Friday, January 29, 2010

3 More At-Grade Rail Myths Debunked, Plus AIA Internal Poll Shows Low At-Grade Rail Support

This makes the third consecutive day we’ve focused on what we call the myths about at-grade transit that the AIA Honolulu chapter dispensed to an overflow crowd at the State Capitol last week.

The architects’ passion for their at-grade rail transit proposal is obvious, and so is their lack of expertise. We've been pointing that out this week; for the City rail project’s responses to myths 1-8, please see our 1/27 and 1/28 posts. Let’s move ahead to the final three myths identified during the Capitol “hearing.”

3 More Myths Meet the Truth

• Myth 9—At-grade rail is better for Transit-Oriented Development.
The Truth: Not so. The number of riders a station attracts is key to TOD. The higher ridership of an elevated system indicates greater opportunities for TOD. If at-grade transit is so beneficial to adjacent business districts, why is Hotel Street still the way it is, years after cars were banned in favor of bus-only usage of that street?

• Myth 10—It will take only six months for a supplemental rail transit Environmental Impact Statement that includes a route with at-grade rail sections.
The Truth: This is completely false and misleading in the extreme. The Federal Transit Administration has indicated any decision to change the alignment from elevated to even partially at-grade would require a totally new EIS. It’s taken the City five years to get to where it is now, and renewing the EIS would require much longer than six months and jeopardize federal funding.

• Myth 11—The Draft Environmental Impact Statement is deficient because it does not address the five transit technologies in the federal Notice of Intent.
The Truth: The technology selection process in the DEIS covers the same technology choices described in the Notice of Intent. The Notice states: “Comments on reducing the range of technologies under consideration are encouraged,” which clearly recognizes that fewer technologies may be under consideration at the time of the DEIS.

What Do Architects Really Want?

A few architects within the AIA Honolulu chapter have voiced these myths and have implied widespread agreement within the entire architect community. They don’t go out of their way to disabuse audiences of that impression, and it’s another regrettable example of AIA “airbrushing.”

We first called attention to the tactic two weeks ago with regard to AIA’s airbrushing out of crosswalks on Hotel Street in front of an artist’s rendition of an at-grade train – presumably to make the train seem less threatening.

This new “airbrushing” involves the spinning of the chapter’s internal survey of its members’ views on rail. You can visit the chapter’s website to see how little support at-grade rail actually had in that survey. Highlight the Advocacy menu on the chapter's home page, then click on View AIA Transit Page and scroll down to “AIA Members-Only Poll Helped Inform AIA Transit Position.”

The results are remarkable in light of the chapter’s impassioned advocacy of at-grade rail. Using the figures in the poll summary reveals only 5.3% of the chapter’s membership responded in favor of at-grade rail. Larger percentages favored elevated rail (6.3%) and below-grade rail (8.4%).

Another way to parse these numbers is that nearly three times as many respondents favored grade-separated rail (96) compared to at-grade (35).

So how can the AIA Rail Task Force members go before the community with a straight face and say at-grade rail is such a favorite among local architects?

Let’s call that one Myth #12.

12 Noon Update: A reader had a good suggestion -- to give the survey's percentages in favor of the various rail options. Here they are:
• At-grade -- 24.3%
• Below-grade -- 38.2%
• Elevated guideway -- 28.5%
• It does not matter -- 2.8%
• N/A -- 6.3%
The reader also pointed out some additional AIA "airbrushing." The chapter's explanation of the poll results combined the at-grade and below-grade numbers to conclude that 62.5% of the respondents favored a mode other than elevated rail. The chapter did not bother to explain that at-grade rail actually had fewer votes than elevated rail! Given the options, 75.7% of the respondents chose not to select at-grade rail--a remarkable outcome in light of the chapter's campaign in favor of that option.

1 comment:

sumwonyuno said...

Thanks for the clarifications, Doug!

I'm glad that you've gained a better understanding of the results. I wish the AIA would come to the same conclusion as us about their own survey.