Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Honolulu Weekly Gets a Scoop on Draft FEIS, Says Content Is Consistent with City’s Statements

Taking a cue from movie ads and their selective quotes from film reviews, here's our summary of Honolulu Weekly's story today on its reading of the draft Final Environmental Impact Statement on Honolulu Rail:

“Amid political name-calling, sensational headlines and evasive officials offering little beyond canned quotations..., the (FEIS) document (is) consistent with what City officials have said.”

That pretty much clears it up, wouldn’t you say?

Of course, we did leave out about 200 words from the lead-in to the Weekly’s article on the FEIS, which the newspaper obtained (ahead of the Honolulu dailies) through a Freedom of Information Act request to the Federal government.

Going right to the essence: According to the Weekly, City officials have been saying exactly what’s so about the rail line’s routing near Honolulu International Airport. (See last week’s “view with alarm” Honolulu Advertiser coverage of this issue, which is linked from our Yes2Rail posts below.)

There’s lots more, of course. The paper highlights the major issues and compares the 2008 Draft EIS with the Final, which as summarized by HW comes across in a matter-of-fact way without a hint of obfuscation.

Now we wait to see how the dailies react to being scooped by Honolulu Weekly again.

No Apparent Urgency To Duck 'n Cover or Head for Hills: Revenue Picture Brightens for Oahu Hotels

Didn’t rail’s opponents say the economic slump would last forever and doom the project? “Look around! We can’t afford it!” they’ve been shouting for months.

What happened? What happened is what always happens. The economy is turning around in a cycle that’s as sure to happen as the tides. That’s the way it’s always been and always will be.

The latest news: Oahu hotels will see a healthy 7.2-percent increase in revenue per available room this year, according to a new forecast by PFK Hospitality Research.

The hyper-active opponents will be creative in spinning this, of course, and we’ll all do well to ignore them.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Airport Space Plan Was Years Out of Date

Today’s Sean Hao special has over 750 words in it, but you have to read about 650 of them before you come to this:

"According to the state DOT, the city based its initial analysis of the impacts of rail on an outdated airport layout plan. That plan was drafted in the mid-1990s and had not been updated to reflect a 1994 change in runway protection zones."
That seems to be more than a little interesting. Several questions:

• Exactly how long had the plan been out of date?
• Who is responsible for updating the plan?
• What is the requirement to update the plan?
• Did the outdated plan leave safety issues unaddressed?
• When was the plan eventually rewritten?
• What does the FAA say about the failure to update the plan?
• Is the failure to update the plan responsible for the current confusion about rail's alignment near the airport?

Based on the buried lead of this story, maybe this is a better headline: Airport space plan was years out of date

The State Department of Transportation presumably is responsible for the plan's upkeep, but we don't know for sure, because the Advertiser's reporter apparently didn't ask these questions and seems not to care.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Advertiser Strains to Headline Unremarkable Fact In Another Story that Models Seinfeld’s Puffy Shirt

State: City must pay to move runways” is the headline on the Advertiser’s rail story today. It looks like a front-runner for the Unremarkable News of the Year award.

Isn’t it obvious the City will pay for rail-related costs? It’s a City project!

The story’s play is another example of a pattern that’s pretty clear. Advertiser news editors and reporters are going out of their way to cover rail with a “view with alarm” style of journalism that we've noted here repeatedly (keep reading below this post).

Unremarkable facts are played on page one in overly long stories that often quote only rail critics, as this one does. How hard could it be to find a pro-rail source within the City Council or administration to add balance?

And what are we to make of the Star-Bulletin? The paper’s rail coverage rarely approaches the Advertiser’s tone. Is that evidence of lazy journalism, or is it be a sign of professionalism?

Which brings us to Seinfeld’s puffy shirt. This isn’t the first time we've thought the Advertiser’s rail stories often seem overblown, as famously described by Elaine in a Seinfeld episode: “You’re all puffed up!”

Gather a few unremarkable facts, string them together and slap the story on page one, and that’s what you get.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Shapiro Column Tightens Paper’s ‘Closed Loop’

First came Saturday’s incomplete view-with-alarm story on the rail route’s temporary issue near Honolulu International Airport. City Transportation Services Director Wayne Yoshioka’s letter to the editor in today’s Advertiser calls that story “inaccurate.”

Next came yesterday’s editorial, which was based on Saturday’s story and therefore mirrored its view-with-alarm assessment. We described this process as a “closed information loop” – an editorial based entirely on the paper’s inaccurate news story.

Dave Shapiro’s Volcanic Ash column today tightens that loop and slams the City while giving the Governor a free pass – even though his last paragraph seems to refute what he wrote in the preceeding graf. (She's moving "briskly" in starting a financial review now even though she's had the Draft FEIS for three months?)

For an accurate assessment of what’s going on with the rail route at the airport, read Yoshioka’s letter -- and step out of the Advertiser’s closed loop.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Old Computer Problem Infects Paper’s Editorial

You don’t hear it much anymore – “garbage in, garbage out.” It’s so 1980s.

But that’s what you get when an editorial writer relies on coverage by the newspaper’s own agenda-driver reporter to build its opinion piece. Such seems to be the result in today's Honolulu Advertiser lead editorial.

We’ve previously noted reporter Sean Hao’s inaccuracies, narrow fact selection and “view with alarm” style of journalism here. His most recent gotcha article attempted to show that the City was slow to recognize a potential rail route problem near Honolulu International Airport.

We suspect there’s much more to this story that Hao has selectively chosen not to report or didn't try hard enough to learn – information that will show no such thing. We may not read it in the Advertiser, however, since the City's effort to shed more light on inter-agency dialogue could make negotiations on the airport issue even more difficult.

The bottom line: By sole-sourcing information for its editorial today, the Advertiser is operating in a closed information loop – basing its editorial viewpoint on a shaky reporting foundation. The old advice is still relevant: Let the buyer – and reader – beware.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Airport Rail Route Subject of Talks with FAA

We’re reminded in a front-page story in today’s Advertiser that the rail line’s routing near Honolulu International Airport may require some adjustments due to the proximity of two runways that end a thousand feet or less from the alignment.

In typical “view with alarm” style, the story casts a shadow over the project, but as usual, reading deep into the story reveals the situation to be far less alarming.

One of our posts in January 2009 noted the City Council’s vote to redirect the route to the airport. That same post also said the comment period on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement would be open for another week.

Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing what comments were submitted about the near-airport route after the City Council’s decision, and by whom.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Houston Bus Crashes into At-Grade Train -- Again

Bus meets train today in Houston.
There’s been yet another bus-train crash on the Houston, TX at-grade rail system (video available here). It happened this afternoon at the same intersection where a bus ran a red light in early February, sending 9 to the hospital. Today’s crash more than doubled the number of injured.

Continuing the thought we started in our earlier post today, Honolulu’s elevated rail system will restore mobility to our citizens. But as today's crash shows, Houston’s citizens don’t enjoy the same assurance of mobility that we will have when our rail system is built.

That’s because their mobility evaporates with every crash. Just ask the riders of Houston’s rail system if they reached their destinations on time today. They most assuredly did not if their trains were halted by the crash.

Unfortunately, the 19 injured passengers lost more than their mobility.

This Just In: 4 Angels Can Dance on a Pin, and Advertiser Is Still Focusing on the Wrong Thing

Reading today’s rail story in the Advertiser reminded us again of the question asked by medieval scholars: “How many angels can dance on the head of the pin?”

Thanks to the Internet, we have the answer: Formerly there was no limit, but new OSHA regulations set the number at four and require twice-annual inspections of the pin to detect structural defects.

Nowadays people on a quest for knowledge can ask questions like, “How many jobs will be created by the Honolulu rail project?” I suppose that’s important to economists and number crunchers, but getting stuck on that question is as crazy as counting angels.

It’s About M-O-B-I-L-I-T-Y

Rail detractors say the project is just about unions, campaign contributions and jobs, so an overly long story on somebody’s lower prediction of the job total plays right into their hands.

Let’s keep the focus on rail’s true purpose – restoring mobility to our community. We’ve lost our mobility. It’s no longer possible to move through our community and be certain we won’t be impeded by traffic congestion.

Only grade-separated transit offers that certainty, and grade-separated projects – elevated or underground – have restored mobility to cities around the world.

Honolulu’s elevated rail system will do the same here. Yes, of course, naturally, without a doubt: Jobs will be created, and if you bother to read far enough into today’s Sean Hao Special, you’ll see that the deputy project manager believes the number will be in the same 10,000 range that’s in the Draft EIS.

So can we please stop fixating on how many angels will be employed on this project!?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Rail’s FEIS Issues Coming to a Head This Week

This blog’s five-day break since the most recent post mirrors the delay of the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the City’s rail project. Both can be explained (charitably) by circumstances almost beyond the control of the participants.

Preparations for the March 28 memorial service for Cec Heftel, former Hawaii congressman and broadcaster extraordinaire from coast to coast and beyond, have eaten up quite a few of our hours, but at least there’s a future date certain when everything will come together.

That isn’t the case for the City. It seems the Federal Aviation Administration has held up review of the FEIS, as described in today’s Advertiser.

Federal officials will be in Honolulu this week to focus on the statement’s status, and the public undoubtedly will learn the “true facts” about the holdup that apparently involve the FAA.

Even after adjustments to the rail plan that will satisfy that agency, then there’s the approval process involving the Governor. It’s anybody’s guess how long that will take.

It’s also anybody’s guess how long the commute during rush hours will take a decade from now if the rail project isn't built. With rail, the travel time will be explicitly known each and every time a commuter boards the train. Without it, the delays could be grossly greater than today as both the population and vehicle numbers grow.

We trust the Governor’s concerns about the project’s finances will be satisfied and we won’t have to experience what travel would be like in this city without an alternative to traffic congestion.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

City MD’s Response Covers Elevated Rail’s Pluses

Blogger Ian Lind seems surprised the City would want to respond to his commentary on Hawaii Public Radio lauding at-grade rail. Of course a response was indicated, inasmuch as Lind appears to have swallowed the AIA’s transit stance hook, line and pole.

Managing Director Kirk Caldwell’s equal time response was aired yesterday in the same time slot on KHPR. Listen to the entire commentary (less than 2:30) if you have time, but if you’re pressed, focus on this:

"Elevated rail will deliver commuters to their destinations far quicker than trains running at ground level in the mix of other traffic, red lights, pedestrians and cross streets. A faster train will be more successful, because it will be more attractive to potential riders than slower surface rail."

If the City doesn’t build a system that attracts riders, it truly will be stuck with the white elephant the AIA fears so much. It’s ironic that the chapter's self-described urban planners have fallen so hard for a concept sure to fail.

That’s why the City has relied on transit planners to design its transit system.

Friday, March 5, 2010

And the At-Grade Rail Crash Video Nominees Are:

It’s Oscar weekend, so let’s settle back and watch some short subjects – videos of at-grade rail crashes over the years. This compilation focuses primarily on systems in Houston, TX and Phoenix, AZ, cities that dominate the category, although they’re not alone.

It’s a sobering subject, and we’re not making light of the property damage, injuries and deaths that occur when light rail transit at ground level interacts with vehicles and pedestrians.

Some in Honolulu continue to propose the at-grade concept, so it’s entirely appropriate to highlight this significant safety deficiency of at-grade rail.

Both Phoenix and Houston are still working on how to avoid collisions with their at-grade trains, so don’t be surprised if these cities are among next year’s nominees, too.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Ever Notice How Critics of the City’s Elevated Rail System Never Stand Up to At-Grade Rail's Issues?

You can write about the deficiencies of at-grade rail until your fingers bleed, and some vocal proponents of ground-level service will never even respond to the challenge to debate them.

They can’t be drawn into discussing at-grade rail’s slow pace compared to elevated rail, its less frequent and less reliable service and, yes, its relatively poor safety record.

Point them toward the crash-a-week experience of Phoenix’s at-grade system in its first year and their reaction is, “Phoenix? I know nothing about Phoenix.”

Mention the higher operating costs of at-grade rail due to the driver requirement (unlike automated elevated rail) and they’ll feign deafness. Or remind them at-grade rail has tremendous impacts on the neighborhoods it passes through and they’ll ignore that, too.

Tell them less frequent and slower at-grade train service won’t be successful in pulling people out of their cars and they’ll change the subject.

What Conflict?

For example, they’ll complain backers of the City’s elevated plan (like this blogger) have a "conflict of interest" without explaining what that conflict is. (See some of the comments below Yes2Rail’s March 1 post or at the link in the first graf above.)

What kind of a “conflict” can there be when my consultancy to the City to promote Honolulu's proposed rail system is displayed clearly at the top of this page and every new post? The critics' reasoning seems obtuse, and maybe it's because they just don’t understand the "conflict of interest" concept. ("We disagree; therefore, you conflict with my interest." Is that it?)

So here’s an open invitation to critics of the City’s rail system: Address the above deficiencies of your so-called at-grade alternative one by one. Try to convince someone in the middle of this argument that you’ve got it right and we proponents of elevated rail have it wrong. Tell us exactly why relatively slow, relatively inefficient, relatively unreliable and relatively crash-prone rail is what Honolulu needs.

It’s a simple challenge. Accept it, and for once, don’t change the subject.
7 pm Update: It's been 14 hours since we issued this challenge, and not one at-grade proponent has seen fit to respond. No surprise.
7 am 3/5 Update: 26 hours later and still no takers.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Blogger’s Rail Commentary Just an AIA Rehash

Where have you been, Ian Lind? Perhaps the most successful blogger in Hawaii (his blog’s counter reports nearly 1.8 million visitors), Lind’s commentary on Hawaii Public Radio this morning was surprisingly naïve (it's available at HPR's website).

That’s his word, as in the “Perhaps I’m naïve….” phrase in his commentary. But we have to agree; Lind’s piece seems “fresh off the boat” and suggests no exposure to why the American Institute of Architects Hawaii chapter's at-grade rail proposal won’t serve Honolulu’s needs.

For example, Lind asked in his piece why flexible light rail couldn’t be built elevated where appropriate and at-grade elsewhere. The reasons have been exhaustively discussed in the Draft EIS at the project's website, in community meetings, in the mainstream media and in numerous online sites, including Yes2Rail.

At-grade wouldn’t be as fast, wouldn’t be as reliable, wouldn’t be as safe and wouldn’t be nearly as successful as an elevated system. We won’t go into the details in today's post, but they’re covered here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here, among other posts.

More Like Propaganda

Asking the question in the manner he did is almost inexplicable for someone who enjoys a reputation as an investigative journalist from when he reported for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. It’s somewhat shocking for his commentary to come off as AIA propaganda.

The material covers the same old AIA territory – the ridiculous assertion that architects were denied the opportunity to provide input on rail both early and late (a cover story for being asleep at the switch), the City’s alleged bullying and ramrod mentality, politics driving the project, the selection of “old” steel-on-steel technology, etc.

We doubt Lind reads Yes2Rail, but if he does now, let’s hope he takes time to read these three lengthy posts that essentially accuse the AIA of deliberately misleading the public on the environmental impact process, the relative speed of at-grade rail vs elevated and the safety issue.

Lind seems cozily in bed with a minority of local architects who see the rail project only through their visual aesthetics filter. That’s too narrow a perspective to guide the planning for a vital transportation project that will provide an alternative to traffic congestion for decades to come.