Sierra Club Used Wrong Population Projections in Support of Honolulu’s Rail

Panos Prevedouros, PHD
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BY DR. PANOS PREVEDOUROS PHD– The Sierra Club is on record opposing urban sprawl and agricultural parcel destruction, and I applaud them for these goals. But their Oahu Group supports a Kapolei to downtown heavy rail line as the tool to accomplish this.

Anthony Aalto, Chair of the Sierra Club, Oahu Group made a presentation in late 2012 at a forum at the UH’s Richardson School of Law. The focus was to “Keep the Country Country by Making the City more City.” After watching Mr. Aalto’s presentation I suspect that Oahu’s Sierra Club support for rail may be based on wrong numbers.  Here is why.


Between minutes 13:30 and 16:00 Mr. Aalto lays the foundation of Sierra Club’s support for rail as an absolute necessity due to the impending population boom.  He says that (unnamed) experts predict that in the next 25 years Oahu will grow by 200,000 people. This growth is only the base. It is attributable to the natural growth from the difference between births and deaths.

Then there will be added growth from migration. This will add another 125,000 net in population in the next 25 years, he proclaimed. Then he rounded these sums to an even 350,000 for Oahu’s population growth by 2035.

But these population numbers are wrong. Between 2000 and 2009 Honolulu had 122,222 births and 59,029 deaths.  In the same period, international migration came to a net gain of 27,918. Domestic immigration, that is, people leaving Honolulu County to other county in Hawaii or the US mainland came to a loss of 54,238.  Long story short, the State of Hawaii is growing by about 0.7% per year and the City and County of Honolulu is growing by about 0.36% per year.

It appears that the steep 2008-2009 recession caused a sharp reaction from Hawaii folks on the mainland. Apparently many of them returned home for shelter in 2009 after losing their job or being unable to find a job after graduation or training on the mainland – see US Census data below. This was an unprecedented and unusual reaction following 14 years of practically zero population growth.  My average growth accounts both for the 2009 “jump” in population and the 14 years of stagnation; see blue line on the graph of projections to 2035.

Apparently, the Sierra Club’s experts used growth rates from the booming ‘70s and ‘80s, which are, of course, history.  Worse yet, these optimistic population projections are from a time when Senator Inouye (a.k.a. Hawaii’s walking economy) was alive and well, and the Sequester was just a word. (See this article for my perspective of the future trends for Honolulu and Oahu.)

This “population explosion” is made up to support rail as a tool for pseudo-green mobility and fake agriculture preservation. Rail is not green because despite Sierra Club’s wishes, too few people buy fewer cars or leave their cars at home (i.e., those who ignore history are bound to repeat it.)

Sierra Club Oahu’s cries for agriculture preservation are contradictory. From the very beginning the rail project was designed with several miles of guideway, three large stations, park and ride lots and a large rail yard on top of prime agricultural land. In its quest to support a mobility plan for an imaginary addition of a quarter million people by 2035, the rail that Sierra Club Oahu supports causes far more prime agricultural land destruction on Oahu than H-2, H-3 and my proposed reversible express lanes combined.





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