Expert touts rail's side benefits


POSTED: Wednesday, June 24, 2009

An executive with one of the largest architecture and planning firms worldwide said rail projects such as the one planned on Oahu will help increase business along the transit line.

“;It's not just about moving people around. ... I think it's a catalyst for change,”; said Ian Mulcahey, a lead planner for the London-based firm Gensler. “;It will enable the city to grow.”;

Mulcahey was among several guest speakers discussing rail-transportation issues at the city-sponsored Honolulu Transit Symposium 2009 yesterday at the Neal Blaisdell Exhibition Hall.

The travel time for the $5.4 billion, 20-mile rail transit system between East Kapolei and Ala Moana Center will be 42 minutes, according to city projections. Mulcahey said he sees how, with its elevated view, the Honolulu rail system will also serve as an attraction for visitors.

He said elevated transit lines in other countries have used the space beneath the rails for business and recreational activity.

Mulcahey said many cities like Honolulu have developed a rail system when their population approaches 1 million people. State officials estimate Oahu's resident population at a little more than 900,000.

“;The time is clearly right,”; Mulcahey said.

Richard Simonetta, the chief executive officer of Valley Metro Rail Inc. that links Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa, Ariz., said the tri-city transit system has attracted hundreds of businesses.

However, he said, the rail system has its limits, since it was built at ground level and has to cross 149 intersections.

He said Valley Metro traveling at about 18 to 19 mph is not the kind of transit system envisioned by Honolulu, which plans to have its rail system travel at about 40 mph.