Shoots from the Grassroot Institute – Jan. 9, 2004-Niche Nonsense

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A letter to the editor on Thursday, Jan. 8, 2004, to ”’The Honolulu Advertiser”’ called “Find your Niche on Transportation” is a classic example of how ideology can determine one’s perception on issues despite known facts. By choosing certain definitions that tailor the argument in a given direction the author drew a conclusion that is demonstrably false.

First the issue was divided into three inaccurate categories.


Category 1 was termed the “20th Century Solution” and pigeonholed those who are proponents of highway upgrades and programs, such as High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes, as effective solutions to traffic congestion. HOT lanes are, in fact, the latest and effective proven innovation in reducing traffic congestion.

Category 2 lumped all those who would rely upon carpools, ferries and other, to use the author’s words, “feel good” measures.

Category 3 characterized as “forward-thinking, visionary suggestions for Honolulu’s 21st-century transportation system” the “Light Rail Solution.” This is clear stacking the deck and is, in fact, wrong on several counts.

First of all Oahu’s rail proposal is falsely labeled, “Light Rail” and it is not. It is a grade elevated system which is, by federal definition, heavy rail. Just calling it “Light Rail” doesn’t make it so.

Second, rail is a 100-year-old solution that has already been tried and discarded historically. Rail systems were built in the early 1900s and nearly all were eventually abandoned. It takes special conditions to make rail feasible.

Third, the statement in the letter to the editor that, “The Light Rail Solution is the category that supports the proposed light-rail transit system as the only big-impact alternative to the private automobile, the zipper-laned buses and carpools and all other forms of transportation that rely on streets and highways,” is wholly inaccurate. Rail is not a high impact solution, and here is why.

There is only one rail system in the nation that carries the equivalent of a single lane of highway traffic in terms of numbers of commuters per hour and that is the subway system in downtown New York City, the most dense business district in the nation. The heavy rail project proposed here cannot, in the best case scenario of maximum possible ridership, carry the equivalent of a single lane of freeway traffic.

The cost of the proposed heavy rail project is so exorbitant that, at minimum, a four lane highway could be built for the same amount or less. If this included dedicated HOT lanes integrated with Regional BRT, high occupancy vehicles carrying 4 or more passengers, in conjunction with the laws against jitneys carrying more than 8 people at a time repealed, such a roadway would carry somewhere between 8 to 16 times the number of people of the most efficient rail.

These facts have been well documented by the Texas Transportation Institute and the American Dream Coalition and can be viewed on those web sites. The fact is that so much money is required by rail projects, that states then normally neglect highway funding. The result is that Portland, Oregon upon which our rail plan is modeled, has some of the worst traffic congestion in the nation. Rail is, with few exceptions, a spectacular failure.

The people of Hawaii desperately need to be fully informed as to the truth about rail projects. Since rail cannot carry more than the equivalent of a single lane of highway it simply cannot reduce traffic congestion, the purported reason for building it. Thus when the author concludes, “. . . or the light-rail solution, the only one that will move large numbers of commuters to and from work in a timely manner,” the writer is not speaking from known facts but wishful thinking. And this, as the old saying goes, is no way to run a railroad.

”’Don Newman, senior policy analyst for the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, Hawaii’s first and only free market public policy institute focused on individual freedom and liberty, can be reached at:”’

”’This editorial is intended to provoke thought, discussion and an examination of issues. It does not reflect official policy of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.”’

”’ reports the real news, and prints all editorials submitted, even if they do not represent the viewpoint of the editors, as long as they are written clearly. Send editorials to”’