Editor’s Page:

92 Percent Neglected

Increasingly, car owners are on the wrong side of the tracks.

Photo by Linny Morris

This is how it starts. First, the city proposes a train. Then, the city worries that not enough people will ride the train to justify its $4.6 billion price. So the city starts looking for ways to take away your car, so you’ll have no choice but to ride the train.

Well, OK, not your car (not yet, anyway) but in February, the City Council considered a bill to make sure that fewer people will have places to park when they come home from work.

Of course, in the Orwellian nature of GovSpeak, this was described as “reducing off-street parking requirements.” See, when developers build an apartment that is 800 square feet or more, they are required to provide two parking spaces because apartments of that size are typically inhabited (and afforded) by two working adults. The city council wants to reduce that to a single parking space in any new “transit-oriented developments” built around the train stations on the rail line.

Explaining the bill in The Honolulu Advertiser, councilman Gary Okino stated that reduced parking requirements “maybe are meant to be an incentive [to encourage mass transit ridership], maybe they’re meant to make things a little more affordable around transit stations by not requiring additional cost items like parking.” None of this will be a problem, he assures us, because, “In other cities where they have [transit-oriented development] … parking is less anyway because people just tend to not own cars.”

This last assertion is nonsense and easily disproved. In developments such as Steele Park, Ore., planners similarly reduced the parking requirement to one space per unit. That, along with tax subsidies to lure people to live next to noisy train stations, made those dwellings more affordable. So who moved in? Young families with less money to spend on housing—that owned two or more cars anyway. Those “extra” cars now clutter the streets of Oregon’s transit-oriented developments, the same way ohana multi-family zoning here turned narrow suburban streets into parking lots.

By the way, Portland never seems short of cash when it’s time to lay down some track, but has a road maintenance backlog of $442 million. Honolulu, this is your future.

I have to admit, city government’s power to force this train on us is enviable. Imagine if HONOLULU were published by the city. It would be so easy to dominate the media landscape. First, we’d “reduce the newsstand requirement” for stores that carry magazines. Instead of wasting valuable floor space on big racks filled with other titles, stores would only have to provide one rack for one magazine—this one. Then we’d “reduce the postal requirement” that has mail carriers lugging countless magazines to your mailboxes. Our competitors would quickly fold, or stop distributing in the Islands.

Those other publishers might complain that we had an unfair market advantage, since we’d effectively banned them, but who are they to stand in the way of progress? Citizens might complain that they miss reading Surfer or The Economist, because HONOLULU doesn’t really take them where those other magazines used to take them. However, they are overlooking the communitarian wholesomeness that will follow from all of us, every day, sharing the same stories about this great city.

For this metaphor to really match the transit/transportation reality, though, we have to assume that every one of you publishes your own magazine, read only by you. To induce you to read only HONOLULU, we’d have to make it as difficult as possible for you to publish and read your own magazine.

That’s essentially what the city is up to. Your car is a competitor to its train. Interestingly, the city also knows you aren’t about to give it up. By the city’s estimate, barely 8 percent of all trips made in the city in 2030 will be by rail. This projection assumed a fully built transit system, but “minimal improvements to the H-1 freeway.”  Why “minimal?” Why “reduced parking requirements?” In 2008, the people we elected to represent our interests seem bent on making sure that the other 92 percent of our trips—to work, to buy groceries, to drop off the kids at school—will be as miserable as they can possibly make them.

Conveniently, none of them will be in office in 2030 to hear us complain.