Monday, October 10, 2011

Questions Are for Discovering, so Question #7 on Holiday Delves into Decades-Long Rail Dissing

It may be Columbus Day in most of the 50 states, but it’s Discoverers Day in the USA’s only island state, which was discovered by Polynesians about a millennium before Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

So today’s question of discovery in our TEN QUESTIONS series is about chief rail opponent Cliff Slater’s anti-mass transit views over the years. Even relative newcomers to Hawaii with only two decades of Honolulu residency will recognize his name as the leader of the effort to block rail transit here in the early 1990s.

Mayor Frank Fasi’s proposed elevated system would have been nearly 16 miles long, with 22 stations along the route between Leeward Community College and UH Manoa, with stops at Pearlridge, Aloha Stadium, Pearl Harbor, the airport, downtown and other locations along the way.

Since the system would have offered a viable alternative to Manoa-bound students, traffic on streets and highways would have been attracting many of them since 2003 had it been built, a fact rail opponents can ponder as they complain that the current project doesn’t go to the Manoa campus.

Question #7 wants to shed some light on Mr. Slater’s assertions that mass transit projects must be resisted in Honolulu because of their alleged failures across America. Fortunately for our purposes, Mr. Slater has compiled quite a record in the digital age, so we can get to the bottom of his anti-transit reasoning with ease.

The Set-Up
You can look up Mr. Slater’s opinions using today’s wonderful search engines, and when you do, you’ll discover his recurring theme about why mass transit allegedly is a failure. Boiled down to its essence, it’s because transit’s percentage of commuter trips doesn’t grow after new systems are built. It almost always either stays the same or shrinks.

That’s not surprising since every American alive today has been on the receiving end of an automobile industry advertising juggernaut preaching the values of car and suburban home ownership, an idealized lifestyle that has only recently lost some of its luster. Most of us prefer driving our own car if we have one, but the facts of life -- literally -- make it uncomfortable much of the time to do so.

Mr. Slater publicizes what he calls the 8/80 principle as if it were some kind of proof in support of his core belief that big government transportation projects must be opposed. It’s the same way he specifically attacks Honolulu rail, as we’ve pointed out too many times to count since we first discovered his tactic in July 2010.

First Mr. Slater states what appears to be a fact, then draws a conclusion not supported by facts or logic, such as, "Traffic congestion grows in urban areas that have built rail transit systems; therefore, rail systems are failures."  That's how it works.

What we learn in reviewing Mr. Slater’s many on-line commentaries is that his primary goal is reducing traffic congestion. If a project doesn’t do that, don’t build it, he says, and he attacks Honolulu rail because it won’t reduce traffic congestion enough to suit his personal tastes.

Here’s a quote from one of his “Second Opinion” columns in The Honolulu Advertiser in October 2008: “We have a traffic congestion problem and that is a highway problem. It can only be fixed with highway solutions such as High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes.”
Question #3 in this series , if asked on "INSIGHTS on Hawaii PBS" Thursday night, would evoke an admission from Mr. Slater that HOT lanes don’t do anything to relieve congestion on regular streets and highways and serve only those who can afford to pay the toll – the wealthy or well-to-do.

Two months earlier in another “Second Opinion” column, Mr. Slater slammed home another unremarkable fact: “PB (the city’s prime contractor) cannot forecast traffic congestion relief from rail. That is because every single metro area in the U.S. with rail transit has seen an increase in traffic congestion in the last 20 years – every one.”

We hope the host and producer of Thursday’s INSIGHTS show see the pattern by now if they’re reading these posts. Mr. Slater’s singular goal is traffic congestion reduction – and by his own words he admits that’s simply not possible. Traffic congestion growth is the natural result of population growth. Opposing rail because it can’t stop the inevitable result of population growth would be hilarious if it weren’t so debilitating to the well-being of Oahu’s commuters.

Question #7
“Cliff, you’re a master at throwing around statistics to attack virtually any mass transit system you come across. Your favorite stat is the relatively low one mass transit ridership holds compared to car trips. You opposed Mayor Fasi’s plan for an elevated guideway 20 years ago because it wouldn’t reduce traffic congestion to your liking. You opposed Mayor Harris’s bus rapid transit project because you said it would increase congestion, and now you oppose the current rail plan for one primary reason – highway congestion wouldn’t be reduced dramatically to your liking if rail were built. Isn’t it true that the main reason you oppose transit is the simple reason that you first and foremost prefer cars to transit? You constantly mischaracterize rail’s goals by claiming that one of them is dramatic congestion reduction rather than be a way to avoid that congestion. YOU’LL never ride transit and you therefore can’t support rail even though scores of thousands of others WILL ride the train to avoid traffic congestion completely. At your core, you’re a highwayman, aren’t you?”
Discovering Mr. Slater’s true motivation in denying transit’s advantages for the masses is a good endeavor on any day.

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

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