Monday, September 19, 2011

Anti-Rail Pitch Men Work the Airwaves, Show Strong Appreciation of How To Mislead Public

We start the week with a transcription of last Thursday’s “Town Square” program on Hawaii Public Radio, or at least a good portion of it. We do this to better understand – and help readers of Yes2Rail understand – where the opponents of Honolulu rail are coming from.

As we’ve said here repeatedly, the more we know about what they think and advocate, the better rail looks. That’s why we’ve clumped numerous posts in one “aggregation post” under headings such as Mr. Cliff Slater and Dr. Panos Prevedouros. As always, you’re invited to read those posts.

The guests on Thursday’s program were Cliff Slater and Randall Roth, two plaintiffs on a federal lawsuit that they hope will kill rail. They also co-authored – with fellow plaintiffs Walter Heen and Benjamin Cayetano – an anti-rail commentary in the August 21st edition of the Star-Advertiser headlined “How the city misled the public” (subscription required; see Yes2Rail's comment).

What did we learn from this radio show? Quite a bit actually, including the guests’ adherence to the maxim that if you repeat something often enough, people might just believe it. In fact, Messrs. Slater and Roth have been repeating some of their talking points so often that they’ve apparently come to believe them, too, despite the implausibility of it all.

Say It Again
Professor Roth obviously respects that maxim. By our count, he used the phrase “elevated heavy rail” 16 times in the show’s first 30 minutes, and Mr. Slater added one for good measure. When someone is that focused on repeating anything over and over again for effect (like the “class warfare” phrase that's the rage in Washington now), our radar switches on – especially when the speaker is as motivated as Professor Roth and Mr. Slater seem to be in blocking a project most people on Oahu want.

What will the Honolulu system be – “elevated heavy rail” or something else? Here’s what Toru Hamayasu, interim executive director for the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, wrote in his own September 10th newspaper commentary (subscription):

“Honolulu’s system fits more in line with the new classification that is being recognized in the industry as a light metro, and is not a heavy rail system. The shorter vehicle configuration and smaller-sized stations will be a better fit for Honolulu.”
Who to believe? Mr. Hamayasu’s entire career has been spent in the transportation business, whereas Messrs. Slater and Roth have nothing in their background to suggest they possess expertise in these matters. With the Internet at your fingertips, you can check the definitions of light metro and heavy rail at Wikipedia.

The site defines heavy rail as “an electric railway with the capacity to handle a heavy volume of traffic.” By using that description, Mr. Slater and Professor Roth are implying something they regularly discount – high passenger acceptance of Honolulu’s rail system.

Wikipedia’s “light metro” entry says the category fits between light and heavy rail and lists numerous examples of such systems, including Copenhagen’s Metro, Vancouver’s Sky Train, New York’s AirTrain JFK and the Los Angeles Green Line.

You can read this information yourself if all of this is important enough to you. Frankly, we think Professor Roth’s near-obsessive use of the “elevated heavy rail” term is a heavy-handed effort to mislead the public – something he accuses the city of doing.

Who’s Misleading Whom?
This brings us to the more substantive and revealing content of the radio program – the guests’ remarkable effort to dumb down the “future traffic congestion issue,” something Mr. Slater has been doing regularly and to which Yes2Rail has been calling readers’ attention since July 2010. Professor Roth was revealed on the program to be a loyal soldier in the campaign to obfuscate this issue.

It boils down to a common sense realization that with population growth, traffic also will grow. Oahu’s population will be greater in 2030 than it is today, as virtually all thinking people would agree. You can take your pick on what the growth number will be – 100,000, 200,000, whatever. (The planning horizon often is set at 2030 by the federal government, but common sense thinking also suggests the population will continue to increase in future decades barring inhibitors not now recognized.)

Studies suggest the vast majority of these new residents will be living in the corridor between town and the ewa plain. Will traffic increase along with the population? Again, most thinking people would conclude as much – and here is where Messrs. Slater and Roth practice their intellectually dubious anti-rail rhetoric.

In their opinion, the ultimate result of building Honolulu rail should be a reduction in traffic congestion in future decades to levels below what it is today. As illogical as that sounds, that’s what they want to accomplish – reduce traffic congestion decades from now to levels below what we experience on Oahu’s streets and highways today.

That’s different than what the city will accomplish by building Honolulu rail. If you conclude, as most thinking people will, that traffic congestion will be a natural consequence of an increasing population, it follows that a mechanism is needed to allow residents to move through the southern corridor between the ewa plain and urban Honolulu without being caught in that congestion.

That’s the key – enhancing mobility no matter how much traffic grows in the decades ahead. That has been one of the city’s goals for this transportation project from the start.

We’re going to quote Professor Roth extensively here – you also can listen to the archived program at HPR’s website – because it displays the extent to which he and Mr. Slater are venturing into extreme territory with their accusation that the city has deliberately misled the public on rail and the future congestion issue. At one point in the program Professor Roth said the city was guilty of “strategic misrepresentation” in its information campaign about rail. That would be quite a revelation if it were true, but neither Professor Roth nor Mr. Slater produced any evidence of a misinformation, misleading campaign.

“I think, I believe”
Professor Roth’s accusation rests on an extremely shaky foundation, and that foundation is Mr. Slater’s assertion that the city has tried to hide the truth about what traffic conditions will be like in 2030. Here’s an extended quote from near the beginning of the program during which Professor Roth first lays out his case for “strategic misrepresentation.” (We’ve added emphasis where we think it appropriate.) Professor Randall Roth:

"We believe the way the city went about selecting elevated heavy rail was in violation of federal law, and in doing all the research to decide whether to file that lawsuit and then in preparing the lawsuit itself, I discovered something that quite frankly upset me more than all of the negative things about elevated heavy rail. And that is I think there’s been a pattern of deception; I think the city has gone out of its way not to communicate to the public just what this project would be about. For example, they admitted in an appendix to the environmental impact study that, 'Traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than what it is today without rail.' Now a person can accept that as true and still argue that we should build rail. I understand that, but most people that I talk to think that the whole idea for elevated heavy rail is to fix the current traffic congestion problem. But there are other dimensions. This is viewed by many people, I think most people, as a solution to the current traffic congestion problem. I believe the public has gotten that mis-impression because the city has created it. I think the city, and now I’m talking about Mayor Hannemann and Mayor Carlisle and many other spokespeople for the city, I believe they have given people the reason to believe that elevated heavy rail would reduce the current level of traffic congestion, and like I say, if you do enough research you can find that even they in an appendix to the environmental impact study where they have to tell the truth or there are major legal consequences to the city. They’ve acknowledged, 'Traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than what it is today without rail.' That’s the final EIS, that’s the document that they’re operating under, and that’s just one of about a dozen examples, and our commentary in the Star-Advertiser that you mentioned that appeared on August 21, included most of – we didn’t have room for all of them, but most of them, and when you go down the list of what the city has done in an effort to sell the public on elevated heavy rail, in my opinion, if a company in the private sector in trying to attract investors to a new business opportunity, if they had approached that the same way the city has approached trying to sell the public on elevated heavy rail, I think those promoters would go to jail. There are security violations for people who don’t make full disclosure, and like I say, when we did the research for this lawsuit, I just was aghast in how dishonest in my opinion the city had been in convincing the public that elevated heavy rail was a good thing.”

Open and Honest
This extended quote reveals the heart of these rail opponents’ argument – that the city lied to the public, that the city was forced to reveal the truth of future congestion issues in the FEIS, that the public was fooled into believing rail would reduce traffic congestion from current levels.

There’s one answer to all of that: It’s not true. Professor Roth did not reference any document that says what he says the city said. All he did on the radio show was cite a truthful statement made by the city in the FEIS and elsewhere and goes on to tell us what he thinks about it. Like Mr. Slater, he treats it as a revelation of monumental proportions – the proverbial cat that's been let out of the bag.

The city’s transportation director, Wayne Yoshioka, had this to say about this presumed revelation: “No kidding, in the future, traffic congestion will be greater than it is today. I don’t think that’s any earth-shattering news.” Incredibly, Professor Roth seems to think it is.

Why do some people, including Professor Roth, believe rail is supposed to reduce traffic congestion and that it would fail if it can’t do that? Because that’s what Mr. Slater has been implying with his obfuscation campaign for years – even decades. He laid it out in detail in his interview with Civil Beat in July 2010:

“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.”

The implication is clear: Rail will fail if it doesn’t reduce traffic. Seen another way, it’s obvious that Mr. Slater – and now Professor Roth – are highway advocates, not mobility advocates. They want the public to believe that if only the city had listened to them, traffic problems would disappear in the future. The fact that no city in America has “solved” traffic congestion doesn’t dissuade them; that’s their story and that’s what they want you to believe.

And they do care what you believe – very much so. Their new anti-rail campaign was launched on August 21 in clear recognition of the fact that they’ve lost the public on rail as revealed in scientific opinion polls, and they’re willing to say just about anything to turn the tide. That includes misrepresenting what Honolulu system will be – the “elevated heavy rail” business – and accusing city officials and others of lying to the public.

We’ll have more to say here this week about the “Town Square” component of the Slater/Roth anti-rail campaign.

(This post has been added to our "aggregation" site under the heading Mr. Cliff Slater (and friends).

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