Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Future of Transportation: Getting There

Undoubtedly there are successful rail systems in the world -- but nobody has ever built a successful suburban “commuter” rail system which is what this is -- the difference being that urban rail systems are overwhelmingly successful where population densities are 20,000-50,000 per square mile, achieved only in major metropolitan areas of over 10 million people.

So while New York, Tokyo, London, Paris, Bangkok, Mexico City do indeed have overwhelmingly successful rail systems, even there they have never designed nor run a commuter rail service as Honolulu is proposing to shuttle people from Kapolei to downtown Honolulu -- through areas where the population density is quite low.

Rail makes overwhelming sense when it is running through the most densely populated areas of a community -- rather than as a suburban commute -- which even in places like New Jersey, is done by bus rather than rail. Meanwhile, underground rail through Manhattan is the only thing that makes overwhelming sense. But Honolulu is obviously not those conditions.

What really ticked me off during the hearings for the rail, was that tremendous deceptions and fabrications were unloosed in the City Chambers -- such as that Honolulu was the fifth most densely populated city in the nation --even if it was true that they were planning to build it for the most densely populated areas rather than to serve a suburban commute of lower densities of largely single family dwellings.

It seems like the media (newspapers) were leading the way in these deceptions -- just as 25 years ago, Kapolei was supposed to be the answer to the traffic congestion problems, by being the Second City. So, many of us who are slightly more skeptical of hearing these promises of panaceas and world-class achievement, are more likely to look upon the proposed great rail system as the Hawaii Convention Center on wheels, rather than a real solution to anything.

If the facts were compelling, I’d be solidly in your camp, but I see no will to solve anything -- least of all the traffic situation with the promotion of current mass transit, car pooling, intelligent bike laws and enforcement, pedestrian amenities. The previous Administration took the advance money for a “bus rapid transit system” and once that money was gone, there is no evidence that that was once proposed as a solution other than the federal funding to manufacture jobs that the following Administration would largely undo.

I’m inclined to believe the era of mass systems is over -- just as with the personal computers -- and the future is with personal transport systems, the smaller the better, that really provide an unprecedented freedom of mobility, to go where people actually want to go, and not just to where the mass transit takes them.

That would seem to be the appropriate step beyond mass transportation systems -- individualized and personalized transporters. Honolulu seems to be on that scale of feasibility -- and by developing that next generation of transportation possibilities, legitimately makes us world class and the leader in innovation. Otherwise, we’re just hoping that by following what has been successful elsewhere, we can be successful too -- without regard for optimizing for our unique conditions.

10 Comments:

At June 26, 2007 9:29 AM, Blogger Mike Hu said...

The best predictor of future success is present success.

Things that haven't worked, aren't working, and have no basis in reality for working in the future, don't all of a sudden start working just because we extend the time frame to infinity -- so that anything becomes possible.

It's a lot like that question they ask about where somebody sees themselves 10-20 years from now. Those who can tell you exactly where they want to be, aren't going very far, while those totally focused on the present challenge in front of them, end up where they could never have imagined being 10-20 years ago.

Planning for success sometime in the future, is an admission that they have no idea of what is required for success in the present reality -- and that creates the future.

 
At June 29, 2007 5:58 AM, Blogger Mike Hu said...

Following are comments I made on the Advertiser discussion on transportation:

I think the most annoying thing about the City administration's disinformation and deception campaign is to promote the notion that we don't have a mass transit system unless/until we have their heavy rail system (which they've priced as a light rail system) and have lowballed when comparable systems elsewhere are being abandoned because they pencil out to 10 times what they are quoting us -- while grossly inflating the estimates for viable alternatives (toll roads), which the newspapers propagate obligingly.

There's no lack of transportation in Honolulu; in fact, that is the problem -- the overabundance of it. The solution is not more capacity but using what we already have efficiently and intelligently -- which means car-pooling and all those behaviors our leaders think is impossible to modify. If that is the case, why bother with the shiny new rail cars -- when the fastest, loneliest ride are the buses coming from Kapolei to downtown Honolulu already.

 
At June 29, 2007 5:58 AM, Blogger Mike Hu said...

The rail system IS the "do nothing" plan. Listen very carefully -- it doesn't solve the traffic congestion problem, which is first of all, getting people from the wrong end of the island to the other.

One of the great underlying problems is having people go to places only because they "live" there. That idea of community planning has ben supplanted by the better idea that people should do everything in their own integrated neighborhoods as much as possible.

Never, in all their discussions, do they come up with definitive plans for car-pooling, increasing bike usage, pedestrian amenities (shade, water, bathrooms), promoting the present mass transit system (which is already one of the better ones in the country -- and not used enough) instead of denying we have one.

The whole "trick" with the mass transit plan is to suggest everything is possible -- including that they're going to have wheelchair access, allow bikes on the subways, surfboards, luggage, etc. These are not incidental discussions but very real considerations.

Some people are even talking about building luXury dorms for students out in Kapolei once the rail is built -- rather than pioneering minimalist housing solutions for the homeless in the future in an urban environment.

So we just move further into one total fantasy into another until these discussions become totally meaningless. But then that is the whole point, isn't it? -- that nothing has any connection to reality, and thus, everything is possible.

 
At June 29, 2007 5:59 AM, Blogger Mike Hu said...

When somebody does something in the immediate, verifiable present, that creates the future -- and not by doing the opposite of what makes sense in the present and rationalizing that stupidity as a sacrifice for the future (keikis).

If you do things right in the present, the chances are great that you'll continue to do things right all one's life (the future). But if one doesn't do these things right at any time in the present, the chances are very poor that one will ever do them in the future also.

One becomes well-known for good ideas by presenting them -- not by harassing and attacking everybody else with ideas -- with as many aliases as they can think to create.

Otherwise, you'll always be a confused person wondering why you don't get the respect you "deserve." You have to do something in the present moment that earns that respect -- and not just launching unrelenting attacks on those you think do.

That's how the future happens -- because one makes it happen, starting with the present moment. Otherwise, there's no connection to any reality, and you just more frustrated, embittered, envious and resentful.

 
At June 29, 2007 6:00 AM, Blogger Mike Hu said...

I have indeed lived in most of the major metropolitan areas and regions of the United States -- and one of my most striking impressions is of the difference in the transportation systems/orientations divided by roughly the Mississippi.

East of the Mississippi, including Boston, New York City and Washington D.C., there is low car ownership and the cost of driving is prohibitively high. They have a toll on most of the major roads and so the cost for car usage is way more to drive anywhere -- including exorbitant parking fees, than to use public transportation.

Most of the people of Boston, New York and Washington D.C. don't own cars, so public transportation is their primary (sole) transportation -- and not just an option.

Out West, that equation is reversed and mass transit systems don't work as well -- with the possible exception of San Francisco and Seattle. But even then, a lot of people walk, and San Francisco is unique in that more than half the people living in the City, don't own cars.

Two places out west that completed light rail after I moved out of them, Portland and Sacramento, have their new rail system featured prominently in the NBA playoffs, or regular season games -- at which times, not surprisingly, the cars are virtually completely empty.

Western cities are not as centralized and densely packed -- with the notable exception of San Francisco, which is technically 49 square miles (Oahu is 600 square miles)-- and like Manhattan, one has to pay to drive into the city.

The conditions are very different and so to think that Boston, New York, Washington are the most meaningful comparisons is deceptive because the demographics are more like less densely populated western cities. In fact, that's what attracts people from all over the world here -- that it is much less densely populated from the places they are trying to get away from.

It is decidedly not New York, Tokyo, London, Paris, Mexico City -- and thankfully will never be, population-wise.

One of the key concepts in state-of-the-art technology is the concept of "appropriate technology," which is different from the one-size-fits-all mass model for human consumption -- that basically came into being with the personal computers reversing the trends of the 20th century to greater centralization, anonymity and powerlessness.

The individualization, personalization, and customization os the personal technologies, leads me to believe that the future lies in this direction of personal transportation devices that provide point-to-point delivery anywhere, anytime. It would also be the solution for the increasing many who will have difficulty just getting to the transit stops and stations because of previously limited mobility.

We've never thought in that "comprehensive" manner before -- that is now possible because we do think about it without all those previous limitations and constraints on that activity. Creating that technology for here as well as the rest of the world is where Hawaii can be the world leader. I would think that is its natural niche and calling -- to redefine life as it's never been possible before -- drawn from all the traditions and gene pool of the world to synthesize the next step, and not just to repeat life as it always has been before as though that was the only thing possible.

That's what real leadership is about -- and not just imitating people somewhere else while not knowing what is significant to value.

 
At June 29, 2007 6:01 AM, Blogger Mike Hu said...

I’m glad to hear you are enjoying going to school in the DC area.

What we are discussing back in Hawaii hopefully, are solutions that CAN make a difference -- and not simply to have more multiple choice “answers” (options) that don’t solve the problems -- as you describe in DC despite having a wonderful rail system that is “underutilized” and the familiar traffic gridlock for 3 hours each day.

There is a tendency for academics to accept the status quo problems as the “solution,” and then perpetuate those problems so they can continue to be the “experts” on those problems.

You reaffirm these problems without any discussion of those things that would make a difference -- like the simple fact that just car-pooling would immediately reduce traffic in half! The transportation problem is really an information and communication problem because obviously, there is a lot of transportation “out there,” and in fact, too much transportation so that people can’t get anywhere.

And that is because in the schools, they are taught to compete with one another rather than to work together to achieve a mutually desirable objective. Everyone thinks the “other guy” needs to have other options and make different choices -- rather than that each person can and must do their part for anything to work.

That is the same with the use of sidewalks and every other common facilities; the answer is not passing laws over who has exclusive rights to resources but sharing them as is appropriate -- and in this manner, community is created rather than fragmented and destroyed.

During the ‘60s and ‘70s, what was a fairly effective strategy was carpooling but with increasing affluence, the concept of sharing limited resources fell by the wayside and everybody felt they were deserving of their exclusive vehicle, which were eventually “supersized” to the height of overconsumption -- mainly as a status thing. Bigger and more was just automatically “better” -- but inevitably unsustainable.

So now we need to look in another direction -- rather than continue with “more of the same" as the answer.

 
At June 29, 2007 7:04 AM, Blogger Mike Hu said...

They could also telecommute.

Traditional thinking is that schools are about campuses, buildings, plant, pomp and circumstance -- when really, those functions could take place in a tent.

You know who the masters of this line of thinking is? -- the military, and the last time I checked, we had a lot of that expertise around -- marginalized on military bases.

Those guys could build a city overnight -- and just as easily move it. But you see, we don't want the cheapest solution; our fragile self-esteems require that we have the most costly solutions -- and everything else is a "slap in the face" to our fragile dignity and self-respect.

What does the military do but solve the homeless situation -- immediately -- anywhere, anytime? Why they should be untouchable and unthinkable problems to our legislators is indicative that there is no will to do so -- and we just get used to it as the status quo.

 
At June 30, 2007 12:53 PM, Blogger Mike Hu said...

The operative word is "doing" something -- instead of just thinking that if one spends a lot of money (or gives one a lot of money), one doesn't have to do anything, and the problems just go away.

I think Council (Chair) Barbara Marshall put it best way she asked during the rail hearings that if the rail was not going to be ready for another 20 years, did that mean the administration was going to do nothing else about the traffic problem until then, and the engineer looked dumbfounded and amazed that anything else could be done.

That's the whole problem here -- people are going to have to change their behaviors and do something besides get in their cars and drive off thoughtlessly as the single occupant to go wherever they want to.

 
At June 30, 2007 12:54 PM, Blogger Mike Hu said...

The beauty of telecommuting is that one can bring Harvard to Kapolei -- and not just Manoa. With all this talk about-world class, those would be the parameters we are talking about -- and not just spending billions so we can get to Ala Moana Food Court a few minutes faster.

The last time carpooling was very popular was in the'60s -- before there was a sharp spike up in inflation and standard of living, at which point people became less resourceful. The limitation then was that it was done through actual bulletin boards and so people didn't have virtual communication capabilities as they do now.

And that is what I think government should be mostly about these days -- not as a primary provider of goods and services but as the virtual bulletin board of everything out there -- which nobody else can serve as effectively because of their own special interest. Even the newspapers are that way too -- proclaiming their own writers as the great reporters of the community, when obviously, most haven't left the '60s in their own evolution of consciousness and knowledge.

More and more, the old limitations become that of information and communications because the capacity is abundant -- whether cars, vans, buses, mopeds, rail, ferries, jets, etc. The problem is in knowing where it is -- momentarily, as needed.

If you miss your ride, there's somebody else going downtown momentarily -- but you just have to know who that is. Fellow-citizens are the best source of information for many things -- as well as the bureaucrats and technocrats, which is how the world has changed and improved, and not just stayed the same. The greatest change is in consciousness, awareness, virtual intelligence -- instead of the old worldview of each person in isolation and alienation, competing against everybody else to get to the top -- or to get anywhere at all.

When one changes that paradigm in the schools and everywhere else in daily living -- the age-old problems disappear because they are no longer reinforced as the inevitable way it has to be. Life can be the fullest possibilities -- without those traditional limits, which are often the insurmountable problems that are perpetuated rather than eliminated by cultural traditions.

The whole purpose and value of culture is as a shared strategy for improving fitness for all -- and not just maintaining the status quo and existent pecking orders of exploitation, bullying and intimidation.

 
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