Sunday, October 30, 2011

Back to the Show: City Rejects Opponents’ Charge It Has Misled Public on Future Congestion Issue

We pick up from yesterday’s post at the point when our call finally made it onto the “Town Square” program Thursday afternoon to focus on a recurring theme in Cliff Slater’s decades-long anti-rail campaign.

Mr. Slater suggests to audiences – including those listening to the “Town Square” show on September 15th when he and Randall Roth spent an hour attacking rail – that Honolulu rail would be a failure because traffic congestion after rail is built will be worse than it is today. He couples that natural consequence of a larger Oahu population with an assertion that the city has deliberately hidden the future congestion issue from Oahu residents.

Professor Roth contributed to that theme with his passionate “shame on the city” remarks, which could dangle from his neck for years to come as a sign of how little he truly understands the Honolulu project.

After noting that the anti-rail guests as good as called city officials liars on their radio show, we directed our question to Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation Interim Executive Director Toru Hamayasu, and asked him, “Have you been lying all these years….?” (The question comes at the 36:32 minute mark of the archived mp3 file of the program.)

Show host Beth-Ann Kozlovich broke through the laughter from fellow guests Mayor Peter Carlisle and Makakilo resident Maeda Timson and said such a “nasty” question doesn’t need an answer, but of course, the question’s focus wasn’t nastiness but rather the ludicrous Slater-Roth allegation that the city has deliberately misled the public.

Kozlovich said she had put it to Messrs. Slater and Roth six weeks earlier that future congestion will be a natural consequence of population growth, since migration to Hawaii can’t be regulated.

Hamayasu: “We cannot guarantee that 30 years from now, 20 years from now that traffic congestion is gonna be better than today, but without the rail, it’s gonna be much worse. That’s the point that Slater is always twisting. He uses a real clever thing and says, OK, isn’t it true that traffic congestion is gonna be worse with the rail, as if the rail is the catalyst for the worse congestion. That’s a clever play on words – that traffic will be worse in the future with or without rail, but, it’s gonna be much worse without rail.”
Kozlovich: “So categorically you’re saying, yes – it will be worse without rail, period.”

Mayor Carlisle: “Let me see what Mr. Slater says. This is what I have from him, July 2010, City Council hearing (reading Slater quote): ‘We don’t disagree at all that rail will have an effect on reducing traffic congestion from what it might be if we did nothing at all.’ Does that answer the question for you? This is the simple answer to that: There will be zero traffic congestion in the future for those who ride the rail.”
“Peggy from Pacific Heights” called to say she doesn’t think children will ride rail to school. Kozlovich gave Ms. Timson her first chance to speak up on the show by asking her to respond to Peggy’s comment.

Timson: “What is really going to happen is when the kids are old enough to do it on their own, they will, but in the meantime, because I can tell you what I personally did, when my children did not go to school (in her neighborhood), they went to town and (used) buddy systems. So they were 8 and 10, and there were (older) kids in the area that went to the same (in-town) school, so the kids all went together. They went on the bus…and the express bus, and they went to school and came back home. We trained them to be smart and independent.”
Kozlovich said the caller’s main issue was that congestion is less when school is out of session and that people are in search of near-term relief from congestion before rail is built. Carlisle interjected that congestion has grown to the point that on Saturdays, when parents aren’t driving children to school, traffic congestion is bad.

Carlisle: “The point is, on Saturdays you don’t have the 6 o’clock to 8 o’clock jam but you now have the 9:30 to 11:30 jam….it’s a disaster, it’s miserable. The point is that (rail opponents) are saying that once we get kids out of school, (congestion) is fine and dandy, and that’s simply not correct…..”
“Chad of Kapolei“ asked whether there’s been an effort to improve the efficiency of the current infrastructure. Carlisle said it happens constantly and cited the high-occupancy vehicle lane on the H-1 freeway as an example. He said stop light synchronization is addressed, as well.

Carlisle: “Are we still working to have the best type of systems at grade that we possibly can? That’s being done always by the Department of Transportation Services as well as the State Department of Transportation. They are trying to do it, but it’s not successful because of the volume of cars.”
Timson: “Yes, it’s all about the volume, but the light synchronization doesn’t necessarily help us. We have the problem when we get onto the freeway. That’s where it is – when everyone merges to go to work at the same time. In Kapolei, we have at least eight road projects that are in process right now…We have an on-ramp, an off-ramp that’s gonna happen…. The suggestion’s been made that we should go at-grade in Kapolei. That is totally ridiculous because in the area of East Kapolei where the rail will come, we are not through with building roads. We’re gonna have all kinds of (arterial) roads, so if you’re gonna put the rail on the ground, we’d go back to the same problem. It’s more congestion all over.”
Hamayasu: “I’d like to address one thing that’s seems like is getting focus. It’s like we’re putting all the eggs in one basket – rail – and that’s not true…. I’ve been a traffic engineer and transit planner, too, so the last four years we’ve been doing all of that. So the (light) synchronization, yes. Honolulu’s been engaged in that since the 1960s, so if it doesn’t look like everything’s synchronized in your favor that’s because, like the Mayor said, there are side streets (with congestion) that’s just as heavy… (Also), everybody wants to give more cross-street time to pedestrians, so when you bunch it all together, it’s not gonna be a smooth flow for the traffic. You gotta take care of everybody.”
Hamayasu noted regarding school congestion that it was former Governor Ben Cayetano (an anti-rail lawsuit plaintiff) who staggered school start times, but the experiment did not succeed in relieving congestion appreciably or “work out in a way that it was supposed to.”

Kozlovich: “Having said everything that all three of you have just said, including some of the things we’ve heard from our callers, is it really something that we all just need to get ourselves over – that there really isn’t going to be a great deal of relief, and we’re gonna have to deal with a lot of these situations pretty much as they are right now? And forgive me, but put up or shut up until rail offers another option? Because people are looking for something now. You hear people scuttling about saying, what about this, what about that, what about something else? Because they are looking for something.”
Carlisle: “We’ve been looking for things for years. I’ve just put down a list. We’ve got Zipper lanes now, we’ve got HOV lanes, we’ve got contra-flow lanes. We’ve done all those things. Has that relieved the traffic? No.”
Kozlovich: “Right, which is again back to my point. Do we just have to say, that’s the way it is, gang, and until there’s a viable option to do something else, we’re gonna have to deal with this and make adjustments on our own?”
Carlisle: “There’s no doubt that we’ll need rail no matter what we do, but are we gonna continue to look for things to try and abate the problems that we’ve got, of course we are if they’ve got something that helps, but is it gonna be a magic bullet that will replace rail? Not with what we know now.”
“Rebecca of Hawaii Kai” said she disagrees with her neighbors who say a west Oahu transit system won’t benefit them. She said traffic alleviation is one important benefit. Another is the potential for transit-oriented development around future rail stations and the opportunity it will provide for revitalized neighborhoods and affordable housing. She said communities will be built around the stations, and she said she’ll personally benefit by being able to more easily travel through the urban core by avoiding surface traffic. Her peers will have more job opportunities – a more holistic contribution than merely avoiding traffic. Carlisle said she’s “absolutely right – period.”

“John of Kapolei” called to ask “what the average person can do to get this project moving faster. It has been way too long…. We need to move forward, and we need to move forward now.”

Carlisle: “You can always help by telling the people who you have elected that you want them to support rail. Basically, politicians respond to what their constituents want….They’re just hearing (from a well-organized) opposition (that) makes sure they have phone trees and people writing emails and answering the polls on TV and other things that aren’t done scientifically. The more you can (tell) people who you’ve put in office that this is what you want them to do, then the more they’re going to be pressured into doing (rail) that will have benefits for generations to come.”
Timson: “And those of us who feel it and live it every day, we need to remind our friends that it’s OK to speak….” She said neighbors who share their frustrations can build a groundswell of support for rail. “We’ve got to go back to the grass roots. That’s what Go Rail Go is. It was just a bunch of us who are sick of fighting and being alone about rail…That’s how it got started….”
Kozlovich: “If somebody comes to you and says I’m absolutely against rail, what do you tell them?”
Timson: “First of all, we want to find out where you live, of course…. And (rail) is not just about today. It’s about the future… I went to every single rail community meeting that (the city) had a couple weeks ago. I went to Kailua, I went to Kaneohe, I went to Hawaii Kai, and there were a couple who said, Oh, we don’t need it. So I say to them….do you know what the future is? It’s all on the west side. That’s where everyone is moving. Your kids are gonna grow up to be adults. They’re gonna look for a home, and guess where they’re gonna go. And they’re gonna say to you, hey Mom, I’m in traffic for four hours. I can’t visit you, ‘cause you didn’t like rail and didn’t help us to make it happen. You’re gonna have your kids living out on the west side. You need the future. It’s not just about today.”
Kozlovich brought up the rail project’s visual impact, saying rail doesn’t necessarily fit in with what most people associate with Hawaii. “Granted, what we think about Hawaii is changing, and some people are quicker to accept change than others, and certainly, Hawaii doesn’t look anything like it it did when I was a little girl, but now, when you hear people talking about the shadows being cast and the fact that it’s gonna be elevated, what do you tell them about that?”
Carlisle: “Take a look out of your (windshield) when you’re in a traffic jam. That’s what you get to see, how many hours a day? If you see something that’s elevated…I assume we can make it actually look good, then what is better as far as you’re concerned? I think a lot has been said that would intimidate people to think that these things are going to be monstrosities. The idea that being an aircraft carrier in the sky comes up every once in a while. Nothing could be further from the truth. An aircraft carrier would block four intersections, would crush everything around it and is solid steel. (Elevated stations) ultimately have a smaller footprint than some of the things that they’re talking about when you talk about trenching…and running it through the heart of the city. (The elevated system) will (have) every 120-some odd feet (a support column) as opposed to a trench that goes 30 feet wide and 5 feet down.”
Kozlovich: “One more thing about the money. There is some concern over the (general excise tax) and how long that will have to be collected and how long the additional surcharge (0.5 percent) will have to be and the concern that it will be tacked on forever and that it somehow will not necessarily make up the amount that we’re going to have to pay for this thing, that costs will escalate. How do you allay some of those fears that people have?”
Carlisle: “We’re doing things right now. Just take a look at it…how much money we have now holding back for contingencies and how soon, once we get to the full funding agreement….the whole dynamic changes.” Hamayasu said the contingency fund now is 21 percent of the project’s total cost, and once the full funding agreement is finalized, it will drop to 10 to 15 percent. “So that tells you right now we’ve got lots of extra money sitting around, and so far, we haven’t had to go into any extra monies because (the costs) are beneath what our projections were.”
Carlisle said the GET surcharge to cover the local share of construction costs eventually will end. Operations and maintenance expenses will continue, and he said that’s no different than funding the cost for highway upkeep today. “I don’t think that’s hard to understand,” he said. “Do we maintain our highways? Yes. Are we gonna have to maintain the rail system, too? Sure.”

We encourage Yes2Rail visitors to download the mp3 files for both the ant-rail and pro-rail “Town Square” programs and compare what you hear. From the former you’ll hear unsubstantiated allegations and obfuscation. From the city, you’ll hear fact-based analysis and comment that satisfies federal oversight of the project.

We say it repeatedly: The more we hear and read from rail opponents, the better the project looks. Rail supporters would do well to follow Mayor Carlisle’s advice and speak up for this critical piece of Oahu’s future transportation infrastructure.

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