City’s rail promotion getting beyond spin
The Sept. 2 op-ed
by city Transportation Services Director Melvin Kaku was another effort by the city to mislead Star-Bulletin readers about the efforts of some City Council members and others in the community to have the mayor consider alternatives to rail in the transit debate.
Kaku says that the new proposals are "the same" bus rapid transit that Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi opposed when Mayor Harris offered it. Kaku knows better. Kobayashi and most of the community objected to the In-Town BRT for good reason. It would have dedicated lanes exclusively to BRT on already congested roads.
For example, it would have used the two center lanes of Kapiolani Boulevard for the BRT, which would have meant that the coned four lanes available townbound during the morning rush hour would have been reduced to two. Few people supported that.
However, no one, to my knowledge, opposed the Regional BRT, which was to run from Kapolei to Middle Street, nor was that earlier proposal based on the new elevated right-of-way now being proposed.
Kaku twice mentions the high cost of bus stations on elevated busways, yet nobody has suggested such highway facilities should have stations. Bus stops on an elevated highway make no sense. We do not put bus stations on freeways; why would we want them on any elevated highway unless the object is to kill a project by projecting excessive costs?
Kaku says the bus-on-tolled-highway approach has been found to be too expensive. He is referring to HonoluluTraffic.com's HOT lanes proposal for an elevated two-lane reversible tollway from Waikele to Hilo Hattie, where buses and vanpools would go free and all others pay a variable toll to keep the HOT lanes congestion free at all times.
As for HOT lanes being too expensive, Kaku says the city's independent Transit Advisory Task Force backs that up. There is nothing independent about a task force appointed by elected officials. The only independent member of that panel was Panos Prevedouros, a University of Hawaii professor of transportation engineering, and he disagreed with most of the task force's findings.
Kaku would have you believe that a simple two-lane elevated highway built by the lowest bidder would cost more per mile than a rail transit line with trains, computers, rail lines and stations, with escalators, elevators, stairs, generators and transformers, all provided by a politically negotiated nonbid arrangement.
The Tampa Expressway is a similar-sized highway and was built for $400 million. Yes, we do have high construction costs in Hawaii, but not 10 times as high.
As to whether buses or rail have more capacity, Kaku says a train can carry more than a bus. New Jersey's I-495 single bus lane carries 32,600 passengers per hour, five times more than what is even being planned for Honolulu's rail line.
And Kaku says the HOT proposal "can never be as flexible as fixed guideway." There is nothing more inflexible than a rail transit line because you can only run trains on it -- and then only when they are not on strike. On the other hand, HOT lanes can be quickly turned into evacuation routes or used for emergency vehicles.
The amount of effort our public officials are using to confuse and mislead people on the transit issue is appalling.
Cliff Slater is a businessman and former community scholar in the University of Hawaii economics department.