Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 24, 2002

BRT deserves chance as best available traffic solution

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Transportation Writer

Let's give the BRT a chance.

A lot of people lately are picking and poking at the city's plan to build a bus rapid transit system, but at this point it's still the best, most feasible hope of getting O'ahu out of its traffic mess any time soon.

The plan calls for the city to spend nearly $1 billion of federal and local money in the next 10 years to finance a major improvement to an already good bus system.

The idea is this: With traffic getting worse all the time, why not create a bus system so good that people will want to let someone else do the driving?

Whether you believe that will happen or not, the fact is that no one has come up with a better alternative to Honolulu traffic congestion, which seems to get worse all the time — even Saturdays and non-rush hours.

A lot of other ideas have been considered and rejected.

  • A decade ago, the light-rail system proposed by Mayor Frank Fasi was shot down as too expensive; federal money for such systems now is more unlikely than ever.
  • The state and city plan to spend nearly $4 billion in the next 20 years to build new roads and improve old ones. Yet a master plan for easing traffic through 2025 acknowledges there is no way to "build" our way out of congestion, and makes completing the BRT a top priority.
  • Gov. Linda Lingle's idea to double-deck H-1 Freeway is just talk; it has almost no chance of happening, environmentally, financially and practically.

For better or worse, we're left with the BRT, which the city in its latest environmental report calls "the refined, locally preferred alternative." The plan calls for hundreds of nonpolluting electric-gas hybrid buses to use exclusive and semi-exclusive traffic lanes to whiz people around town in a matter of minutes, the envy of those sitting in their cars.


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:

Opposition centers around the cars, which probably will be moving slower than ever once the buses are given priority on some of Honolulu's prime roadway real estate.

Even though the city has spent more than $41 million preparing for the plan, and held hundreds of public meetings to discuss its pros and cons, there are plenty of detractors. And they've been given new hope by recent elections.

Gov. Lingle, whose cooperation could be crucial, has expressed reservations about the system. So have some members of the new City Council, who will have to continue appropriating money for the program in coming years.

But what are the alternatives? BRTs are the preferred mass transportation solution across the country. Dozens of metropolitan areas are planning new systems or expanding existing ones; Los Angeles, the car capital, is adding 24 new bus rapid-transit lines in the next two years, at the rate of two a month. The federal government is dishing out far more money for BRTs than any other mass transit program.

Abandoning the BRT at this point would be a mistake. Even those who have some problems with it suggest going ahead with the first phase — creating three lines serving Iwilei, downtown, Manoa, Kaka'ako and Waikiki — and seeing how it works.

"With substantial tinkering, an affordable first-stage BRT system can be tried," said Panos Prevedouros, an associate professor of transportation engineering at the University of Hawai'i.

"I favor allowing the first phase to be completed so we can fairly evaluate how it works," said Councilman Gary Okino.

City officials say the first phase could be running by 2005. Letting it get off the ground for a fair test is the best option at this point.

Starting the planning process all over again would set back public transportation on O'ahu at least 10 years. Considering how bad traffic is, that's just unacceptable.

Mike Leidemann's Drive Time column runs Tuesdays. Reach him at 525-5460 or mleidemann@honoluluadvertiser.com.