Friday, December 30, 2011

Year-End Rail Review Has Big Last-Minute News: FTA OKs Entry into Project’s Final Design Phase; Plus, Another Look at Anti-Railers’ Misinformation Efforts on What Rail Will Do and What It Won’t

Some are saying it’s a late Christmas present, but we think of it as a “pay it forward” moment that will provide benefits to Oahu residents for many Christmases to come.

The Federal Transit Administration gave the city permission yesterday to begin Final Design of the Honolulu rail project. It’s a “significant” step – a word used yesterday by several times elected officials to describe it.
The approval sets the stage for and even bigger event in 2012 – FTA issuance of a Full Funding Grant Agreement as early as September for the anticipated $1.55 billion in federal funds.

As noted by both the Star-Advertiser (subscription) and Civil Beat (free for occasional visitors), the FTA’s letter said the project’s financial plan requires strengthening before the FFGA can be granted. An updated plan could include extension of the 0.5 percent GET surcharge for rail and so-called “value capture” strategies to help provide the local share of the project’s funding. The Mayor's Office distributed a release.

Anti-railer-in-chief Cliff Slater’s website chimed in to “find it a little strange that at this stage the FTA would approve the current financial plan but have so many difficulties with it.” This was to be expected, of course, as Mr. Slater has been fighting this and every other mass transit project the city has attempted over the years, including Mayor Harris’s bus rapid transit project and Mayor Fasi’s elevated rail effort one and two decades ago respectively.

That’s an appropriate segue for our year-end recall of the major 2011 developments for Honolulu rail, since so many of them involved Mr. Slater’s misinformation campaign.

Year In Review
We end 2011 where we began the year – highlighting the Honolulu rail project’s goals just as we did on January 3. It’s necessary to keep returning to this subject because of deliberate efforts by leading rail opponents to confuse the goals and thereby Oahu residents.

We’re linking to numerous earlier Yes2Rail posts to keep the year’s final entry from going on forever, but the goals issue is something that simply must stay front and center.

Cliff Slater has implied all year long that the rail project’s goal is to virtually eliminate traffic congestion on our streets and highways. As we first noted in July 2010 and throughout this year, Mr. Slater’s anti-rail stump speech to his audiences – including the Rotary Club of Honolulu in October – relies on verbal trickery:

Mr. Slater first mentions the cost of building Honolulu rail, then says traffic will be worse in the future with rail than it is today. He immediately asks for questions and/or sits down.

Dramatic Tomfoolery
Mr. Slater’s dramatic flourish is intended to fool his audiences into believing this expensive transportation project would be a failure and not worth building if traffic will be worse 10, 20, 30 or more years into the future than it is today.

Some audiences fall for it and laugh heartily, never questioning Mr. Slater’s specious reasoning. With an ever-increasing population of people and their cars, of course traffic will be worse decades from now than it is today.

Always ignored by Mr. Slater are rail’s true goals – especially the goal of restoring mobility through the urban core between Second City on the ewa plain and downtown Honolulu. He ignores these goals because their logic is unassailable. Rail will be an alternative to wasting hours each week in traffic that can sap both time and vitality out of families’ lives. A letter to the editor today eloquently makes this point in our LTE Forum, below.

Anti-Railers’ PR Campaign
The Slater-led coalition of rail opponents has worked hard all year to portray rail as a project that appeals only to a minority of Oahu residents, yet scientific survey after survey suggests just the opposite. We covered the most recent results in a June post – 57-percent support for rail as found in a QMark survey.

Elsewhere, we noted that three such surveys dating to 2008 have found support averaging around the 57-percent mark. The only polls suggesting overwhelming opposition are those conducted by outlets like, which uses unscientific click-in methods that can rightly be laughed away. The print and broadcast media also engage in this unscientific polling, which earlier this month we suggested should be prominently labeledfor entertainment purposes only.” For uncovering true public opinion, they’re worthless.

Having filed their lawsuit to block rail, Mr. Slater and his three prominent plantiffs (we dubbed them the Gang of Four) launched a media and public relations campaign in August with their 1500-word commentary in the Star-Advertiser. Civil Beat, which continued to fill the investigative journalism vacuum in this city, launched a Fact Check of seven major assertions in the piece and found most were  FALSE . That's not much of a record for a Gang that includes a UH law professor, a former governor and a former judge. It's fair to conclude that the op-ed was written by the Gang's fourth member, Mr. Slater, who as we’ve already noted is not averse to spinning, no matter what the facts may be.

The City Fights Back
The Gang’s campaign included appearances on Hawaii Public Radio’s “Town Square” show in September; several Yes2Rail posts dissected their performance beginning the same day and continuing for several more.

After much haggling, HPR agreed to the city’s request that it be given equal time. Mayor Peter Carlisle and HART interim CEO Toru Hamayasu, along with Makakilo resident and rail supporter Maeda Timson, focused on the facts in a late October program, and as we posted the next day, countered “opponents’ earlier penchant for bombast.”

Our October 28th post discusses a 2008 radio show and has a link to it that might well be bookmarked for future reference whenever Mr. Slater in 2012 accuses the city of never telling the public traffic congestion will continue to increase even if rail is built. Mr. Slater even agrees on the show with fellow guest Wayne Yoshioka, city director of Transportation services, that congestion logically will continue to grow, yet that and his other public statements to this effect haven’t stayed his misleading comments about congestion.

Yes2Rail’s “Aggregation Site”
Many other 2011 highlights have been gathered together at our one-stop-shop July 26th post, an innovation we wish we had started earlier. The headings there include Project Goals, Public Opinion, Elevated vs At-Grade, Oahu’s traffic Problem, Mr. Cliff Slater (and Friends) and others. Serious students of Honolulu rail in search of pro-project compilations of fact and opinion might want to bookmark that post, too.

LTE Forum
We end our 2011 postings (barring major developments on New Years Eve) by mentioning two more rail-related letters in the morning paper. We’ve already dealt with the subject of one of them, the so-called ‘honor system’ of paying fares, in earlier LTE Forum posts (see the heading at the July 26th compilation), but the final one of the year couldn’t have said it better:

Rail will be our traffic savior (Star-Advertiser, 12/30)
“To all those opposed to the rail transit system: You are the very people who will be gridlocked on the freeway and not be able to move.
“You will get out of your automobiles, raise both hands to the heavens and you will profess: ‘Where is the rail?’
“The rail will be a breath of fresh air in the morning, afternoon and evening compared to a very crowded freeway.
“I do not want Honolulu to become a gridlocked city.”

The Honolulu letter-writer said in 79 words what we’ve devoted tens of thousands of words to in 2011. The year to come will demand many more of them that we'll be more than happy to provide. Some of those future automobile drivers will be our grandchildren, and it's for them – more than us – that Honolulu rail is being built.

Happy New Year!!


Art Shotwell said...

I still am against elevated rail in Honolulu.

Doug Carlson said...

Good to hear from you, Art. KHVH misses your objective approach to journalism from back in the day when you covered City Hall for the all-news station.

But, old friend: Living as you now do in the Pacific Northwest, you remember Honolulu as it was, not how it is today. National studies reveal a level of highway congestion that puts Honolulu in the top two or three worst situations in the entire country. At-grade transit can't achieve the project's goals, and we sure can't go underground. Elevated rail is the option that will work.

And have you seen how much Honolulu's skyline has changed in the decades since you left? It's not the place you remember, and another TWO DOZEN high-rise buildings are planned for Kakaako. Welcome to our growing Pacific metropolis.

Happy New Year, and please keep reading Yes2Rail!

Anonymous said...

No one will ride this 7 billion dollar boondoggle. You wont and neither will 90% of the people on Oahu. Where will you be in 2025 when no one is riding it, everyone is still paying for it and infrastructure is crumbling because we had other "priorities". Use your brain to come up with more cost effective solutions that benefit the majority. Taking 18% of the cars off the road won't matter because there will be 18% growth in cars by then. This is the 21st century. Rail is a 19th century idea. Grow up.

Doug Carlson said...

Anonymous, it's hard to know where to start with your comment -- maybe at the top with "no one will ride...." Would you have said that before other major transit systems were built -- BART in the Bay Area, the Washington Metro, New York City's subway system, the Chicago El and the rail systems in Phoenix, Houston, Salt Lake City, etc.? They're riding those systems, anonymous, and so will they on Oahu.

You're right; most Oahu citizens won't ride our system, but nobody ever said Honolulu rail will be for everybody (those other cities' systems aren't for everybody either). Those who will benefit the most will be citizens living along its route. Are you one of the "I won't ride it, so I'm against it" crowd? That would be a pity, because it takes the "me generation" concept to a new place where it becomes the "me first generation."

I don't have to come up with a different "solution." That's your challenge, so tell us what your great idea is that would accomplish rail's goals. If you need to refresh yourself, click on the "aggregation" site link in the right column and find the "Project's Goals" heading. Don't scrimp on the space you need to use in your next comment; it's free and unlimited to my knowledge.

BTW, the first manned aircraft flight was nearly 110 years ago. Is that technology outdated, too?

Give us more, Anonymous, and make it more substantive next time, please. Mahalo.