Saturday, July 30, 2011

‘Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid’ of Political Posturing

That’s the advice of a former congressional leader this weekend, when our collective future is even more clouded than normal.

It’s easy to see political posturing as the dominant behavior of our time, and it’s not just an inside-the-beltway condition. The local election season over the next 15 months will be our most intense in decades.

Up for grabs will be an open U.S. Senate seat for the first time since 1976. Both U.S. House seats may be open depending on what their incumbents decide about the Senate race. On Oahu, get ready for contests for offices in Honolulu Hale – the mayor's and, by our count, six of nine Honolulu City Council districts. Political posturing will be everywhere, so be prepared for the advertising, headline grabbing, self-promotion and possible hypocrisy.

Honolulu Rail

Despite solid majority support for the Honolulu rail project found in three scientific opinion polls over the past three years, Honolulu rail is still a big and attractive target for ink-seeking politicians.

Former U.S. Representative Charles Djou is at it intensely, since he’s been mentioned for all of the above-referenced offices except the City Council. In early June, a commentary submitted by Mr. Djou was headlined “City should work harder to build consensus on rail” with those exact words in three different publications in the same week. As we noted at the time, 57-percent support for rail in the latest opinion poll seemingly refutes Mr. Djou’s assertion of “razor-thin” majority support.

Mr. Djou’s latest commentary – “Rail authority doesn’t need million-dollar offices” – appears in the current edition of Pacific Business News. Subscribers can find it within the “premium content” section at PBN's website; others will have to read the print version.

The thrust of Mr. Djou’s commentary is in its second paragraph. (We can’t let the first graf go without observing that it misquotes one of the most famous statements ever made by a member of Congress.) Here’s paragraph two:

“That quote is appropriate for the Honolulu rail project today. The disclosure that the newly formed Honolulu rail transit authority will spend close to $1.4 million in taxpayer funds for one year’s worth of rent for prime office space in downtown Honolulu adds to the growing sense that the authority has, at best, a cavalier attitude toward the spending of your money and misunderstands the reasoning for rail.”

A Few Problems

The commentary builds on some dubious journalism by online HawaiiReporter.com a few weeks ago that “broke the news” about HART’s leased space in downtown Honolulu. Trouble was, the City’s Rapid Transit Division, which was transferred into HART on July 1, had occupied that space for years.

It almost goes without saying that Hawaii Reporter’s story, which was picked up by a television station and thereby attracted even more attention to the leases, made no mention of RTD’s long-term occupancy. There was no “news” in Hawaii Reporter’s piece – just another opportunity to indirectly attack the rail project by going after HART on a trumped-up fiscal malfeasance charge.

Further complicating Mr. Djou’s commentary is the fact that the City Council of which he was a member approved RTD budgets that included the leases, which the City said were less expensive than building new facilities or modifying existing space. Time will tell whether Mr. Djou himself assented to their passage.

Mr. Djou’s PBN commentary concludes with more assertions of mismanagement on the rail project and his hope “that greater community consensus is eventually built for rail by Honolulu Hale” – to which we’d again refer him to the impressive pro-rail support found in the three opinion surveys.

We’ll conclude our own commentary today by hoping the nation’s fears about what may happen at Tuesday midnight will have been swept aside by then. For those of us living on Oahu, however, the fear-mongering season has just begun.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Support for Rail Soared in 3 Best-Practices Polls, so Remember It when the Media Roll Out Theirs

Yesterday’s rediscovery of the “forgotten” 2008 public opinion survey on Honolulu rail was one of those “aha” moments that deserves a second look.

The Business Roundtable-commissioned OmniTrak poll found 59-percent support for rail and 38-percent opposition among 1500 respondents. The margin of error was +/- 3 percent. The Roundtable was neutral on rail at the time, so there’s no question about the survey’s objectivity, a favorite concern of anti-railers when results come in they don’t like.

The OmniTrak survey helps validate the two conducted more recently that found exceptionally similar results. (See our “aggregation” post for all three polls' results.)

QMark's surveys in 2009 and again this past May found support for rail was 60 percent and 57 percent respectively. The margin of error in both surveys of 900 respondents was +/- 3.27 percent.

By the Book

The default position of anti-railers about these polls is that they were somehow written to slant the results toward support for rail. It’s a preposterous assertion, inasmuch as the companies would have forfeited their credibility and therefore their futures had they done that. Both Honolulu survey firms abide by the scientific polling standards of the national associations to which they belong.

Their surveys bear no resemblance to the “question-of-the-day” polls the media like to post online or conduct via calls into a TV station. You’re seen them: “Do you want the Honolulu rail project to continue – yes or no?”

It’s a come one, come all approach that’s unscientific in the extreme and attracts opponents by giving them a venue to vent against the project. Scientific opinion surveys make their approach look ridiculous.

Please do remember the difference the next time one of the media floats a poll.  Remember, too, that the 2008 Business Roundtable poll was the foundation for the trifecta of scientific opinion surveys showing strong public support for Honolulu rail over the past three years. You can bet on it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Slater, Prevedouros Added to Talking Points Site; ‘Forgotten’ 2008 Rail Poll Tracks with ’11 Survey

Life seems to be speeding up – everything going faster with less time to read it, absorb it, get it. That’s why we aggregated nearly 30 previous Yes2Rail posts yesterday and grouped them around recurring topics. We’re adding to the list today.

The two most visible and recurring rail critics are HonoluluTraffic.com’s Cliff Slater, whom we call the anti-railer in chief, and Dr. Panos Prevedouros, a University of Hawaii professor who’d like to see toll roads built here instead of elevated rail.

We’ve added sections devoted to these two gentlemen at the bottom of yesterday’s post. From now on, when referring you to our previous efforts to put their rail criticisms in perspective, we’ll link to that post for easy reference.

Criticism is good, especially when it invites reflected attention back on the critics.

Public Opinion, Again

We found our August 27, 2008 post while reviewing past entries, and this one deserves special attention. The Honolulu Advertiser reported that day on a rail poll by OmniTrack for the Hawaii Business Roundtable. (To locate material in both papers prior to the June 2010 "merger" that marked the end of the Advertiser, go to the Star-Advertiser's website and click on Back Issues.)

It said that among the 1500 registered voters surveyed by the company, 59 percent said they supported the rail project. The opposition came to 38 percent. The paper’s staff wrote: “The results jibe with a slate of recent polls indicating a majority of local residents support the $3.7 billion elevated commuter rail project.” (The figure used today is $5.3 billion calculated in year-of-expenditure inflated dollars.) The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Those results also jibe beautifully with the poll conducted in May by QMark of 900 residents across Oahu. It found 57 percent supporting rail, 40 percent opposed.

One wonders how many times these objective, scientific, principled public opinion polls have to be published before it’s obvious to everyone but outspoken rail critics that Oahu residents favor construction of the Honolulu rail project!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

One-Stop Site for Pro-Rail Talking Points--All Free

JANUARY 2, 2012 UPDATE: This post has become a "library" of Yes2Rail posts that we think are particularly significant for visitors's appreciation of the issues and personalities associated the Honolulu rail project. Since 7/26/11, the day we created this post as a one-stop shop for visitors, it has grown from just a few links to dozens under some headings -- e.g., Mr. Cliff Slater (and Friends). Rather than continue adding new posts to the 2011 lists, we've begun grouping new posts under "2012" beneath each of the headings as appropriate. In addition, we duplicated the entire July 26th post in a new post on January 2, 2012 to bring it into the New Year, which will be "pivotal" for Honolulu rail.  New links are being added to the January 2nd post, not here in July 2011

What if there were a single post here at Yes2Rail that had links to numerous previous posts on a variety of topics? Instead of having to search through posts going back three years every time we wanted to link to what’s already been written, we could just link to this one post, an aggregation of many others.

That was the thinking that led to today’s Yes2Rail entry, so here they are – arranged by topics with earlier posts that we think help make the case for building the Honolulu rail project exactly as it’s been planned. (NOTE: To locate materials in both the Star-Bulletin and the Advertiser prior to their June 2010 "merger" that marked the end of the Tiser, go to the Star-Advertiser's website and click on Back Issues.)

Project’s Goals, and more – We began 2011 by reviewing the project’s four principal goals and continued that emphasis in the new year:
2012:
Here We Go – Charging into Rail's 'Pivotal Year' (Former Governor Cayetano "considers" running for mayor)
2011:
Rail’s Goals Remain the Same in the New Year
Rail’s All-Important Goal – Improved Reliability
Rail Goal #3 – Support for Second City’s Growth
Transportation Equity Rounds Out Rail’s 4 Goals
Institute's Transit-Accessibility Study Shows Why Rail Will Be Successful Here
High-speed rail video works Honolulu rail: 'Mad Men' on Trains
Open Letter to Outdoor Circle Members: Some of you Oppose Rail, but Have you Weighed Impacts vs Benefits? Unless Your Life Is Impacted Daily by Congestion, You Can't Appreciate Traffic's Costs

Public Opinion – Three scientific opinion polls have been conducted by local respected firms QMark and OmniTrak in the past three years to probe the public’s views on rail:
2011 Opinion Survey Finds 57% Support Rail Project
Every Council District Registered Majority Support
Rail’s Ability to Address Growing Traffic Problem
57-to-40 Rail Split Isn’t Exactly ‘Razor-Thin’ Edge
Rail’s Majority Grows When Economy Is the Issue
Oahu Traffic Emerges as Public Enemy Number 1
2009 Poll: Behind the Numbers – Solid Support
Poll Parsing: Big Majority Sees Economic Benefit
Graphics Give Insightful Look at Opinions on Rail
Story Criticizes Opinion Poll w/out Giving Results
2008: A Second Poll Shows Strong Support for Rail
Support for Rail Soared in 3 Best-Practices Polls, so Remember It when the Media Roll Out Theirs

Elevated vs At-Grade – It keeps coming up, the view that at-grade rail would be a better option than Honolulu’s planned elevated system. We’ve taken pains to address the comparison numerous times:
What Every Consumer Asks When Making a Purchase: ‘Will It Do What I Need It To Do?’
Jogging & Keeping Pace with an At-Grade Train
Among At-Grade’s Negatives: Vehicle Lane Loss
Among At-Grade’s Negatives, Part 2: Accidents
When Safety Is Crucial, Think Elevated Rail
Train Meets Van in Another At-Grade Rail Collision
Phoenix Citizens Want to Know ‘What’s the Problem with All These Crashes?’
Architects Are Trying To Squeeze Through the Eye of a Needle with a Claim At-Grade Rail Is as Safe as Elevated
At-Grade’s Drawbacks Can’t Be Airbrushed Away
Human Factor Causes another At-Grade Crash; Bus Runs Light, Smashes into Houston Train; 12 Sent to Hospitals, Rail Service Halted for Hours
Car-Train Crash in Long Beach Illustrates Major Drawback to 'Cheaper' At-Grade Rail Transit
Yet To Open, Norfolk's Train Has First Car Crash

Generation Next – Oahu’s young adults speak up for rail:
Next Generation Tells Council ‘We Will Ride It’
More Pro-Rail Testimony by the Next Generation
Another Poll Post: The Next Generation Speaks
Poster Contest Shows Gen-Next Appreciates Rail
Hey, Generation Next: HonoluluTraffic.com Says You’re Clueless, Belittles Your Pro-Rail Opinions

Oahu's Traffic Problem – Bad and getting worse:
H-1 Segment Is #2 among 'Highways from Hell'
Another Reminder that Honolulu's Traffic Is Bad, But for Many, It's Worse than Institute Study Says

Mr. Cliff Slater (and Friends) – Honolulu's Anti-Railer in Chief:
2012:
Here We Go – Charging into Rail's 'Pivotal Year' (Former Governor Cayetano "considers" running for mayor)
2011: 
2008: Hot Seat Revisited: Dissecting Slater
2010: Cliff Slater’s ‘Ace Card’ Turns Out To Be a Joker
A Closer Look at Cliff Slater’s ‘Whole Argument’
True Confessions: Rail Opponent Concedes Transit Project Will Reduce Future Traffic Congestion
Cliff Slater and His Magical Words about Traffic: Rail Critic continues his Obfuscation Campaign
Sticking to His Story, No Matter How Misleading
A Trip to Yesteryear with ‘Always-By-Car’ Slater
Does Honolulu Want ‘Low-Height’ Underpasses?
Critic Rolls Out Statistics
Houston's Highway Traffic Is Nation's 4th Worst 
Rail Critic's Latest Reads Like More of the Same 
Lawsuit Backers Switch Tactics, Blast Honolulu Rail in Media Broadside Aimed at Influencing Public Opinion, but Absolutely Nothing Is New
Question for Rail Critics: 'Where's the Beef?' Without Thoughtful Options to Traffic, Spare Us
Fact Check Begins on Gang of 4's Anti-Rail Piece
Civil Beat Fact Check: Slater Wrong on Stations; Gang of 4's Ridership Claim Is Ripe for a 'False'
Going Beyond Fact Checks To Ask the Obvious
Anti-Rail Pitch Men Work the Airwaves, Show Strong Appreciation of How To Mislead Public
To Coin a Phrase, Garbage In, Garbate Out: Slater's Highly-Touted Poll Result Was Flawed, so Is Roth's Allegation the City Deceived Public 
Final Civil Beat Fact Check is Half True/Half False; More Fiction Found in Rail Opponents' Radio Show
Critic Says Rail Will Fail if Traffic Won't Be Cut, but His Beloved Tampa Highway Hasn't Done That
10 Questions: Rail Critics' TV Gig Could Be Their 'Waterloo' if Host, Public Ask the Right Questions
Houston Truck-Train Wreck Prompts Question #2: 'Governor, Why Do You Favor Crash-Prone Rail?'
Question #3 Is about Traffic Levels: 'Mr. Slater, HOT Lanes Don't Reduce Congestion, Do They?' 
If Not Rail, Ex-Governor Owes Us an Explanation; Question #4 Wants To Know Why He Prefers BRT 
Question #5: 'Mr. Slater, You Know the Truth, so Why Did You Ply Your Team with Falsehoods?' 
Inquiring Minds Want Answer to Question #6: "Where's the Evidence Rail Rail Is 'On the Ropes?'"
Questions Are For Discovering, so Question #7 on Holiday Delves into Decades-Long Rail Dissing
Pro-Rail INSIGHTS Guest Deserves Question #8: 'Why Do You Support Building Elevated Transit?'
Would Rotary Venue Bring Out Rail Critic's Best? Not a Chance -- which Leads Us to Question #9
ยช Question #10 Is for Anti-Rail Guests on TV Tonight: 'If Not Elevated Transit, WHAT DO YOU WANT?!' 
With a State-Wide Audience and a Chance To Give Their Alternative to Rail, Two Opponents Blinked 
Does Repeating a Lie Over and Over Make It True? What Else Can Anti-Railer's Main Claim Be Called? 
Something Else Rail Critic Wants You To Believe: More Highways Reduce Traffic, but It Isn't True
Anti-Rail Charter Amendment Fails 1st Reading; Unmistakable Sign of City Council's Rail Support
Prediction: Anti-Railers' Illogical Messaging on Future Congestion Issue Will Be Their Undoing
Telling It Like It Is: Cliff Slater's Campaign To Mislead Oahu Residents on Rail is Disgraceful; His 'Big Lie' Doesn't Become 'Truth' with Repetition 
Cliff Slater Won't Stop Using Same 'Non-Truth' in His Anti-Rail Campaign, but Is It Something Else?
More from Misleader-in-Chief Slater: As Usual, His Latest Post Is Example of More Flash than Bang
More on 'Honor System,' plus Flip-Flopping Rail Opponent Who Fought BRT Now Thinks It's Swell
Anti-Rail, Anti-Bus Slater Now Touting Bus Rides; His Letter to FTA Is Classic Case of Obfuscation

Dr. Panos Prevedouros – The University's highway expert:
Checking References: Prevedouros’s UH Bio Lists Research Background, but Where's Transit? (Yes2Rail’s 3rd post 7/2/08)
Anti-Railers Help Make Case for Honolulu Rail
More Prevedouros Analysis: What Can He Mean, Saying Rail Would Not Be of Any Use During Freeway Closures, Tsunamis and Floods?
Doctor’s Rail Dissing Is Demonstrably Dubious; Transit Scores Favorable Marks in USA Survey
Highway Expert Offers Another Anti-Rail Critique
Helping Search Engines Find Dr. Prevedouros
Rail Critic Keeps Popping Up All over the Place
Who's Deceiving Whom? Rail Critic's Illogical Conclusions Undermine His Familiar Refrain

LTE Forum – Comments on Letters to the Editor:
Rail Court Case Will Make News Intermittently, so We Launch a New Feature on Letters to the Editor
LTE Forum Covers Both Sides of Rail Issue, but Focusing on Opposition Seems More Productive
Enlarging TheBus Fleet and Making Rides Free Would Do Nothing To 'Solve' Congestion Problem
Rail Project Eyes Cost-Cutting Alternatives that Would Reduce Station Size, Improve Frequency
LTE Forum: Will System 'Spoil' or 'Save' Island?
Letter Reveals a Basic Misunderstanding of Rail; It Will Be Travel Option for EVERYBODY, Not 'a Few'

Please return to this space. We’ll be adding to Yes2Rail's aggregation of topical posts.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Non-Shocker: Most Oahu Parcels Near Rail Line

The darker the color, the closer the parcel is to the rail line.
Civil Beat calls this “a surprising statistic,” but it seems completely logical to rail supporters:

“More than half of the nearly 300,000 different parcels on the entire island of Oahu are within two miles of a rail station, showing just how many Honolulu residents could potentially benefit from the train.”

Well, yeah! It’s what the rail project has been saying for years and what national transit experts have said for decades. Honolulu’s geography is perfectly suited for a rail transit line, with buses running from the valleys and neighborhoods (the parcels) and funneling passengers into the stations.

CB continues: “Considering Oahu is nearly 600 square miles, it’s not intuitive that so many parcels would be so close to a narrow 20-mile line.”

Actually, what’s intuitive and not surprising at all is that a rail line would be built where the people are. Selecting the route was not a dart-throwing exercise, with planners taking turns on tosses that determined where the stations would be built.

Nevertheless, we’re not quibbling with Civil Beat’s story. Like the piece suggests, lots and lots of residents and business employees will live and work within walking distance or a short bus or bike ride from a rail station.

A great many of them will leave the car at home and ride.

Some Things Are Worth Repeating: Ground-Level Rail Transit Here Would Be an Expensive Disaster

The drumbeat cadence pounded out by Honolulu’s doomrailers continues in the media. Cliff Slater has another post at Hawaii Reporter repeating his familiar arguments, all of which have been addressed by the City’s response to Slater’s lawsuit.

A letter in the Star-Advertiser today restates the familiar: “If we must have rail, make it ground-level light rail, which would be much less costly and quieter than the elevated system being promoted.”

The assertion that at-grade rail would be preferable to elevated is wrong on so many levels it’s hard to know where to begin, but we will begin by repeating the rail project’s fundamental objective – to provide fast, frequent, reliable and safe transportation through the east-west urban corridor.

Those four attributes describe the end result of accomplishing rail’s four goals, which we won’t repeat but were fully described here on January 3. Imagine building an at-grade system through Honolulu’s dense corridor while not reducing or eliminating street lanes for vehicular use. You wouldn’t want to "rob Peter to pay Paul" by laying a rail line onto (and thereby eliminating) existing traffic lanes. That would frustrate mobility.

At-Grade’s True Costs

By building an at-grade line next to existing lanes, the property condemnation cost would be enormous. Scores of businesses would be disrupted and taken for such a scheme, so the letter-writer’s imagined “less costly” project is a pipedream.

We’ve posted numerous photographs showing rail-related accidents in cities (like Phoenix, at right) where transit runs at ground level, and if anything, we could expect Honolulu’s motorists – with virtually no experience negotiating rail crossings – to crash even more often. If safety is consideration #1, think elevated rail. (Be sure to read the comment below this linked post.)

Since crashes reduce reliability, at-grade rail would be less attractive to drivers who might otherwise switch to transit to shorten their commute times.

Finally, at-grade transit in Honolulu would be slow transit, as we’ve outlined in other posts. Compared to elevated rail’s anticipated 55-plus-mph speed between stations, surface-level light rail simply could not compete.

If you were to grade the two options on their ability to achieve Honolulu rail's four goals, ground-level light rail would receive an F and the elevated system an A. Doomrailers and those they are trying to influence can’t ignore the comparison.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Slow Accident Protocol Prolongs Highway Woes

Hawaii residents take note of and publicize their state's uniqueness. The islands are the most remote inhabited location on earth. Maui has the world’s largest dormant volcano, Haleakala. Kauai boasts both the world’s highest rainfall on Mount Waialeale and the Pacific’s largest canyon, Waimea. Kilauea on the Big Island has been active since 1983, the world’s longest continuing eruption.

Honolulu on Oahu is the nation’s largest city – technically encompassing not only the entire island but also all the islands in the Hawaiian archipelago stretching to the northwest. Honolulu’s Royal Hawaiian Band, the nation’s oldest municipal group, often plays on the grounds of Iolani Palace, the only former royal residence and palace in the USA.

All of those distinctions are more novelty than impact, but others are not so benign. Honolulu motorists suffer through some of the worst traffic in the country, according to the Texas Transportation Institute and the comparisons many well-traveled residents make.

Something else motorists here experience are some of the longest highway and freeway closures after accidents. Civil Beat headlined yesterday that “Honolulu shuts freeways longer than other cities” based on its reporting.

Standard Protocol

Mainland transplants often complain about driving habits that seem ingrained here among many motorists, such as cruising in a freeway’s “fast” lane slower than the prevailing traffic flow, and not signaling an intention to turn left while waiting at an intersection until the traffic light turns green. Shutting down freeways for long periods after accidents and incidents is another one.

Civil Beat looked into the practice after several noteworthy highway and freeway closures by Honolulu police officers and found that officials in California, Texas and Arizona say freeway closure is their last resort. “And if they do shut down a freeway,” CB wrote, “it’s rarely more than one or two hours.”

This photo shows the closure of the H-1 after the horrific and notorious incident in January 2008 when a deranged man threw a toddler from a pedestrian overpass onto the H-1 freeway near downtown Honolulu. The freeway was closed to westbound traffic for nearly five hours.

In April of this year, a crime spree in East Honolulu involving a carjacking and fatal shooting closed Kalanianaole Highway for three hours. The investigation was in the westbound lanes heading into Honolulu, but even eastbound traffic going to Hawaii Kai and other bedroom communities along the highway was halted during the afternoon rush hour.

Honolulu’s future rail project would not offer relief during all such freeway closures, but two points deserve mention. The system will indeed be a congestion-avoiding alternative to freeway driving at all times. And the relatively long closures during investigations of accidents on Oahu’s major east-west thoroughfares seems to be standard protocol – another of those ingrained habits motorists have come to expect.

There’s no indication whether that protocol will soon change. Civil Beat ended its piece: “Questions to Honolulu police about the department's highway incident protocol or whether it has undertaken any measures to address the issue went unanswered."

Friday, July 22, 2011

Rail Revenues Defy Doomrailers’ Predictions

There’s a word we guarantee you’ve never seen before – doomrailer, a blending of doomsayer, “a person who predicts impending misfortune or disaster,” and anti-railer. You know what and who they are. (See Yes2Rail Dictionary at end of this post.)

We’ve heard a lot of doomrailer predictions about what Hawaii’s weak economy over the past few years means for the Honolulu rail project. Former Governor Linda Lingle was so taken (in) by those predictions that she commissioned a report to analyze rail’s financial picture. It concluded general excise tax revenues could be 30 percent below expectations.

Doomrailer assessments have been consistently refuted over the past two years (see here and here), and the latest news nails it: Total GET revenues since January 2007 are $15 million more than originally projected – $715 million and growing daily.

The City reports revenues for fiscal year 2011, which ended three weeks ago, were $179.1 million, 9 percent higher than projected in the project’s most recent financial plan.

“This is good news, particularly in this difficult economy,” said Toru Hamayasu, interim executive director of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART). “Strong GET collections will help us keep our finances on track and deliver this project on time and on budget.” HART Finance Committee chair Don Horner added: “The news is encouraging because it continues to validate the overall financial plan. Equally important, the overall total bid costs to date are actually below the project’s financial estimates. With 40 percent of the costs known, the project remains on a sound financial footing.”

About that Word

This latest financial assessment of Honolulu rail appears to have left anti-railing/doomsaying opponents taken aback. They’re not quoted anywhere in the media’s coverage of this story so far.

As for doomrailer, we’re going to claim its coinage. There’s only one other Google “hit” on that word outside our usage (which you'll now find there), and that was in a 2009 article in the Italian edition of Marie Claire, a French women’s monthly magazine. That's too remote, and the article is no longer accessible anyway.

Doomrailer is ours!
*****************************
Yes2Rail Dictionary
doomrailer
noun
a person who consistently predicts doom and gloom for Honolulu's rail system using magical thinking unshakable by facts.
Origin:
July 22, 2011 [at Yes2Rail blog]; doom + rail + er;  from doomsayer + anti-railer
Related forms
doomrailing, adjective, noun

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Transit by Smart Phone App? Let’s Take a Pass; Plus, State Dismisses Bombardier Complaint

Snazzy video is built on concentric circles of misconceptions.
It’s come up before, so we can expect it to come up again – the idea that a city’s cross-town transportation needs can be satisfied with “personal mobility” solutions anchored by your iPhone.

Honolulu Magazine floated this “personal transit” concept last September with what we dubbed the Shaxi-Pool solution – a combination of shuttles, taxis and car pools. The suggestion that our high-capacity requirements can be met with shuttles dispatched to one’s door with a phone call is simply incredible.

The HumanTransit website, which we’ve previously recommended, looks at this utopian transit “solution” under a headline “how urbanist visionaries can muck up transit.” It begins:

“Architects and urban visionaries play an incredibly important role in a leadership-hungry culture. They have to know a little bit about almost everything, which is hard to do. But for some reason, certain segments of the profession have decided that the basic math and geometry of transit isn’t one of those things they need to know, even when they present themselves as transit experts.”

Some Honolulu architects fit that description and have proposed their own transit plan for Honolulu centered on at-grade rail, a concept we’ve taken pains to criticize many times, -- such as here, here and here.

Human Transit’s Jarrett Walker invites readers to watch a video from a Los Angeles architectural firm – a nicely produced and clever piece of computer-generated eye candy that he calls “a concise summary of all the crucial mistakes that you’ll need to confront in much ‘visionary thinking’ about transit.”

“Gensler (the LA firm) imagines that a demand-responsive style of transit, in which you make a request on your phone and the transit system somehow deviates to meet your personal needs, is scalable to a vast, dense city where the transit system is already very crowded much of the time.”

That’s what Honolulu magazine imagined, too: “Forget train tracks and bus lines. Imagine a network of on-demand shuttle buses. From your home or your phone, you send the network a request to go somewhere….”

Walker is describing Los Angeles in his Human Transit post, but the points apply just as well to Honolulu, which has a bus system that frequently runs near or at capacity. Here’s how he addresses the concept of calling up delivery of your transit ride just like you’d order a pizza:

“In Gensler’s Los Angeles, every transit trip must be reserved. Do you really want to have to make an appointment with a single vehicle and driver, because that’s the onoy way to make any use of all the buses swarming around you on unpredictable paths? Or might you prefer a simple frequent transit corridor where so many buses are coming all the time, in such a predictable pattern, that you can take any of them, and are thus almost guaranteed a vehicle soon even if one breaks down?”

Spend a few minutes with Walker’s Human Transit site watching the video and reading his commentary. You’ll have a handful of responses to use if someone’s idea of pau hana conversation is how to save billions by not building rail and instead planning our city’s transit around smart phone apps.

Win Some, Lose Some

The State has denied Bombardier’s appeal of the City’s disqualification of the company’s bid to build, operate and maintain the Honolulu rail line.

Yesterday’s hearing by the Hawai`i Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs contained some colorful language to describe Bombardier’s behavior during the bidding process, as reported by Civil Beat.

“Was there a hammer involved that needed to be hit over the head?” asked an attorney for the City. “You can lead a horse to water, you can’t make a horse drink,” opined a representative of Ansaldo, the winning bidder.

On the plus side, Bombardier has received a $330 million order from the Chicago Transit Authority for 300 additional rail cars.

Sumitomo, the other losing bidder, has its hearing today; we’ll update this post with those results.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

City Denies Plaintiffs’ Allegations in Rail Lawsuit

The City filed its response yesterday to the lawsuit brought by several plaintiffs against the Honolulu rail project. Civil Beat has a link to a file sharing service where you, too, can read all 33 pages. We’ve extracted paragraphs relating to several key issues in the City’s answer as a time saver, but a complete reading also would provide a good summary of the project and its goals.

In General:
…Full public review, comment and responses were afforded throughout the process. Plaintiffs’ challenge here is essentially a policy or political disagreement that is not actionable under any statute, rule or regulation applicable to this Project as it pertains to environmental disclosure, mitigation and historical review processes….
…City Defendants affirmatively state that they have complied fully with all statutes, rules and regulations applicable to environmental review process for the Project….
…City Defendants aver (allege as fact) that final agency action was achieved in full compliance with all applicable laws, statutes, rules and regulations, and that Plaintiffs’ allegations to the contrary are based on mischaracterizations of facts and/or law and are otherwise unsupported or unsupportable….
HonoluluTraffic.com (Cliff Slater)
…City Defendants deny that the alternatives advocated by HonoluluTraffic.com in its comment letters were not evaluated in the FEIS in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and deny that HonoluluTraffic.com’s comments and proposed alternatives were not evaluated or given full consideration during the federal environmental review process. City Defendants further deny that the Project will affect environmental, aesthetic, natural, recreational, cultural and/or historical resources in any manner that does not comport with applicable laws, rules or regulations and would give rise to an actionable harm to HonoluluTraffic.com. City Defendants aver that Defendants fully complied with all laws, statutes, rules and regulations applicable to the environmental review process for the Project, including but not limited to properly reviewing, considering and responding to comments submitted by HonoluluTraffic.com and all other timely submitted public comments, and adequately disclosing environmental impacts of the alternatives considered in the FEIS. City Defendants further aver that HonoluluTraffic.com’s organizational and/or political reasons for opposing the Project, including its general disagreement with the alternative approved by the FTA, are not actionable…
…Moreover, City Defendants aver that the Project’s potential impacts on views and historic resources were fully considered as part of the environmental review process and disclosed in the FEIS, along with appropriate mitigation measures. Mr. Slater has been a long time, vocal critic of the City’s efforts to provide relief for traffic congestion in the primary transportation corridor along O‘ahu’s southern coast and most densely populated areas, and has continually opposed the promotion of public works projects to accomplish the objectives of the O‘ahu Metropolitan Planning Organization (“OMPO”). Mr. Slater’s personal and/or political differences of opinion about the desirability of the Project or the appropriateness of the decisions by DTS and the FTA in light of these disclosed impacts are not actionable…
Former Governor Benjamin Cayetano
…City Defendants aver that Mr. Cayetano did not submit public comments regarding his alleged concerns with the Project during the environmental review process, or otherwise participate in any manner with the administrative process, and thus failed to exhaust appropriate administrative remedies. Moreover, City Defendants aver that the Project’s potential impacts on views and the aesthetics were fully considered as part of the environmental review process and disclosed in the FEIS, along with appropriate mitigation measures. Mr. Cayetano’s personal and/or political differences of opinion about the desirability of the Project or the appropriateness of the decisions by DTS and the FTA in light of these disclosed impacts are not actionable…
OHA Member Walter Heen
…City Defendants aver that the Project’s potential impacts on views, aesthetics and Native Hawaiian culture (including the issues raised by [Office of Hawaiian Affairs] in its comment letter dated February 2, 2009) were fully considered as part of the environmental review process and disclosed in the FEIS, along with appropriate mitigation measures. Mr. Heen’s personal and/or political differences in opinion about the desirability of the Project or the appropriateness of the decisions by DTS and the FTA in light of these disclosed impacts are not actionable….
Hawaii Thousand Friends (HTF)
…City Defendants deny said allegations and that HTF has standing in this action. City Defendants aver that the Project’s potential impacts on lands and historic sites (including burials) were fully considered as part of the environmental review process and disclosed in the FEIS, along with appropriate mitigation measures. HTF’s organizational and/or political differences of opinion about the desirability of the Project or the appropriateness of the decisions by DTS and the FTA in light of these disclosed impacts are not actionable…
Re Historical, Cultural Resources
… City Defendants aver that the potential impact of the Project on any possible yet-to-be discovered historical, cultural and/or archaeological resources (including Native Hawaiian burials) was fully considered and disclosed in the FEIS and PA. Moreover, appropriate mitigation measures, and procedures for handling and protecting such resources were developed in consultation with SHPD, the Hawai‘i State Historic Preservation Officer (“SHPO”) and numerous other Section 106 consulting parties and are set forth in the FEIS, PA and other documents. In a prior lawsuit filed in the First Circuit Court, State of Hawai‘i pertaining to the Project’s disclosure of potential impacts to and plan for handling historical, cultural and/or archaeological resources, the court therein concluded that there was no violation of applicable Hawai‘i laws and that the City was entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. That ruling should be entitled to deference or comity…
Re Project Phasing
… City Defendants aver that the PA, which was developed in consultation with and signed by Hawai‘i’s SHPO, expressly provides for a comprehensive phased approach to the identification and treatment of archaeological resources, as allowed under 36 CFR § 800.4. This phased approach to archaeological resources was incorporated by reference into the FEIS and ROD, and is proceeding as expressly provided for in the PA. These issues were resolved in favor of the City Defendants in a prior challenge under State law in State court…

The complaints of plaintiffs Small Business Hawaii, Randall Roth and Dr. Michael Uechi were similarly addressed in the City’s filing. The document includes this statement in numerous paragraphs regarding those plaintiffs:
City Defendants…affirmatively state that the Defendants’ actions with respect to the Project were taken in full compliance with all laws, statutes, rules and regulations applicable to the environmental review process...

The plaintiffs’ allegation that alternatives to a fixed guideway were not analyzed during the project also is denied by the City in its document. For a complete read, check out the link from Civil Beat.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Hey, Generation Next: HonoluluTraffic.com Says You’re Clueless, Belittles Your Pro-Rail Opinions

It’s possible from time to time to look back on developments within a major public affairs issue and know precisely when one side or the other shot itself in the proverbial foot and turned public opinion against it.

That may well have happened with the Honolulu rail project at the start of this weekend. HonoluluTraffic.com, Cliff Slater’s anti-rail website, essentially told Oahu residents 34 and younger “you don’t know what you’re talking about.” (See the July 15th post, "Borreca writes....")

In belittling the City’s assessment that QMark’s public opinion survey found ”overwhelming” support for rail (57 percent support, 40 percent oppose), HonoluluTraffic wrote:

“…the ‘overwhelming’ support only came from those 34 years or younger. Among adults 34 and older, those most likely to know what’s going on politically (emphasis added), there was ‘overwhelming’ opposition.”

How’s THAT for a put-down, Generation Next? In the universe run by HonoluluTraffic.com, your vote would count half as much as your parents’ and grandparents’!

However you characterize the views of the mid-30s-and-over set, it wasn't nearly enough to turn the entire poll against rail; 57 to 40 percent is indeed overwhelming support.

And so it goes in Mr. Slater’s world – where rail's opposition apparently is so desperate to rationalize away the truly overwhelming support for Honolulu rail that it insults Oahu’s youngest generation.

Whatever this generation knows about politics, it’s surely more than HonoluluTraffic gives it credit for. It's also undoubtedly more knowledgeable than earlier ones on hot-button issues for which its members are the standard bearers – sustainability, energy efficiency, environmentalism and smart growth. Make no mistake, rail transit is their preference – overwhelmingly.

Remember July 15th as the day somebody's foot was shot off.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Dallas Columnist Recalls Honolulu of 1971, Says Honolulu Doesn’t Need Its Modern Rail System

Honolulu -- 1971
(Be sure to check out the Comments below today's post. Also, see link at the end to the Dallas writer's follow-up column with a response from Honolulu's rail project.)
nos•tal•gia [no-stal-juh, -jee-uh, nuh-] noun
– a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time: a nostalgia for when he lived in Honolulu as a child.
Honolulu residents take pride in their hometown when it’s portrayed positively across America and gets nice headlines. Hawaii 5-O is the best current example, but there’ve been many others -- American Idol, stories about our outstanding beaches and resorts, Lost and other productions here, and much more.

But a headline like this is something else:
Just what Honolulu needs: 20 miles of elevated train track

It tops an opinion column by Mike Hashimoto of the Dallas Morning News, a venerable newspaper that's hanging on by adjusting with the times, such as creating a streamlined online presence – dallasnews.com. Mr. Hashimoto’s July 11th column looked askance at Honolulu’s transportation plans after he did a little bit of research. The one reference is a NewGeography.com commentary by Honolulu’s own Panos D. Prevedouros; the site is maintained by the National Center for Policy Analysis, a conservative think tank in Dallas. It figures that Mr. Hashimoto would be attracted to that website; he describes himself at dallasnews.com as “the only right-wing nut in the room.” (Joel Kotkin, who runs the Center, can be found with some frequency at dallasnews.com.)

We’ve already commented on Dr. Prevedouros’s anti-rail opinion piece, which clearly is out of step with the majority support rail enjoys among Oahu residents as found in a recent opinion poll administered by QMark of Honolulu using best-practice principles. Mr. Hashimoto says his column drew on personal experience, too:

“As a side note, I have some experience with mass transit in Honolulu,” he wrote. “I spent some of my formative years living there (third through seventh grade) and found I could get just about anywhere in town, including school, on the city’s bus system. I don’t recall longing for a train…. This was a place so concerned about preserving its natural beauty that it didn’t even allow billboards.”

We still don’t allow billboards, so that hasn’t changed, but residents have added quite a few other issues to their list of local concerns since Mr. Hashimoto last lived here in 1971.

By the Numbers

According to the U.S. Census and other sources that you, too, can find, Oahu’s population in 1970 was 630,528. The 2010 Census located 953,207 people living here, a growth of 51.2 percent over four decades.

In 2009, the registered vehicle count on Oahu was 718,263, more than 20 percent above 1995. Hawaii’s visitor numbers passed 7 million in 2010, with the majority of them driving and bussing around Oahu. We didn’t find information on the vehicle and visitor counts in 1970, but the growth pattern is obvious from what we do know.

When all’s said and done, Honolulu isn’t the same town Mr. Hashimoto recalls with nostalgia. Traffic congestion, vehicle hours of delay, population growth, high-rise buildings that wall off the ocean and dwarf Aloha Tower, a spiraling cost of living, the highest electricity rates and gas prices in the country (oil/barrel in 1971, $3.60 vs 2011, $118), time lost sitting in traffic on H-1 and other roads – they all describe a city that doesn't resemble what Mr. Hashimoto remembers from his hanabata days four decades ago.

A lot of 1971 Honolulu is just a memory now – except for the no-billboards law, of course. Even TheBus system is different – better than in 1971 but inadequate to meet the mobility challenges of today’s 21st century world-class city.

We searched the ‘net for a 1971-era photograph to make our point about the passage of time in the 40 years since Mr. Hashimoto left. We think we found a good one, a photograph that also evokes Honolulu’s pride for one of its own – a young “Barry” Obama and his dad at Honolulu International Airport, Christmas 1971.

It’s worth about a bazzillion words.

July 27 Update: The Dallas paper today carries columnist Hashimoto's follow-up, which includes a letter from Toru Hamayasu, interim executive director of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation. Our response to Mr. Hashimoto's final word: "In this case, it does."

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Group Launches New/Old Anti-Rail Campaign that Recycles the Familiar Points You've Already Heard

• JULY 14th UPDATE: Honolulu families can save $11,268/year on average by giving up one of their two cars and taking TheBus -- details at end of this post.
You’d think the anti-rail contingent would have found new material with which to fight Honolulu rail after all these years, but it’s evident they’re still using the old arguments from the early 1990s.

An ad in today’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser (posted also on rail opponent Cliff Slater’s website) recycles the same arguments that have failed to win over the public.

A scientific opinion survey conducted in May by respected polling firm QMark of Honolulu found that 57 percent of the 900 respondents said they support rail and only 40 percent don’t. That’s close to a landslide, even with the 3.2 percent margin of error.

Despite those and earlier polling results that were similar, anti-railer in chief Cliff Slater continues his decades-long fight to stop this project and has convinced others, including a former governor, to join him in a lawsuit to stop rail.

Dissecting the Ad

HonoluluTraffic.com’s ad copy includes “5 reasons to stop their $7 billion elevated rail.” The ad makes an obvious mistake before it even gets to the 5 reasons. The project’s financial plan says rail will cost $5.3 billion, not a figure 32 percent higher. The ad inflates the project cost by nearly a third – hardly a good precursor for what follows, which is:

Reason #1: “Rail is about politics. Rail has nothing to do with traffic. It’s about land owners, developers, contractors, politicians and union leaders. It’s THEIR train!”

Quite to the contrary, Honolulu rail is all about traffic and how to avoid it. Without grade-separated rail, there’s no way to restore mobility to our city with an alternative to driving that completely bypasses surface traffic. Congestion is certain to increase in the decades ahead, which leads directly to:

Reason #2: “Traffic congestion will be worse. The City admits in its Final EIS that, ‘Traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than what it is today.’”

Mr. Slater believes this reason is his ace; he plays it often, but as we pointed out last July when he showed his hand, this argument is more joker than ace. OF COURSE traffic will be worse in the future. Families will have babies, people will move here and Oahu's population is expected to be 200,000 more in 2030 than 2005. Strangely, Mr. Slater believes the City’s truthful response about future traffic conditions is an admission that rail will fail.

Transportation Director Wayne Yoshioka dealt with Mr. Slater’s assertion before the City Council this way a year ago: “No kidding, in the future, traffic will be greater than it is today….the difference is that without the rail, in the future traffic congestion will be much worse than with rail….”

Even Mr. Slater was forced to admit as much at that same Council meeting: “We don’t disagree at all that rail will have an effect on reducing traffic congestion from what it might be if we did nothing at all.”

Reason #3: "It’s likely to cost $7 billion, not $5.3 billion. The City says the rail project will cost $5.3 billion. It doesn’t tell you that a federal study concluded there is a 50% percent chance it will cost $7 billion.”

We haven’t searched out Mr. Slater’s source, but if we read this right, there’s an equal chance the project will not cost $7 billion. Saying something’s so doesn’t make it so; children learn that at a young age. (See sumwonyuno's comment at the end of this post for an in-depth response to Reason #3.)

Reason #4, “We can’t afford it,” and #5, “It would be an eyesore,” reflect the ad sponsors’ opinions, but that’s all they are. Assuming a $1.7 billion cost overrun as #4 does is nothing but speculation, just as #5 conveys their personal opinion of how the overhead line will look.

The City’s environmental impact statement readily acknowledges the project’s visual impacts; there’s no denying them, but project supporters respond with two primary points:

First, the visual impacts should not stand apart from the significant benefits rail will deliver to Honolulu citizens – restored mobility with fast, frequent, reliable and safe travel through the urban core. Second, Honolulu rail’s profile will be dwarfed by the many buildings already in place and new ones that will be built in decades ahead.

Reasonable people can disagree on the guideway’s impacts; it’s somewhat more difficult to disagree with the concept of restoring a community's mobility -- something we've lost. Honolulu rail will give significant numbers of Oahu commuters an alternative mode of travel that completely avoids traffic while ensuring transportation equity for all of them.

Donations Accepted

The ad goes on to describe the lawsuit Mr. Slater and friends have filed to stop the project and then gets to its true purpose – an appeal for contributions. “It will help us continue the legal fight to keep the monstrosity out of our city.”

In other words, the ad sponsors want to maintain the status quo, which includes gridlock for thousands of commuters along Oahu’s southern corridor; lost productivity at work and with families; continued dependence on the private car for commuting to and from work, and no economic revival for our construction sector.

One more thing about QMark’s poll and the company’s report: “Younger segments of the population tend to view this project more favorably.”

The lawsuit’s plaintiffs listed in the newspaper ad don’t speak for Generation Next – the relatively younger demographic that will use rail for both transportation and as a rational approach to community growth for decades to come. Honolulu rail will be THEIR train, too.

APTA Releases Car Costs

The cost of owning and driving two cars instead of one has increased since we last reported in October 2010 on how much a family could save by giving up one of those cars and taking TheBus.

According to the American Public Transit Association (APTA), Honolulu ranks seventh among major U.S. cities on the savings to be realized by relying on only one car instead of two -- $11,268 annually. APTA calculated the potential savings in each city based on today's local gas prices and parking rates.

With Honolulu gas prices averaging between $3.933 for regular and $4.115 for premium today, the potential annual savings here is nearly $500 more than last Fall. Expect those savings to increase if the price of oil continues the trend of the past few weeks (see chart).

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

‘Elephant Chain Effect’ in Honolulu Rail Stories

Dedicated media watchers have seen it innumerable times: An issue that’s covered by one newspaper, station or TV network starts showing up in other media. The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The New York Times and other “enterprise” newspapers often are the first to cover a major issue that TV networks play second fiddle to a few hours later.
It happens locally, too. Coverage in Honolulu's two newspapers was the takeoff for the evening newscasts for decades, and now that the “new media” are part of the journalism mix, the number of story “leaders” is growing, too. Sometimes that’s not so good.

We briefly noted HawaiiReporter.com’s treatment of a story last week on the office space in downtown Honolulu now occupied by the staff of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART). The implication was that this was a new and questionable action; the first paragraph says “(HART) has leased premium office space in the midst of Honolulu’s pricey downtown civic center.”

This Just In – Not!

The story nowhere mentions that HART’s staff is essentially the staff of the city’s Rapid Transit Division, which was transferred from the Department of Transportation Services to HART lock, stock and barrel on July 1. And nowhere does the story note the essential fact that RTD has been housed in this space since 2007!

Most media watchers – dedicated or not – presumably would agree this information was essential to the story and that leaving it out was egregious. The many respected Honolulu radio, television and newspapers journalists we’ve known over the years would not have tolerated its exclusion.

The late Sandy Zalburg, an “iconic” city editor of the Honolulu Advertiser in the paper’s heyday, was known to throw incomplete stories (like this one) out an open window in the Advertiser’s second-floor office above South Street.

Complete or not and in the “elephant chain” tradition of one media outlet following another, HawaiiReporter’s “news” became the foundation of a story on Hawaii News Now last night. Finally the fact is mentioned that the space has been occupied by city staff for years, but incongruously, the story reports, “HART employees first moved into the 17th floor in 2007….”

HART was created on July 1, so “HART employees” didn’t move into that space. RTD employees did and have been on the 17th floor for four years.

Accuracy is important. Completeness is important. Not misleading your readers or viewers is important.

Someplace, somewhere – Sandy Zalburg is walking toward an open window, story in hand.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Maryland Asks Phoenix for Rail Lessons: Better Service, Quicker Commutes, TOD and No Gas

Phoenix's new rail transit trains share surface space with vehicles.
Yesterday’s Washington Post caught our eye after Maui resident Jim Loomis brought it to our attention. (Check out Jim’s Travel and Trains and Other Things blog.)

Under the headline “Phoenix offers lessons for Purple Line,” the paper examines lessons Phoenix might have for Maryland suburbs and their plans to build a new rail line.

Phoenix’s 20-mile transit line went into service in December 2008, and we’ve referred to the system numerous times to compare its at-grade traffic and accident issues with Honolulu’s future elevated system, which will be immune from those issues. But that’s another story.

Maryland’s Purple Line also will be at street level, so Phoenix’s experience is especially pertinent to what the Washington, D.C. suburbs may experience during and after construction. Frustration along the route during construction is one lesson Phoenix passes along, especially since streets had to be widened to accommodate both the new Phoenix transit line and vehicle lanes. (Honolulu’s trains will ride 30 above the middle of most streets along its route.)

But there are plenty of positives that have lasted longer than temporary inconvenience during construction. The Post writes that “Arizona light rail passengers rave about their trains’ reliability and convenience.

“’I love it,’ said Guy Carpenter on a recent Monday morning as he stepped off a train near the Phoenix airport to walk two blocks to his engineering firm in a new office building near a chic new hotel. ‘I wish it were more extensive, but I love it.’”

Carpenter said driving to the train station and taking the train adds 15 minutes to his commute time, but he uses the 25-minute train ride to get an early start on his email. He also avoids fuming over traffic congestion.

Phoenix’s system offers what Honolulu’s will offer – an alternative to driving and expending ever-increasing amounts of money to maintain that habit. Among the differences between the two cities is their geography; Honolulu’s layout is long and narrow, a perfect fit for a rail line, while Phoenix has grown in every direction over the decades.

Along with Maryland residents, Honolulu citizens might well read the Post story and glean lessons from Phoenix’s rail transit experience.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Reaction to Federal Transportation Policy Bill Flooding In: 'People Think It’s a Rotten Idea'

Hawaii may be thousands of miles and six time zones distant from the nation’s capital, but our state is as concerned as any other about what happens there.

The Honolulu rail project anticipates receiving $1.55 billion in funding from the Federal Transit Administration. Events and discussions on Capitol Hill about reducing support for the nation’s transportation infrastructure, including rail transit, are obviously of concern out here.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica rolled out his committee’s six-year transportation reauthorization proposal yesterday. It has prompted a flood of reaction from transportation advocates, especially those who support so-called “green” transportation alternatives whose comments are aggregated at the StreetsBlog Network website, most especially at its Washington, DC affiliate.

We’re sure to hear from Honolulu rail opponents, many of whom seem opposed to government spending in general and who will assert that the project is threatened by potential congressional action. It’s therefore reasonable to publish comments from those who believe government infrastructure support is essential, including support for rail transit projects.

A Sampling of Opinion

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ): “…I will fight this plan and work in the Senate for a stronger investment so that New Jersey and states across the country can use transportation projects to create jobs, ease commutes, boost the economy and modernize our infrastructure.”

Sen. Chuck Sch8umer (D-NY) (via Twitter): “Rep. Mica plan to cut infrastructure is job-killing, future-suffocating, pessimistic vision of US as ‘can’t do’ nation.”

Janet Kavinosky, executive director of transportation and infrastructure for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce: “…Cuts will destroy – rather than support – existing jobs and will not enable creation of the additional jobs needed to put the 16.3% of unemployed workers in the construction industry back to work.”

Barbara McCann, executive director of the National Complete Streets Coalition: “…the proposal would eliminate the very modest dedicated funding for bicycling and walking, claiming these are ‘non-highway’ or ‘non-transportation’ activities. In fact, bicycling and walking make up 12 percent of the nation’s trips….”

John Robert Smith, president and CEO of Reconnecting America: “…A 30% cut in the federal investment in public transportation, roads, and bridges is in direct contradiction to the findings of numerous studies that our infrastructure is in dire need of repair and rehabilitation….”

William Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association: “With high gas prices and a slow economy, now is not the time to implement cuts of more than 30 percent in public transportation funding. This lack of investment in the nation’s public transportation infrastructure will have a chilling effect on our country’s ability to create jobs and provide access to jobs necessary to move the economy forward. One dollar invested in our public transportation infrastructure generates four dollars in economic return. This proposal would severely underfund critical elements of the federal transit program. The funding will not permit public transit agencies to address the costs of getting the existing systems to a state of good repair, which the U.S. DOT has estimated as a one-time cost of $78 billion, let alone meet the growing demand for public transportation services in the United States. It will severely curtail the purchase of new buses and trains, reduce critical maintenance and safety programs, and could cut operating funds for transit systems in small communities and rural areas.”

Stay attentive to this national debate if you care about Honolulu rail.

Yes2Rail Gets Ink

Gene Park’s transportation-related column in the Star-Advertiser today is mostly about the rail project’s new and hugely improved website, but he had room at the end to add:

“The site isn’t the only source of online information on rail. Other than the obvious news sites, there are two blogs from opposite sides of the issue.” He then mentions Cliff Slater’s HonoluluTraffic.com anti-rail site and Yes2Rail.

In addition to being on opposite sides of the issue, there’s another big difference in our two sites: HonoluluTraffic has published 2 posts since June 8th. Yes2Rail's count is 22.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Rail Critic Keeps Popping Up All over the Place

You never know where Dr. Panos “I’ll Stop Rail in Its Tracks” Prevedouros will show up with yet another adjective-laden opinion piece that describes Honolulu’s future rail project in the worst way possible.

One of the latest locations is a blog hosted by mass transit critic Joel Kotkin, who apparently believes rail transit projects are failures if they doesn’t reduce traffic congestion. (Honolulu rail is in good company at the New Geography blog; a more recent piece declares "High Speed Rail is Dead.")

He’s not alone in holding rail up against this impossible standard – impossible because traffic obviously increases with population growth. Honolulu rail critic Cliff Slater and former Governor Ben Cayetano also subscribe to this view.

Dr. Prevedouros’s piece at newgeography.com is filled with comparisons and anecdotes on rail transit projects around the world and other observations related only tangentially or not at all to Honolulu rail – projects in San Juan, Puerto Rico and Edinburgh, Scotland; Honolulu’s sewage issues; local airport, harbor and road repairs; public employee pensions and medical benefits, etc.

He covers familiar ground – e.g., the Governor Linda Lingle-ordered financial review by rail critic Tom Rubin and others that successor Governor Neil Abercrombie ignored and Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle deemed "an appalling waste” of taxpayer dollars and an “anti-rail rant.”

Leaving Out the Meat

The University of Hawaii professor covers considerable territory, but nowhere in his 1002-word commentary is there a single phrase about Honolulu rail’s goals and its basic function – to provide a completely traffic-free way to travel through the urban core and connect Honolulu to Oahu’s "Second City" of Kapolei and nearby communities in the island’s western region.

Left unsaid is the obvious fact that Honolulu’s population growth will be restricted by geography and designated by the Honolulu General Plan for a relatively confined space – between mountains and the ocean on the ewa plain. Transportation planners for decades have said Honolulu’s physical layout is an ideal example of a community that can be served by a grade-separated rail system that’s complemented by feeder buses.

Dr. Prevedouros covers none of that and also leaves out his preferred method to address traffic and population growth – high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, of which he himself has written: “Higher tolls are necessary to discourage overloading.”

In other words, HOT lanes are for the well-to-do who can afford them. The rest of us get to creep along in surface street congestion. Elevated rail will be Honolulu's alternative to traffic creep.

This Just In – Not

The Hawaii Reporter website headlined a story yesterday: “City Rents Downtown Office Space for Rail at $1.4 Million a Year” The story began:

“The City & County of Honolulu…has leased premium office space in the midst of Honolulu’s pricey downtown civic center. The Honolulu Rail Transit Project (HART) offices occupy the entire 17 and 23 floors of Alii Place.” The story also reports HART has “136 new city employees.”

This apparently was “news” to Hawaii Reporter, but as Civil Beat noted and has been well-understood by other news media, HART took over existing city resources and obligations when it officially began operating on July 1. Civil Beat reported November 3 on the voters’ approval of all five city charter amendments, including HART’s creation:

“The move means the city’s rapid transit division – now one of five divisions in the Honolulu Transportation Department – will split away from the city to become (HART). The new agency will use the Alii Place work space the division already uses….”

And so it goes.