But what really gets chief rail opponent Cliff Slater going is any opportunity to slice off a thin layer of statistics and use it as proof that rail transit is failing all around the country and will fail here, too. (See our aggregation site for past discussions of Mr. Slater’s approach.)
Mr. Slater’s latest post at HonoluluTraffic.com (dated July 29th) observes that “Houston has 20 percent less bus and rail transit riders today than it had 10 years ago when it had only a bus system. This has happened despite building a rail transit system and having a 26 percent increase in population…. Should Honolulu be worried just because other rail lines have only achieved 60 percent of the ridership their cities had forecast? You bet.”
This is classic Cliff Slater – floating a statistic without any context, explanation or background and then standing back to let it sink in. (See his July 2010 interview with Civil Beat for a typical example.)
Honolulu Isn’t Houston!
We decided to compare Houston and Honolulu for their geography and the highway systems that have been developed to serve both cities. Houston’s layout is at the top of this post; Honolulu’s is below.
Thankfully, Honolulu isn’t Houston, and we can be glad, but we must admit that Houstonians do have it all over Oahu residents in one category – highway options. It's impossible to over-emphasize the contrast.
Houston suburbs stretch for miles in every direction. The city’s freeways provide multiple highway alternatives for residents to reach their destinations. Here’s a portion of what Wikipedia says about Houston’s highway system:
We could go on, but why bother? Houston’s dissimilarities with Honolulu’s long and narrow urban corridor bounded by mountains and the Pacific Ocean are so great they're almost laughable.
Even transit backers acknowledge that the privately owned automobile is usually the first preference when travel options are compared. Texans are probably the most independent-minded of all Americans, or so they tell us, and are first to demand and defend their right to drive their own cars anywhere they want. They wanted highways, and it’s highways they have.
West Oahu residents have one freeway linking them to downtown – ONE! – and options to build more are slim to none. We live on an island and are happy to be here, but traffic is bad and getting worse. Even the Texas Transportation Institute says Honolulu has some of the worst congestion in the country.
So Mr. Slater’s statistics gambit once again is exposed for what it is – an intellectually dishonest attempt to sway public opinion on Oahu by using Houston’s experience as a predictor of failure for Honolulu rail. He would have made as much sense comparing Honolulu to Jupiter or Mars.