By Jay Fidell
Here in Sim City, engineering is not one of our strong suits. I had the extraordinary experience of riding the “rail” bus with Cliff Slater and Mayoral Candidate and Engineer Panos Prevedouros on Saturday. I was so moved by the experience that I am driven to write about it.
First, going West from Ala Moana to Mapunapuna, Panos talked about the critical need to synchronize the traffic signals. This is not high-tech. He also showed us the path and capacity of the HOT lane he is proposing, which at some points in the downtown area is below the street, and that’s an interesting engineering and traffic management challenge. He is confident it can be done and that it will work.
But nothing compared to the engineering challenges we saw going East on the way back, where starting on Dillingham he gave us an engineering tour of the proposed rail line as it comes back into and through downtown and to Ala Moana Center and then terminates at the University.
We just followed the City’s map to see where the proposed line is supposed to be going, how high and wide it would be and where the stations were. It was a real eye-opener, a revelation for everyone on the tour. We had no idea of what is going to happen to our City.
Actually, you wouldn’t believe it. The rail is going to tear up and permanently reduce a number of streets and intersections. Where there are 4 lanes there will be two because of all the supporting structures and pilons they’ll have to build. You won’t be able to drive down those streets anymore – too narrow. Many of them will lose their sidewalks too.
Dillingham will be different and dark. Those stations are 200 feet long and 60 fee wide and over everything. The engineering will change those neighborhoods forever. The merchants at the stations will do fine, but those in the middle will be in no-man’s land. Lots of land will have to be condemned where the streets are less than 60 feet wide.
The rail, if you didn’t know it, doesn’t follow a straight path, it twists and turns in every direction. Since it is a railroad, these turns can’t be at 90 degrees, The train has to make large sweeping turns. The sharper the turn, the louder the squeal of the steel wheels. In any event, large areas will have to be condemned and demolished to accommodate the turns. It will cost a fortune – is this and the related litigation included in the price tag?
The line comes East on Nimitz, Halekawila, Queen and Waimanu Streets - these will have the rail overhead and will be forever lost in the shadows. I can only think of the elevated line in upper Manhattan, something that lower Manhattan would never tolerate these days. Depressing for retail, a magnet for crime. Are we going to love it?
The engineering really gets dicey around Ala Moana – the top of the station at Ala Moana climbs to 135 feet, a 13-storey building. The pilons will be frequent and formidable, and they will have to punch through all that concrete on the mauka side of Ala Moana Center on Kona Street. It will cost a fortune. Will General Growth agree or just say no?
To get to the Ala Moana station at 135 feet in the air, the train will have to climb at a 5 percent grade along Kona Street. That’s a very steep grade for a rail line – and as high as a roller coaster. Watch for vertigo. This will involve huge engineering issues. I suppose we’ll solve these problems as we go, and those lessons will be costly. I imagine we’ll have to import and pay for lots of engineering talent from the mainland.
Thence in a sharp left turn from Kona across Atkinson and then again right to pass over the all-ways intersection at the Convention Center, then down the middle of Kapiolani to University, then a left turn up University, past Date and ultimately across King to the University. All of this way above grade, dwarfing everything around it. The City will look like Frankenstein.
I haven’t gotten into exactly where the stations are, since looking at those locations as shown on the City map it was hard to imagine that the City would actually put them in the places shown. Sometimes they were way too far apart and sometimes much too bunched up. There were three within 1/2 mile, for example, near the University.
There’s more. I could go on, but never do the tour justice. Why don’t you contact honolulutraffic.com and see if you can get on the tour yourself and see what I mean. Whatever your disposition, it'll change the way you think.