Column: King Street a better option than rail for city-center transit
Stopping rail at Middle Street would be a more-efficient, less-expensive solution to our traffic problems for many reasons.
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Stopping rail at Middle Street would be a more-efficient, less-expensive solution to our traffic problems for many reasons. There is plenty of space at Middle Street to create an efficient transfer station where riders can step off the train and quickly access their next vehicle, an express bus, or autonomous van or shared taxi, heading directly to various destinations. Transfers will be needed by most riders no matter where rail ends and would be most effective at Middle Street.
Compare that with the folly of dead-end rail termination at Ala Moana, which has no room for any such transfer facility and is already congested. What is the point of extending rail to the luxury tourist mall at morning rush hour when it is not even open, nor is it the actual destination of any leeward traveler?
Critics might argue there is no room on our city streets for more buses, but express vehicles from Middle Street can use our existing urban road system, with some improvements and lane additions. North King Street can provide one excellent solution. This underutilized road could be improved to provide space for two lanes of express bus routes connecting Middle Street with downtown and beyond. These lanes could be reversible, inbound in the morning and outbound in the afternoon, providing abundant space for expanded service.
Did you know that North King Street changes width 23 different times during its two-mile length? It widens from two lanes to four lanes to five lanes to six lanes and then narrows again, up and down. Most of King Street has six lanes but parking is allowed all day, effectively reducing this wide pavement to a four-lane road with two lanes in each direction.
This is a ridiculous underutilization of the “last mile” that can bring leeward commuters into the heart of downtown and beyond. Our noble King has been ignored, neglected, abused and underused — and now it’s time to correct this problem. Let’s make it six lanes all the way and prohibit parking during rush hour.
A modernized North King Street also would create an enhancement to the quality of life for the people of Kalihi that would increase their mobility, revive retail businesses, and stimulate pride in a renewed neighborhood, encouraging modern transit-oriented development.
North King bus lanes would have capacity of 10,000 people per hour while rail has a maximum of 6,000 passengers per hour. Also, the existing rail plan route is less functional, running along the makai fringe of downtown, through the Kakaako millionaire community, and then to the useless termination at the mall. The bus lines go right into the heart of downtown and continue beyond to University of Hawaii-Manoa and Waikiki.
Improvements to King, Dillingham and Nimitz can be part of a new approach to comprehensive traffic solutions for Honolulu with similar innovative measures on other streets. For example, South Beretania can easily be widened from three lanes to five between Isenberg and Punahou streets, providing space for express bus departing UH-Manoa for the afternoon trip home and for morning commuters on their way to work.
With this approach we don’t need to build an elevated train running through the middle of our city — we’ve got enough capacity on our existing streets if we manage them properly.
Dennis Callan is former co-chairman of Stop Rail Now. See more on North King Street’s potential at bit.ly/2FOJq27.