Comparing Honolulu’s Elevated Rail to Express Lanes, Based on Safety – Part 3 in a Series

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BY PANOS PREVEDOUROS – The National Transportation Policy Project (NTPP) sponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center produced Performance Driven: New Vision for U.S. Transportation Policy.

Let’s analyze how 20 miles of rail with 21 stations and 10 miles of High Occupancy and Toll (HOT) lanes would score in an application in Honolulu based on NTPP Goal 3, which is safety. This goal has two metrics, fatalities and injuries per capita and per vehicle miles traveled or VMT.


In order to reach a bottom line, the best alternative for each goal will receive a score of 10 and the second best will receive a relative score between 0 and 10.

Brief system descriptions for RAIL and HOT LANES for Oahu can be found in the first article of this series by following the link below which also presents analysis on NTPP Goal 1 – Economic Growth. Click here.

The following link presents analysis on NTPP Goal 2 – Energy and Environment. Click here.

Fatalities and injuries per capita

RAIL: Rail systems are commonly assumed to be very safe compared to “dangerous roads.” Far from it. When a comprehensive account of suicides, rapes, drugs, pick-pocketing and other crime in stations and elevator, escalator, walking, falls-inside-a-moving-train is made, and then this rail accident total is weighted by the relatively small numbers of people that rail serves compared to roads, the result is that urban rail systems are less safe compared with managed roads. Note that high voltage third rail systems like the one planned for Honolulu are magnets for suicides, the statistics of which are always kept secret to discourage them from happening. (Score = 7)

HOT Lanes: The Attica Tollway in Athens received the International Road Federal award for safety in 2009 and the 10 miles of reversible elevated lanes (REL) of Tampa are practically accident free. In addition, automated lane keeping, intelligent cruise control and other safety technologies already built-into the luxury car market are increasingly being offered in mid-priced cars. Again, managed HOT lanes are perfect for taking advantage of advanced safety systems and future improvements. Unlike trains that are always in close contact with people, HOT lane traffic is never in close contact with pedestrians. (Score = 10)

Fatalities and injuries per Vehicle Miles Traveled

RAIL: Honolulu rail is projected to move such a tiny proportion of Oahu’s trips (less than 3 percent of the daily trips) so its effect on improving safety will be tiny. (Score = 8 )

HOT Lanes: While the lanes themselves will not carry more than 5 percent of Oahu’s daily trips, they will provide a substantial congestion relief to parallel roads including the H-1 Freeway thereby reducing rear-end collisions which are typical in congested conditions. A portion of motorists, and bus and vanpool passengers will be able to travel on a perfectly safe 10 mile segment of roadway.  (Score = 10)

Based on the Safety goal and its two metrics, HOT Lanes score 20 points and Elevated Rail scores 15 points.

Stay tuned for the overall summary!