Sunday, September 4, 2011

Editorial Reaffirms Support for Honolulu Rail after Opponents’ Failure To Make a Convincing Case

The latest major exchange of fire over the Honolulu rail project began two weeks ago today with a quartet of critics blasting away in a Honolulu Star-Advertiser commentary with mostly old, decaying ammunition. The city’s response a week later was equal in length but had better aim in describing exactly why elevated rail offers the best option to Oahu’s growing traffic congestion problem.

Two weeks of dueling op-ed pieces and editorial board meetings were capped off today with the newspaper’s editorial reaffirming its long-standing support for rail (subscription).

There’s nothing new in that support; both the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and the Honolulu Advertiser, which themselves dueled for generations until the Advertiser was bought out last year, had backed the city’s various rail projects over the decades.

The newspaper’s editorial staff assessed both sides of the debate and concluded critics did not make a convincing case against elevated rail. It’s the project's elevated feature that seems most upsetting to Cliff Slater, Ben Cayetano, Walter Heen and Randall Roth.

Choosing a Legacy
Former Governor Cayetano reacted to the   FALSE  grades given the quartet’s op-ed piece by Civil Beat by sending an “open letter” to Mayor Peter Carlisle via Civil Beat with anecdotes characteristic of most anti-rail commentaries. Referring to the elevated guideway and its stations, he asked, “is this the legacy you want to leave to your children, your grandchildren and future generations?”

We haven’t seen a response from the mayor, but we can paraphrase what he’s already said about legacies – that bequeathing generations of our offspring a legacy of gridlock, frustration, lost time and stagnation would be much worse than the guideway’s visual impacts.

Traffic congestion on Oahu severely impacts a significant population segment on this land-scarce island each day. Elevated rail transit will give its riders a daily guarantee that they’ll be completely untouched by that traffic. That will be especially true for residents living and working close enough to rail stations in future transit-oriented developments to walk to and from the rail line.

At-grade transit, which the former governor prefers, simply could not provide the fast, frequent, reliable and safe transportation this and future generations will require. The photographs in the right-hand column of this blog are there for a reason; they show what happens over and over again in cities that have built ground-level rail transit.

The Star-Advertiser’s editorial worded its rejection of grade-level transit this way:

“An at-grade rail system would not be a better alternative but would require more land excavation, cost more, and be prey to traffic delays and accidents.”
Critics would do well to recognize at-grade’s deficiencies and give it up as their preferred alternative. It wouldn’t work here, and the suggestions advanced by the architectural organization Mr. Cayetano references were totally unworkable, as we’ve pointed out repeatedly – here and here and elsewhere and so on.

Embracing Change
We do have to quibble with the newspaper over its assertion that “the critics did score some hits, of course. For instance, the city could indeed do more to provide parking at more of the 21 stations to encourage ridership.”

The four critics continue to value car dependence for commuting more than 21st-century reasoning suggests. Some unintentional humor crept into their August 21st commentary in their plaintive question: “Where will commuters park their cars?”

Those among us who’ve relied on their cars for nearly every single trip they’ve made from home to work, to shopping and to everywhere else can’t imagine a future when public transit will be a better option for scores of thousands of Oahu residents. As Yes2Rail noted the day after the quartet’s commentary: “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.”

The critics just don’t get it, but the younger generation does. The dominant newspaper on this island gets it, too, and has again endorsed rail as planned.

“…on the whole,” it says, “the city makes a still-credible case that the elevated rail project, as proposed, would best meet Honolulu’s need for a reliable transit alternative to overcrowded freeways – and as important, boost construction and mitigate and direct Oahu’s expected population growth.”
Honolulu rail -- “keeping the country country.”

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