By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Transportation Writer
People who want to understand democracy should spend less time in the library and more time on the bus, political commentator Simeon Strunsky once wrote.
Taking the bus to work should be mandatory for every politician in Honolulu. They would learn more about the city they represent in a few moments of riding than in a year of reading legislative reports. They would see firsthand that the bus is the transportation of choice, or necessity, for many people here every day.
Because it was Earth Day yesterday, I left the official Drive Time 1990 Honda Civic hatchback home and rode the No. 56 bus from Kailua to downtown Honolulu, where it was only a 10-minute stroll to the office.
Information to help you get around O'ahu: TheBus: For schedules and other information, call 848-5555 or visit www.thebus.org. Vanpool Hawai'i: 596-8267 Trafficam: Check out traffic conditions at more than 20 major intersections around Honolulu. Road work:
Information to help you get around O'ahu:
TheBus: For schedules and other information, call 848-5555 or visit www.thebus.org.
Vanpool Hawai'i: 596-8267
Trafficam: Check out traffic conditions at more than 20 major intersections around Honolulu.
A panhandler who hit me up for 75 cents at the bus stop spent much of the ride counting out what seemed to be dozens of $1 and $5 bills.
Two guys who seemed to share an incarceration experience were catching up on old times. "So how's Halawa these days?" one asked. "Not bad. When did you get out?" the other said. Later, they agreed that parole officers are too overworked to do their jobs properly.
A number of people slept most of the trip but seemed to have a built-in alarm clock that woke them up as the bus crested the Pali, offering a spectacular view of the Windward coast that can't be seen from a closer-to-the-road automobile.
Speaking of a bus democracy, almost 300 people gave up part of their weekend to attend a public hearing Saturday on the future of the city's bus rapid transit system. The city is proposing to spend $1 billion in federal and local money during the next 10 years on buses that would speed around town on mostly exclusive lanes.
The debate at the hearing was reasonable and passionate. Opinions ran strong on both sides. Lots of people were concerned that the city had not considered all the traffic-relieving alternatives before deciding to launch a billion-dollar public initiative in a time of budget shortfalls. Others quibbled here and there with parts of the bus plan, but saw a bigger picture in which city officials are building on what's already considered one of the best bus systems in the country.
No one, however, suggested that the bus system isn't a vital component in keeping Honolulu running smoothly now and well into the future.
So maybe it was all the more surprising that so few elected public officials bothered to show up for the hearing. Only City Councilman Duke Bainum (a supporter), opponent Rep. Galen Fox, R-21st (Waikiki, Ala Wai), and a handful of neighborhood board officials attended.
Maybe all the other politicians had more important things to do on Saturday. Maybe they've heard all the complaints and suggestions already. Maybe they just don't see how important a role public transportation plays in the daily lives of people here. Or maybe they all just drive to work.
Maybe that's what's wrong with democracy today.
Mike Leidemann's Drive Time column appears every Tuesday. Reach him at 525-5460 or firstname.lastname@example.org.