Sunday, October 16, 2011

Last Look at Disappointing INSIGHTS Show; New Opportunities Lie Ahead To Refute Anti-Railers

Supporters of the Honolulu rail project waited for the question to be asked during Thursday night’s INSIGHTS show on public TV. Some might have even shouted at the screen demanding to hear it: “If not rail, what?!”

But former Governor Benjamin Cayetano and anti-mass transit activist Cliff Slater didn’t hear that question and relied on their usual anti-railer rhetoric, which isn’t good enough. Opponents shouldn’t be allowed to get away with offering commuters no viable alternative to wasting hours each week in traffic congestion.

Instead, Messrs. Slater and Cayetano stuck to their usual sideshow issues that they rely on in their public appearances, including at last Tuesday’s Rotary Club of Honolulu meeting. Mayor Peter Carlisle will have his opportunity at this week’s meeting to give a point-by-point refutation of everything the Gang of Four said, especially Mr. Slater’s principal reason for opposing rail.

Mr. Slater used the TV show to flog the low percentage of rail transit ridership compared to private car use. Apparently that fact of life (roads were built everywhere in the car-centric 20th century) trumps everything in his universe, including building a congestion-free mode of travel for those who wish to avoid sitting in traffic.

Paying the Price for Congestion
Glen Astolfi of Faith Action for Community Equity responded:

“You can’t argue with the family out in Kapolei losing dinner together almost every night because they’re stuck in traffic trying to get home. Can you put a price on that? And when we get into this kind of back-and-forth, you lose this larger point, which is, our families are hurting because of this traffic. It does actual damage to actual people every single day, and it doesn’t have to.”
Mr. Cayetano slipped that direct argument in favor of traffic-free commuting by arguing that when money is spent on an expensive rail project, government’s ability to provide social programs is restricted – a curious argument since the people, through their taxes, are paying for the rail project, not some government program.

Speaking like the full-time politician he was, the former governor said: “You guys are so focused on this one issue (which, of course, was indeed the focus on the INSIGHTS program) as if it’s the only issue that’s important to any government. In my book, this is maybe three or four issue of importance to any government.

“You know, people will not die because of traffic congestion, but I tell you what. People will die if government can’t fund programs for spouse abuse and things like that. That’s the biggest problem with this project that I have. It’s gonna suck money away from the government to do things we gotta have….”

Standing Up for Government
And there it is – straight from a man who speaks for government programs. Former City Council member Gary Okino immediately responded that the local share for the rail system is being collected separately through the tax mechanism and that money is not being taken from other programs.

Moderator Boylan moved the discussion back to what rail will be – an alternative to driving. “Wouldn’t we be in better shape,” he asked, “if we had something that worked that well (as Washington’s Metro) running every three minutes?”

That was close to the “if not rail, what?” question, but not quite there. Rather than answer it, Mr. Slater said Honolulu can’t be compared to larger cities, but Mr. Okino jumped in to remind the audience of Mr. Astolfi’s previous description of Honolulu as uniquely suited for rail due to its thin east-west geography between the mountains and the sea.

Somebody might actually ask the leading anti-railers in one of their public appearances to explain themselves in ways they routinely refuse to do. Just maybe that’ll be Mayor Carlisle’s starting point on Tuesday.

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