Honolulu Advertiser

SECOND OPINION  by Cliff Slater

December 29, 2003

Transit alternatives abound

One charge continually leveled at those of us opposed to various transit “Visions” such as that for heavy rail transit in 1992,[i] the current In-Town Bus/Rapid Transit[ii] and now the latest “light” rail transit,[iii] is that we are “naysayers” who offer no alternatives for Honolulu’s  traffic problems.

Nothing could be further from the truth; let me list some.

The 1987 State Ridesharing Task Force, which I chaired, consisted of 15 state appointed local citizens who produced a detailed document of consensus recommendations that, among other items, suggested involving private sector transportation. It was ignored.

COST, the anti-rail group, published in 1991 “The Sensible Transportation Alternative,”[iv] which suggested that instead of the then proposed rail transit line, that we consider building, along the same footprint, a two-lane reversible highway for buses and high-occupancy vehicles. We had learned from Parsons Brinckerhoff, the city’s primary consultants (then and now) that two lanes of buses offer far more capacity than a rail line. In addition, rail lines are not reversible whereas highways can be, thus allowing a potential doubling of their effectiveness. We quoted Parsons Brinckerhoff that comparing per-hour passenger volumes for highways and rail, as actually used, “cuts through the myth that HOV facilities do not have the person carrying equivalent of rail lines. Both modes can serve the person-carrying capacity needs of about any corridor in North America.”[v]

At the same time we suggested modifying H-1 to allow a reversible transitway, supplementing the City rush hour fleet by allowing the tour buses to offer guaranteed seat express bus service, and subsidizing vanpools to enable them to compete with city buses — among many other suggestions. Of course, none of these were even addressed, let alone implemented.

Then in early 1993 the City Council set up a Transportation  & Traffic Management Planning Task Force consisting of a broad group of citizens, from city officials to private sector transportation providers, community groups and a sprinkling of “naysayers.” In August of 1993, after innumerable meetings, a consensus of the recommendations of the Task Force was presented to the City Council in a 100-page report. Among the many proposals were:

  • Supplementing TheBus with private sector companies.
  • Extending the H-1 HOV lanes.
  • Having motorists face the full market value of parking and eliminate commercial parking minimums.
  • Building the Nimitz flyover.
  • Conducting a busway study.
  • Removing uninsured vehicles from the highway.
  • Implementing paratransit alternatives to supplement TheBus.
  • Promoting user-side subsidies (vouchers).

Of course, absolutely nothing was done about any of these recommendations either.

Dr. Panos Prevedouros, the UH traffic expert, has made numerous suggestions for improving traffic flow. Some examples are:

  • Installing ramp metering for a limited number of freeway on-ramps to even out traffic flow at those ramps where traffic lights are allowing whole clusters of cars onto a freeway at the same time causing sudden traffic interruption.
  • Adding lanes in a few specific places to alleviate bottlenecks.
  • He has calculated that improved traffic signal timings and coordination could reduce delays as much as 10 to 50 percent. Anyone who has frustratedly sat at a red light when there was no traffic at all on the cross street can find that believable. 
  • Change accident procedures to allow clearing major disruptions quickly as was done so well in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

And I continue to make suggestions in these columns.[vi] However, as important as offering alternatives is for us to show that the transit “Visions” that keep afflicting our elected officials are so costly that, if implemented, they would prevent us from taking the many relatively inexpensive actions that could be effective in reducing both traffic congestion and public transportation subsidies. 

Cliff Slater is a regular columnist whose footnoted columns are at: www.lava.net/cslater


[i] For details see Final Environmental Impact Statement, Honolulu Rapid Transit Program. U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Transit Administration & City and County of Honolulu, Department of Transportation Services. July 1992.

[ii] For full details, including links to city websites, see www.honolulutraffic.com

[iii] The “light” rail proposal is pure spin. It is actually “heavy” rail by both official city and federal definitions. Light rail is characterized by overhead DC electric power and travel at-grade for at least part of the system. Heavy rail is typically DC electric power delivered through a third rail with all of the system grade-separated.

[iv] Available on line at www.honolulutraffic.com

[v] Fuhs, Charles. High-Occupancy Vehicle Facilities: A Planning, Design and Operating Manual. Parsons Brinckehoff, Quade & Douglas, Inc. 1990.

[vi] Starting with “We ignore transportation alternatives”(7/30/98).