Thursday, August 25, 2011

Question for Rail Critics: ‘Where’s the Beef?’ Without Thoughtful Options to Traffic, Spare Us

The 1800-word opinion piece by the Gang of Four – Cliff Slater, Ben Cayetano, Walter Heen and Randall Roth – in the Sunday Star-Advertiser (subscription) was published with a remarkably uncritical eye by the newspaper. We just read it again to see if there’s something digestible in there.

Maybe these four gentlemen aren’t actually members of a “gang,” but the word feels right. Their group is directing a campaign to bash, trample, maim and leave crippled one of the most important infrastructure projects in Oahu’s history – as important to daily commuters in the east-west urban corridor as Honolulu International Airport has been to the tourism industry. (The S-A opinion writer with a column in today’s paper doesn’t get it either; more on that below.)

As we noted in our initial critique of the Gang’s commentary, there’s absolutely nothing new in it that hasn’t been paraded before the public by gang leader Cliff Slater dozens, hundreds, billions of times already. After all his rail bashing going back to 1990 or even earlier, research shows that opponents haven’t won over the public, whose support for rail averaged 58.6 percent in three scientific surveys on the project since 2008. (BTW, had Frank Fasi's rail project not foundered after Mr. Slater's '90s campaign against it, we'd have had a rail line linking Leeward Community College and UH Manoa and points between since 2003.)

So the Gang is dredging it all up again and in the process is looking pretty silly sad, even if a columnist here or there succumbs to it. Take this excerpt: “Imagine the sound of each 72,000-pound, steel-on-steel elevated rail car as it accelerates to 60 miles per hour and then decelerates to a stop between each of 21 stations, every three minutes in each direction.”

Fantasy Island
The Gang imagines (for you) a gear-grinding, wheel-chattering, air-piercing, bone-shuddering, steel-screeching mournful cacophony of sound coming from some kind of behemoth train chewing its way through the city every three minutes. Just imagine it, they say, but do they tell you what it will really be like? Of course not. They leave that to your stoked-up imagination. Left unsaid is the truth; Honolulu’s trains will accelerate and stop quieter than much of the surrounding urban environment. You may not even be aware of it. (Anecdote: While visiting a city with an elevated rail system in 1991, Mayor Fasi asked when the next train was due. The question came immediately after he didn't hear one pass overhead.)

Or take this: The Gang uses about one-sixth of the entire commentary to suggest corruption and unsavory goings on with the city’s consultants on the project. They say PB Americas worked on this or that project here or in some city thousands of miles away that kicked up controversy (don’t they all?), and on top of that, they scowl, the city’s top transportation guy used to work at PB and his wife still does!

Truly, one would expect more from a former governor, a former judge and a current law professor, but there it is.

The Gang relies heavily on your imagination elsewhere in the commentary by suggesting a vision of rail stations that will be “aircraft carriers in the sky." Living here in Hawaii, most of us have seen or even been on an aircraft carrier, so the image that pops up with the Gang's encouragement is alarming.

Wait one: That aircraft carrier comparison was a tad off. Nimitz Class carriers are 1092 feet long and the longest rail station 240. Carriers are 134 feet wide, stations a fraction of that. Looks again like the Gang’s imaginations are on runaway mode.

So Where’s the Beef?
Turns out, there’s very little digestible meat to the Gang’s commentary. There’s not even a hint of relish in this anti-rail sandwich on what the Gang wants to build instead of an elevated system that will allow Oahu commuters to completely avoid traffic congestion and the digestion of what little free time you have left in your daily commute.

The Gang is silent on a plan, strategy, concept or workable alternative to Oahu's intolerable traffic that’s been called the nation’s worst congestion by one institute or another at one time or another. We’re famous for it!! But don’t ask the commentary’s authors for a better idea. All they have is a self-congratulatory ending:

“We have nothing to gain financially by stopping the current rail project other than benefits that would flow to other local citizens. We believe our lawsuit will lead to an affordable traffic solution that protects the environment and preserves the qualities that make Hawaii special.”

Really? What is that solution, Gang of Four? Judge Heen, do you have a better solution? How about you, Professor Roth? We already know the other two authors’ preferences. Cliff Slater wants High-Occupancy Toll Roads that would be used only by the well-to-do (Panos Prevedouros has explained how this works). Ben Cayetano thinks at-grade transit would be swell even at this late date. He seems as oblivious as his successor to at-grade's embarrassingly obvious shortcomings; the photos at right are evidence of one.

Where has this Gang been, and where exactly is their BEEF!?

We’d ask the same of the S-A columnist who wrongly concludes her piece today (subscription) by alleging the city did not examine other alternatives in planning Honolulu rail. After all the meetings, workshops, debates, media coverage, the Alternatives Analysis itself and publication of the Final Environmental Impact Statement, how could she write that?

Oh, right. The Gang of Four.

(This post has been added to our "aggregation site" in its Cliff Slater section.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

An articulated 60' bus easily weighs 40,000 lbs. There's obviously more than one on our streets at any given moment, about 4000 bus stops on the island. Ever hear one with its brakes in need of new pads? Or when their brakes release compressed air as normal operation? Geez, the way these guys bring up points for argument, it really diminishes their credibility. I would be more receptive of their arguments if it was more scientific such as published decibel levels for the train from a certain distance compared with a bus, car, and motorcycle.