Tuesday, September 20, 2011

To Coin a Phrase, Garbage In, Garbage Out: Slater’s Highly-Touted Poll Result Was Flawed, so Is Roth’s Allegation the City Deceived Public

We’re continuing with last Thursday’s “Town Square” program on Hawaii Public Radio to drill down to the essence of the rail opponents’ upset with the Honolulu rail project, the city’s conduct in promoting the project and the conduct of the opponents’ themselves.

Messrs. Cliff Slater and Randall Roth said during the program that the city has misled Oahu’s public into believing rail will reduce traffic congestion on our roads and highways from today’s levels. They produced no evidence the city said such things, but they clearly think it, and for them, that’s good enough to go on the radio and say so.

“Shame on the city for going out of its way to give them that impression,” Mr. Roth declared indignantly. “Shame on the city for not making clear to the public what it has admitted reluctantly to the federal government, which is, quote, traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than what it is today without rail.”

Mr. Slater was equally exercised by the anticipated future growth of traffic even after rail is built:

“There is no possibility, once rail is built, of (traffic) to get better,” he said. “Traffic is going to be worse. We say so, the city says so, the federal documents say so. No city has put in rail and seen any improvement in traffic congestion. That should be enough to convince most damned near anybody that traffic congestion, as the city says, will be worse with rail than it is today.”

Mr. Slater treats this as some major revelation, but of course traffic will be worse in the future unless the future is a place where families don’t have children and nobody moves here.

The GI-GO Phenomenon
Mr. Slater backed up his assertion that the public has been misled by telling KIPO’s audience about a 2008 poll conducted by the Honolulu Advertiser on the public's attitudes toward rail.

“In 2008 the Advertiser did a poll which quite clearly asked why people might be in favor of rail, and talking about reducing traffic congestion on H-1 – specifically mentioning H-1 – and 73 percent of the respondees (sic) to that question agreed that that was the major reason…and it’s very clear from the way people answered that question in 2008 that they firmly believed that the reason we were going to spend $5 billion on the rail line was to relieve traffic congestion.”

Remember that quote, please. Here’s an excerpt from the August 27, 2008 edition of the Honolulu Advertiser reporting on the poll results, which not incidentally reported that “nearly three out of five registered voters surveyed favor building a rail system in Honolulu.” (You may need a subscription to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser to link to the story.)

“The poll asked voters whether they favored or opposed rail following this statement: ‘The City and County of Honolulu has approved developing a fixed-rail mass transit system as a means to reduce traffic.’

Mr. Slater was quoted in that story as saying the poll’s key rail question was “very misleading,” and to that, we emphatically agree! The question was not only misleading but confusing as well – a query based on a flawed premise.

The city has never said rail would reduce congestion to less than today’s levels. We took pains to destroy that notion in yesterday’s post. The poll's question was a case of garbage in, garbage out, and the newspaper's failure to recognize the flaw is having repercussions today; it appears to be the basis for Cliff Slater’s assertion about what the public thinks rail will do to traffic. It might also be why Professor Roth believes the city has lied to the public.

When Did They Know It?
Even more remarkable is another on-air conversation on anti-rail conservative radio host Rick Hamada’s program on November 3, 2008, the day before the General Election and Oahu voters' approval of the steel wheel, steel rail concept. This conversation is significant because it makes a mockery of Mr. Slater’s and Professor Roth’s theatrics about the city’s so-called admission that traffic will be worse in the future with rail than it is today.

Here’s the headline on HawaiiReporter.com's November 4, 2008 item that reported on the KHVH program: “Finally, the City & County of Honolulu Admits That with the Proposed Rail Built, Traffic Will Be Far Worse Than it is Today.” The 3-minute 50-second audio file that's available on this page reveals that Mr. Slater readily acknowledged and agreed with the city’s Wayne Yoshioka on the future-congestion issue.

As you read the transcript of the 2008 radio conversation, remember Professor Roth’s quote in the third paragraph of today’s post, above, and his indignation about what the city “admitted reluctantly to the federal government, which is, quote, traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than what it is today without rail.”

The dialogue is between Mr. Slater, Michael Schneider of InfraConsult, a rail consultant, and Wayne Yoshioka, city director of Transportation Services (with emphasis added in boldface type):

Slater: Mike, are you saying that, while traffic congestion with rail in the future will be worse than it is today, it’ll be less worse than it would be if we didn’t have the rail line.
Schneider: Of course, that’s exactly what I’m saying.
Slater: Fine, but the point is that 73 percent of the people in Hawaii as polled by the Advertiser believed that by building rail we would reduce traffic congestion and reduce their commute time. Obviously, they don’t understand it.
Schneider: There’s no question that those who take the rail will have a reduced commute time.
Slater: Oh, no. They’re talking about, this is traffic, traffic congestion.
Yoshioka: Cliff, you’re talking about traffic congestion and looking at traffic congestion. Originally in the Alternatives Analysis we were projecting an 11-percent reduction in traffic congestion. Now, in the DEIS that’s up to now 21-22 percent, almost twice what we had projected because again, the DEIS is much more detailed in its scope and was able to identify more accurately what the benefits would be. Now the point is, this 21-22 percent of reduction in congestion is double of what you see when schools are not in session. And the point is that, yeah, you may have congestion, but there are different kinds of congestion. The kind of congestion that drives us mad is when it takes us 15 minutes to move two blocks. That’ll drive anybody up the wall, and that’s the kind of congestion that you’re looking at when you’re talking about gridlock without doing anything about the future. Whereas, again, if the congestion is there but it moves in a reasonable manner, most people are OK with that. And that’s exactly what we’re saying. Your choice is between absolute gridlock in that everything takes an inordinate amount of time to move a short distance, or congestion that actually flows to some extent and is reasonable for peak hour conditions. If you look at what’s happening right now, for example, is a good indicator. Growing up here, I remember, it used to be only peak hours that used to be really congested. Now, Saturdays are congested, Sundays are congested, all times of the day are congested. It’s getting to that point that if you allow this to continue without providing an alternative, what you’re gonna get is that you’ll get to that gridlock point, and we’re trying to avoid that.
Slater: I wouldn’t argue that point. I’m just going back to the thing that the public has a different take of what is gonna happen with traffic congestion in the future than you do or we do, OK? We in the room here all understand that traffic congestion is gonna get worse with rail in the future, OK. That’s not what the public understands. The public thinks that traffic today, today’s unendurable traffic congestion going from here out to Kapolei, OK, will be reduced from today’s levels once rail goes in. That’s what they believe. OK, and we don’t believe it. You and I don’t believe that, but on the other hand, that is what the general public believes.
Yoshioka: What the public is asking for some kind of relief, and I think that the only realistic relief they can expect is through the rail system as opposed to putting more cars, more buses onto the already jammed streets systems. That’s not gonna give them the relief.

Cliff Slater agreed with Wayne Yoshioka in 2008 that traffic congestion will increase after rail is built, yet he gives speeches and goes on the radio in 2011 implying that the city was forced to admit this in an appendix to the FEIS. He even told the City Council last year that he nearly had to “water-board” Mr. Yoshioka to get him to admit it in the appendix, even though Mr. Slater knew full well then and now that the city hid nothing.

Randall Roth was indignant on Thursday's KIPO program and said he was aghast when he “discovered something that quite frankly upset me more than all of the negative things about elevated heavy rail…a pattern of deception….” How much of a “discovery” could it have been when Cliff Slater and Wayne Yoshioka openly talked about future traffic congestion issues on the radio nearly three years ago?

Furthermore, this transcript from 2008 shows that Mr. Slater is relying in 2011 on the flawed 2008 Honolulu Advertiser opinion poll for what he thinks the public does or doesn’t believe about traffic.

This would be farcical if it were not such a serious issue. Professor Roth’s so-called pattern of deception that he says the city pursued is exactly what he himself is doing with his charge the city did not make a full disclosure on the traffic issue. And Mr. Slater’s continued assertions that the city was forced into an admission in an appendix to the FEIS also is a blatant effort to deceive the public, as well as the City Council and the media.

The Slater-Roth case against the city is a house of cards that’s starting to crumble after only a little air has blown against it. As their direct quotes from radio programs reveal, their own breath is enough to start the cards falling.

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

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