Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Something Else Rail Critic Wants You To Believe: More Highways Reduce Traffic, but It Isn’t True

Years from now, long after Honolulu rail transit has become an everyday convenience for scores of thousands of Oahu residents, social scientists might well wonder why it took so long to build the rail system. For their benefit, we’re offering a reason today that we think will stand up over time:

The leading opponent’s anti-rail campaign was essentially a misinformation effort that survived as long as it did because it went unchallenged far too long by far too many people, including the media.

Businessman Cliff Slater has fought mass transit projects on Oahu since at least the 1980s by employing the successful business advertising tactic of message repetition. Just drum it in over and over, and people start to believe it.

Yes2Rail yesterday showed irrefutably that Mr. Slater doesn’t tell the truth when he accuses the city of withholding information on future traffic congestion levels after rail is built. That’s one prime example – the flat-out wrong misrepresentation of fact.

Highways and Congestion
But there are numerous other false notes in Mr. Slater’s campaign that most citizens, including reporters and editors, could have noticed had they been as focused on rail’s critics as they usually are on government.

Mr. Slater wants you to believe building more highways will reduce highway congestion. That’s his focus in all his years of activism against transit projects. He’s a highwayman at heart and has spent years trying to convince Oahu residents that building more roads is the answer to relieving the road congestion we all hate.

His HonoluluTraffic.com website, in addition to its anti-rail propaganda, also is a repository of Mr. Slater’s many commentaries that claim highways are the way of the future.

One of many examples was his October 2006 “Second Thoughts” column in the Honolulu Advertiser under the oxymoronic headline “Other cities have shown that rail does not work”. Try selling that in cities around the country that rely on rail networks to move millions of travelers each day.

That particular column concludes: “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.”

Induced Traffic
Numerous studies and actual city experience all over America* show he’s wrong (go here for links to several of these studies; see also asterisk below). In perpetuating the myth that building more roads reduces congestion, he has either been blind to the facts or has willingly misled citizens and the media on this issue, too.

Building more highways to relieve congestion actually creates more congestion. It’s called “induced traffic” and is widely studied and understood across the nation – but obviously not in Honolulu. Mr. Slater’s less-congestion-with-more-roads myth is stuck in the 20th century.

Here’s one study’s finding:

“Metro areas that invested heavily in road capacity expansion fared no better in easing congestion than metro areas that did not. Trends in congestion show that areas that exhibited greater growth in lane capacity spent roughly $22 billion more on road construction than those that didn’t, yet ended up with slightly higher congestion costs per person, wasted fuel, and travel delay….”
Some actually advocate demolishing highways to reduce congestion; one concludes “spending lots more on roads increased the toll exacted by congestion. Building more highways intensifies the urban traffic mess.”

Tearing down the few highways already built on land-scarce Oahu isn’t the solution here, but it’s time Honolulu (and its news media) wake up to modern thinking.

Honolulu rail will restore mobility, improve travel times, provide transportation equity and spur economic growth through transit-oriented development without eating up more space for toll roads or other highways that likely would make congestion worse.

Those social scientists of the future presumably will use whatever replaces Google as the preferred search engine to research Honolulu rail's history and what delayed its construction so long. We can use it now to fact-check Mr. Slater and challenge his outdated thinking.

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

* This just in from a friend who lives in New Jersey: "Tell Slater that 20 years ago the New Jersey Turnpike was 8 lanes wide, and too much congestion caused it to be widened to 12 lanes. Still got heavy congestion. Today, it is 16 lanes, and the exit flyovers are unbelievable, and congestion is so bad that it will be widened to 20 lanes shortly. At least with rail on a single (elevated guideway), all one has to do is either lengthen the train or reduce the headways, and the city can quadruple the capacity without years of added construction."

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