MASS TRANSIT APPEAL
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
City officials attended a transit symposium earlier this month at the Hawaii Convention Center. Mayor Mufi Hannemann, left, and Melvin Kaku, director of the city Department of Transportation Services, viewed a video about what a monorail system might look like in Honolulu.
From the environmental benefits to affordability, rail transit is the best option for the people of Oahu
THE ADVICE we heard at the Oct. 4 City and County of Honolulu Transit Symposium 2006 left me convinced, more than ever, that we urgently need a rail system as the only tangible solution to our most pressing quality-of-life concern: traffic.
This advice came from elected and transit officials who either led the development of rail systems in their jurisdictions or who now oversee their operation.
I offered these thoughts at the symposium on why we need to be pro-rail. That's P-R-O R-A-I-L.
A rail system is a Priority.
To borrow a baseball analogy, this will be our last chance at bat. We struck out twice before when the city declined federal transit dollars in the 1980s, and again in the 1990s. Gov. Linda Lingle resurrected the idea of a rail system in 2003, but eventually withdrew her support because of opposition.
It's the Right thing to do.
This is more than a transportation issue; it's a matter of building a livable community for us and our children. The transit speakers we heard told us that rail systems have become so popular that the issue has become which demands for extensions of existing lines should be met first. In the case of Phoenix, outlying areas are asking for extensions -- even though the 57-mile system is still under construction. The same goes for Dallas.
Opponents of rail have offered toll roads and high-capacity flyover lanes as alternatives, but those ideas will not take cars off the road. Rather, they will only make commuting more costly and will be less environmentally friendly.
. We have three-quarters of the state's population, the jobs, the economy, the lion's share of visitors and, yes, the traffic. Oahu needs a fixed guideway system. Besides, as we expand and upgrade our system, there will be direct benefits to our sister counties, as when we transferred buses to Mayor Harry Kim and Hawaii County for its growing transit system.
This reduction will be a direct result of mass transit, which is good news for our environment.
Todd Litman of the Victoria Policy Institute noted that air pollution will be reduced from a decline in personal automobile use. Former Phoenix Mayor Skip Rimsza said public transportation reduces the cost of travel by enabling households to manage on one less car, a cost that hovers around $8,000 a year, according to one AAA estimate. Reducing commuting time and providing other choices will mean more time to spend with our families and on leisure activities.
Affordability means an affordable commute.
Affordability means a fixed guideway system that we will build within our means. Speaker after speaker advised us that the longer a municipality delays a decision on developing a mass transit system, the higher the eventual cost in terms of construction costs, traffic congestion, the burden on ourselves and our families, and the toll on our quality of life. Prolonging a decision also means more competition for a shrinking pot of federal transit money. These experts were very proud that their systems came in on time and on budget, even ahead of schedule in some cities.
I stands for Integration.
As a proponent of combining Oahu's various forms of public transportation into an integrated network, I was pleased that the experts said a fixed guideway system is just one part of a larger transportation network -- "multimodal" to transportation engineers -- that includes buses, taxis, a ferry in Oahu's case, bicycle lanes, even walking.
At the heart of the transit debate is Livability.
In every municipality, transit has created opportunities for transit-oriented development and public-private partnerships that resulted in livable communities: jobs, housing, pedestrian and bicycle paths, retail and commercial space. With appropriate land use policies and community input, I anticipate that we could enjoy comparable benefits.
Phoenix's Mayor Rimsza and former Houston mayor Kathy Whitmire (who now lives in Windward Oahu and is president of the board of directors for the Outdoor Circle), both 10-year mayors credited with launching their rail systems, strongly endorse a transit system for Honolulu.
My administration will submit our recommendation for what's called the locally preferred alternative to the City Council on Nov. 1.
The public needs to tell the Council that a prompt decision is imperative and that a delay will be costly to our pocketbooks and our quality of life. A year ago, Council members voted 7-2 in favor of our mass transit initiative, and nothing I've heard since then tells me that their decision was anything but the right one.
I firmly believe a rail transit system is the best hope to give ourselves and future generations the livable community we deserve -- and that's why I'm PRO-RAIL.