Tuesday, December 07, 2010


Joke of the day: Honolulu’s city planning

by Larry Geller

I have to thank Ian Lind for starting my day off with a laugh, even if it was unintentional. No, I’m not laughing at your article, Ian, just at some of the phrases that tickle my funnybone when I see them applied to Honolulu as a city.

The subject (development of North Shore areas) is actually very serious, and I hope that the general (non-blog-reading) public might latch on to it. Now, stop laughing at me. I know, I know. We depend on this one newspaper we have left to get the word out. In other words, forgeddaboutit.

Check out: Meeting tonight in Kahuku on proposal to allow development of Turtle Bay and Malaekahana (Ilind.net, 12/7/2010).

I wasn’t at all surprised that the Mormon Church is doing everything they can to turn people out to push for their development. But then the humor:

The city’s plan, which is really the result of an anti-planning process, would allow significant urbanization of the district by the real estate arm of the church, and permit full development of Turtle Bay. Both run counter to the city’s broader planning goals.

Yes, the city anti-plans. Developers plan. Developers get what they plan. The city, if it has a plan at all, it’s to let the developers do the planning. Our democratic system of campaign contributions assures us that elected officials are held responsible to their constituents, which in this case is the development community.

Ok, moving on.

But this summary hides fact that the city brushed aside an extensive community-based planning process and created its own plan in private consultation with developers.

LOL. That’s what I just said.

We need to take back our city. So far, I see no move afoot to do that.

I’ve been accused of being anti-rail. I’m pro-planning. I think that if Honolulu would allow a citizen-centered planning process such as Portland Oregon and many other cities have implemented, not only would we have had transit long ago, but we would have had planned communities including appropriate transit, likely more agriculture, and an urban environment designed for those of us who live here instead of designed to profit developers.

Call it a banana republic mentality, or as some say, a plantation mentality, whatever, but the luna (abusive plantation foreman) is still running things in Honolulu it seems. Whether it’s transportation or urban development in general, do we have a voice of our own? No? How can we get one?

Check out this web page for a clip just touching on how Portland succeeded where Honolulu has failed. The full video played on PBS, e2 Transport, Portland:  A Sense of Place, isn’t available for free viewing on the web (though you can purchase the video on iTunes or Amazon). There are clips around. Here’s another, which shows why I hold that small business (retail, bars, etc.) will be the big losers if Honolulu builds a train that flies past them overhead. Look out the window of that tram as it goes by. Cash registers ringing. Thriving businesses in an urban corridor created by a transit system.

Of course, if we put in the elevated train, developers will benefit, and that’s what Honolulu is all about.


Larry, transportation is about getting from A to B as fast as possible, and transfers to buses do not matter as much as time to most passengers. Therefore, a slow at-grade trolley will never attract as many riders as a speedy elevated train.
One only needs to look at the speedy subways in NYC, a city that could not function without subways and elevated trains, to see that communities thrive around rail transit stations, even if they have to climb stairs to do it. The real evil is Prevedorous's HOV/HOT lane, which would plow through neighborhoods without providing any access to them.

Transportation is far more than getting from A to B as fast as possible. Also, I am advocating letting the people plan what they want. Trams can be speedy over long distances these days and yet are far more convenient and bring more small business growth than the elevated rail planned for Honolulu. But I don't say put in trams, I say let the people plan their own urban/suburban environment.

For the reasons you gave, HOV/HOT is also not likely a good solution for Honolulu. But again, that decision should be made by people, not developers.

Glad you agree with me about the Panos's highway to hell.

The only way trams can be speedy, just like buses, is to keep them out of mixed traffic with cars. Even so, if you want to average 30 mph, stopping once or twice a mile, you have to hit 50 or 60 mph. Can you imagine a train going 50 mph down Dillingham? This is why street-running LRT goes an average of 20 mph at best; Boston's B Line (LRT) takes 29 minutes to go 3 miles, less than 7 mph, even though it runs on exclusive lanes.
We *could* buy up houses and businesses and carve a train line through the city. However, in some parts of town, the cost would be greater than the elevated line. Also, the political opposition--"not behind my backyard"--would be enormous. Finally, fast and frequent trains would essentially block mauka-makai travel, since the gates would block the roads about 50 seconds for every train.

Any train or busway must also be close to where people want to go. There are LRT lines all over the U.S. with disappointing ridership because they follow old railroad lines. That's also why LRT is so-often paired with TOD; no one normally wanted to live next to the old grain elevator, warehouse, train yard, etc. The Oahu Ry. is a bad choice for a route, because it runs far from population and shopping, impacts a bunch of parks and even a national wildlife refuge, and skirts past some very expensive homes around West Loch.

Next time you go to the mainland, ride a LRT and look closely for the things I have mentioned. Which reminds me of my first-ever tour of the San Diego LRT system; the first one I boarded was struck by a hit-and-run driver, but fortunately I was able to walk to the station to transfer to my next trolley line. That illustrates how little drivers respect 50 ton LRV's. :(

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