Thursday, February 25, 2010

Trains, HOT Lanes, Ferries and Tunnels: Honolulu Has Many Alternatives and Very Few Billions

I was very pleased to accept an invitation to speak at one of the nation's best public colleges, the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA.) My presentation to their prestigious School of Public Affairs was on Trains, HOT Lanes, Ferries and Tunnels: Honolulu Has Many Alternatives and Very Few Billions.

The hour-long presentation was well received and the audience was surprised that such a disproportionally large and expensive system is planned for our city. They were disappointed that a huge amount of public funds are being spent for a project with low benefits. They were rather astounded by the apathy of the public in accepting such a megaproject for our small island.

The audience of professors and students in urban planning and public policy were generally in favor of transit, but transit needs to be selected and sized properly. The proposed transit for Honolulu fails any proportionality comparison. Projects like Honolulu's and San Juan's (heavy rail in island communities) give transit projects a bad name.

It is no coincidence that the same consultant (Parsons Brinkerhoff), for the same city (Honolulu) with a difference of six years (2000 versus 2006) concluded that a Bus Rapid Transit system will be far cheaper and will generate a higher transit ridership than rail. To avoid this comparison, BRT was not included in the 2006 Alternatives Analysis where rail was proclaimed the Locally Preferred Alternative.

The same analysis dismissed Light Rail and the Pearl Harbor Tunnel withing a few introductory paragraphs with no analysis whatsoever. HOT lanes were designed as a silly pipeline with no on- and off-ramps. Worse yet, they added 2 lanes and they took away the zipper lane, for a net gain of one lane. That one lane alone was only a hair inferior to the rail that was selected as the "winner."

HOT lanes is natural partner for BRT and Express Buses. Reversible HOT Lanes like Tampa's should be priority number one for our Waianae/Kapolei/Ewa/Mililani traffic to/from town. It is only about 10-miles from the H-1 and H-2 merge to downtown. Recall that in 2007 Tampa completed 10 miles of 3-lane reversible elevated road for a total of $320 million. Mufi Hannemann will spend over $300 million for rail paperwork and promotion alone. About $50 million from the feds. All the rest from our pockets. For paperwork, and smoke-and-mirrors shows and commercials.

  • I only spent 24 hours in LA but it was a treat to cross paths and shake hands with past Massachusetts governor, presidential candidate, UH lecturer and now UCLA professor Michael Dukakis.
  • Air traffic shows that the economy has not recovered. LAX was rather uncrowded, inside the airport and outside on the roads. My return flight to Honolulu was less than two thirds full.
  • Traffic lights work very well in Los Angeles thanks to their advanced management center (ATSAC) and smart allocation of lanes for left and right turns. All major boulevards were flowing uncongested in the middle of the pau hana rush hour!