Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Underpasses Explained

Urban underpasses are the key to central city congestion reduction given that there is no room to widen streets and there is no desire to build intrusive flyovers. Here is a short video that explains them.

Honolulu would greatly benefit from at least three express underpasses. One from Nimitz to Alakea and Halekawila, another on Kapiolani Boulevard at the Kapiolani/Date/Kamoku intersection by Iolani School, and a third by having a lane of Kalakaua Avenue go under Kapiolani Boulevard.

Here is a video of our traffic simulation that explains the one lane express underpass from Nimitz to Alakea and Halekauwila. Observe that the left turns that take a long time to receive green and spill over and block lanes on Nimitz Highway flow non-stop to both Alakea St. and Halekauwila St. Also the westbound (Ewa) flow has green light all the time except when there are pedestrian crossing requests.

The simulation screen-shots below show the before/after situation on Kapiolani Boulevard at its intersection with Date and Kamoku streets. The one lane per direction underpass visibly reduces congestion on Kapiolani Boulevard and allows for more green time to be allocated to the other sides of this complex intersection. This reduces their congestion and shortens the waiting time for the pedestrian crossings.

Because almost 50% of peak hour traffic on Kapiolani Boulevard and nearly 100% of its off peak traffic will use the underpass, the risk of collisions and pedestrian accidents also reduces substantially.

At least two of the existing surface lanes are maintained because these are "low clearance" underpasses which are easy to fit in a crowded urban setting. London, Paris, Seoul and Singapore have many such underpasses. Any vehicle such as a standard transit bus and lower will be able to use them. Taller vehicles (amounting to about 2% to 4% of traffic) must use the regular lanes. Also when the subject street has green, most of its traffic will opt to use the surface lanes.The underpasses will be equipped with sumps and pumps to remove storm waters.

Castle junction on the windward side of Oahu is an exception because for that location a flyover rather than an underpass would be shorter, safer and much cheaper to implement. The one lane flyover would replace the very busy Kaneohe-bound twin left turns that on some occasions cause queues to grow near the tunnels and block the lanes to Kailua. In the peak periods the intersection will improve from Level of Service F in AM and PM peaks now, to D in the morning and B in the afternoon peak periods.

More on our analyses of underpasses in these professional articles:

Dehnert, G. and P. D. Prevedouros, Underpasses at Urban Intersections: Investigation and Case Study. ITE Journal, Vol. 74, No. 3: 36-47, March 2004. Received 2005 Institute of Transportation Engineers Van Wagoner Award.

Prevedouros, P. D., J. K. Tokishi and K. Chongue. Simulation of Urban Underpasses for Traffic Congestion Relief. 10th International Conference on Applications of Advanced Technologies in Transportation, ASCE, Athens, May 2008.

Yu, A. and P. D. Prevedouros. Left Turn Prohibition and Partial Grade Separation for Signalized Intersections: Planning Level Assessment. ASCE Journal of Transportation Engineering. In review, 2012.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Ho'opili TIAR is Unacceptable

A critical element in approving any land use changes is the Traffic Impact Analysis Report or TIAR. The Friends of Makakilo and Save Oahu's Farmlands Alliance asked me to review B. R. Horton's TIAR submitted to the state's Land Use Commission (LUC) as part of the process for obtaining the approval to convert prime agricultural land to a residential development.

Let me quickly dispense the argument that my review of the Ho'opili TIAR may have been biased by the fact that Ho'opili contains two rail stations and is being billed as an exemplary Transit Oriented Development (TOD) of the proposed rail which I oppose.

The TIAR shows that Ho’opili’s transit trips are modest. If 50% of transit trips are made by rail, this results in 166 riders in the AM peak hour -- two bus loads and that’s it:
• Ho’opili does not work for rail proponents because it generates manini ridership.
• Ho’opili does not work for rail opponents because deleting it does affect the projected rail ridership substantially.

The first phase of Ho'opili barely justifies a basic bus service and the full development may benefit from limited express bus service. But as a ridership generator for rail, it is worthless, as all suburban TODs are. Suburban development and rail never go together.

Now back to the TIAR and why LUC should reject the petition on the basis of an inadequate TIAR alone.

“The planned year 2020 level of development is expected to occupy approximately one third of the total Ho’opili project site” stated on page E-2 is a hugely important statement. This means that all outcomes presented in the TIAR are only 1/3 of the whole. This is a “salami tactic” to get Ho’opili going without any disclosure of its total effects. A whopping 67% of the Ho’opili’s total effects are nowhere to be found. Therefore, this report should be deemed UNACCEPTABLE without at least an illustrative (approximate) full build-out scenario along with mitigations and final impacts. These numbers are simply “cheating” both decision makers and the community as they omit 67% of the potential impacts.

In the study’s Methodology for Freeway and Junction Analysis, the “… operating conditions were evaluated using the HCM 2000 methodology.” The current version is HCM 2010, but that’s a minor problem. HCM is not an appropriate tool for this application. The Federal Highway Administration (which has H-1 Freeway oversight) does not recommend such simple models for complex corridor and freeway analysis because they ignore congestion effects. The freeway operations in the Ho’opili area are dominated by the H-1/H-2 merge and other secondary bottlenecks. The TIAR’s segment by segment freeway and ramp analysis is entirely inappropriate. Also the H-1/H-2 merge is totally absent, therefore the presented results are UNACCEPTABLE.

The TIAR preparer assumed that Ho’opili will adopt a Traffic Demand Management composed of nine (9) major actions such as extensive biking, carpooling, tele-work, etc. Absolutely no other place in Hawaii has any four of these nine TDM actions occurring at the same time so at best this is a pie-in-the-sky assumption that artificially reduced the traffic impact of Ho’opili.

The TIAR preparer claimed that the Oahu MPO planning model allows them to take an up to 30% trip reduction due to the integrated character of the Ho’opili community. However, there is no proof that this is a valid or prudent assumption. I cannot think of a more integrated community on Oahui than Kalilhi. Arguing that Kalihi folks make 30% fewer trips is baseless and likely wrong. These multiple traffic reductions make the assessment of Ho’opili’s traffic impacts.

The freeway mitigations shown in the study are localized band aids and none of them address the merge of the H-1 and H-2 freeways. Worse yet, I note that the furthest downstream section of their mitigations is always a 3-lane “choker” so all these actions actually force more traffic flow onto bottleneck sections. The proposed freeway mitigations are UNACCEPTABLE.

The LUC Docket A06-771 “2020 TIAR” that I reviewed includes over 300 pages of computer traffic analysis output. All of it with simple Equation Type models, which are inappropriate for congested freeway corridors, as mentioned above. What I found surprising is that the memo for freeway analysis relating to Ho’opili agreed upon by State DOT, and two consultants of B. R. Horton is dated October 9, 2009 but nearly all of the computer outputs were dated August 20, 2009. So: (1) Freeway and ramp analysis was done before the State/Developer MOU, and (2) This TIAR is stamped “April 2011 update” but the traffic analyses are from summer 2009.

The TIAR states that “neither the City and County of Honolulu nor the State of Hawaii have guidelines for identifying the transportation impacts caused by the project.” This is a sad statement for our city and state and it is true. Solid technical criteria for the judgment of properly quantified traffic impacts are absent. Therefore, developers hire consultants to present a picture of the impacts and then government and top level decision makers arrive at an ad hoc determination about what’s wrong with the picture, if anything. This simply perpetuates arbitrary, capricious and favoritism-prone decision making.

Regardless of the lack of City and State criteria, the outputs of this analysis are by and large worthless. The report describes the 2020 plan with only one third of Ho’opili developed. The partial and biased TIAR of questionable methodology should be found UNACCEPTABLE for permitting the conversion of prime agricultural land to any other land use that obliterates the current active agricultural use of the land.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Energy Challenge: Options for Power Generation and Hawaii’s Path Forward

Excerpt of my article in the Civil Beat:

Hawaii has several special and severe problems:
  1. Extreme electric power price gauging which international oil markets and proposed EPA regulations for oil and coal burning power plants will make increasingly intolerable.
  2. U.S. mainland solutions such as natural gas and nuclear are less promising for Hawaii.
  3. The Jones Act governing US marine transportation restricts Hawaii’s fuel supply.
  4. Absence of a plan for fuel shortages and local fuel production.
  5. Utopian views and policies about clean energy in which cost effectiveness is not even a factor.
  6. Land and development plans intertwined with energy solutions.
  7. Extreme political influence on what is fundamentally a technical problem.
  8. One power monopoly with Gordian tentacles.
  9. Regulators with questionable expertise and motivation.
  10. Hawaii’s extreme NIMBYism due to its natural beauty, cultural resources and strict environmental laws.

What does the future hold for Hawaii? Hawaii with its mandates and high feed-in tariffs is moving in the direction of scarce and expensive energy by incentivizing increasingly larger deployments of costly, intermittent and ineffective power plants which are also too wimpy to affect the oil-based monopoly.

Read a brief backgrounder on Energy and Power, and Hawaii's options for reducing its severe energy dependency on oil in the full article.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Star Advertiser Reduces Anti-rail Letter from 527 to 167 Words!

In this one newspaper town, any anti-rail individual who sends a letter to the editor at Star Advertiser should be happy if the letter is printed in some shape or form since 9 out of 10 anti-rail letters disappear and when an anti-rail letter is printed, at least one pro rail letter is added, "for balance."

Attorney Bradley Coates' letter was reduced from 527 words to 167 words. Below is the full edition.

Ben Cayetano is not only the guy with the smartest grasp of the rail issue, he also represents the last best hope Honolulu has of overturning our city’s entrenched “old boy” network consisting of big business, developers, labor unions and embedded political interests.

Nothing demonstrates this more clearly than the insulting “Be Nice Ben” smear campaign which was immediately implemented (and undoubtedly funded by) that exact same unholy alliance which supports both Carlisle and Caldwell. The very fact that those two mayoral rivals could suddenly join together so quickly in alignment with the ultimate king(maker) of establishment Hawaii politics Senator Inouye, shows just how scared that whole cabal is of losing their grip on

As was brilliantly pointed out in Richard Borreca’s 5/6 Star Advertiser column, the Democratic power brokers have now somewhat ironically become the party pushing all the pro-growth agendas seeking absurd exemptions from long established zoning and environmental laws in order to push for unrestricted development. As poorly thought out monster-sprawl mega projects like Koa Ridge and Ho’opili attest, the developers and their “puppet politicians” now seem perfectly willing to sacrifice the mana of Hawaii in exchange for money and power. With about 12% population growth in just this last decade alone, our island may well have reached its “carrying capacity.” We should be preserving our islands’ unique beauty, our open spaces and especially our agricultural lands. We should be slowing growth rather than encouraging it. . .but unfortunately sustainability has become an afterthought.

Nor is Cayetano just a single issue candidate on rail alone. As a former governor who ran a far bigger administration than either of his two rivals, Ben has the most experience on all the aspects which will govern Honolulu’s shaky budget and finances. It is noteworthy that former Gov. Lingle, who along with Ben has the most experience running large government budgets, has also turned negative on rail. Even Governor Abercrombie now seems to be hedging. The recent GSA scandal as well as numerous other episodes have clearly shown the greed, waste and corruption which has begun to pervade Big Government. With $7 billion up for grabs (assuming we ever actually even get that “promised” funding), we can anticipate that greedy contractors and developers will push the edge of every possible envelope and, along with inept government and embedded and inflexible unions, will almost certainly turn the rail project into a total travesty. Let’s be realistic, despite all its expensive (and taxpayer funded) PR campaigns to the contrary, rail is the cabal ’s pet project, not the people's project. This could potentially bankrupt the city-not to mention turning into a horrible unaesthetic eyesore which will permanently scar our beautiful island.

Ben has already held the highest office in the state and is a reluctant candidate at best. He has absolutely nothing left to prove or gain personally. Instead, he is obviously embarking on this idealistic campaign (which has now come down to going toe to toe with almost all of Hawaii’s entire entrenched political “establishment”) strictly because he wants to do the right thing for Honolulu. He deserves our respect and our votes.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

BBC: Is it Cheaper to Put Greek Train Passengers in Taxis?

BBC News coverage on May 12, 2012.

The claim that it would be cheaper for Greece to send every rail passenger to their destination by taxi was first made by Stefanos Manos, the former Greek finance minister, in 1992. Manos used the railway system to illustrate what he saw as gross public sector waste.

Mr Manos is correct if there are more than two passengers in each taxi.

But either way, the Greek railways are in a pretty awful mess, and while train journeys may cost less than cab journeys, they are more expensive than travel on other forms of public transport, including air.

"Over $13bn has been pumped in, in the last 15 or 16 years. In terms of passengers, long-distance rail has 2.7% of the share and in terms of freight it's truly a joke because it's 0.08% of the freight so the costs are staggering," says Prof Prevedouros.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Can We Solve Honolulu’s Pervasive Traffic Congestion Problem?

Yes we can!

There are several specific projects that mitigate congestion that if one could magically install half of them overnight, Honolulu’s congestion level would be so low that traffic congestion would be removed from people’s list of worries. That would be a great thing for quality of life on Oahu and a booster to our tourism and the overall local economy.

Part 1 gives some background on congestion (did you know that some congestion is a good thing?) and presents low cost and shorter term traffic congestion solutions. Part 2 presents longer term, high cost traffic congestion solutions.

Honolulu Traffic Congestion – Part 1: From Bumper-to-bumper to Zoom-zoom by Removing One Third of Honolulu's Traffic Congestion for Less Than $500 Million

Honolulu Traffic Congestion – Part 2: Up-shift to Overdrive by Removing another One Third of Honolulu's Traffic Congestion for Less Than $5 Billion

These two white papers illustrate the dozens of doable, affordable, all-local-labor and effective projects for mitigating one of our largest problems on Oahu, traffic congestion.

Traffic congestion mitigation in Honolulu is in the hands of government and politicians. They may actually be the main causes of our traffic congestion.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

10 Requirements for Infrastructure Mega-Project Success

This article was published in the Hellenic Institute of Transportation Engineers, SES News No. 179, Feb. 2012.

The article features analysis and a spectacular picture of Gefyra which is a 9,500 ft. long cable-stayed bridge connecting Rio and Antirio. (I was born and raised in the city of Patras which is just five miles from Rio.) The Rio-Antirio Bridge received the 2005 Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement (OCEA) by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

Hawaii and Greece are half a globe apart, but they have several things in common:
  • Both are temperate places dominated by coastline and a marine lifestyle.
  • Both have been historically invaded and taken advantage of by various colonialists.
  • Both are relatively powerless in regional and world politics.
  • Both have agriculture and fisheries, but they are relatively poor in natural resources.
  • In both places tourism, education and military are a big part of the economy. And,
  • Both places have insider-dominated politics.
With these as background let’s look in brief at the lessons learned from large infrastructure proposals for highways, airports, rail systems, and large wind, solar or other renewable energy “farms.”