Recreating Paradise

With gasoline prices at a record high, transit systems in major cities from Los Angeles to New York are benefiting from an increase in ridership. According to the American Public Transportation Association, heavy-rail systems experienced a 4.4% ridership increase in the first quarter of the year. Meanwhile, smaller cities, such as Honolulu, Hawaii, are struggling to figure out how to utilize and develop their public transportation systems within existing infrastructure.

I grew up in Honolulu, a city of over 370,000 people, most of whom live in the surrounding suburbs and commute to work everyday. According to the Honolulu Advertiser, 67% of commuters in Hawaii drove alone in 2006. On a small island with a rapidly growing population and one freeway connecting most suburbs, you can imagine the hellish morning commute. I cringe at the thought of driving whenever I come home to "paradise," and often find myself missing the MTA.

To satiate a need for a more comprehensive mass transit system, the city of Honolulu plans to spend $3.7 billion on a 20-mile elevated commuter train. This comes on the heels of the controversial Superferry which now only runs between Oahu and Maui after cancelling its Kauai-Honolulu trips due to protests citing environmental risks. Change is hard for many to swallow--especially when it is done without public collaboration and consent. Anti-rail groups have also protested the proposed rail system, complaining about aesthetics, noise, increased taxes, displacement, among other things. The city is pressing on, however, and hopes to finish the project in phases between 2012 and 2018. Mayor Mufi Hannemann said he isn't afraid of putting the city's proposed rail system to a vote, as he is confident that the public will back the project. I sure hope so. The last thing this island needs is for traffic to increase by 64% by 2030, as is currently estimated.

Barack Obama, a local boy from Punahou School, famously created a slogan around the power of change. I hope the rest of the island (and world) recognizes how important it is not only to change, but to do so in a way that benefits both the population and environment.

Photo taken from the Honolulu Advertiser.