Friday, January 29, 2010


Tram vs. car accidents

by Larry Geller

A couple of emails have flown back and forth about the validity of the data on train vs. tram accidents originally posted by Ian Lind and then by me.

What I have been looking for and not yet found is data on the reduction of car accidents resulting when transit is put in place. It may be that good numbers don’t exist.

My reasoning is that if cars are removed from the highways and streets, the number of accidents must also decline. In other words, whether at grade level or up in the air, you’re certainly much safer inside a rail car than braving the traffic in your own vehicle.

Within Portland’s retail corridor, served by a street-level system, parking is discouraged or non-existent. That was the plan (Honolulu has no such plan). My gut feeling is that with fewer cars there must be fewer accidents, and so any contribution by trams must be swamped out by reduction in vehicle accidents.

In other words, with planning, one can end up much safer with street level trams than with the car traffic that was there without them. Without planning (the Hawaii way), I have no idea what will happen. With stations up in the air, the streets are still subject to the same carnage as before.

I can’t say that this is anything more than thinking out loud at this point. At least it is a different way of looking at the claim that trams will be killing us more than rail-in-the-sky. Maybe yes, maybe no, but it will likely kill us less than we kill ourselves now.

At the same time, I need to stick with my earlier reasoning that the number of cars will not decrease. If a parking space downtown goes empty because its former occupant has chosen to commute by public transit, it will, as now, be filled immediately with someone else who has been waiting for a space. So no net reduction in cars from that sector. It would take reducing the number of parking spaces to make a dent in the number of cars. Logical, huh?

Shoppers also will likely continue to haul home purchases in their own vehicles by and large. You can’t do Costco via train (yet).

Coffee So I’ve probably muddled my own argument. Anyway, time to see if a cup of morning espresso will help clear up the thought processes a bit.

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The rail is a debt that the people do not need! An utter waste of money and land. Will the number of cars be limited by law? Will the number of new housing developments be limited? Oahu's sustainability is at its limit now.

That's pretty tortured, Larry -- about as tortured as Peter Vincent's futile attempt in today's Advertiser (1/31) to convince readers at-grade trains are as safe as elevated. Simply incredible; use common sense. Plus, Sean Hao's reporting is below George Chaplin's standards. Need I say more? I do at today's post, And while you're there, please take time to click on the various other links or search out the Phoenix news media links yourself on the crash-a-week at-grade system that recorded 52 collisions in its first year of operation ending last month. As to your point that downtown parking stalls will fill up when a former driver rides the train, the same is true with highways and streets. But you can't blame rail transit for human nature being what it is. If 100K passengers ride a day, several thousand--maybe tens of thousands--of cars will come off the road. No amount of rationalizing can dispute the fact that thousands of former drivers won't be driving anymore. And yes, some of them won't ride on Thursdays or whenever so they can go to Costco. Rail isn't for everybody on every day.

Your logic fails with the parking stalls, Doug. A car in a parking stall is a car on the road. Regardless of whether or not people ride mass transit, the number of cars moving to and from Honolulu will probably not change. And just try to take away someone's parking stall! Bad for business, Doug, so I assume there will be no movement to eliminate stalls that will make a difference.

So you see, it matters not that thousands of former drivers won't be driving any more. They will be replaced by others happy to have their parking spaces.

Developers are also salivating over increased values for new homes in Ewa. Each new home comes with a garage and one or more cars that weren't there before.

Mass transit is great at increasing the productivity of labor. That is, people who do not have cars can apply for jobs in downtown and Waikiki asking lower wages than those who have cars. Those folks don't displace cars because they don't have any, and their numbers are not known.

Good God, Larry, but your tortured put-down of rail denies its use throughout the world as a TRAFFIC-FREE way to commute through metropolitan areas, on time every time. That's why they call it a Timetable! It's not about counting up parking stalls and seeing who's using them or counting cars on the highway. It's about creating a mode of traveling that avoids traffic altogether. Your parking stall argument is an irrelevancy. But hey--if you want to eliminate parking opportunities so people are motivated to ride transit, go ahead and lobby for it. Re your statement that the number of cars moving to and from Honolulu will probably not change, you're wrong: The number will go up with the increase in population. The choice will be to either fight that bumper-to-bumper mix or not. Without grade-separated transit, there's no choice. And I truly doubt "each new home" will come with a garage. Transit-Oriented Development may in fact offer condos in some buildings with NO stall.

Calm down, Doug. I am not putting down rail. You obviously have missed my transit writing over the years.

We have been denied the opportunity to plan what kind of transit we would like for Honolulu. I have no idea how that might play out were we to be given the opportunity to work with architects like Peter Calthorpe as Portland did.

You may note that I'm a big rail fan. I rode the subways of New York every day to high school, college and beyond. I've ridden ferries, trams, trolley cars (since I was a small kid), and had many adventures. I was a rail nut for a short time, I knew all sorts of stupid things about rails, wheels, air brakes, and so forth. I lived many years in Tokyo, which is mass transit heaven and car hell.

Also, while you talk about "Transit Oriented Development" I've held that it is really "Developer Oriented Transit."

I'm far from alone in thinking Honolulu should have transit, but not the current plan.

Unless, that is, we get a chance to do our own community planning and this is how it comes out. That's what I've been standing for. Planning by and for the people, not for the developers and politicians.

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Requiring those Captcha codes at least temporarily, in the hopes that it quells the flood of comment spam I've been receiving.

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