Under the Sun
Train of traffic freedom on track of uncertainty
COUNT me among city taxpayers going through a major bout of buyer's remorse over mass transit.
When the project was first announced, I cheered. The thought of getting around without having to steer a fossil-fueled car through hoards of rude, risk-taking other drivers who spurn turn signals, of helping to save the environment and of mingling with other members of the interesting masses had me sold.
I embraced a romantic vision of residents walking through their neighborhoods to a nearby rail station, and in the process getting to know the people who lived next door instead of fighting with them in steel-pod anonymity for the on-ramp. I saw them exchanging howzits with the fathers guiding his kids down the sidewalk to school rather than stink eye when his minivan blocked the street to drop them off.
I envisioned a city where shopping malls with miles of parking lots didn't rule the retail scene, where commercial districts with stores and services folded into a community instead of straddling several awkwardly.
Then came sticker shock: $3 billion, maybe $3.5 billion or even $5 billion just to build a transit system. As to maintenance and operating costs, no one can say because no one can predict the future. The trains will be powered by electricity and unless oil prices drop or remain steady, which they won't, or the electric company finds a cheaper fuel, also unlikely, the only certainty is that running the rails will be expensive.
But let's skip over the money pit. A transit system is supposed to alleviate traffic, isn't it? Nope, because as the number of people and suburban housing grow, more cars will veer onto roads. At best, mass transit will restrain traffic volume.
Let's skip over that, too, and consider the latest angst -- noise. The city's panel of experts named steel-wheeled vehicles on steel rails the chosen one because it is widely in operation, better withstands wear and tear and has more vendor offerings.
It is also the noisiest, but urban Oahu hasn't been known for quiet in a long time. At my home office, not an hour goes by when fire engines and ambulances, garbage trucks, car alarms, low-flying helicopters, jets and beep-beep backhoes don't disturb the white noise.
While noise assaults the ears, elevated rails strikes the eye. But up against the increasing architectural monotony of high-rises clad in mirror, much of Oahu's view planes have been eradicated.
These disadvantages, we are told, are outweighed by an overwhelming need to move people and there aren't many options.
No way could housing development be restricted, not when construction, buying and selling property and cultivating new tax crops are the life of the land. Limiting the number of cars per household? That would interfere with a person's constitutional right to drive. Requiring large employers to arrange transport for their workers? Free trips on an expanded bus system? Tax credits for riders? Sounds like communist plots.
Besides, there's no turning back now. The train of traffic freedom has left the station. Let's hope payment for the tickets won't fall overdue.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org