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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, December 21, 2006

Our future rides on big-picture thinking

 •  Much more must be done before transit vote

By Kyle J. K. Chock

When City Council members meet tomorrow for final reading of Bill 79, they will be doing more than selecting a mass-transit option and route. They will be setting a course for Honolulu's social and economic future that will last well into the 21st century.

The right transit option could dramatically reshape for the better the way we live and work on this island as no other public-works project has done. The option that presents the greatest opportunity for meaningful change is the 28-mile fixed-guideway system from Kalaeloa to the University of Hawai'i-Manoa. It offers the most promise for economic growth, educational enrichment, community revitalization, affordable housing and employment.

One of the key benefits of a fixed guideway that has been overlooked in the ongoing debate about transit alternatives is transit-oriented development. Transit-oriented development supports, enhances, and has been used in other cities to finance a system. But, more importantly, it helps drive down the cost of living for residents.

This type of development can take many forms and includes more than just transit stations. In Portland, Ore., for example, entire communities complete with market rentals, moderately priced condos, luxury penthouses, shopping and restaurants, community squares and parks have been built within a one-mile radius of the city's transit line. Other U.S. and Canadian metropolises with well-designed rapid-transit systems have seen the growth and success of similar communities.

The transit-oriented development opportunities on O'ahu are tremendous. The 100-acre site that is home to Aloha Stadium could become a major transit hub surrounded by affordable-housing units and commercial mixed-use development. Someday, O'ahu Community Correctional Center, in the heart of my old stomping ground of Kalihi, could be transformed into Honolulu's version of Grand Central Station, bringing jobs, housing, business and hope to this rough-and-tumble neighborhood.

Both transit-oriented development sites have the potential to increase transit ridership, lower transportation and housing costs, and enhance the overall quality of life for local residents. We know all too well that the price of paradise has increased drastically in the past decade, with housing and gas prices leading the way. HOT lanes and other auto-centric alternatives would do little to expand the affordable housing market. And while a fixed guideway would slightly alter the landscape of Hono-lulu, more cars on the highway would do far more damage to the island by exacerbating the fuel crisis and generating added pollution.

One of the most attractive features of the 28-mile fixed-guideway system is the linkage of the University of Hawai'i-Manoa to UH-West O'ahu. With this connection, the transit corridor could become an educational superhighway that offers a quick and direct way for students to get from one campus to the other. It also would encourage the sharing of knowledge and expertise between the institutions. Community support of and participation in UH activities and sporting events would become easier as well. The integration of town and gown the cornerstone of all world-class universities could become a reality with a fixed-guideway system.

Another reality is the boost that a fixed guideway would give to some of O'ahu's burgeoning industries. For example, Kamehameha Schools has invested a considerable amount of money to develop a life-sciences industry. Once this industry gains momentum, there will be a dire need for well-educated and trained professionals. The affordable housing and vibrant communities made possible by transit-oriented development would keep recent graduates in Hawai'i and entice former residents to return home. This mass of intellectual capital would stimulate industry growth and thereby help diversify our economy.

Locating high-quality jobs near affordable and attractive residences would create a spillover effect that sparks innovation and entrepreneurship. Cities that have embraced a fixed-guideway system have seen more start-ups, increases in personal income, expansion of the local tax base through real property and general excise tax, and the birth of livable and walkable communities better suited to modern lifestyles.

The construction industry would gain a lot from a fixed-guideway system. But O'ahu residents would stand to gain much more. Transit-oriented development would provide us with the means to better manage growth. By focusing on a one-mile radius around the transit corridor, the bulk of new development would be concentrated in Honolulu's urban core. Not only would this create long-term sustainability for underused industrial areas, but it would allow for the preservation of rural lifestyles in other communities that oppose urban sprawl.

We have an opportunity to build a new economic and social "backbone" for O'ahu. Let's not waste time debating ridership or transit alternatives. There are larger issues, such as the impact of a fixed guideway on population densities, identifying areas along the transit route that would present the best economic development opportunities and the expandability of a particular route. Big-picture thinking is what we need now. The future of Honolulu is riding on it.

Kyle J. K. Chock is executive director of the Pacific Resource Partnership, a labor-management relations consortium representing the Hawai'i Carpenters Union and signatory unionized contractors throughout Hawai'i.

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