COVID-19 Proves Hawai’i Central Planners Got it All Wrong
by Mary Smart
COVID-19 has impacted all our lives, some more than others. Some have become sick, but others have seen their financial livelihood crushed by the stay-at-home lockdown orders from the Hawai’i Governor. Hawai’i small businesses have particularly suffered while big stores have remained open and government employees continued to be paid whether on the job or not. That does not bode well for equal treatment of our residents.
Education programs have been interrupted. Students who pre-paid their tuition and board costs were sent home with only a vague plan to partially reimburse them for their missed instruction and closed dormitories. While keeping us “safe” from the disease, domestic violence cases, suicides, as well as drug and alcohol abuse are increasing. All lives are precious. For some unproven reasons, public parks, beaches and recreational areas were closed in spite of the fact that heat/sunshine/Vitamin D are beneficial to our health against the ravages of COVID-19. Many people who generally adhere to stay at home orders are still contracting the disease.
The statistics of the heaviest outbreaks of COVID-19 occurred in high density urban populations with heavily used of high-rise living and mass transit systems. The shared facilities such as elevators, exercise and entertainment centers are environments that facilitate the spread of disease. Many multi-use facilities in the apartment buildings have been closed, however, the shared plumbing systems, air recirculation systems, trash disposal, and elevators must be in constant use and there is little opportunity for a complete cleaning after each use. What we have learned is that many of our city plans need to be revised to include more suburban single family residences with space for private yards and private cars.
Families with children and pets who live in high-rises are particularly inconvenienced with the stay at home orders because they don’t have safe recreational spaces, especially with public parks being closed. Condominium living often doesn’t allow space or the possibility for expansion to accommodate telecommuting home offices and homeschooling. Yet, the City and County of Honolulu presses on with the concept of high-rise living as part of the transit oriented development concept (TOD).
Mass transit is another concept that has taken a hit in light of COVID-19. Ridership is down sharply in Hawaii and nationwide due in part to fear of the virus and in part due to the mass job losses caused by the government shutdown orders.
Mass transit relies on heavy usage to recoup a portion of the cost of running a public transportation system. The Rail program planned for Honolulu wasn’t going to be cost effective as it was planned, the minimal usage that will be allowed under social distancing requirements will make the entire system impractical and a waste of taxpayer funds.
Individual, privately owned vehicles are the solution to mobility in a pandemic situation. The cost of the travel is paid via fuel taxes by the person traveling. The owner has control of when and how often the vehicle is cleaned and disinfected. A shared vehicle, whether autonomous or with a driver, can spread disease to an untold number of users. If there is no operator, then there is no one to clean the shared auto or bicycle after each use.
As we learn more and more about the spread of infectious diseases, our Hawai’i central planners should reevaluate their push to implement more and more projects, such as TOD, mass transit, and shared vehicles, which contribute to the spread of disease.