Monday, May 10, 2010
del Castillo on Honolulu rail
Rafael del Castillo, a candidate for the 1st Congressional District, was asked about his position on Honolulu’s planned rail system. With his permission, here is his reply:
Although as your Congressman my opinion would not have direct impact on rail, I do have strong opinions on the issues the rail project has raised. First, I would love to see Hawaii have a modern, highspeed system that moves people and eliminates cars on the road. Rail is not a silver bullet and while mass transit is an essential component of the solution to congestion, it is just that, a component.
I disbelieve that the proposed rail system will do anything to alleviate congestion based upon the facts that have been offered, and for the reasons below. Properly employed using a less-expensive phase in, rail could help change dependence on the highway, and therefore pay for itself.
Rail can no longer be seen as the key to reducing dependence on oil, as I discuss, and therefore to the extent to which other municipalities obtained economic benefits from rail in the last two decades, can no longer be listed in rail's benefits column.
Second, I am more than a little disappointed in the way the rail project has been marketed by the Mayor and its proponents. For job creation and long term economic benefit to Hawaii, rail is not the answer. $5 billion invested in our aging infrastructure would be a far better investment and economic stimulus, and I firmly believe we need those more than we need whatever rail eventually can do to improve our transportation system.
The actual effects of rail on commute times are too far off to be counted on as more than speculative. But getting back to job creation for the moment, rail will result in at $1.5 billion of the $5 billion going to stimulate either the Canadian or Japanese economy because that is the approximate cost of the trains.
Even $1.5 billion spent on our infrastructure would create long term employment in Hawaii, and if scheduled properly, would ensure that those jobs go to Hawaii residents instead of having to import workers to meet the scheduling demands of rolling out the rail project.
I wish that our unions would take a harder look at the alternatives and invest their political influence in the best alternative for creating jobs and careers in Hawaii. Importing workers to meet deadlines is a really bad idea for Hawaii because it has the potential to create more unemployed when the temporary jobs run out. I wish we could assess the politicians responsible for creating that potential the amount we have to pay out for unemployment to the extent that imported workers stay and collect it.
The impact of rail on commuting is speculative at best. It depends too heavily on developing ridership. It does not address how those riders will get around when they reach their destinations. UH Manoa is one thing, because it is a pedestrian campus, but downtown is quite another.
What will we do to support the ridership of people who need a car once they get to work? We know that people will continue to drive their cars, so it makes more sense to me to invest in moving cars instead of people. I have seen a proposal for a tiered toll-based car-moving highway that appears to make a great deal of sense. It has been done in other centers in the U.S.
Of course I want to see cars off the road, but as peoples' lives and commitments, and desires, become more complex due to more offerings in terms of opportunities in work and play, transportation design has to be more carefully thought out to anticipate how to serve those needs.
A rail line that moves along a defined corridor and is principally designed to get people into the center of town does not address that predictable evolution. That is not to say that the plan as it has been amended to address the development along the route cannot or will not address that to some extent, but those developments are a spin off and that does not satisfy the planning challenge I am suggesting.
I have never favored steel-on-steel. If we are going to build a 21st century transportation system, we must invest in 21st century technology. I am not an expert, but the proposed metro system appears to be the most expensive to maintain, the most expensive to modify or add to, and the most resistant to technological improvement, factors that do not appear to have been weighed against alternatives.
I do not believe that steel-on-steel is a legitimate choice, and am interested in investigating why it was chosen over LRT, or even an ultra modern maglev further. (I was a member of the legal team that represented the State successfully on the Aloha Stadium case against US Steel. It is apparent that the lessons learned from that case were not considered fully in the rail proposal.
The Stadium was built with steel that was designed to develop a patina of rust as a substitute for routine maintenance - I studied steel when I was in engineering school and produced a paper theorizing why nickel-miraging steels, on the atomic level, are so resistant to corrosion in high-saline environments, and thus was familiar with the product (which is not nickel-based) and had first seen it in Denver when I was working on the paper - a product that has been used successfully in many environments. It failed miserably in Hawaii because engineers failed to test the conditions adequately at the Stadium site.
As it turned out the trades deposit high concentrations of salt on steel surfaces, much higher than had been seen in any other location where US Steel had used the product, and that is why the structure has essentially rotted.
That surely means something when you are building an elevated steel-on-steel system that is subjected to the same deposition of salt all along the line.) I am very concerned that we will not be able to afford to maintain the heavy rail system, and if we don't, it will tarnish the image of paradise in the eyes of visitors, and will impact adversely on one of our economic mainstays. If that happens, I don't need to tell you it will feed off itself, as diminishing visitor counts further depress the resources available to maintain the heavy rail.
Because you have asked the question, you probably know that the proposed system will cost more per ridership mile than any rail system in the history of the U.S.
I am a strong proponent of revising automotive transportation because, for the foreseeable future in Hawaii, we will be dependent on the automobile.
I was very pleased that Nissan has decided to market the Leaf in Hawaii or at least Honolulu, so we have at least one electric car manufacturer planning to offer us a choice. In all of the country, Hawaii needs electric cars more than anything, and I have been very disappointed that our politicians have been wholly ineffective in persuading manufacturers to sell them here.
Nissan's decision was a smart marketing decision, and regrettably had little or nothing to do with any of our Congressional or state political leaders. I found the news of the Korean manufacturer looking at building electric cars in Hawaii somewhat encouraging, although I do not believe that, without strong political leadership (which I can bring), the plan will actually come to fruition.
I have been lobbying my brother to bring the Smart car here. Friends of mine have one and there are a few that have been imported. The Smart car takes up half a lane and half a parking spot. My wife and I drove one in France about 7 years ago and they provide fine transportation and it is fun to slip into a half a parking space and pass in a space little wider than the space a motorcycle requires.
Most people drive themselves to-and-from work, or, at most have 2 in the car, so the small size of the Smart car is not an issue for commuting. Devoting two lanes to the Smart car and the copycats of the Smart car platform, would bring great relief immediately and cost little in infrastructure revision. It would also go a long way towards alleviating the parking problem downtown.
I believe the political leadership is not working on this type of solution because they have too much invested in rail, which makes me suspicious about the nature of their investment.
To put things in perspective, $5 billion would buy 200,000 Smart cars. If we made a commitment to converting cars to the Smart car platform in substantial numbers, we could perhaps persuade one or more manufacturers of that class of vehicle to open a Hawaii plant (for real). Fortunately I have some substantive direct access to the manufacturers, so I could begin exploring this type of alternative right away.
Naturally we would have to persuade enough people to switch, but wouldn't you consider swapping a big car for a Smart car if you were offered access to two or four exclusive highway lanes and to parking at 1/2 price if you worked downtown? Add to that a tax credit for making the swap, and you would have to be seriously in love with that big car to elect not to swap it for a Smart car platform.
BTW, an all-electric version of the Smart car will be produced by the 1st quarter of 2011 last I heard, and several manufacturers are copying the Smart car platform, so there will be choices and competition.
I favor addressing the congestion problem with more immediate measures as I suggest, and I believe that I can influence things in that direction. I further favor a longer-term plan to establish a 21st century people-mover that offers an attractive way to get around alternative to the automobile, one that is intended to convert people from cars for all or nearly all of their transportation needs.
If steel-on-steel is built, and what I am predicting comes to pass, I fervently hope that people will not forget which politicians pushed the rail project, and remember them at the polls.
As I said, I hope you will pass this along. The question has not come up in prior debates, at least the ones to which I have been invited, but I am sure people want to know. Creating a massive tangible monument to my name is meaningless to me, as is being remembered for anything. I am solely interested in using our resources wisely and creating real solutions to problems that also foster opportunities for the people of Hawaii and make all of our lives better in the long run. I believe what I am suggesting will direct more $ into the pockets of working people, and improve the quality of life in Hawaii.
del Castillo is all wrong. Just to name one point, he never mentions the overwhelming bus ridership in the City, and the fact that transit is at least 10 years along on a steady slide into immobility. Maybe rail WON'T move many existing drivers out of their cars, but it WILL encourage existing transit riders to not buy MORE CARS--cars that will probably BREAKDOWN more often, incidentally-and make the road commute from 'Ewa MUCH SLOWER.