Friday, October 7, 2011

If Not Rail, Ex-Governor Owes Us an Explanation; Question #4 Wants To Know Why He Prefers BRT

We’re alternating between Cliff Slater and former Governor Benjamin Cayetano in our series of 10 questions that we hope will be asked of these two men when they appear as guests on “INSIGHTS on Hawaii PBS” next Thursday night. Our list began on Tuesday with an inquiry for Mr. Slater, then Governor Cayetano and then yesterday to Mr. Slater again with a question that might drag an admission out of him.

We noted on Wednesday that Mr. Cayetano favors at-grade transit, and an “Old Friends” profile in the September 21st edition of MidWeek narrowed his preference to bus rapid transit, or BRT. According to the article, Mr. Cayetano said BRT “would do substantially everything that light rail would do, but at substantially less cost.”

His reference to “light rail” is a little puzzling; two of his fellow anti-rail lawsuit plaintiffs – Mr. Slater and Professor Randall Roth – like to use the term “elevated heavy rail” when discussing Honolulu’s rail project (they used the term 25 times in a recent one-hour radio talk show). The city itself calls the project “light metro,” so what Mr. Cayetano was referring to isn’t known.

Maybe he was talking about some kind of at-grade rail transit project, and if that’s the case, we’d have to agree with him that one slow at-grade system is probably as bad as the next. But that’s not what Yes2Rail is all about, and we suspect whatever Mr. Cayetano was thinking, it probably wasn’t something nice about Honolulu’s future elevated light metro system.

The Set-Up
Today’s question, like all of them in this series, is principally intended for the eyes of two people who work on the INSIGHTS show – its producer and its host. The latter is Dan Boylan, an avid observer of local politics who also writes a weekly column for MidWeek.

Mr. Boylan’s column in the July 15, 2008 issue was headlined “Rail Debate Lacks Leeward Voices.” Here are three paragraphs lifted from near the end of Mr. Boylan’s column:

“I would feel more comfortable…if the voices opposed to building rail came from my part of town. I remember one morning in 1978 riding to the Capitol from Pearl City with a Leeward legislator who would one day chair the Senate’s Transportation Committee.
“Traffic crawled along the H-1 Freeway that morning, and that state senator said: ‘Look at this. If Governor Ariyoshi had to drive to work in this every day, he’d support mass transit.’
“His name was Ben Cayetano, and he’s written that his investigation of mass transit resulted in his changing his mind about rail – that his research convinced him that it was unsuitable for Hawaii.”

Question #4
“Governor Cayetano, back in 1978 you told me – quote – if Governor Ariyoshi had to drive to work in this every day, he’d support mass transit – close quote. By ‘this’ you meant traffic on the H-1 freeway between west Oahu and town. The island’s population then was about 750,000. The 2010 Census put Oahu’s population at 953,000, and the vast majority of the new 200,000 residents are living in Honolulu’s urban core – especially out west on the ewa plain. They’re the ones who are caught in Oahu’s major traffic problem twice a day. You say you’ve changed your mind and that rail transit is unsuitable for Hawaii. If you think rail is unsuitable, Governor, do you favor any kind of mass transit, and if so, what kind of mass transit do you believe is suitable for Oahu?"
Based on Mr. Cayetano’s recent comments, we know the answer to that question – buses – but it’s not a bad thing to know what he’s likely to say, because every question on INSIGHTS needs to be backed up by follow-up questions. Here’s another suggestion:

“Governor, bus rapid transit was a Harris Administration idea a decade ago, and your friend Cliff Slater, who like you is a plaintiff on the federal lawsuit intended to kill rail, fought bus rapid transit tooth and nail. He wrote in 2004 that BRT was a farce and that BRT – quote – would wreak havoc with traffic congestion. It will not save time, except under limited circumstances – close quote. Governor, why do you favor a transit system that your fellow lawsuit plaintiff says would create a traffic nightmare?”
As a survivor of many battles with the media over the years, Mr. Cayetano is savvy enough to change the subject if these questions are asked, and he’d probably do his best to focus on rail’s elevated structure and its potential to affect view planes at various spots along its 20-mile route.

We hope Mr. Boylan wouldn’t let up in his role as host/interrogator and would press Mr. Cayetano on how much taller existing high-rises and another dozen or more planned tall buildings will be compared to rail.

You can participate in next Thursday’s INSIGHTS show by emailing your questions to and tweeting to @pbshawaii. KHET says there’s been a change in the schedule, and INSIGHTS will air from 8-9 pm next Thursday. Be there. Aloha.

This post has been added to our “aggregation site” under the heading Mr. Cliff Slater (and friends).

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