City gets moving on transit ideas
Leaders from across the country will swap transit information from their communities today in a daylong symposium at the Blaisdell Exhibition Hall.
Through the city's second Honolulu Transit Symposium, city officials hope to learn about other communities' transit systems as preliminary studies continue for Honolulu's planned fixed guideway system from Kapolei to Ala Moana Center.
The symposium will also feature leaders from transit agencies in Denver, Los Angeles and Utah who will talk about creating transit systems, encouraging business and community development, and building transit-oriented development.
Nine years after the proposal of a starter light rail system in Norfolk, Va., Michael Townes, president and chief executive officer of Hampton Roads Transit, recently signed a contract with the Federal Transit Administration, securing hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for its long-awaited project.
"If we can get it passed, the 31st-largest metropolitan area in the nation, get the FTA to support our project, you all can do it," Townes, one of the symposium's key speakers, said yesterday in an interview. "We hung in there. If you believe in what you got, then stick with it."
Townes said the greatest challenge for Norfolk's transit system was support from the FTA. However, Honolulu would be in a favorable position to received federal funds since it is deemed nationally as one of the best transit corridors.
"We want (transit) to have substance in the national debate," said Townes, who is also the leader of a nonprofit organization, the American Public Transportation Association. "The more communities that understand and invest in this, the more it will have legs on the national level."
Mayor Mufi Hannemann, a fixed guideway rail supporter, has said city officials want to learn what works in other cities and what does not.
Another panelist today, Nathaniel Ford Sr., head of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, said having a single agency that oversees virtually all decisions relating to transportation is efficient and effective in improving transit.
"Our model of having a single agency responsible is definitely a plus," Ford said yesterday. "It eliminates some of the competing agendas."
Honolulu has yet to decide on the technology for the fixed guideway system, with the city administration favoring rail while some councilmembers are pushing for a bus system. This would have a bus, which resembles a train but with rubber tires, ride on the raised guideway system that could also be used by emergency vehicles when necessary.
"Mass transit doesn't have to be about rail if we can accomplish the same thing with an alternative that's substantially cheaper," said Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi. "I hope (the panelists) will look at these alternatives and not talk only about rail."
Others are more skeptical about the cost of the fixed guideway system, with costs estimated as high as $5 billion.
"My major concern on transit is the cost," said Council Chairwoman Barbara Marshall. "So far, I haven't been convinced that bus fixed guideway is any cheaper than rail. I just want to make sure we're exploring all the options."
Waipahu station to be discussed
The city will hold the second transit-oriented development public meeting at 6:30 p.m. tomorrow at Waipahu Elementary School, 94-465 Waipahu St., to get input from residents on a planned station in their community.