Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rail Opponents Repeatedly Misstate Rail’s Goals in Ongoing Effort to Stop Project the Majority Wants

Opponents are pulling a favored tool from their toolbox as they try to convince the public Honolulu rail shouldn't be built – one so threadbare by now that you can see through it. Honolulu’s anti-rail morning talk show host was at it again today.

Their tactic is to misstate Honolulu rail's goals and describe it as a traffic-reduction project. They would have the public believe the whole point of building a 20-mile elevated rail system is to make driving easier. In other words, if travel by car doesn’t get dramatically better, don’t build it.

What we’ve got here is more than a failure to communicate; it’s a deliberate tactic to mislead the public by saying rail will fail if freeway traffic doesn’t miraculously evaporate after rail is built.

In a strange way, that’s something of a compliment to the project because it implies public acceptance in such overwhelming numbers that highway traffic will become a non-issue. But that’s not why rail transit is popular around the world, and that’s not what rail will accomplish on Oahu.

Mobility First
Honolulu rail's goals are explicitly stated in numerous documents, and we began 2011 by reviewing them in our January 3rd post – anticipating, perhaps, how opponents would attack the project during the year.

First among equals is the restoration of mobility to the traveling public by providing an alternative to sitting in the traffic congestion that population growth inevitably will cause. Opponents ignore the mobility goal (as well as the others) by repeatedly reminding the public about future congestion levels and then attacking rail for its failure to deliver a traffic-slashing miracle.

Randall Roth and Cliff Slater relied on the tactic over and over again during their appearance on Hawaii Public Radio’s “Town Square” program on September 15. Our post four days later along with several others destroyed their fiction that the city had only “reluctantly admitted” traffic will continue to grow after rail is built.

To listen to Messrs. Roth and Slater, it’s absolutely shocking that traffic levels eventually will be greater after rail is in operation than they are today. The city’s Wayne Yoshioka famously replied to Mr. Slater's recitation of that obvious fact at a City Council hearing: “No kidding,” he said, and went on to explain that without rail, there will be no option to avoid congestion in the decades ahead.

Egging Them On
A caller to the talk show this morning complained about the potential disruption of traffic patterns during rail construction along Dillingham Boulevard, which she said she uses often. “There’s no time of the day when Dillingham Boulevard isn’t congested,” she said while airing the problem Honolulu rail will circumvent for thousands of rail transit users each day.

Ramping up the emotion, the radio host said there’s “not a hint” that rail will ease traffic congestion (he’s wrong, of course) and that Dillingham will be “nearly impassable” once construction begins. The 40,000 car drivers who one day will choose to ride the train instead of driving will add up to a pretty obvious hint that congestion will be less with rail than without it, something even Mr. Slater has had to “reluctantly admit” on more than one occasion.

The host routinely ignores the benefit rail will provide to the scores of thousands of daily riders and others who choose to use the train – complete freedom from freeway and highway congestion. It’s such an obvious benefit that he and other rail opponents apparently can’t handle the truth. Their one and only goal is highway traffic improvement, a goal Oahu's long-range transportation planning addresses with other projects.

Also ignored by rail opponents are the public opinion polls whose results show strong majority support of rail. The radio host doesn’t acknowledge those results, and neither do Messrs. Slater, Roth and their fellow opponents.

All of which suggests the anti-rail pattern we’ve seen in 2011 will be repeated in the new year. That won’t change, and neither will the rail project’s goals.

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