Monday, August 22, 2011

Rail Critics Toss Heaps of Wool at Your Eyes; Talk Show Host Relies on the Old ‘Bait and Switch’

Where to begin? Sunday’s anti-rail commentary in the newspaper demands more response than we gave it yesterday, and then there’s the radio host who used the piece to fill two of his hours this morning.

Half-truths, misleading conclusions, obfuscations – they’re all in the inventory routinely used by these anti-railers as they attempt to pull the wool over the public’s collective eyesight and use a little bait-and-switch while they’re at it.

Let’s do begin with the radio host, who invited rail supporters to “look at what’s been advanced in this piece. If this is dead wrong, I would highly recommend that you make it wrong, because….this particular piece is going to be at the heart of how the general public forms its opinions about the rail project.”

As we wrote yesterday in our dissection of the piece, everything in the Gang of Four’s commentary was old news. We likened it to a desperation Hail Mary pass by the losing team near the end of the game. And since nothing’s new, Oahu residents already have sifted through those anti-rail arguments and said in three different scientific opinion polls that they support rail. The show’s host says the surveys weren’t objective, but what else can he say? It’s the only way anti-railers can deal with the results!

The True Objective
Mixed in with callers who are in complete agreement with the host (when they do call, which isn’t often) was “Roger” from Kalihi, who challenged the host’s anti-rail commentary and even flustered him a bit. Paraphrasing:

“I’ve heard all the suggestions – contra-flow highways, building more lanes on the freeway (about as hair-brained as you can get), more buses – and none of them will work. We have to make a bold decision to build something out there…. Traffic is almost unlivable. We’ve got to embrace change, and we’ve got to have the rail. The ultimate objective is to give people an alternative to get out of their cars and give people something else to get to and from the city.”

Note that last sentence (a quote, not a paraphrase) and what Roger said was the “ultimate objective” – providing an alternative to congestion. Here’s where the radio host employed bait-and-switch:

“If you do build this project, you will not achieve your objective, which is alleviating congestion. Will there be an option? Yes. Will it alleviate this congestion? No, so why move this project forward?”

The host completely ignored Roger’s ultimate objective – which in fact is one of the project’s major goals – and substituted his own. Roger had boxed him in by accurately saying what the project can and will accomplish, leaving the host no alternative but to blame rail for something it and nothing else likely can do over the course of the 21st century – reduce traffic to the point that it’s no longer an aggravation. As Roger implied, rail system riders will eliminate that aggravation from their lives.

Had Roger been more familiar with the project, he might have said rail will indeed alleviate traffic by attracting 40,000 drivers out of their cars by 2030 to ride the system. Even Cliff Slater had to admit this at a July 2010 City Council hearing when he said: “We don’t disagree at all that the rail will have an effect on reducing traffic congestion what it might be if we did nothing at all.” (We can’t get enough of that quote and use it often.)

Wool Gathering
The newspaper commentary’s authors are comfortable with misstatement and obfuscation. After complaining that “the city is planning to provide parking at only four of the 21 stations,” they posed their unintentionally humorous question: “Where will commuters park their cars?”

That mournful query said a ton. They just don’t get that cars eventually won’t be a necessity for scores of thousands of commuters who, without rail, would have to drive. Rail will be part of a public transit system, with buses providing a convenient and inexpensive option to driving and giving commuters access to and from the rail spine.

They'll ride rail for reasons we covered a few days ago when reviewing the Brookings Institution’s conclusion that among 100 metropolitan areas across the country, Honolulu’s public transit system ranks #1 in transit’s coverage of the community and the access it provides workers to their jobs. TheBus already is a success; a better transit system can only be even more successful.

Spreading It

The Gang of Four says rail will cost more than the city’s projected $5.3 billion, “but the facts indicate otherwise.” Facts? Cost overruns in cities thousands of miles away don't make it a “fact” that Honolulu will overrun, too.

Neither does the so-called “independent study by the highly regarded IMG group” partially written by a rail critic – a study so transparently partisan the current governor ignored it and the current mayor called it “an appalling waste” of taxpayer dollars and an “anti-rail rant.”

Be on guard when this group of authors starts to throw around “facts” and statements like this in the commentary: “No wonder virtually every environmental group in Hawaii opposes heavy rail despite the city’s false claims that it would be a ‘green’ project.”

Here’s a statement from the Sierra Club’s Oahu Group website:

“The Sierra Club Oahu Group supports the Fixed Guideway (rail) alternative. The Fixed Guideway alternative provides what Oahu needs most: an alternative to the automobile. Oahu residents have become overly dependent on private automobiles, and this dependence has devastating effects: reliance on fossil fuels, pollution and global warming, traffic congestion and the resulting loss of productivity, consumption of more land for roadways and parking, and negative impacts on public health and community life. The Oahu Group believes these are urgent problems that require a major shift in our transportation habits, and therefore supports the development of a rail system on Oahu."

Maybe Roger of Kalihi is a Sierra Club member. We don’t know, but we can accept as “fact” that the local chapter of the Sierra Club, which certainly qualifies as an environmental group in Hawaii, supports Honolulu rail – just one more thing the Gang of Four doesn’t want you to know.

(This post has been added to our "aggregation site" under Cliff Slater.)

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