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.





  1. More splitting hairs. Clearly, the city of Honolulu will continue to grow and will reach and exceed all population projections at some point in time. Are you arguing against higher density concentration for development so as to avoid suburban sprawl across our ag land as espoused by the Sierra Club? Rail will clearly help focus future development within a designated urban corridor and save open space and agricultural land.

    • REALLY? How? What would happen if there was a major disaster that cut off ALL major shipping lines from the mainland. Where will our FOOD resources come from? How can we on Oahu be "self sustaining" if this happens?

    • Are you Vincent Shigekuni, Vice President at PBR Hawaii & Associates, Inc.?
      He's planning a symposium on Transit-Oriented Development November 16.
      Ane may need these 150 Turning Point Response Cards (voting clickers) for a election of some-kind at H.A.R.t's DPP-planned
      Seems there'll be a lot of contractors there.

  2. Anti HART groups are FOR focus future development ONLY if its for local middle to affordable incomes. Right now most urban plans on this corridor is for RICH people. Example is KHON's report titled; "Developer reveals plan for new residential area in Kakaako" @
    Excerpt; "Other developments in Kakaako will offer 20 percent of its residences to those looking for affordable housing…"
    20 percent? And that's ONLY talk! Right now, Kakaako seems to be the new Kahala, affordable only for people like HART members & R Strategic Communications eh!

  3. This armchair, theoretical analysis is too short-sighted to even see the development boom that is happening in Kakaako right now!

  4. Anthony Aalto is nobody but a windbag. He does not represent the majority of the Sierra Club.

  5. I noticed the good professor makes a big deal out of the flat part of the growth chart, but doesn't mention the giant spike of population growth that occurred in 2009-2010.

  6. …In other words, future growth could well exceed both the projections he's quibbling over.

  7. Panos seems to be setting up a straw man. Reviewing the videotape, while Aalto does mention 350,000 he then says, “That’s not what they’re predicting because a lot of people move to the mainland.” Aalto doesn’t appear to be trying to sell that number.

    What’s more germane to this debate is that according to the most recent release from DBEDT on “County Population Facts”… Oahu’s population grew at an average of 6814 p.a. between 2010 and 2012. Extrapolated at the same rate, that would be 204,420 more people on Oahu by 2040.

    As it is, the DBEDT/Census Bureau projection for Oahu in 2040 is 130,925 more people than 2010.

    So Aalto’s point is a fair one: where to put all these people? Sprawl them over the ‘aina as we have for the last 30 years or push them into the urban core – and if you do that without an efficient mass transit system, how they gonna move around?

    • What are you talking about? Anthony's lecture was all about population explosion and overdevelopment like Majorca.

      There will be no population explosion on Oahu. We are quickly pricing locals and newcomers out of it. Just use any decent cost of living comparator. The cost/income disparity of Honolulu with mainland cities is staggering and increasing.

      Of course we might get several thousand rich people from Asia, etc. But that's not population growth (or relevant to the rail.).

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  10. Well of course, they would do anything to turn the odds in their favor, because building the rail would get them so much money

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