Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Honolulu needs rail transit to “reduce our carbon footprint, save energy and get us off the maddening addiction to cars” NOT!

Railigious Argument: Honolulu needs rail transit to “reduce our carbon footprint, save energy and get us off the maddening addiction to cars.” And, “the environmental community in Honolulu is strongly behind rail.”

AntiPlanner 1: My former colleagues in the environmental movement have become so innumerate that they would support a turkey like the Honolulu elevated rail plan. The final environmental impact statement for that project is now available. Let’s see what it says about saving energy, carbon, and driving.

... Table 4-21 of the FEIS says the project will save 144,540 million BTUs per year. Page 4-206 says project construction will produce 7.48 trillion BTUs. That means it will take 52 years of savings to pay back the energy cost. Long before 52 years are up, huge energy investments will be needed to replace rail cars, worn out track, and other infrastructure.

AntiPlanner 2: The [rail] bootleggers, of course, are the crony capitalists who will make tens or hundreds of millions in profits building this unsightly monstrosity. I hope in the future more environmentalists will open their eyes and support things that are truly good for the environment, not just feel-good projects that cost a lot of money.

Read it all here: http://ti.org/antiplanner/?p=3350

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Honolulu's Sewage Treatment -- A Very Costly Problem

I have held several "Talk Story with Panos" this year and I am astounded of how little people know about our sewers. Of course sewers is not a routine matter for a city's residents but nothing about Honolulu sewers is routine.

For starters, our sewer system is quite old, frail and undersized. As a result we have sewage main failures, sewer line failures, and sewage plant failures. This is the good news. They are normal, but we have too many of them. The Sierra Club made a career out of successfully suing the city for these spills. These spills are terrible for our coastal environment which is enjoyed by residents and tourists alike.

Yet our old sewers issue is still the good news because the City has this problem under partial control. The bad news is that Honolulu is the only metropolitan area of its size that does not have secondary sewage treatment. We basically filter the solids and discharge all the rest of the sewage 1.5 miles out in the ocean. Just like the sewage from Waikiki was discharged into the Ala Wai.

The difference is that we discharge almost 10 times the quantity of the Waikiki sewage every day! EPA did not agree with Honolulu's practice. We lost the suit and the appeal against the EPA. What does this mean? A $1.2 Billion liability for the city is a reality. (Yet another reason for Mayor Hannemann to get of the mayor's train.) See this 2009 report in the Star Bulletin: http://www.starbulletin.com/news/20090107_EPA_ruling_could_cost_city_1B.html#fullstory

Now Andrew Pereira of KHON News reports that the City has settled with the EPA.(http://www.khon2.com/news/local/story/City-close-to-settling-wastewater-lawsuit/DTER-Iz07EK6I-wNRa_ShQ.cspx) I am sure that the Hannemann administration is working hard to spin this in a pleasant way. But there is no doubt that Senator Inouye was correct in 2008 when he said that this $1.2 Billion liability "can break the back of the city."

How so? If EPA gives us till 2020 to come into compliance, then that's only 10 years to build a $1.2 Billion secondary treatment infrastructure. So the cost with interest comes to roughly $150 million per year. That's about the same cost of TheBus to operate for one year. So, for example, if we have no other funds, then TheBus has to shut down for 10 years in order to afford this commitment.

This analogy frames the cost of a $1.2 Billion project for Oahu. Rail is five times that. I'll leave it to the reader to frame that cost for Oahu.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Sneaky Business of Transit Oriented Development -- Part 2: TOD Mean More Taxes, and Less Appeal to the Citizen

Honolulu Council Member Donovan Dela Cruz’s TOD angle about rail is a tired and by U.S. conditions largely false argument. First he needs to be reminded of Tom Berg’s excellent 2009 article in the Honolulu Star Bulletin “Fruitless in Fruitvale”:

See http://archives.starbulletin.com/2007/12/09/editorial/commentary4.html.

Ironically, the city's monthly propaganda on rail, paid by Honolulu taxpayers, May 2010 issue, pictures Oakland's Fruitvale Village TOD as a success. If success is noise and abandonment, then it is a success. This video proves it.

Many TOD as "automobile hate zones," their mobility is abysmally low and no small or large business can survive there unless it has its own (costly) parking.

Then there are these three fundamental points for the City Administration's and Dela Cruz’s enlightenment.

  • TOD is Taxes Offered to Developers in multiple ways, (1) Upfront incentives which means taxes handed out to them as incentives, and (2) Reduced or waived property taxes for a number of years. Our city is in bad fiscal shape and in bad repair. Yet the typical politician proposes more taxes to benefit special interests but, as politicians do, they window dress taxes as a benefit for the "little guy."
  • In January, 2009, The Urban Land Institute’s local chapter (ULI-Hawaii) commissioned a survey of housing attitudes among the public. The phone survey was of 600 Oahu residents. They are huge proponents of transit and smart growth, yet, among the conclusions is this: “there is relatively much less support for the smart growth idea of higher-density use of existing urban areas – perhaps in part because people here generally still would rather live in suburban/rural settings themselves.
  • Portland, Oregon is the “poster child” of Light Rail advocacy and TODs. Research by Bruce Podobnik of the Department of Sociology at the Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon dated July 15, 2009 concludes as follows:

“This study examines the extent to which specific social and environmental objectives have been achieved in the new urbanist community of Orenco Station (Portland, Oregon). House-level surveys were conducted in Orenco Station, as well as a traditional suburb and two long established urban neighborhoods.

“The analysis also reveals a higher level of walking, and an increase in the occasional use of mass transit, in the new urbanist community. However, the majority of residents in all four neighborhoods (including the new urbanist neighborhood) rely on single occupancy vehicles for their regular commute.”

So when it comes to rail-based Land Use for TODs and Smart Growth, the argument that these work is all political hot air. Buses and roadways can do much much better at a fraction of the cost to the public.

A great example of this is the total remake on Kapiolani Boulevard between McMully and South Street with the Convention Center, the doubling of Ala Moana Center, the Nauru Towers complex, multiple other residential towers, the large, elegant dealerships, etc.

What's the Kapiolani Boulevard lesson? Huge investment for development and redevelopment and much increased densities took place in the absence of rail. However, if Mayor Fasi’s rail was built along Kapiolani Boulevard in the early 1990s, then rail proponents would have credited all this billion dollar investment to rail.

The Sneaky Business of Transit Oriented Development -- Part 1: Additional Land Controls that Distort Real Estate and Destroy Agriculture

We are being deceived, tricked, conned, and trapped.
Dr. Kioni Duddley
Full credit goes to Dr. Kioni Dudley for getting the scoop (in time) before this monstrosity takes a hold. Please read Dr. Dudley’s assessment below.

I read through the TOD proposal last night. Thank God I did. We are being duped in to voting support for zoning of Ho'opili that forbids agricultural uses!! Two of the three stations are on Ho'opili land. By voting support for the "East Kapolei Neighborhood TOD Plan April 2010," the Board is being suckered into voting for zoning for Ho'opili that would mandate dwellings, cabarets, markets, schools, hospitals, consulates, retail establishments, manufacturing, and heliports for Ho'opili land, but would forbid "all agricultural uses" and "farm dwellings."

This is the way the rail boys do it -- They send us a 117 page CD that they know we are too busy to go through. It is perfectly titled: "East Kapolei Neighborhood TOD Plan Public Review Draft April 2010." No one can ever question what it was about. No one can ever question that the Plan has undergone public review. Buried fifty pages inside, amid boring minutiae is the secret they really want us to vote for, a whole new zoning category called the "TOD Special District," a new category of mandatory zoning which unquestionably has been clearly tied to Ho'opili land.

They get a member of the Sierra Club to come and support their concept in order to give it credibility. (She, of course, likes higher density rather than urban sprawl, and that's all she speaks about.) Then they get the Board to vote support for the "East Kapolei Neighborhood TOD Plan Public Review Draft April 2010.

In future months, they will use our vote to convince the Land Use Commission, and then the city Planning Commission and the City Council that after two public review meetings with our Board, where they explained the whole concept, we voted to support zoning that would mandate houses and commercial operations on Ho'opili, and would forbid farming on Ho'opili. No one will have the chance to say we didn't know we were voting for zoning at all, that zoning was buried in the document on pages 50 and 51, and that it was never mentioned at the meetings.

We are being deceived, tricked, conned, and trapped.

We need to be clear that this is not Transit Oriented Development. It is Developer Oriented Transit. Everything is being done for the developer.

Three polls by KHON and the Advertiser show that 78%, 87%, and 87% of the people want that land kept in farming. Our door-to-door campaign bears out these high numbers.

The document can be found at the link below. Brief excerpts from pages 49, 50, and 51 are copied below. http://honoluludpp.org/planning/TOD/NBPlans/EastKapoleiTOD/W3/EastKapoleiPubRevDraft041510.pdf


The TOD special district is intended to ensure the community vision for the station areas through zoning standards that enable and promote transit-oriented development.

Special district regulations are mandatory, not optional. The proposed TOD Special District regulations may supplement or modify the underlying zoning district regulations. If any TOD Special District regulation conflicts with any provision contained in Article 3 of the LUO (Establishment of Zoning Districts and Zoning District Regulations), the more restrictive regulation takes precedence. A property owner must follow the provisions of the TOD Special District in order to develop property. In doing so, the property may be subject to different permitted and conditional uses, modified densities and building heights, modified yards and modified parking requirements. To take advantage of such increased entitlements, additional design-related criteria may be required. All applications are subject to design review.

The recommended Special District boundaries around each transit station take into account distance from the transit station, natural topographic barriers, extent of market interest in development, planned land uses and the overall benefits of transit including the potential to increase transit ridership.

The TOD, or transit-oriented development, precincts are generally within 1/4 mile of the stations, or in areas with greater development potential. The areas will likely be developed sooner and should include larger building forms and higher-intensity mixed-use, employment and residential options.

The TIZ,or transit-influenced zone, precincts are located beyond the TOD core, between 1/4 mile to 1/2 mile from the stations and should be less intense by nature. Properties within the TIZ precincts will most likely redevelop over a longer time frame and should include smaller buildings that “step down” to meet surrounding lower density neighborhoods.

Permitted in both TOD & TIZ precincts
• Dwellings, multifamily
• Group living facilities
• Cabarets
• Office buildings
• Universities, colleges
• Commercial parking lots & garages
• etc.

Permitted in TIZ precincts
• Self-storage facilities
• Dwellings, detached, one-family
• Dwellings, detached, two-family
• etc.

Prohibited Land Uses
• All “agricultural” uses
• All “animal” uses
• Farm dwellings
• Vacations cabins
27 more prohibitions

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Rail Final Environmental Impact Statement -- What is the Rail Going to Do about Traffic Congestion?

The residents and commuters of Leeward Oahu expect traffic relief from rail. Congestion reduction is an important goal and many taxpayers are willing to pay for congestion relief. So what is the conclusion of the FEIS regarding congestion?
  1. Traffic congestion in 2030 will be far worse than it is now (basis is year 2005).
  2. Traffic congestion in 2030 will be the same with or without rail.
The remainder of this post provides some pertinent explanations using direct numbers from the FEIS. City statements proclaim that the planned rail will remove 40,000 cars from the traffic. This sounds good. Is it?

Let’s look at the FEIS. (That’s the Final Environmental Impact Statement.) Is this number correct? Sort of. It’s not 40,000 cars, but 40,000 car trips. The FEIS says that rail will reduce 40,000 car trips from the total number of trips made in a typical weekday on Oahu in 2030. The FEIS also says that the total number of daily trips on Oahu in 2030 will be 3,989,300. That’s four million trips and rail will reduce those by 1%. That's a $5.5 Billion expenditure for a 1% reduction!

Various other statements by pro-rail politicians and city administration representatives proclaim a substantial reduction in traffic congestion. The answer is in the traffic analysis, and their own FEIS Tables 3-9 and 3-10 show that rails produces no traffic relief. Let me back track a bit to explain this.
The U.S. standard description for quality of traffic flow (accounts for speed, wasted time, etc.) is called Level of Service or LOS. It is a simple rating from A to F. A is great, B is good, C is acceptable, D is bad but tolerable in large urban areas, E is very bad and F is unacceptable.

To give you an idea of what congestion relief means, in the early to mid-1990s, the town-side of Likelike Hwy. operated in LOS E. Once the H-3 Freeway opened up in 1998, the LOS for Likelike Hwy. improved to C. There was a clear and substantial improvement in traffic conditions. H-3 Freeway after 12 years in operation still operates in LOS A or B. That is a win-win outcome for two major roads.
Something similar was realized when Kal. Hwy. from Kahala to Hawaii Kai was widened from 4 to 6 lanes. I remember nightmarish Saturday visits to Hanauma Bay taking about an hour. Now under 20 minutes is the norm. From level of service F to B. That’s what adding 50% capacity in lanes does!

So what’s in the future of Leeward Oahu’s residents in Kapolei, Makakilo and Ewa who commute to and from Honolulu? Will the rail change their E and F level traffic into a C or D? What change in traffic quality does the FEIS predict without and with the rail? The answer is summarized in the table below or it can be worded as follows: NONE!

Instead of rail, a city, state and private partnership can deliver express lanes and real congestion relief: Level of service B on the express lanes and LOS D or better on the existing roads. No modern rail has ever succeeded in congestion relief.

In contrast, no modern express lanes have failed to provide major congestion relief. There are many more express lane projects planned in the nation’s congested cities as there are rail systems.

Mid-June 2010 Update of the Honolulu Rail NEPA Process

City administration representatives mislead you that the feds have accepted the FEIS. The FTA allowed the city to release the FEIS in mid-June 2010. This is a step, but not a major milestone in the environmental process.

The FEIS is not an FEIS until the Governor signs it. Only then the FTA signs it and publishes that fact in the Federal Register.

At that point, the public comment period begins, and if there are significant remaining concerns then a Supplementary EIS may be required. An SDEIS had to be done for Mayor Harris' Bus Rapid Transit system in 2002.

The Programmatic Agreement (PA, or section 106 compliance) needs to be completed. As of mid-June 20101 it is incomplete. Upon PA completion, the FTA can issue a Record on Decision that completes the environmental (NEPA) process.

After that the city can complete Final Design. After Final Design is complete, the city can negotiate the actual funding level. That leads to the FFGA, or Full Funding Grant Agreement, that defines how much federal subsidy the city will receive.

This is a long way to go. You may safely ignore the pro-rail politician propaganda that rail is a done deal and that construction is about to start.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Honolulu's Top Eco-city Ranking Threatened by City Management

On May 30, 2010 the Honolulu Star Bulletin (now Star Advertiser) reported that Mercer generated eco-city rankings rating the livability quotient of major world cities, and “Honolulu came in second at 145.1 points, right behind Calgary” in Canada.

Eco-City Ranking 2010 includes the following criteria: Water availability, water potability, waste removal, sewage, air pollution and traffic congestion.

Water availability and potability are provided by the aina and have little to do with city administration actions. In fact, archaic water proportioning has forced the Board of Water Supply to manage about one quarter of Oahu's total water capacity.

Thanks to this biased apportioning of potable water resources Oahu may be forced to install desalination plants if its population exceeds one million people, while Oahu's aquifers can provide enough water for about four million people!

In addition Oahu's aging water distribution system experiences many failures as evidenced by the frequent water main breaks. According to BWS, there were an average of 364 breaks between 2005 and 2009, or one water main break per day!

Water main breaks affect water supply and quality, cause congestion, destroy roads and in some cases flood businesses and residences.

Honolulu is undeniably top ranked in air quality thanks to our location and wind patterns. Suspiciously however we spend 4 times as much money to buy hybrid buses instead of regular ones to gain no measurable pollution advantage or any bottom line savings.

Traffic congestion is bad but the average commute on Oahu is under 30 minutes, making it a fairly short one compared to large cities.

As for waste removal and sewage, a lack of investigation by Mercer and perhaps misleading reporting by the county has painted a rosy picture whereas the real condition is substandard.

Bottom line, nature blesses Honolulu with a stellar eco-city ranking and festering issues of trash, sewage, water management and traffic management are clear threats to its long term lead in eco-city ranking.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Costly Transit or Efficient HOT Lanes?

Dr. Steve Polzin is a fellow civil engineer with whom I share identical paths in graduate school. He is also earned Master's and Ph.D. degrees from Northwestern University, a leading institution in transportation studies.

Steve is the director of mobility policy research at the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida and is on the editorial board of the Journal of Public Transportation and serves on several Transportation Research Board and American Public Transit Association (APTA) Committees. He knows what works and what doesn't in public transit. In 2006 I nominated him to be the City Council's coordinator of the Transit Task Force, but everybody else ganged up on me and hired the pre-selected person.

His June 4, 2010 article on "The Cost of Slow Travel" is eye-opening about the pitfalls of mass transit. (Some of the pitfalls can be effectively corrected by running express buses on HOT lanes.) Here is an excerpt from his assessment:

"Transit’s slower average travel speeds result in approximately 3 billion hours annually of additional travel time. If valued at the TTI time value of $15.47 per hour, this equates to approximately $44 billion annually in lost productivity due to travelers having or choosing to use transit. Thus, the few percent of persons who use transit (approximately 2% of total person trips are on transit {5% of work trips} and approximately 1% of person miles of travel) incur 70% as much lost time relative to driving as is incurred by the total of auto travelers due to congestion, $44 billion for transit users versus $64 billion for driving in congestion."

His conclusion is the inescapable truth that speed leads to effective transportation of people and goods, which in turn generates a strong and competitive economy. In his words:

"One of the reasons the country and individuals have become more productive and the country has had growing gross domestic product over the past several decades is that we have been highly mobile and travel has gotten faster until recent years. Part of the reason for faster travel has been the shifting from slow to faster modes and facilities. There are lots of good reasons to enable and encourage use of alternative modes but analysis of the consequences should strive to be objective about the travel time and productivity consequences."

The correct alternative in the case of Oahu is HOT lanes between the H-1/H-2 merge and downtown which:
  • provide the choice to pay for express travel
  • combine with free vanpools which reduce the amount of solo driver cars by encouraging the successful VanPool Hawaii! that the Feds support
  • facilitate point-to-point express buses; example Waikele to downtown in under 15 minutes; Mililani to Waikiki in under 30 minutes (these sample commute times are for the middle of morning rush hour)
  • serve as a resilience and recovery transportation corridor in case of major storm, severe congestion on parallel freeways or other emergency.