Friday, October 21, 2011

Look Behind the Curtain when Rail Critics Speak

If you’ve been paying close attention to the Honolulu rail project over these many months, you’ve probably noticed the tendency of rail opponents to rely on the “rhetorical flourish” in their denunciations of the project.

“Shame on the city…” Randall Roth exclaims with passion as he accuses the city of withholding information from the public about future congestion levels – which it hasn’t done, of course.

Retired judge Walter Heen borrows from Hollywood when he says the City Council debate on rail reminded him of the “Silence of the Lambs” – ignoring the many critical debates engaged in by Barbara Marshall, Ann Kobayashi, Charles Djou and other members about the project over the years.

And most obvious of all the flourishes – because he’s used it so often – is Cliff Slater’s suggestion that rail would be a failure if “traffic congestion in the future with rail will be worse than it is today.” No kidding. With 200,000 more people living on Oahu by 2030 than just a few years ago, more congestion is exactly what you’d expect – yet Mr. Slater uses the flourish endlessly to attack rail in his presentations.

Relying on Statistics
We haven’t paid much attention to Panos Prevedouros lately due to the higher profile of the Gang of Four plaintiffs and their lawsuit that’s intended to kill rail here. But the good professor is never far from the spotlight with his flourishes, even if only on the margins.

He again is referring his readers to the New Geography website, which seems ever-ready to publish articles critical of mass transit initiatives around the country. Says Dr. Prevedouros at his own website, “Despite higher prices and huge media hype over shifts to public transit, the big surprise (in the U.S. Census) was the continued growth over the last decade in driving alone to work.”

And on the basis of that finding, Dr. Prevedouros concludes building Honolulu rail would be “nothing short of ridiculous.” There it is again – the first-blush flourish that really can’t hold water when just a little extra attention is applied.

Only Skin Deep
Most Americans are hell-bent on pursuing their unsustainable lifestyle, and because that’s so, he says we shouldn’t build rail. Don’t restore mobility to Oahu’s east-west corridor; don’t dramatically improve travel reliability for those who choose to ride the train, and most of all, don’t provide a congestion-free mode of transportation to and from work for scores of thousands of residents.

Skin deep is about as far as the anti-railers’ rhetorical flourishes go. They don’t hold up when given a second look, so we’re well advised to look deeper into the critics' eyes and ask a tough question or two. Do at least that much the next time you feel a flourish wash over you.

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