Saturday, December 3, 2011

LTE Forum Covers Both Sides of Rail Issue, but Focusing on Opposition Seems More Productive

We launched the LTE Forum (LTE = Letters to the Editor) yesterday with a couple observations – that publications’ letters columns represent an unscientific sampling of public opinion and that opponents of major government projects probably are more energized in writing letters than the proponents.

We’ll discuss some pro-rail letters and commentaries here in Yes2Rail’s Forum, but addressing the opponents’ positions, which clearly are intended to sway public opinion, is the better option. Rail opponents’ viewpoints deserve consideration, and we’ll endeavor to respect them as we respond in our own effort to influence others to support rail. So let’s get started.

Council wimped out on rail issue (Star-Advertiser, 11/09)
(A Kapolei resident begins with a complaint that the City Council overwhelmingly rejected a proposed Charter amendment that would have prohibited the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation from developing the rail project.) “The more I hear of this rail and how it’s so flawed, full of insider privileges, self-serving politicians and their handlers, it makes me sick. Bad enough that taxpayers are force-fed this steel-on-steel monstrosity; we’re told there can be no reconsideration of styles that would be cheaper.”

Steel-on-steel technology for Honolulu’s system was recommended during the selection process by a panel of transit experts (the vote was 4-1) that evaluated the major competing options – monorail, rubber tires on cement and magnetic levitation. A prominent anti-rail Council member proposed the Charter amendment authorizing the city to include development of this technology among the duties of the Department of Transportation Services. Voters approved the amendment in 2008, so steel-on-steel wasn't “force-fed” to the public.

It’s frankly not reasonable to revisit the February 2008 selection of the most widely used technology for Honolulu’s system. The panel said steel was the best option based on cost, ride quality, safety and reliability. The competing technologies were rejected for capacity and other concerns. Throwing out steel’s selection nearly four years later would be an incredible waste of time and money. At some point, the technology considerations need to be put to rest, and that point truly was reached years ago during the recommendation and selection process. As for the writer’s accusations about insider privileges and other matters, they seem typical of the vague anti-rail comments often voiced by citizens upset with local government.

Letter to the Editor (MidWeek, 11/16)
(The writer objects to columnist Bob Jones’s 10 reasons to support the Honolulu rail project.) “I am usually a fan of Bob Jones, but I must clarify some of his observations in his ‘Just Thoughts’ promotion of the proposed railroad. To begin with, the city refused to consider some alternatives. I submitted better ideas, and the prorail (City and County) folks did not even acknowledge receipt of them…. More buses, more bus routes and greater bus frequency would take more cars off the road, just the opposite of what Bob suggests…. The city has admitted that the proposed railroad will not eliminate traffic congestion (emphasis added). In fact, that is no longer their goal; they want to create temporary jobs….”

The writer’s chagrin at not having his proposals acknowledged by the city is somewhat charming, but Bob Jones had it exactly right in concluding the alternatives were considered “in great detail. Saying otherwise is a canard from the let’s-keep-our-horse-and-buggy people.” Adding more buses to meet the demand for east-west travel through the urban core would simply add to the congestion. Elevated rail will be above the traffic and won’t contribute to it as buses currently do and would to a greater degree if more of them were on the roads. Regarding rail’s goals, they never were to “eliminate traffic congestion.” It’s a preposterous notion! The writer’s use of that phrase is a reflection of anti-railer Cliff Slater’s misleading campaign against this project.

We’ll wrap up today on a more positive note:

Rail foes waste public money (Star-Advertiser, 12/3)
“…The H-3 (freeway) was delayed for decades, but when it was opened, Windward residents found the freeway beneficial by providing a third access across the Koolaus, particularly when accidents block Pali or Likelike. Like the H-3, all residents will benefit from rail as an alternative transportation mode when the H-1 freeway is choked off due to rush hour congestion, accidents or bad weather. I hope the courts rule quickly and dismiss this lawsuit against rail. We have been down this road before, and it’s time we build rail.”

The Kaneohe resident accurately describes Honolulu rail’s purpose – to be an alternative mode of fast, frequent, reliable and safe transportation that will avoid all congestion. He undoubtedly also was correct in concluding that the anti-rail lawsuit will saddle taxpayers with additional costs.

This post has been added to our "aggregation site" under the new heading LTE Forum.

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