Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What a Shame: Civil Beat Earns Itself a ‘False’ by Missing the Point on Why Rail Is Better than BRT

Today’s Civil Beat Fact Check on the rail opponents’ statements in their August 21st newspaper commentary is frankly a big disappointment. We had been cheering on the online news source for its independent assessments of the Cliff Slater-led quartet of opponents.

However, today’s CB assessment focused on semantics rather than whether two different styles of transit systems are equal, and that makes this particular Fact Check odd at its core. Here’s today’s Fact Check headline:

“FACT CHECK – Rail Opponents: Bus/Rapid Transit Would Accomplish Same as Rail, Cheaper”

Compare that to the final sentence – the “bottom line” – of today’s check: “The rail opponents’ claim that Parsons Brinckerhoff said (emphasis added) that BRT would accomplish virtually all of the objectives of rail at substantially less cost is true.”

The headline and the bottom line do not say the same thing! All this Fact Check appears to be is a check on who said what – and that’s not the same thing as checking whether BRT would accomplish the same things as rail.

Rail vs. Bus
Words like “substantially” and “virtually” often show up when someone is walking a fine line to make a case, and we avoid them (most of the time). Civil Beat used those words today, and that explains how it tripped itself up on this particular Fact Check.

In comparing BRT and rail, CB wrote “the two projects had substantially similar goals and objectives.” In its “bottom line,” CB said “…BRT could accomplish virtually all of the objectives of rail at substantially less cost….”

The use of those wiggle words cannot be ignored because they mask why BRT was rejected as an option: First, dedicating the curb lane to BRT vehicles and not allowing cars and trucks into that lane would be a non-starter. That’s one of the reasons why rail opponent Cliff Slater attacked BRT so strenuously and why BRT failed as a concept during the Harris Administration. Robbing Peter to pay Paul – reducing streets’ car-carrying capacity in favor of buses – didn’t fly years ago and wouldn't fly now.

Second, whether in their own lanes or sharing them with other vehicles, BRT buses cannot satisfy rail’s goal to “improve corridor travel reliability.” Quoting from rail’s FEIS:

“As roadways become more congested, they become more susceptible to substantial delays caused by such incidents as traffic accidents or heavy rail…. Because of the operating conditions in the study corridor, current travel times are not reliable for either transit or automobile trips….”

You can read rail’s goals in chapter one, paragraph 1.8 “Need for Transit Improvements” at the project’s website, and we summarized them here at Yes2Rail in early January. Bottom line, the BRT and rail goals are not the same! Fast, frequent, reliable and safe transit is what rail will deliver. BRT can’t possibly match up, and applying a little common sense rather than focusing on semantics would have made that clear to Civil Beat.

Bottom Line:  FALSE! 
That’s the judgment we gave the opponents’ claims about Bus Rapid Transit back on August 29th when we examined the differences between rail and BRT, not just who said what. We wrote then and stand by it now:

“For starters, BRT and Honolulu rail are entirely different projects with different objectives in different time frames and circumstances. Rail will commence full operations in 2019; BRT was conceived two decades earlier. Rail’s four goals boil down to providing fast, frequent, reliable and safe travel and doing it equitably. It’s impossible to apply those same attributes to the once-planned BRT system, with vehicles operating at ground level in the mix of other vehicles, stop-and-go traffic, stoplights and cross traffic.”

Had Civil Beat lifted its eyes off the page and thought about the stark and obvious differences between the two approaches to transit, we’re confident it would have reached the same conclusion: Bus/Rapid Transit Would NOT Accomplish Same as Rail.

Lincoln had it right: You can’t please (he said "fool") all the people, all the time. Keep at it, Civil Beat; we like your product. Just be sure your eye is on the donut, not the hole.

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