Land Use Drives Honolulu Traffic Congestion

On paper, Honolulu should be the ideal candidate for public transit. As a coastal city, it ranks as one of the highest density cities in the U.S. Urbanization also follows a linear path from the southeast corner of O’ahu (Diamond Head) westward past Pearl Harbor to Kapolei. This is an ideal design for a transit supportive corridor. On paper.

What I found when I visited was a mid-size city with traffic congestion rivaling L.A. on its main highway corridors despite very high levels of bus ridership. These high levels of traffic congestion were the result of two factors: the decentralization and fragmentation of O’ahu’s population toward the west and north, and the unwillingness to invest in highway infrastructure to meet rising demand. Transit investment is going to little to relieve these traffic choke points because the current plans connect the wrong places to the wrong people.

The Grassroot Institute and the Hawai’i Reporter have now published my commentary on the Honolulu’s traffic congestion, showing how land use changes are inextricably linked to solving the urbanized area’s transportation problems. The most important solutions are relatively modest–adding an elevated reversible HOT Lane from just west of Pearl Harbor to the University of Hawai’i. A few queue jumpers on the arterials would also clear back ups onto the limited access highways. A more ambitious proposal would be a tunnel linking the newly emerging regions on the southwest side of the island to downtown Honolulu.

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Samuel R. Staley, Ph.D. is a senior research fellow at Reason Foundation and managing director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University in Tallahassee where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in urban planning, regulation, and urban economics. Prior to joining Florida State, Staley was director of urban growth and land-use policy for Reason Foundation where he helped establish its urban policy program in 1997.

Staley is the author of several books, most recently co-authoring Mobility First: A New Vision for Transportation in a Globally Competitive 21st Century (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008). Texas Gov. Rick Perry aid Staley and Moore "get it right" and world bank urban planner Alain Bartaud called it "a must read for urban managers of large cities in the United States and around the world."

He is also co-author, with Ted Balaker, of The Road More Traveled: Why The Congestion Crisis Matters More Than You Think, and What We Can Do About It (Rowman and Littlefield, September, 2006). Author Joel Kotkin said, "The Road More Traveled should be required reading not only for planners and their students, but anyone who loves cities and wants them to thrive as real places, not merely as museums, in the 21st Century." Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters said, "Balaker and Staley clearly debunk the myth that there is nothing we can do about congestion."

Staley's previous book, Smarter Growth: Market-based Strategies for Land-use Planning in the 21st Century (Greenwood Press, 2001), was called the "most thorough challenge yet to regional land-use plans" by Planning magazine.

In addition to these books, he is the author of Drug Policy and the Decline of American Cities (Transaction Publishers, 1992) and Planning Rules and Urban Economic Performance: The Case of Hong Kong (Chinese University Press, 1994).

His more than 100 professional articles, studies, and reports have appeared in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Investor's Business Daily, Journal of the American Planning Association, Planning magazine, Reason magazine, National Review and many others.

Staley's approach to urban development, transportation and public policy blends more than 20 years of experience as an economic development consultant, academic researcher, urban policy analyst, and community leader.

Staley is a former chair for his local planning board in his hometown of Bellbrook, Ohio. He is also a former member of its Board of Zoning Appeals and Property Review Commission, vice chair of his local park district's open space master plan committee, and chair of its Charter Review Commission.

Staley received his B.A. in Economics and Public Policy from Colby College, M.S. in Social and Applied Economics from Wright State University, and Ph.D. in Public Administration, with concentrations in urban planning and public finance from Ohio State University.