Table 1 summarizes the Hawaiian Islands rankings out of 50 islands with population over 50,000 people. Oahu, Maui and Big Island make the population cut, but Kauai does not.

In terms of GDP, Oahu ranks very high at 5th highest, with Maui and Big Inland in 17th and 18th position, respectively. In terms of income, Hawaiian Inland residents fare much better than average compared to other island populations. The Hawaiian Islands are major international tourism destinations: Tourists per capita shows that Maui is in the top spot, followed by Big Island on 5th and Oahu on 8th.

When it comes to road and rail infrastructure to accommodate residents and tourists, the Hawaiian Islands fall far short of their island counterparts. Only the Big Island makes it to the top 10 in the 7th place, Maui is another seven spots down at 14th and Oahu is near the bottom at 41st having too little land transportation infrastructure for its population. The result is its abundant congestion that threatens its long term quality of life and tourist attractiveness, which, in turn, degrade its sustainability.

The advanced quality of life in the Hawaiian Islands and the fact that they host over six million tourists per year results in a large consumption of electric power. Both Maui (3rd highest) and Oahu (9th highest) make it in the top 10 and Big Island is close to them at 13th. Hawaiian island dependence on oil is worrisome and the presence of fairly large population of residents and tourists does not bode well for low productivity sources like solar and wind energy. The latter has some potential but its visual impact is usually too large for Hawaii’s scenic landscapes.

Wave and tidal energy is difficult to harness and requires large shore structures, which again render then unappealing although some deployments may be feasible. This leaves nuclear as a major sustainability choice, either with small power plants (like the seven to twelve 110 megawatt nuclear units in large Navy submarines stationed in Pearl Harbor on any given day) or a largely invisible large floating platform 10 to 12 miles offshore.

As expected, an advanced life style and energy generation from coal and oil translate into a high environmental impact in terms of carbon dioxide emissions. All three Hawaiian Islands examined are in the top ten among this set of 50 islands. However, due to the vastness of the Pacific Ocean and the strong prevailing winds, local air pollution is not a problem in the Hawaiian Islands.

Two future changes can dramatically reduce CO2 emissions in Hawaii: Electric vehicles charged overnight by large scale wind farms or smaller neighborhood wind turbines, and nuclear power for the bulk of daytime power needs.

(*) Based on Research by Lambros Mitropoulos, Panos Prevedouros, and Michelle Coskey at University of Hawaii, Civil Engineering, Traffic and Transportation Laboratory

Friday, March 19, 2010

You Did Not See this Image in The News

In the immediately preceding post I mentioned this from California:

California's Legislative Analyst non-partisan office said "the scale of the deficits is so vast that we know of no way that the Legislature, the Governor, and voters can avoid making additional, very difficult choices about state priorities."

One of the painful large cuts will be to their flagship University of California campuses. Liberal thinking may be a fine pursuit but liberal spending isn't, no matter how good the socialist justification may be for it because in the long term society winds up being worse off.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Stimulus, National Budget, California and Honolulu

Abraham Lincoln once asked an audience how many legs a dog has, if you called the tail a leg? When the audience said "five," Lincoln corrected them, saying that the answer was four. "The fact that you call a tail a leg does not make it a leg."

That same principle applies today. The fact that politicians call something a "stimulus" does not make it a stimulus. The fact that they call something a "jobs bill" does not mean there will be more jobs.

So starts Thomas Sowell's recent opinion titled A stimulus or a sedative? He is the Rose and Milton Friedman senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

His conclusion is that stimulus jobs are fake and counter-productive. And very costly. As a result the forecast from the General Accounting Office (GAO) for the U.S. budget is both pessimistic and alarming. And this is before the Trillion Dollar health care "reform" has been accounted for.

I quote two paragraphs from GAO's The Budget and Economic Outlook: Fiscal Years 2010 to 2020.

  • Accumulating deficits are pushing federal debt to significantly higher levels. CBO projects that total debt will reach $8.8 trillion by the end of 2010. At 60 percent of GDP, that would be the highest level since 1952. Under current laws and policies, CBO’s projections show that level climbing to 67% by 2020. As a result, interest payments on the debt are poised to skyrocket; the government’s spending on net interest will triple between 2010 and 2020, increasing from $207 billion to $723 billion.
  • Beyond the 10-year projection period, growth of spending for Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will speed up from its already rapid rate. To keep federal deficits and debt from reaching levels that would substantially harm the economy, lawmakers would have to significantly increase revenues, decrease projected spending, or enact some combination of the two.
Of course "significantly increase revenues" means "heavy new taxes."

The future is already "here" for California. In November 2009 California's Legislative Analyst non-partisan office said "the scale of the deficits is so vast that we know of no way that the Legislature, the Governor, and voters can avoid making additional, very difficult choices about state priorities."

In light of all these, Honolulu is doing the worst thing possible to prepare for this storm of deficits. It plans to sink several billion dollars on an unproductive rail investment. Since the City administration has lost its marbles about this, it is imperative that fiscally responsible people are elected at both City and State. I look forward to this responsibility at the City level.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Jobs, Priorities and Solutions for Oahu

Concerned citizens should demand a list of specific action items from their next mayor. Here is my list.

Disaster Resilience ... Where's the plan to organize and distribute machinery to handle poles, trees, power and debris? How can we provide help to neighborhoods when vital streets are blocked with fallen trees and poles? Why are key streets not fitted with underground utilities and low height trees?

Second Access for Waianae ... Farrington Hwy. alone is a death trap for this large community. What's the evacuation plan for a 20-30 minute arrive time of tsunami from Big Island?

Trash Management ... This is a huge issue. At a minimum we need better sorting, more reuse and more exportation since containers go to mainland mostly empty.

Crime and Safety ... We need to focus on hard drugs, and the protection of our young.

Highway Accident Investigation ... We need to train police to open lanes in under 60 min.

Parks and the Homeless ... Use old and decommissioned TheBus as TheShelter at some parks. Park upkeep and modernization is long overdue.

Planning and Permitting ... DPP has a poor reputation. It needs to become fast and friendly.

Water "Scam" ... Oahu has enough water for about five million people but old laws allow for its (ab)use.

Energy ... Our best bets are with wind, Navy nuclear submarines, and an offshore nuclear plant.

Sustainability ... We need to focus on fishing, agriculture, and ocean transportation for long term survival of one million people in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Traffic and Transit ... Build the recommendations of the UH Congestion Study.

Sewers ... We pay heavy fees but progress is slow. An immediate audit is essential, followed by a plan to get all updates completed within 10 years.

Roads ... Hasty repaving to collect votes is a waste of money. We need a plan for pavement rehabilitation to take us from 3rd worst in nation to top third in 10 years.

What is the bottom line of this list? Many new, good and local jobs. Important projects get done. Quality of life improves. Tourist appeal improves. Economy thrives!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Oahu Railway and Land (OR&L)

The Oahu Railway and Land (OR&L) provides a nearly continuous 40 ft. wide corridor for rail transportation between Nanakuli and the west side of the Honolulu International Airport (HIA). Dr. Kioni Dudley of Makakilo, among others on Oahu have been questioning why such an obvious path for rail was largely ignored from any serious analysis and environmental assessment.

Thanks to the Star Bulletin some of the points and counterpoints are beginning to emerge.

Even if the counterpoints are significant, the City did fail to take a careful look at OR&L. As member of the 2006 Transit Advisory Task Force that examined the city's Alternatives Analysis, I can attest that OR&L was not the subject of analysis.

As one can see in the map below, the rail path of OR&L is extensive and it reaches to within a few miles of downtown. It provides a platform for light rail development. Light rail service can occur at a small fraction of the proposed fully elevated multibillion dollar system, with similar or better results in ridership. Its speed may be lower compared to a fully elevated system but it can be designed with fewer stations and larger parking lots.

Between the east end of HIA and downtown, the new passenger OR&L can operate on the sides of the Nimitz Viaduct which is a proposed project for a narrow reversible elevated highway connecting H-1 Fwy. at Keehi Interchange to downtown. This project passed environmental reviews in the late 1990s and was mothballed by Governor Lingle at the beginning of her first term. However, the Nimitz Viaduct re-emerged in 2008 as a desirable project in the Highway Modernization Program of the state DOT.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Nasty Pothole Has a New Suitor: The Smart Phone

Vehicles of all sizes and their passengers and cargo suffer daily from potholes. Particularly in Honolulu which is bottom ranked for quality of roads. Just take a look on Ward Avenue between Kinau and King Streets.

The Nasty Pothole was the focus of a popular TV and radio commercial spot by a major auto insurance company.

Honolulu has a pothole hotline, so the regular phone was a long time suitor of the pothole. Now camera and GPS loaded smart phones present a formidable new suitor.

See Click Fix Dot Com provides the means to instantly notify authorities and other motorists about nasty potholes with a picture and exact geo-location.

Yet another driver distraction, but if we were top ranked for road quality, like most cities in Florida, which has a similar hot, humid and wet environment, we wouldn't have to use a smart phone app for potholes.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

FTA has withdrawn $70 million in federal stimulus funds from BART

Why? Due to the lack of Equity Analysis which is a civil rights violation.

These $70 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus funds to BART were allocated to fill a gap in its proposed half-billion dollar, 3.2 mile connection to the Oakland International Airport.

"The complaint alleged that the lack of stops and the high fare excluded low-income riders and riders of color from the benefits of the project, and that this exclusion violated not only Title VI, but also U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Environmental Justice Order."
Planetizen's article titled Transportation Victory for Social Equity includes this telling section:

FTA Investigates and Requires Corrective Action

FTA accepted the complaint and conducted an on-site investigation, both of the Airport Connector project and of BART's wider Title VI compliance. In a January 15 letter to BART and MTC, Administrator Peter Rogoff concluded that the complaint’s allegations were true. He put BART and MTC on notice that FTA would withhold the $70 million in ARRA funds unless BART could quickly provide an adequate plan to FTA to correct multiple deficiencies, including the missing equity analysis. BART submitted two drafts of its plan, and Public Advocates submitted lengthy comments on each to FTA, noting numerous deficiencies.

Administrator Rogoff's February 12 follow-up letter to BART and MTC stated "I am required to reject your plan. Given the fact that the initial Title VI complaint against BART was well founded, I am not in a position to award the ARRA funds to BART while the agency remains out of compliance." Rogoff further wrote "It is imperative that BART, as a recipient of FTA funds, come fully into compliance with Title VI as soon as possible."

Where is Honolulu rail's Equity Analysis?
Recall that the main plan for Honolulu rail is to terminate all express buses and other parallel bus lines and replace them by rail. This will reduce accessibility for many and particularly for the poor dramatically.
The grounds for another lawsuit are quite substantial.

If you doubt this, then hear Gary Okino talk about buses, as recently as February 18, 2010 on PBS-Hawaii Insights where he proudly announced that buses will be deleted in the direction parallel to the rail and will be added as feeders in the direction perpendicular to the rail.

With this plan, overall accessibility suffers, large amounts of time are spent on inconvenient transfers and labor costs pile up for operating and maintaining two systems, one of which, the rail, is really targeted for white collar professionals who like to do wi-fi in train while the poor lose the valuable accessibility of the bus service.

Let's also recall that
HOT Lanes is the biggest friend to express bus operations. Express buses that collect commuters from Makakilo, Ewa, Ewa Beach, Kapolei, Waipahu, Waipio and Mililani can be provided access to freeway shoulder lanes to avoid the mainline bumper-to-bumper traffic until the H-1/H-2 merge then hop onto the HOT lanes and arrive at Airport, Kalihi, Iwilei and downtown withing 8 to 12 minutes. No train can beat this performance and no train can beat the 1/4 cost of 10 miles of HOT Lanes.

Monday, March 1, 2010

HOT Lanes Receive Standardized Highway Signs. Purple!

The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices is one of the least boring and most understandable manuals for the application of engineering in the real world. It standardizes all signs and lane striping used on U.S. roadways, from local streets to multi-lane freeways. Most countries have adopted the MUTCD as the basis for their highways standard.

It is the MUTCD that dictates that all signs giving directions are green with white letters, signs for historical and cultural sites and National Parks are brown with white letters, etc. In its most recent edition the MUTCD introduced a brand new color, purple for the exclusive use of controlled express lanes such as High Occupancy Toll lanes and lanes with electronic tolls.

There is a funny side to this purple color designation for express and HOT lanes. Agenda-controlling Kapolei Neighborhood Board Chair and unsuccessful Hawaii Legislature candidate Maeda Timson is a very vocal pro-rail advocate; she is the current president of Go Rail Go. Her signature color is purple. It is all but impossible for Maeda to appear in public with not at least one purple article of clothing.

Ironically, purple HOT or Express lanes is the only real traffic congestion solution for Kapolei. Maeda can paint the train purple but, as the city has published widely, in 2030, congestion for Kapolei commuters will far worse with a purple train, than it is now without it. Given that the train is stuck in environmental and fiscal problems, there is plenty of time for the Go-Rail-Go president to switch to the correct transportation solution with her most preferred color coming standard and not as special order.