seeking cost-effective ways to reduce traffic congestion in Honolulu



February 8, 2007.

The tipping point has arrived:

There has been a great deal of conjecture about the tipping point where traffic congestion reduction becomes the most important consideration and not just the improvement of public transportation. Dale Evans has researched a number of articles from around the country and from that we can only conclude that the tipping point has indeed arrived. From now on, look for highways to take precedence.  READ MORE

 February 7, 2007.

Welcome to these new members:

Welcome to the latest additions to our roster of those willing to stand up and be counted:

John L. McDermott        Paul Vierling     Jack Schneider
Ned Smith                      Rick Moss         Alan S. Lloyd
Malia Zimmerman    James Roumasset     Bill Green
Click on the "Who we are" button for other members.
 February 5, 2007.
WSJ: Bush plays traffic cop in today's budget request:

The Wall Street Journal said today that "In his annual budget blueprint to be unveiled today, Mr. Bush intends to showcase a highway "congestion initiative," according to White House documents, with grants for state and local governments to experiment with anti-jam strategies."   READ MORE


 February 4, 2007.
Rail/HOT lanes testimony Olelo schedule:
Dennis Callan has culled out the best testimonies given against the rail line and for HOT lanes
and packaged it into two one-hour programs, which will play according to the following
schedule on Olelo's Channel 54:
Fri 8:30 am

Part 1

Sat 7:00 pm Part 2
Mon 8:00 am Part 2
Wed 6:00 pm Part 1
Fri 3:00 pm Part 1
Sat 6:00 pm Part 2
Mon 5:00 pm Part 2
Wed 6:00 pm Part 1

Reminder: The coming rail tax burden  vs. other cities:
  Cost in  Metro area Cost
MSA millions population per
  2006$'s (thous.) capita
Dallas $1,067 5,222 $204
Denver $358 2,582 $139
Portland $1,643 2,265 $725
Sacramento $307 1,797 $171
Salt Lake City $376 1,334 $282
St. Louis $464 2,604 $178
Pittsburgh $1,051 2,571 $409


980 $6,531

Sources:  U.S. General Accounting Office http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d01984.pdf for cost data for the top six rail cities with population data from FHWA's msacomparison.xls  Pittsburgh data : Pickrell, Don H. Urban Rail Transit Projects: Forecast Versus Actual Ridership and Costs. U.S. Dept. of Transportation. October 1990.   U.S. CPI change 2000-2006 is +17.3 percent see State Data Book 2005. For Honolulu the City forecasts $4.6 billion while we believe it will more likely be $6.4 billion see our December 7 entry.


February 1, 2007.

FHWA rebukes Portland and it's music to our ears:

The FHWA critiqued the first draft of the Portland Regional Transportation Plan and in so doing asked, "Where's the beef?" They said, among other things, "The plan should allow for highway expansion as a viable alternate. The transportation solution for a large and vibrant metropolitan region like Metro should include additional highway capacity options along with maximizing use of the existing system and land use choices. The plan should acknowledge that automobiles are the preferred mode of transport by the citizens of Portland....they vote with their cars everyday." This is wonderful stuff. Is it generated by the new DOT policy on reducing congestion?  READ MORE  Of course, it begs the question: Why is FHWA not critiquing the Oahu MPO draft ORTP?


O'Toole: Why planners always get it wrong:

Randal O'Toole has a new website called the anti-planner. Here's the kind of material you find:

      "The Incentive Problem: Why Planners Always Get It Wrong in Why Planning Fails, Regional planning  Government planning fails because planners face the wrong incentives. Instead of being rewarded for doing good things for their communities, they are rewarded mainly for pleasing other planners. This incestuous system is a recipe for failure. In a previous post, I listed seven reasons why government planning — that is, long-range, comprehensive planning that often regulates other people’s property — cannot work. I’ve discussed four reasons in detail, and now it is time to address reason number 5: the Incentive Problem."  READ MORE


January 28, 2007.

Houston bus riders get short changed by rail:

     This article from the Houston Chronicle details the typical problems bus riders face after rail is built and transit officials need to increase rail ridership. They organize bus routes to accomplish it and this harms regular bus riders. Here's how: READ MORE


The ongoing war against the automobile:

     Some time ago we reprinted an excerpt from the 1974 book, War against the automobile, in which the author dealt with all the enemies of the automobile and why. Here's the excerpt:  READ MORE

     Then Professor James Dunn of Rutgers wrote a 1988 book titled Driving Forces, published by the Brookings Institute, the first chapter of which deals with the current enemies of the automobile. This chapter is fortunately available to us online and is must reading.  READ MORE

     Professor Dunn has also written a recent essay, Mobility Contested: Ethical Challenges for Planners, Administrators and Policy Analysts. This is also essential reading. He discusses the pervasive influence of what he calls "the anti-auto vanguard." Quote:

      "This vanguard of enemies of the automobile rejects the conventional idea that the automobile-highway system is a hugely successful means of personal mobility with serious but manageable negative side effects. Rather, it sees the auto as an out-of-control cancer on the planet whose very existence now amounts to an "evil" which must be severely restricted. The vanguard sees it as their moral duty to implement as much of their anti-auto agenda as they can. In theU.S., the cutting edge of anti-auto thinking is found among environmentalists, social critics, urban planners, and proponents of public transportation.

     In a democracy, the dilemma is how to reconcile the strong desire hundreds of millions of citizen/motorists have for the individual empowerment that cars provide with a small but intense and very active minority's strongly-held belief that, for the common good, people need to be discouraged, even prevented, from choosing auto-mobility."

      Subsequently he discusses planning bias among this vanguard. Quote:

      "In recommending a choice among public investments in transportation projects ranging from a highway improvement to a rail transit system, do the anti-auto beliefs make planners more likely to overestimate the number of future transit riders and underestimate the costs of constructing the transit system? A substantial amount of evidence has accumulated that this kind of pro-rail project error is widespread in transportation project planning. Is there an ethical transgression that must be ascribed to public employees who participate in a process which deliberately overstates the benefits and underestimates the costs of transportation choices? Is this persistent skewing of data in planning studies simply bureaucratic politics as usual or does it constitute a rather specific type of ethical lapse provoked and legitimized by the moral certitude inherent in the anti-auto vanguard position?"

     Later, he describes how Dr. Don Pickrell, now senior economist at USDOT's Volpe Center, was removed from any transit responsibilities after he examined "the political and bureaucratic factors that he believed may have led to the systematic overestimation of ridership and underestimation of costs. He suggested that local elected officials get committed to a project and communicate this commitment to their planning staffs. The planners, in turn, produce favorable numbers in order to have a better chance to compete for limited federal subsidy dollars. They organize public hearings and public relations campaigns in which pro-transit groups and anti-auto groups are mobilized to show public demand for the projects. If federal officials are still skeptical, local leaders can often rely on their congressional delegation's political influence to legislatively "earmark" the funds for the new projects. It is a process in which mayors, planning staffs, transit officials, transit unions, and construction firms essentially conspired to have the federal government finance their "Desire Named Streetcar." READ MORE

     EDITOR: We just wanted you all to know that Honolulu is not alone in all this.


January 26, 2007.

Latest news on "Thoughts on the advantage of HOT lanes":

     No sooner did we post the item below than we find a new analysis by the Federal Highways Administration that puts the throughput of vehicles on the most congested freeways at one half that of priced lanes. This means that a HOT lane is worth two congested lanes for vehicle throughput. This is the kind of correction we like to make. READ MORE


January 24, 2007.

Thoughts on the advantage of HOT lanes:

     One factor that is often overlooked is that during the rush hour, a two-lane HOT lanes [Managed Lanes] is the equivalent of three lanes of regular H-1 freeway. Here's how it works: During rush hour traffic moves at around 20 mph and at that speed the throughput of vehicles is about 1300-1400 per lane per hour.

     Variable tolls allow us to carefully manage the traffic so that the HOT lanes are full but uncongested. At free flowing speeds the throughput of vehicles is in excess of 2000 vehicles per hour, or 50 percent greater than the regular freeway lanes. Thus, two HOT lanes convey the same amount of traffic as three regular freeway lanes.

     This leads us to a discussion point we should have with those who are opposed to HOT lanes and would never use them. This person would benefit from a 25 percent reduction in traffic on the regular freeway. It is also not going to cost them anything, since the only local funding will be provided by those who pay to use the HOT lanes. And while they say they will never use them, it is a rare person who does not occasionally have an urgent reason to need a quick way of getting to an appointment of some kind and the HOT lanes will always be there for such emergencies.


January 16, 2007.

REPEAT: OMPO survey shows great public support for HOT lanes:

      Certain items need to be repeated; here's one that we ran on March 15, 2006:

      "OMPO has just release the results of a federally funded telephone survey of a random sample of 400 Oahu residents on transportation issues. All questions were designed by OMPO and its consultant team in consultation with Ward Research.

      Among the more interesting questions asked were:

      Q4a. Would you support construction of an elevated high-occupancy highway for carpools, vanpools, and buses from ‘Ewa to downtown along parts of Kamehameha Highway and H-1?
      Overall 69% for v. 25% opposed. Among Ewa/Leeward residents, 78% for.

      Q4b. If such a project were constructed, would you support making it a high-occupancy toll facility, called a HOT facility?This facility would allow solo drivers to use it if they pay a toll and if the lanes are not fully utilized by high-occupancy vehicles.
      Overall 67% for v. 28% opposed. Among Ewa/Leeward residents, 73% for.

      Q4c. Would you support construction of such a project if the tolls generated were not sufficient to cover the cost and it would require increased taxes?
      Overall 29% for v. 66% opposed.

      Q4e. What is the most you would pay to use HOT lanes if it would save you 15 minutes in travel time? Would you pay...?
      Overall 8% would pay $4 or more, Among Leeward/Ewa residents 20%.

This is a far less biased survey than the one OMPO took in November 2004. However, as we said then, the voters are generally unaware of the costs or benefits of the principal alternatives — rail transit or HOT lanes.       Therefore, questions about taxes that do not quantify the tax impact on taxpayers,or the congestion benefits/disbenefits, cannot elicit accurate responses. Second, specifying 15 minutes as the time savings for HOT lanes is unrealistic; it is likely to be more like 30 minutes,or greater, during the rush hour.

      An interesting general result of the survey is that it shows great public support for new highway facilities, such as HOT lanes and widening highways, particularly H-1 from Pearl City to Kahala. There is no support for bikeways. Clearly, our elected officials are out of sync with their constituents because the officials keep opting for bikeways and rejecting building highways whereas the voters think exactly the opposite. READ MORE


January 15, 2007.

The energy use discussion:

     Below is a chart showing the energy use per passenger mile for automobiles, buses and rail transit from the U.S. Dept. of Energy Transportation Energy Data Book, 2006. pp. 2-13/14.

     Notice that automobiles show a steady downward trend in energy use while buses and rail transit have trended upwards albeit with certain times of decline. Note also that auto fuel use has declined to where it is now less per passenger mile than buses while rail transit is only nine percent less than autos. With the advent of hybrid cars and buses we may expect autos and buses to continue to decline while rail transit stays fairly flat. It is therefore only a matter of time before automobiles will use less energy per passenger mile than rail transit. While the trend for vanpools is not given, they do show that energy use by vanpools is 1,400 BTUs per passenger mile, which is 60 percent less than rail transit.

     Some may find these data counter-intuitive especially listening to all the hype that is out in the media. However, except within dense urban centers, trains trend to run empty on the runs back out to the suburbs, and run all day regardless of demand. Undoubtedly, a full train uses less energy per passenger than a single-occupant vehicle (SOV), however, that is not how they are operated. On the other hand, autos and vanpools travel from their point of origin to their destination and park. They do not run around aimlessly as if costs (or energy) do not matter.


MOS discussed at Council Transportation Committee Thursday:

     Little specific was discussed at the Council's Transportation Committee yesterday. The new chair, Councilmember Garcia took over. The DTS people talked about the MOS but few specifics only that it would have revolve about the Navy Drum Site at Waiau because that was one of two that were available anywhere on the island and they were close together.


A real life situation of a typical change in bus routes to feed rail:

     We have often mentioned the fact that with the advent of rail in a community, bus routes are changed to feed the rail line much to the surprise of local commuters. The recent opening of theDenver T-rex light rail line is a perfect example of what we would get here inHonolulu if rail was ever built. READ MORE


January 11, 2007

Transportation Committee meets today on MOS:

     The Council Transportation Committee meets today at 1:00 pm in the Committee Room to hear from the Administration on options for the Minimum Operating Segment (MOS). READ MORE

We should oppose the adoption of any MOS unless it is accompanied by a fully fleshed out financial plan for the entire 28-mile line that the Mayor is intent on building. What we know from rail transit history is that once a segment of a rail line is built, the full rail line is always completed. The financial danger that our community faces is that we will only see a financial plan for the MOS, which will appear adequate but when the plan is developed for the full line it will require a massive tax increase. Using a total cost of $6.4 billion, we calculate that it will require a 40 percent hike in Honolulu's property taxes, or the equivalent in some other taxes or 'fees' in order to retire the debt by 2042 when major replacement and refurbishing costs will be incurred. SEE CASH FLOW


January 10, 2007

Time to remind ourselves who voted for the rail tax:

     The vote for the rail tax was not overwhelming: the vote was 32-19 with 11 Democrats voting AGAINST and two Republicans voting FOR. Of the Neighbor Island Democrats, 12 voted FOR; it would be interesting to know how they would vote today since there has been so much opposition to the tax in the Neighbor Islands. READ MORE


January 9, 2007

Small Business Hawaii Convention Wednesday; Slater's up first:

     The annual Small Business Hawaii Convention is tomorrow, Wednesday, January 10, starting at 8:00 am with their usual great program. Legislators will discuss what is upcoming in the Legislature later this month and Administration officials will talk about the changes they intend to make and the legislation they will offer.

     David Tyreman, author of "WORLD FAMOUS: The 4-Steps Between You and a World Compelled to do Business With You," is the keynote speaker. Wally "Famous" Amos, of Chip n' Cookie will be talking on marketing, and Cliff Slater, will talk first at 8:30 am on "Rail transit: From those wonderful folks who brought you Aloha Stadium." For the full program: READ MORE


January 7, 2007

Check out Public television on Monday at 7:30 pm:

     Pearl Johnson, head of the League of Women Voters Planning Committee, Professor Panos Prevedouros, and Cliff Slater appear Monday evening, January 8, at 7:30 pm on Channel 10's Island Insights, with Dan Boylan, to discuss the mass transit issue.


It is a good idea to check our "quotes" tab from time to time:

     We could not afford a $2 billion light rail in 2000 but we can afford a $5 billion one in 2006? Makes you think.


January 2, 2007

Every transportation official should read "The road more traveled":

     On second thoughts, we should all read it. The full title is,The road more traveled: Why the congestion crisis matters more than you think, and what we can do about it byTed Balaker and Sam Staley of the Reason Foundation, and is a most important book. Mary Peters, head of the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, says the book "provides a thoughtful analysis on the causes of congestion and offers detailed suggestions for relieving it inAmerica's cities. Balaker and Staley clearly debunk the myth that there is nothing we can do about traffic congestion." READ MORE


January 1, 2007

Happy New Year! And let's start it off with a good laugh:

      The U.S Dept. of Transportation has the following on its website in answer to the question:

What are the indicators of an effective public involvement process?

      Answer: "A good indicator of an effective public involvement process is a well informed public which feels it has opportunities to contribute input into transportation decisionmaking processes through a broad array of involvement opportunities at all stages of decisionmaking.

      In contrast, an ineffective process is one that relies on one or two public meetings or hearings to obtain input immediately prior to decisionmaking on developed draft plans and programs. Public meetings that are well attended, frequent news coverage on transportation issues, public forums where a broad representation of diverse interests is in attendance, and plans, TIPS, MIS alternatives, and project designs which reflect an understanding and consideration of public input are all indicators that the public involvement process is effective." READ MORE

      COMMENT: While USDOT officials may have good intentions, we wonder whether they ever get out to the real world of "public involvement" where the objective appears to be to so bore the attendees that they will leave the meeting early. At one of these meetings, the Star-Bulletin quoted Bob Loy, director of environmental programs for the Outdoor Circle as saying, "We are uncomfortable that it is not the kind of process that would really allow for a good free public conversation about this issue and how it should be handled. It seems to have been designed in a way to limit public interaction and the ability for the public to create any kind of synergistic conversation that could result in a community conversation."