Sunday, March 6, 2011

Rapid Transit Closer to Realization as Honolulu’s Rail Project Breaks Ground

by Yonah Freemark

A week after the Federal Transit Administration recommended it for New Starts funding, Honolulu’s rapid transit project took a step forward today with a ceremonial groundbreaking. The massive scheme, which will extend 20 miles from downtown to East Kapolei once construction is finished in 2019, will radically redefine transport on Oahu, offering residents a true alternative to traffic-plagued surface streets and highways.
Honolulu and the surrounding municipalities — incorporated into Honolulu County — are hemmed in by a geography whose natural barriers make the tropical metropolis practically ideal for fixed-guideway transit like the system that is now being designed. With mountains to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south, there is little room for the city to expand, so the only place it can go is up. The “Manhattanization” of downtown and nearby Waikiki over the past few decades is representative of this trend. And transit is a popular way to get around — The Bus, the local transit agency, carries 236,000 daily riders, and the city has a transit work commute share of more than 10%, which is the highest of any major city without rail in the United States and about the same as the City of Portland.
Honolulu is not enormous: The city (officially, the Census-designated place) has about 375,000 residents while the island as a whole has 900,000. 

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