May 1997 Home   Newsletters

June 1997

July-August 1997

President's Message (Grace Furukawa)
On Hydra-Headed Monsters (Astrid Monson)
League Interviews State Attorney General Margery Bronster (Suzanne Meisenzahl)
Cybercorner (Judith Stitley)
LWV-Hawaii Convention '97

On Hydra-Headed Monsters

Most of us are familiar with the Greek mythology that tells us about a hydra-headed monster slain by Hercules. It had nine heads, and whenever anyone of them was cut off, two new ones grew, unless the wound was cauterized. Websters dictionary defines it as "a multifarious evil, or any evil having many sources, not to be overcome by a single effort."

Five years ago, after truly Herculean efforts, the citizens of Oahu defeated the latest of several proposals to build a $2 billion elevated rail guideway along the southern edge of the island. $53 million were spent studying, planning, and trying to sell the project to us. Though the City's own application showed that it would serve only a relatively small part of the island, that only 6 or 7 percent of the island's daily trips would use it, that by the year 2005 it would reduce automobile traffic by only about 1.4% of what it would otherwise be, that it would reduce air pollution by only a similar amount, and that it would require hundreds of millions of dollars in operating subsidies in addition to its construction cost, its proctors never gave up their efforts to get it built.

With the current fiscal crisis at the national, state, and city government levels, even rail's most ardent supporters have admitted that rail transit is a dead duck in Honolulu. The City Council appointed a broad-based citizens' task force, in which League played a major part, to work out alternatives which could improve traffic and transit for less cost than rail. The Federal government published reports telling what other cities have been doing in the way of contra-flow and dedicated bus lanes, bus transit ways, traffic system management, high occupancy vehicle lanes, preemption of traffic signals and many other accepted measures which, according to the reports, can provide mass transit as convenient, as accessible, and with as great a capacity, speed, and ridership as rail, at a fraction of the cost. We had a couple of hundred people participating in a two-day seminar to learn about Ottawa's "bus rapid transit system" from John Bonsell, who conceived designed, built, and operated it.

Little if anything has been done to implement these measures on Oahu, though a few more buses were brought, some roadway improvements were made, and a small number of high occupancy vehicles (HOV) lanes were provided. though traffic didn't get much worse, it didn't get much better either.

At this point, the hydra-headed monster struck again. An unsuccessful bidder for the 1992 rail transit project tried to get the state legislature to establish a "People Mover Development Authority" authorized to build an elevated rail guideway, 20 feet up in the air, from the far end of Waikiki to the convention center, to Ala Moana Center, through Kakaako, to the Aloha Tower, to the airport, and potentially elsewhere. This was to be financed by private money, if possible, and by "other funds", if not. Fortunately the legislature did not buy this.

More recently, the City administration has announced a new program to discuss the possibilities of rail transit at the community level and see if a consensus could be developed in favor of it. From past experience we can foresee a well organized propaganda effort, complete with charts, graphs, glossy brochures, and glowing descriptions of the wonderful benefits a rail system could bring.

Some would say, "Forget it. They can't find the money and nothing will happen." Quite possibly, but do we need to spend another $53 million to find this out? Should we in the meantime neglect all the other possible measures to improve our transportation system while we once again waste our time on this same old pipe dream?

For example it has just been announced that our ambulances will soon be equipped with control devices which, as an ambulance approaches a traffic light can cause the signal to turn green until the ambulance is through the intersection. Why can't we do this for buses also? The fact that the buses are now slowed up in traffic by private cars is often given as the main reason more people don't ride them. But why should 60 people be held up at a light while 3 or 4 or 5 single occupancy vehicles get priority? Obviously, not all intersections and not all buses need to preempt traffic signals at all times, but experience would soon show when this works and when it doesn't.

Another possibility worth exploring is the provision by the City of large European-type bicycle parking facilities. In other cities these have proven successful in getting hundreds of cars off the street, especially in peak hours. Facilities can include showers, clothes-changing rooms, "coffee-and" bars, bicycle repair facilities, and, of course, secure storage of the bike.

We suggest that in community discussions of how to improve traffic and transportation, all these many possible alternatives to rail, and their costs and impacts on traffic, be presented, along with rail and its costs and impacts. If this is done objectively and fairly, we can be sure that the communities will come to the same conclusion League did after years of study and pro/con discussion. This might even cauterize the monster's wound, once and for all.

Astrid Monson

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