Standing By Support For Rail

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - August 27, 2008
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I expressed support for rail in a recent column and got an e-mail from Ben Ramelb, a civil engineer who is an anti-rail activist. In the e-mail he chastised me for what he called unbalanced reporting of the issue and called on MidWeek editor Don Chapman to make sure I saw the error of my ways. Thumbs down for Jade!

In another column I extolled the virtues of TheBus as a reasonable alternative to our cars. Mr. Ramelb e-mailed me again, this time praising me for seeing buses as a superior transit option - which of course, he pointed out, eliminates the need for rail. Thumbs up for Jade!

I appreciate the feedback from Mr. Ramelb, and certainly respect his views, but I hope MidWeek readers understand that I have not changed my mind about rail. My opinion stands.

Rail will be expensive. That is indisputable. But in case you haven’t noticed, gasoline is expensive, too, and will be more so in the future. We’re feeling the staggering effects of rising fuel costs in almost every aspect of our lives. It doesn’t make sense to ignore the fact that as long as we depend so heavily on imported oil we will continue to price ourselves right out of paradise. Let’s face it: We live in a state that is just now beginning the struggle to wean itself off of imported fossil fuels. We can’t afford the ramifications of doing nothing.

Traffic. It’ll never go away. The crush of automobiles that creates logjams on our highways and steals huge chunks of our lives every day is only getting worse. A reliable rail system that eventually includes Ewa Beach, the airport and the University of Hawaii will provide a much-needed and welcomed alternative for those who want a cheaper, easier, more comfortable commute. While rail won’t eliminate all the cars on the road, it can certainly ease the pressure for those who choose it - and I believe more will choose rail in the face of rising prices and longer rush hour commutes.

Rail is better for the environment. Thousands of people riding trains instead of their individual cars translates to energy conservation and reduced emissions. According to the American Public Transportation Association, “Rail travel consumes about a fifth of the energy per passenger-mile as automobile travel.” A rail system powered by electricity will be able to tap into renewable sources - something the state has made a priority for the security of our energy future.

We need it all - the mass ridership potential of rail and the flexibility of TheBus. And we need to car pool and we need to rework our poorly designed roadways to eliminate the choke areas and bring them - quite literally - up to speed.

While we’re at it, what about perfecting and completing that Second City at Kapolei? And how about more park-and-ride and bike-and-ride opportunities? What about electric trams to shuttle people to shopping centers, major bus stops and train stops? Why not design pedestrian-friendly communities so we don’t have to drive to shopping centers? We could all be in better shape if we walked more.

All these options and more can and should be part of a comprehensive plan to manage traffic on Oahu. We don’t have to settle for less, but it will take vision and a “can do” attitude to achieve it all.

That’s my opinion. I’m well aware a lot of people don’t share it, but I also suspect many more do. If the question gets on the ballot, people will be able to make their preferences known. And then, so be it. It would be even more prohibitively expensive, and kind of stupid, to start the entire process from scratch - again. Whatever we end up with will be what we deserve.

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