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Hawai’i’s Shared Futures By Vision Foresight Strategy

Rail Rantings

When we catch the headlines about the rail debate (when we can see past the happily panicked headlines about the economy that the media generates), we get the sense that, like in most emotionally charged issues, a bigger picture or context is being lost.  Some people want it to ease traffic, some want it because it will reduce dependence on oil, and others oppose it because it will cost them money for little personal benefit, or they worry about the disruptive impacts, or maybe they don’t like the mayor.

But we have a very challenging situation (and not just us in Hawai’i [we just feel more threatened], most of modern society) that we need to begin to seriously address: the built environment that we grew up with was designed without any sense of the long-term consequences, some of which we are now experiencing: pollution, traffic, energy dependence, sprawl, loss of ‘community’ and social capital, etc…

  • We created the car (the horseless carriage) and figured out how to make bazillions of them
  • The internal combustion engine won out as the basic technology, with cheap oil for fuel
  • We started building cities and towns around the car and its roads, rather than around people
  • We figured out how to create financial mechanisms so that everyone could ‘afford’ multiple cars
  • And cars came to symbolism freedom and independence and have come to be seen as a right of passage into adulthood

So, most of the world we know, and parts of our identity and sense of empowerment come from this history.  If you tried suggesting that people need to give up their cars, you’d be ignored almost out of hand.  Not just because it represents personal freedom but also because they would have an extremely difficult time getting to all of the things they need to get to in one day.  Yet it seems very clear that if we are to achieve the kind of sustainable world and enjoyable lifestyles that we all say that we want, then we do need to seriously and critically examine alternatives and opportunities for transportation systems and communities in Hawai’i.  Rail is certainly one possibility, but even if it’s not the one we ultimately go with, we have to continue to make very serious (and not necessarily costly) changes to our transportation behavior and options.  The context is much bigger than the mayoral debates might focus on, and the stakes ultimately are much higher for the next 20 years of Hawai’i’s future.

Not incidentally, we will be exploring options and alternatives for our transportation and mobility at our annual Hawai’i Futures Summit this October 3 and 4.  Check it out and join us.

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Filed under: Built Environment, Hawai'i, Sustainability, Transportation

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