Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Closer Look at Cliff Slater’s ‘Whole Argument’

Civil Beat editor John Temple ends his online interview with Cliff Slater, leader of the anti-rail movement, by wondering whether “…in the end…we’ll thank him for standing firm or blame him for preventing a giant new addition that could transform the look and feel of a significant part of Honolulu.”

Those two options seem premised on rail not being built, but that's not the probable outcome of Mr. Slater’s decades-long opposition to rail. More likely, rail will receive a green light from the next governor, overcome all legal challenges and break ground as quickly as possible.

Yes2Rail believes the odds of that happening are improved by publicizing Mr. Slater’s views. That’s why we’re writing about him again today – following up on yesterday's theme that the foundation of Mr. Slater’s opposition to rail is shaky at best and intellectually suspect at its core.

We’ll quote from the first of the three videos posted with Mr. Temple’s interview. (The entire interview is available only to Civil Beat subscribers, but the first five paragraphs and a 101-second video are available to all.) Here’s how the video begins:

Slater: “In talking to groups about rail, I tell them that there’s really two things you need to know about it. Number one, it’s gonna cost five and one-half billion dollars before cost overruns, and the second thing is that traffic congestion with rail in the future will be worse than it is today. And then I ask them if they have any questions, and that kinda sums up the whole argument.”

And we’ll stop right there, since Mr. Slater asserts “that kinda sums up the whole argument.” Really? The whole argument? Let’s examine Mr. Slater’s “whole argument.”

Anticipating Oahu’s Future

Oahu’s population will increase by close to 200,000 in the next two decades according to the demographic studies in the project's Final Environmental Impact Statement. Experience over the past several decades here suggests that the number of automobiles on the island also will continue to increase with population growth.

Building more major highways to pave over our scarce land is likely to be opposed by the vast majority of Oahu residents, so congestion growth on existing highways is a given. That’s not to say highway improvements won’t be made during rail's construction and afterward. The Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization's Regional Transportation Plan 2030 anticipates billions of dollars in road improvements in the coming decades.

Mr. Slater apparently believes diverting all $5.5 billion intended for Honolulu rail will decrease congestion. That’s the only possible inference from his position. Yet in holding fast to that assertion, Mr. Slater stands apart from virtually all professional assessments of Oahu’s transportation future conducted by an army of transit and traffic experts.

A Weak ‘Whole Argument’

Yet that is what Mr. Slater apparently believes – that despite more than a 20-percent increase in Oahu’s population, his plan can reduce highway congestion and hours of delay by 2030. Objective assessments suggest he’s flat wrong, and we will continue to publicize his “whole argument” to expose its obvious weakness.

Honolulu is closing in on the end of a long process to build an alternative to congestion. It’s what cities have done the world over, and those who ride their grade-separated transit systems avoid traffic completely.

Certainly Oahu’s traffic issues will be addressed in the years ahead in ways independent of the rail project. Just today, the City is breaking ground on a new Joint Traffic Management Center.

Mr. Slater wants us to throw away all the work and analysis that has gone into planning Honolulu rail and instead base Oahu’s future on the private automobile. That clearly is not what's best for this and future generations.

By providing an option that would never exist in Mr. Slater's world, Honolulu rail will loosen traffic's grip on our population.

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