Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Light rail could be a long-term stimulus bonanza for Honolulu, overhead tracks a setback

by Larry Geller

I don’t know if this came up during yesterday’s session at the State Capitol or not. But I just got a new bit of input (thanks to ever-vigilant advocate George Fox): Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood…

…proposed that new funding guidelines for major transit projects be based on livability issues such as economic development opportunities and environmental benefits, in addition to cost and time saved, which are currently the primary criteria. [DailyKos, Some great news slipped under the radar last week, 1/19/2010]

I don’t know quite what to make of it. Mufi and his propagandists have been emphasizing how much time their heavy rail proposal would shave off commuting time for the people lucky enough to be able to use it. So now, that’s not the primary criterion?

There’s much more in the article, please check it out. In particular,

"Our new policy for selecting major transit projects will work to promote livability rather than hinder it," said Secretary LaHood.  "We want to base our decisions on how much transit helps the environment, how much it improves development opportunities and how it makes our communities better places to live."

We never had a chance to plan our own community, and the Honolulu government, both City Council and the Mayor, have resisted making our city bike-friendly and livable. This has been my beef here for some time. If we could have been involved in a structured planning process, as has happened elsewhere (demonstrating it can be done), perhaps we’d be more together as a community about what kind of transportation system(s) we want.

So if the feds want to fund those kinds of projects, Mufi’s rail isn’t it. But the article is hard for me to interpret. And it may just be verbiage to justify passing out lots of money to transportation projects. If it comes out of Washington, there’s not much reason to give it much credibility anyway (IMHO).

Another thing I am not sure came up or not yesterday is the loss of opportunity, including possible damage to neighborhoods, if noisy, unattractive and inaccessibly trains pass overhead. Where there is a station, big development will put in stores like Starbucks and Macys, but Mom and Pop won’t have a chance, I suspect. Mufi and his supporters expect big buck development. Much of that money (labor, profits, retail profits) will go out-of-state. But in between stations, any business located underneath the roar of the tracks risks losing customers—location, location, location they say, and underneath the tracks is the wrong location.

Portland has demonstrated not only that light rail can revitalize a city economy, but that it can be installed quickly and cheaply. Along the route, stores spring up, property values increase, and commuters and retailers alike benefit.

I think I’ll just repeat an earlier post (October, 2009). There’s a video snippet in it which I think is still very applicable.

A couple of days ago I promised (Grade-level transit much better for business) a video clip illustrating a fundamental shortcoming of Honolulu’s planned elevated mass transit system. In addition to the vastly increased cost over grade-level transit, the benefits to small businesses are completely missed. Sure, the big developers will profit with massive high-rent installations at the stations.

Here is a short clip from e2 Transport Portland: A Sense of Place. You can google that title for more information on the PBS series and on this video in particular.

Instead of a vibrant retail corridor, Honolulu will have blocked view planes, and under the tracks will be shadow, noise—and lost opportunity.

Certainly, train riders will have no idea what’s below them. They’ll get ads for the big station shops in their daily newspapers, but the little folks below the tracks have no chance.

e2 (e-squared) also produced podcasts to accompany their videos. Here is the one for the Portland video. You may want to download it and play it from your computer. It features my favorite architect, Peter Calthorpe. You’ll see that he (and the Portland city planners) favored designing the urban environment, not just installing expensive transit over what they had. Too bad Honolulu doesn’t have even that basic foresight.

We’ll get what developers and Mufi want for us, while the city will miss out on the numerous benefits that Portland chose for its citizens and entrepreneurs.


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