Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Anti-Railers Down To Throwing Hail Mary Bombs; Civil Beat Intercepts another One, Calls It ‘False’

The Slater-Cayetano-Heen-Roth anti-rail campaign continues at fever pitch, and we put our finger on why last week. This “Gang of Four” launched its nothing-new but splashy last-ditch effort with a Star-Advertiser commentary on August 21 because they know they've lost the public opinion fight on Honolulu rail.

The danger of throwing these desperation Hail Mary passes is that once they're launched, they hang out there for everyone to see, intercept and judge against the truth.

Civil Beat, the online news service, this morning has determined that another of the Gang of Four’s statements in the commentary column is   FALSE  . Slater and friends had written “…virtually every environmental group in Hawai`i opposes (Honolulu) rail….”

It’s not true, says Civil Beat, and found that out of 11 groups it contacted, 2 oppose, 1 supports and 8 have taken no position. As we noted last week, the Oahu Chapter of the Sierra Club, perhaps the nation’s most influential environmental organization, strongly supports rail transit with a statement on its website.

Campaign of Falsehoods
Cliff Slater, Ben Cayetano, Walter Heen and Randall Roth play fast and loose with the facts in their desperation to scare Oahu residents away from the support they have shown over recent years for rail. An average of 58.6 percent support was found in three high-quality opinion surveys conducted by respected local firms OmniTrak and QMark.

Their Star-Advertiser commentary included visions of rail stations that look like “aircraft carriers in the sky” ( FALSE ), widespread opposition by environmental groups ( FALSE ), allegations that the city’s population estimates were wrong (we’ve called it  FALSE  and await Civil Beat’s verdict), suggestions of incompetence and inappropriate behavior by the city, dumbed-down arguments about traffic and more.

The four are working the media and hoping to make a connection anywhere it can. Amazingly, it worked on Pacific Business News, which last Friday published one of the most embarrassingly gullible editorials in its history.

PBN was snowed by “four influential leaders” whose “reputations are beyond reproach.” Unfortunately, PBN’s editors didn’t ask the Gang a question that would have occurred to high school journalists: “What are your ideas to address Oahu’s growing traffic congestion problem other than elevated Honolulu rail?”

PBN didn’t ask, and Mr. Slater’s group didn’t say, preferring to use innuendo and obfuscation to confuse the issues and conceal the emptiness of their effort.

The Gang of Four has no suggestions to address Oahu’s traffic congestion problem. In football parlance, their ground game is weak, and their passing attack is being picked off --- pass after pass, statement after statement. They’ve lost the public and are mired deep in their own territory, 4th and 40. They’ve stopped the clock by filing a federal lawsuit to kill rail and in the timeout are trying to rally the crowd.

It's not working, and the press box is seeing        .

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Civil Beat Fact Check: Slater Wrong on Stations; Gang of 4’s Ridership Claim Is Ripe for a ‘False’

Civil Beat is progressing with its Fact Check of the Cliff Slater-inspired commentary in the August 21st Star-Advertiser. The process involves sending inquiries to Mr. Slater and asking for documentation to back up what he and his co-authors wrote.

The tally is in on only two of seven issues; one is  TRUE , bestowed yesterday on a relatively minor matter, and the one found to be  FALSE  was announced today. We predicted the latest score in our own tally yesterday; Slater and his three co-authors did not tell the truth about the size of rail stations in their commentary, and Civil Beat has called them on it.

The issue we’re tackling today is whether, as the Gang of Four asserted, the city used a dated forecast for 2030’s population to predict future ridership. We won’t know for sure about its accuracy for decades, of course, but we can examine which side – the city or Slater – seems more likely to have made the better prediction of population and therefore of ridership.

Civil Beat asked Mr. Slater for documentation to support this statement in the op-ed:

“The city has also cherry-picked data. It relies upon a 2004 30-year population forecast even though the 2008 30-year population forecast indicates 100,000 fewer people in 2030 than was previously forecasted.”

Mr. Slater’s response referred CB to the state Department of Business Economic Development and Tourism’s “Population and Economic Projection for the State of Hawaii to 2035.” It’s dated July 2009.

Mr. Slater obviously believes this document was a better predictor of Oahu’s population decades from now. We wonder if he knows how wrong it was in predicting the population only one year later.

Way Off
The DBEDT forecast said Honolulu County’s 2010 population would be 911,800. According to the U.S. Census, the island’s actual 2010 population was 953,207. DBEDT had predicted 4.2-percent growth during the decade. As Civil Beat’s chart noted earlier this year, the actual rate was more than twice that – 8.8 percent.

Since the population forecast Mr. Slater relied on was far below what the count turned out to be less than 18 months later, it’s reasonable to conclude that it similarly has under-estimated what the US Census will certify in 2030.

The project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement’s 2030 population prediction is 1,117,200. DBEDT’s prediction is 1,017,600. There’s the 100,000 difference Mr. Slater and his co-authors wrote about.

We’ll have to wait on Civil Beat’s Fact Check to see its grade for Mr. Slater’s claim that the city used a dated population forecast. It might be  BARELY TRUE  and worthy of orange-trending-to-red based on its date alone, but as for Mr. Slater's assertion that the city erred in using it to predict future rail ridership, it deserves a  FALSE .

You wonder if the Gang of Four's other members are regretting going "all in" on Mr. Slater’s say-so!

(This post has been added to our "aggregation site" under Cliff Slater.)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Fact Check Begins on Gang of 4’s Anti-Rail Piece

A feature within online Civil Beat is the Fact Check it conducts on what newsmakers say and write, something no other local news organization does routinely or ever. (CB is a subscription service but allows free occasional access, so try it and see how far you can get into the site.)

CB has begun its fact checking of the August 21st Star-Advertiser commentary (subscription, but you may be able to see it) by four plaintiffs in a lawsuit intended to block construction of the Honolulu rail project. Our own checking began that day and continued all last week.

CB is checking seven statements or allegations contained in the piece authored by Cliff Slater, Ben Cayetano, Walter Heen and Randall Roth – collectively called the Gang of Four here at Ye2Rail. Long-time anti-railer Slater presumably authored the entire piece; it has his look about it.

Civil Beat asked him to support the statements with documentation and has posted interim “In Progress” reports on six of the seven (more on the completed one below).

Blaming a Typo
The commentary prominently positioned its claim that “some of the rail stations would be 10 stories high” in the second paragraph, only 30 words into the 1800-word piece. Civil Beat asked for documentation of that statement.

Slater’s response is empty of substance, relying as it does on off-hand remarks quoted second- or third-hand by others in the chain of custody: “The ‘aircraft carriers in the sky’ bit is from (a newspaper reporter) and (a local blogger)…” In other words, there’s nothing fact-based in that description, just grousing by rail opponents.

Slater then drops the bombshell:

“The ‘ten’ stories high is a typo that crept in somehow and I missed it.”

“Crept in somehow”? Unseen in the second paragraph of the anti-railers' biggest salvo of the year!? And he wants Oahu residents to believe what he says about Honolulu rail? It's simply incredible. With a record based on hearsay reporting and inaccuracies, we doubt Mr. Slater could be hired at Civil Beat or even the Star-Advertiser. We trust CB will bestow a  FALSE  on this item.

BRT and Rail
Mr. Slater’s tactic over the years in fighting rail has been to lift quotes from this or that document and use them as cudgels devoid of any context. (This post describes one of his most egregious.) Civil Beat asked him for backup to this statement in the newspaper commentary:

“When Jeremy Harris was mayor, Parsons Brinckerhoff said Bus/Rapid Transit (BRT) could accomplish virtually all of the objectives of rail at substantially less cost.”

Slater’s response said in part, “Given that the Final EIS for the BRT program forecast more transit riders than they are currently forecasting for the current rail project, that would seem to be a good judgment.”

Only in Cliff Slater’s world is that good judgment. For starters, BRT and Honolulu rail are entirely different projects with different objectives in different time frames and circumstances. Rail will commence full operations in 2019; BRT was conceived two decades earlier. Rail’s four goals boil down to providing fast, frequent, reliable and safe travel and doing it equitably. It’s impossible to apply those same attributes to the once-planned BRT system, with vehicles operating at ground level in the mix of other vehicles, stop-and-go traffic, stoplights and cross traffic.

Mr. Slater’s selective quoting tactic is further revealed by what he did not quote in the BRT document. The very next sentence after the one he lifted notes the rejection of his favorite alternative to rail – toll roads and reversible lanes: “In addition, highway alternatives to the Regional and In-Town BRT and LRT systems were identified and subsequently eliminated from further consideration as alternatives.” (Section 2.6, Primary Corridor Transportation Project)

Mr. Slater’s claim that BRT would accomplish the same goals as rail was and is bogus. We give him another  FALSE .

More Checking

Civil Beat has brief descriptions of its progress to date on all seven issues, including the only one accorded a grade so far. CB gave a  TRUE  in checking that a "DLNR Statement on Burials ‘Patently False.’"

CB had previously determined that Department of Land and Natural Resources Director William Aila misspoke when he said the Federal Transit Administration requires phasing of the rail project. It doesn’t, but it does allow phasing.

So what’s true is that Mr. Aila erred when he said phasing is required, and it’s also true that Honolulu rail’s phased approach is authorized but not mandated by the FTA. The project itself suffers no sting.

So one fact check is down, and we await Civil Beat’s judgment on the other six. We anticipate seeing         from here on.

(This post has been added to our "aggregation site" under Cliff Slater.)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Op-Ed Continues Fight on Rail Project; Supporters’ Response to ‘Gang of Four’ Could Sink the Critics' New Media-Driven Anti-Rail PR Campaign

Here’s our theory on where the public stands on Honolulu rail: They’ve had enough, heard enough and read enough on rail and are crying, Enough already! We want it!

You can imagine that outburst in homes across Oahu this morning as Star-Advertiser subscribers find yet another op-ed commentary on rail dominating the editorial section.

The public’s preference for rail was confirmed by three scientific opinion surveys conducted since 2008 that averaged 58.6 percent support for rail, the last one this past May.

Those results explain why the opponents have been everywhere with their anti-rail campaign in the past week, starting with their Sunday commentary. Their PR campaign continued with an impressionable journalist’s column on Thursday and on Friday in Honolulu’s business weekly, thanks to the remarkable naiveté of its editorial staff.

Last Sunday’s piece by Cliff Slater and his “prominent quartet” insisted the city had misled the public on rail. This week's piece arguing that rail is Oahu's future is by “the mayor and five community leaders (who) extol the necessity to stay on track on mass transit.”

Substantially Different
There’s really no competition anymore now that the opposing sides have taken their best shots. The city’s piece is fact-filled and weighty, with a strong case for grade-separated transit. The critics’ effort was an embarrassing lightweight job relying on silly complaints about public relations, imagined wrongdoing by the contractor and baseless exaggerations. Most damaging of all, it was silent on options to rail that would address Oahu’s intolerable traffic congestion.

It would be challenging to find a different conclusion in a side-by-side comparison. That’s not easy for most residents now that the Star-Advertiser limits access to online content to print subscribers, but our post last Sunday was a point-by-point answer to much of what was in the anti-rail broadside by Cliff Slater, Ben Cayetano, Walter Heen and Randall Roth.

This quartet and others are plaintiffs in a lawsuit that wants to kill a project most Oahu residents support. The lawsuit’s drama will play out beginning later this year; the city and federal defendants have responded to the suit, saying it has no merit.

Continuing our theorizing, Mr. Slater and friends are firing their PR ammunition at rail knowing they’ll need something on their side if the lawsuit fails. They’re hoping that something will be public opinion, and they’re trying to reverse it with their op-eds and by evoking friendly editorials and columns by cooperative journalists who betray their misunderstanding of the rail project in what they write.

The opponents know anti-rail sentiment never rose above 40 percent in the three opinion surveys that can be accessed at our aggregation site. Their latest attacks therefore are emotional, accusatory and intellectually dishonest -- most obviously in their assertion that rail will be a failure if traffic decades from now is worse than it is today.

Of course traffic will be worse than today decades from now; Oahu will have 200,000 more residents in 2030 than it did in 2005. What the critics don't readily admit unless forced to do so is that it will be much worse if no rail option exists to avoid it.

Expect to see more from the Gang of Four in the weeks and months ahead, since they’ve put their reputations on the line and want the public to believe they know best. They don’t, and the public already has made their preference for rail clear.

Friday, August 26, 2011

PBN’s Understanding of Honolulu Rail: 0

Pacific Business News came out today with an editorial against building Honolulu rail as it is planned – proof positive that public relations works!

Cliff Slater and his Gang of Four have been working their PR campaign at fever pitch this week, starting with a Sunday commentary in the Star-Advertiser (subscription) that had as much substance as a donut hole. We’ve been writing about it all week starting Sunday, and a Star-Advertiser columnist channeled it yesterday.

The Gang has lost the public opinion war – as verified in three scientific polls – and is flying around like a magician’s assistant on the stage. “Look over here at my distractions," they’re saying, “not over there at the evidence of our failure."

One wonders what PBN’s editors think of those results, if they think about them at all. Dismissing them as biased would be charging local polling firms QMark and OmniTrak with dishonesty and a willingness to sacrifice their credibility by slanting poll results to favor rail.

No, Oahu residents have clearly listened to everything that’s been said for and against the project over the past five years and concluded they do want rail, by an average majority in those three polls of 58.6 percent.

Elevated Gullibility
What is frankly amazing to us is PBN’s apparent willingness to go weak in the knees over the Gang of Four’s members, described in the editorial as “four influential leaders” whose “reputations are beyond reproach.” Nevertheless, their actual transit expertise is zero.

We’ve never assailed their reputations, because they are what they are, including leader Cliff Slater, who we’ve been calling “ABC” Cliff – Always By Car – for more than a decade. He never saw a taxpayer-subsidized highway he didn’t like, and his favorite kind is HOT Lanes, the anti-equity subsidized mode that favors the wealthy and, of course, car owners.

Here’s a good example in PBN’s editorial of its swooning over businessman Slater’s views – the first of several points in the Gang’s commentary that PBN says “cannot be summarily dismissed:"

“Wayne Yoshioka, recruited from rail consultant Parsons Brinckerhoff to head the city’s Department of Transportation Services, says ‘traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than what it is today without rail.’ In other words, he’s saying rail is going to fall well short of solving our traffic congestion problem.”

Wrong, PBN
Nowhere in the project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement or any other document does it say the rail system is supposed to “solve our traffic congestion problem.” PBN's editors would know the true goals if they had read the FEIS, but they obviously are familiar only with the Gang’s commentary and its made-up goal for the project.

"ABC" Cliff has been peddling this intellectually manipulative, misleading and embarrassingly dishonest argument for years, as he made clear in his interview with Civil Beat in July 2010. He said then – and we’ve called attention to it at least a dozen times since – that he starts his presentations by noting the project’s cost, then says traffic will be worse after rail’s built than it is today, then asks for questions – as if that neatly sums up the anti-rail argument.

Sorry for shouting (can PBN hear this?), but Of course traffic will be worse in 2030 than it is today!!! What else could it be, PBN, with 200,000 more people on the island in 2030 than 2005?

The Gang has convinced PBN that rail’s goal is to reduce traffic congestion decades into the future – forever maybe? – when that is not one of the goals. They aren’t hard to find in the FEIS; we started the year by listing them. THOSE are the goals, not the straw-man-of-a-goal "ABC" Cliff has propped up and then helped PBN in all its gullibility knock down.

Elevated rail will be the only way, PBN, for commuters in this and future generations to travel through an increasingly crowded urban core with an ever-increasing number of vehicles in it and completely avoid all traffic congestion. Is that a goal worth pursuing? And oh yes, because residents will come to realize that, an estimated 40,000 former drivers will be riding the train by 2030, reducing congestion by about 18 percent in the urban core from what it would otherwise be without rail.

Fast, frequent, reliable and safe transportation that’s equitable for all people and rationally guides future development on Oahu – that’s a recap of the project’s goals.

One wonders what the Gang of Four told PBN about their own preferences – what plans they have as an alternative to rail. We think they had nothing, because if they had them, they’d have said so, and there's nothing in the commentary about the Gang's preferences.

The Meaningless Lawsuit
PBN has decided it can’t wait for federal court to pass judgment on the Gang’s lawsuit, which has been filed with the clear intent of killing rail. The court proceeding could and likely will find for the defendants for all we know, but that possibility apparently doesn’t register or matter to the business weekly.

The plaintiffs, after all, are honorable men, and PBN is here to praise them. We're left to wonder what George Mason, PBN's late and great publisher and editor, would think of his baby today.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Question for Rail Critics: ‘Where’s the Beef?’ Without Thoughtful Options to Traffic, Spare Us

The 1800-word opinion piece by the Gang of Four – Cliff Slater, Ben Cayetano, Walter Heen and Randall Roth – in the Sunday Star-Advertiser (subscription) was published with a remarkably uncritical eye by the newspaper. We just read it again to see if there’s something digestible in there.

Maybe these four gentlemen aren’t actually members of a “gang,” but the word feels right. Their group is directing a campaign to bash, trample, maim and leave crippled one of the most important infrastructure projects in Oahu’s history – as important to daily commuters in the east-west urban corridor as Honolulu International Airport has been to the tourism industry. (The S-A opinion writer with a column in today’s paper doesn’t get it either; more on that below.)

As we noted in our initial critique of the Gang’s commentary, there’s absolutely nothing new in it that hasn’t been paraded before the public by gang leader Cliff Slater dozens, hundreds, billions of times already. After all his rail bashing going back to 1990 or even earlier, research shows that opponents haven’t won over the public, whose support for rail averaged 58.6 percent in three scientific surveys on the project since 2008. (BTW, had Frank Fasi's rail project not foundered after Mr. Slater's '90s campaign against it, we'd have had a rail line linking Leeward Community College and UH Manoa and points between since 2003.)

So the Gang is dredging it all up again and in the process is looking pretty silly sad, even if a columnist here or there succumbs to it. Take this excerpt: “Imagine the sound of each 72,000-pound, steel-on-steel elevated rail car as it accelerates to 60 miles per hour and then decelerates to a stop between each of 21 stations, every three minutes in each direction.”

Fantasy Island
The Gang imagines (for you) a gear-grinding, wheel-chattering, air-piercing, bone-shuddering, steel-screeching mournful cacophony of sound coming from some kind of behemoth train chewing its way through the city every three minutes. Just imagine it, they say, but do they tell you what it will really be like? Of course not. They leave that to your stoked-up imagination. Left unsaid is the truth; Honolulu’s trains will accelerate and stop quieter than much of the surrounding urban environment. You may not even be aware of it. (Anecdote: While visiting a city with an elevated rail system in 1991, Mayor Fasi asked when the next train was due. The question came immediately after he didn't hear one pass overhead.)

Or take this: The Gang uses about one-sixth of the entire commentary to suggest corruption and unsavory goings on with the city’s consultants on the project. They say PB Americas worked on this or that project here or in some city thousands of miles away that kicked up controversy (don’t they all?), and on top of that, they scowl, the city’s top transportation guy used to work at PB and his wife still does!

Truly, one would expect more from a former governor, a former judge and a current law professor, but there it is.

The Gang relies heavily on your imagination elsewhere in the commentary by suggesting a vision of rail stations that will be “aircraft carriers in the sky." Living here in Hawaii, most of us have seen or even been on an aircraft carrier, so the image that pops up with the Gang's encouragement is alarming.

Wait one: That aircraft carrier comparison was a tad off. Nimitz Class carriers are 1092 feet long and the longest rail station 240. Carriers are 134 feet wide, stations a fraction of that. Looks again like the Gang’s imaginations are on runaway mode.

So Where’s the Beef?
Turns out, there’s very little digestible meat to the Gang’s commentary. There’s not even a hint of relish in this anti-rail sandwich on what the Gang wants to build instead of an elevated system that will allow Oahu commuters to completely avoid traffic congestion and the digestion of what little free time you have left in your daily commute.

The Gang is silent on a plan, strategy, concept or workable alternative to Oahu's intolerable traffic that’s been called the nation’s worst congestion by one institute or another at one time or another. We’re famous for it!! But don’t ask the commentary’s authors for a better idea. All they have is a self-congratulatory ending:

“We have nothing to gain financially by stopping the current rail project other than benefits that would flow to other local citizens. We believe our lawsuit will lead to an affordable traffic solution that protects the environment and preserves the qualities that make Hawaii special.”

Really? What is that solution, Gang of Four? Judge Heen, do you have a better solution? How about you, Professor Roth? We already know the other two authors’ preferences. Cliff Slater wants High-Occupancy Toll Roads that would be used only by the well-to-do (Panos Prevedouros has explained how this works). Ben Cayetano thinks at-grade transit would be swell even at this late date. He seems as oblivious as his successor to at-grade's embarrassingly obvious shortcomings; the photos at right are evidence of one.

Where has this Gang been, and where exactly is their BEEF!?

We’d ask the same of the S-A columnist who wrongly concludes her piece today (subscription) by alleging the city did not examine other alternatives in planning Honolulu rail. After all the meetings, workshops, debates, media coverage, the Alternatives Analysis itself and publication of the Final Environmental Impact Statement, how could she write that?

Oh, right. The Gang of Four.

(This post has been added to our "aggregation site" in its Cliff Slater section.)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sumitomo Won’t Sue, Prefers the Waiting Game; Desperate Rail Opponents Toss In Kitchen Sink

The last time Honolulu published a request for proposals for a grade-separated transit system, five companies responded. Only one of the four losers sued in circuit court in 1991 when the decision didn’t go its way.

This time there were only three responders, which may have had something to do with consolidation in the industry. Ansaldo of Italy won the new competition but now is facing an allegation that it wasn’t a fully licensed contractor in time to submit a qualified bid.

After losing bidder Bombardier failed in both of its appeals, first to the city and then to the state’s Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, it filed a lawsuit to overturn its disqualification by the city. Sumitomo filed similar appeals that also were denied.

Observers have been expecting the company to take its complaint to court, too, but Sumitomo has announced it’ll take a pass.

Now the speculation is on why Sumitomo is stepping aside with more than a billion dollars in contracts at stake. Pacific Business News reporter Curtis Lum suggests the company wants to stay on the city’s good side, just in case Ansaldo is disqualified and Bombardier loses its lawsuit.

The company said as much in a press release that quotes Vice President Gino Antoniello:

“As much as we still strongly disagree with the rulings that have been made so far, we felt it was time to step back and let the City go it course. As we stated from the beginning of our protest, it has never been our intention to hurt this project or stand in the way of it being built.
“As the only qualified offeror, (Sumitomo’s) decision not to appeal should in no way be interpreted as loss of interest. To the contrary, (Sumitomo) will remain ready to fulfill its commitments should the City not be able to proceed with Ansaldo due to any problems that might prevent them from fulfilling their offer.”

Still Complaining
The potential delay in resolving Bombardier’s and Ansaldo’s issues undoubtedly pleases the plaintiffs on a lawsuit that aims to stop the rail project in its tracks. They were at it again yesterday – this time alleging conflicts of interest and impropriety in the award of a contract to PB Americas, Inc. to provide general engineering and other services for the rail project.

Anti-rail leader Cliff Slater also complained about the cost of moving the route near the Honolulu airport one block mauka near Lagoon Drive to avoid going through an FAA-designated control zone. According to the Star-Advertiser (subscription), Slater said using the project’s contingency fund to cover the $29 million increase in costs “is no comfort.” The paper quotes him: “When the issue was raised, I didn’t hear anybody question who was paying for it.”

Funny, we don’t remember Slater complaining about it when the issue was raised either, which makes this look like just another desperate diversionary gambit by Slater and the Gang of Four in their campaign to reverse the community’s long-standing support for rail.

Mayor Peter Carlyle rejected the complainers’ allegations.

“It is incorrect and inflammatory to label the increase as ‘negligence’ or a ‘mistake’ when the purpose of the preliminary engineering phase was to identify this type of issue,” he said in a statement.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Who’s Deceiving Whom? Rail Critic’s Illogical Conclusions Undermine His Familiar Refrain

A misinformation campaign is rolling along out there about Honolulu rail, and it's not being run by rail supporters. Faced with evidence their anti-rail efforts have failed to push opposition above 40 percent as revealed in three scientific opinion surveys, opponents have launched a new round of misinformation, innuendo and misstatement.

Civil Beat, the online subscription news service, observed yesterday that Sunday’s Star-Advertiser commentary submitted by plaintiffs in a lawsuit intended to stop the project – we’re calling them the Gang of Four – “is ripe for fact-checking. You’ll see the results of those investigations on the site in coming days.”

That’s a welcome development, inasmuch a morning radio host, who channels Gang of Four leader Cliff Slater, has said the commentary will be the centerpiece of how the general public understands the rail project. Civil Beat’s investigation will make a contribution to the public’s understanding of just what is what.

Maybe the website can prime its fact-checking pump with our own observations in Yes2Rail’s Sunday and yesterday posts about the commentary’s numerous misleading statements. And while they’re at it, CB might check the latest anti-rail piece by Dr. Panos Prevedouros, published yesterday at

Greece = Oahu?
The term that popped up as we read Dr. Prevedouros’s commentary, based on a vague recollection of its meaning, was non sequitur – “an inference or a conclusion that does not follow from the premises.”

His latest premise is that if freight trains have failed in Greece, Honolulu’s urban passenger train will fail, too. More precisely, he says trains killed Greek’s economy and we can expect the same result here.

We don’t know much about Greece’s economy beyond what we read in the media, and it does look like a mess. But Dr. Prevedouros’s assertion that trains killed Greece would seem to be a stretch; Greece’s generous social benefits network that allows public workers to retire while still relatively young is often reported as the culprit.

As for his opinion that rail will do the same to Hawaii (the non sequitur part), that’s just what it is – the opinion of a man whose career is mostly about highways and why communities should build more of them, a civil engineer whose own biographical website doesn’t even mention the word “transit.”

Dr. Prevedouros is a highwayman, through and through, and to better understand where he’s coming from, you need to appreciate the meaning of his preferred alternative to Honolulu rail – “managed lanes,” a concept he and Mr. Slater advocate.

A Preference for Tolls
The theory behind managed lanes – let’s call them what they are, toll roads – is that traffic flows faster on managed toll roads, which allow their users to avoid gridlock congestion, the bane of drive-time commuting. The theory may actually work in practice in some places. Here’s how:

According to Dr. Prevedouros’s commentary last October, managed lanes keep traffic flowing by managing down the number of vehicles on the lanes. As he put it, “Higher tolls are necessary to discourage overloading.”

In plain language, it means only those who can afford to pay tolls that are automatically increased in real time derive any benefit from managed lanes (the highway sign in the photo shows an  access charge). Without an affordable alternative, everybody else has to slog along in highway congestion. As we wrote back in October:

“Who doesn’t benefit includes everybody without the resources or physical ability to drive, own a car or afford toll roads. Broadly speaking, large numbers of Honolulu’s elderly and low-income residents would be excluded from (high-occupancy) lane use.”

Dr. Prevedouros’s Monday commentary includes this: “Trains went obsolete for a reason. You can’t solve 21st century mobility problems with 19th century technology.” Does he think Oahu residents are that gullible? Trains are not obsolete; thousands of them move freight and passengers all over the world every day. Perhaps less relevant for moving people in 21st century urban environments is another 19th century invention – the one-passenger automobile!

Finally, both the Gang of Four and Dr. Prevedouros blame Honolulu rail’s public information effort for convincing the community to support the project. Maybe that’s a back-handed compliment, but it looks more like the last refuge for the anti-rail camp to further obfuscate their own inability to persuade.

They've failed to convince Oahu residents to oppose rail after campaigning against grade-separated transit for literally decades in Mr. Slater’s case. They’ll keep trying, and the public had best be prepared for more of what they’re dishing.

(This post has been added to our "aggregation site" in its Dr. Panos Prevedouros section.)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Rail Critics Toss Heaps of Wool at Your Eyes; Talk Show Host Relies on the Old ‘Bait and Switch’

Where to begin? Sunday’s anti-rail commentary in the newspaper demands more response than we gave it yesterday, and then there’s the radio host who used the piece to fill two of his hours this morning.

Half-truths, misleading conclusions, obfuscations – they’re all in the inventory routinely used by these anti-railers as they attempt to pull the wool over the public’s collective eyesight and use a little bait-and-switch while they’re at it.

Let’s do begin with the radio host, who invited rail supporters to “look at what’s been advanced in this piece. If this is dead wrong, I would highly recommend that you make it wrong, because….this particular piece is going to be at the heart of how the general public forms its opinions about the rail project.”

As we wrote yesterday in our dissection of the piece, everything in the Gang of Four’s commentary was old news. We likened it to a desperation Hail Mary pass by the losing team near the end of the game. And since nothing’s new, Oahu residents already have sifted through those anti-rail arguments and said in three different scientific opinion polls that they support rail. The show’s host says the surveys weren’t objective, but what else can he say? It’s the only way anti-railers can deal with the results!

The True Objective
Mixed in with callers who are in complete agreement with the host (when they do call, which isn’t often) was “Roger” from Kalihi, who challenged the host’s anti-rail commentary and even flustered him a bit. Paraphrasing:

“I’ve heard all the suggestions – contra-flow highways, building more lanes on the freeway (about as hair-brained as you can get), more buses – and none of them will work. We have to make a bold decision to build something out there…. Traffic is almost unlivable. We’ve got to embrace change, and we’ve got to have the rail. The ultimate objective is to give people an alternative to get out of their cars and give people something else to get to and from the city.”

Note that last sentence (a quote, not a paraphrase) and what Roger said was the “ultimate objective” – providing an alternative to congestion. Here’s where the radio host employed bait-and-switch:

“If you do build this project, you will not achieve your objective, which is alleviating congestion. Will there be an option? Yes. Will it alleviate this congestion? No, so why move this project forward?”

The host completely ignored Roger’s ultimate objective – which in fact is one of the project’s major goals – and substituted his own. Roger had boxed him in by accurately saying what the project can and will accomplish, leaving the host no alternative but to blame rail for something it and nothing else likely can do over the course of the 21st century – reduce traffic to the point that it’s no longer an aggravation. As Roger implied, rail system riders will eliminate that aggravation from their lives.

Had Roger been more familiar with the project, he might have said rail will indeed alleviate traffic by attracting 40,000 drivers out of their cars by 2030 to ride the system. Even Cliff Slater had to admit this at a July 2010 City Council hearing when he said: “We don’t disagree at all that the rail will have an effect on reducing traffic congestion what it might be if we did nothing at all.” (We can’t get enough of that quote and use it often.)

Wool Gathering
The newspaper commentary’s authors are comfortable with misstatement and obfuscation. After complaining that “the city is planning to provide parking at only four of the 21 stations,” they posed their unintentionally humorous question: “Where will commuters park their cars?”

That mournful query said a ton. They just don’t get that cars eventually won’t be a necessity for scores of thousands of commuters who, without rail, would have to drive. Rail will be part of a public transit system, with buses providing a convenient and inexpensive option to driving and giving commuters access to and from the rail spine.

They'll ride rail for reasons we covered a few days ago when reviewing the Brookings Institution’s conclusion that among 100 metropolitan areas across the country, Honolulu’s public transit system ranks #1 in transit’s coverage of the community and the access it provides workers to their jobs. TheBus already is a success; a better transit system can only be even more successful.

Spreading It

The Gang of Four says rail will cost more than the city’s projected $5.3 billion, “but the facts indicate otherwise.” Facts? Cost overruns in cities thousands of miles away don't make it a “fact” that Honolulu will overrun, too.

Neither does the so-called “independent study by the highly regarded IMG group” partially written by a rail critic – a study so transparently partisan the current governor ignored it and the current mayor called it “an appalling waste” of taxpayer dollars and an “anti-rail rant.”

Be on guard when this group of authors starts to throw around “facts” and statements like this in the commentary: “No wonder virtually every environmental group in Hawaii opposes heavy rail despite the city’s false claims that it would be a ‘green’ project.”

Here’s a statement from the Sierra Club’s Oahu Group website:

“The Sierra Club Oahu Group supports the Fixed Guideway (rail) alternative. The Fixed Guideway alternative provides what Oahu needs most: an alternative to the automobile. Oahu residents have become overly dependent on private automobiles, and this dependence has devastating effects: reliance on fossil fuels, pollution and global warming, traffic congestion and the resulting loss of productivity, consumption of more land for roadways and parking, and negative impacts on public health and community life. The Oahu Group believes these are urgent problems that require a major shift in our transportation habits, and therefore supports the development of a rail system on Oahu."

Maybe Roger of Kalihi is a Sierra Club member. We don’t know, but we can accept as “fact” that the local chapter of the Sierra Club, which certainly qualifies as an environmental group in Hawaii, supports Honolulu rail – just one more thing the Gang of Four doesn’t want you to know.

(This post has been added to our "aggregation site" under Cliff Slater.)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Lawsuit Backers Switch Tactics, Blast Honolulu Rail in Media Broadside Aimed at Influencing Public Opinion, but Absolutely Nothing Is New

Newspaper headline writers attempt to capture the essence of stories to help readers get into the piece or avoid it altogether, depending on their interest. We’ve tried to do that here at Yes2Rail today about yet another anti-railer attack in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s editorial section today (subscription required).

The commentary purporting to show how the city has misled the public on Honolulu rail has the fingerprints of Cliff “Always By Car” Slater all over it. Former Governor Ben Cayetano, former Judge Walter Heen and UH law professor Randall Roth are along for the ride. These three gentlemen profess no transportation expertise, so they’re relying on Mr. Slater for guidance in trying to influence the public, something he has failed at. They’re also plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit with an unambiguous goal: “If we prevail,” their commentary reads, “the rail project will be halted.”

The weakness of their newspaper presentation is apparent in the first paragraph, where journalists traditionally draw readers into their stories, commentaries and editorials with solid information and facts about what lies within the piece itself. But that’s not the case in today’s anti-railer attack.

This one starts off with an allegation that public relations firms are responsible for hoodwinking the public into giving the project strong support in three scientific opinion polls conducted since 2008. It  amounts to an admission that Mr. Slater and friends have been unsuccessful in convincing the public that rail should not be built.

“We’ve failed up ‘til now,” we can imagine them saying in their strategy session, “so this time let’s throw everything we’ve ever used at the project and see if something finally sticks. Maybe blaming the public relations people might work.”

Really? PR people are responsible for the public’s overwhelming endorsement of rail? If that’s the best they can do, it’s pretty weak, but it gets weaker the deeper you read. Let’s break it down by examining some of the allegations.

Recyling, Recycling
The first thing to note is that there’s nothing new in this piece. You can find proof of that at Mr. Slater’s own website – Scroll down and you’ll find the same graphics carried in today’s newspaper; the street scenes comparison was posted on July 18th, and the rendering of the Bishop Street and Nimitz Highway station has been used repeatedly at, one of Mr. Slater's third-party anti-rail sites (search there for “Slater”).

About those “aircraft carrier” rail stations: It’s a spurious exaggeration meant to obfuscate and confuse, one of Mr. Slater’s favorite tactics. The project’s website says the station platforms will be 240 feet long, shorter than Mr. Slater’s claim that stations will be “270 feet long and 50 feet wide.” How does that compare to actual aircraft carriers? The U.S. Navy says Nimitz Class carriers are 1092 feet long and 134 feet wide – 4.55 times longer than a rail station. Even using Mr. Slater’s exaggerated width, carriers are more than two-and-one-half times wider.

Blame it on the consultants: Keep in mind as you read through the newspaper piece that nowhere does it offer any alternative to the rail project, nor does it dispute the project’s goals, which realistically can be met only with a grade-separated transportation mode, like elevated rail. So in the absence of any substantive contributions, the authors attempt to stain the project by innuendo – first with vague allegations about PR agencies and then contractors Parsons Brinckerhoff and InfraConsult.

Every project with costs running into the billions of dollars encounters detractors and attention-grabbing journalists (we’ve had both here), so to suggest Honolulu rail is tainted by what a company did on another completely different project a continent or more away is weak. Even the reference to the H-3 freeway is weak in light of the Fasi Administration’s dogged resistance during the years it fought the project to a standstill. You can find “Cliff Slaters” everywhere – fighting against progress, defending the status quo, or in the case of our own Mr. Slater, advocating more highways and toll roads.

That old chestnut? Mr. Slater works his repetitious and thread-bare argument into the “Stacking the deck” section of today’s commentary. He wants the reader to believe he forced City transportation director Wayne Yoshioka into admitting something shameful, something that should be hidden – that “traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than what it is today without rail.”

Does common sense have a place in Mr. Slater’s world? Of course traffic will grow in the future with the population. As Mr. Yoshioka told the City Council in July 2010, “No kidding, in the future, traffic will be worse than it is today. I don’t think that’s any earth-shattering news.” He said that because Oahu’s population is projected to increase by 200,000 in 2030 compared to 2005 (more on that below). With population increase comes more traffic.

And here’s the kicker that puts Mr. Slater’s commentary into proper, disreputable perspective: At that same Council meeting, Mr. Slater said this: “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.” In other words, as Mr. Yoshioka told Council members, “…without the rail in the future, traffic congestion will be much worse than with the rail, and I think that’s the whole point of the discussion."

Yes, that is the whole point – but it’s one Mr. Slater won’t admit unless he’s forced into a corner, as he was at the Council meeting. His anti-rail presentations are intellectually dishonest in the extreme, as his interview with Civil Beat last year revealed.

About Oahu’s growth: Today’s commentary says the city has “cherry-picked data” to estimate Oahu’s 2030 population. “It relies upon a 2004 30-year population forecast even though the 2008 30-year population forecast indicates 100,000 fewer people in 2030 than was previously forecasted,” the plaintiffs write.

Let’s see what the 2010 census found: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Oahu's growth over the past decade kept pace with the project’s projections. See for yourself at our February post. Mr. Slater has been silent on what actually is happening on Oahu, preferring instead to obfuscate as usual by focusing on the theoretical.

We could go on and will in future Yes2Rail posts. What stands out about this commentary is the lawsuit plaintiffs’ own apparent doubt about the success of their efforts. They’ve filed a lawsuit but know they've lost the public opinion battle, so they’re taking their case to the streets again with the same tired arguments that have failed to gain traction for all the years this project has been progressing.

They want to stop a much-needed public infrastructure improvement that’s supported by a solid majority of citizens based on what they’ve read, learned and absorbed about Honolulu rail – both from critics and supporters. It’s a desperate gambit by the losing team – a prayerful Hail Mary pass. We’ll see plenty of them in the coming football season. Mr. Slater's Gang of Four no doubt is conjuring up more desperation Xs and Os for use against Honolulu rail.

(Today's post has been added to our "aggregation site" in the Mr. Cliff Slater section.)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Saturday Review: Institute’s Transit-Accessibility Study Shows Why Rail Will Be Successful Here

We’re taking a second look at the Brookings Institution’s study of transit coverage and job accessibility in metropolitan areas across the country (see the end of yesterday’s post for the first).

Oahu residents have grown accustomed to hearing good things about TheBus, Honolulu’s well-regarded transit system, but it’s something else to read it in a nationally respected organization’s detailed study. Some quotes on Honolulu are worth pulling out, because they offer insights on why Honolulu rail will have such great appeal to a population that already relies heavily on a good transit system and will embrace an even better one.

Honolulu, a region with long-standing urban containment policies, highly constrained geography and a relatively centralized employment base, posts the highest share (of jobs accessible via transit) at 60 percent, nearly double the 100 metro-area average.
…most Western metropolitan areas rank among those with the highest (transit) coverage rates. Fully 97 percent of Honolulu’s working-age residents live in transit-covered areas, as do 96 percent of those in Los Angeles and San Jose.
Large metro areas such as San Jose, Denver and Portland, as well as mid-sized areas such as Honolulu, Salt Lake and Tucson, posted among the highest scores thanks to strong rankings on both transit coverage and job access.
Only 18 (out of 100) other metropolitan areas’ headways (time between vehicles during rush hour) are below 10 minutes… Half of these are in the West, including Portland (7.4), Denver (8.1), Honolulu (9.0) and Tucson (9.2).
Metro areas with a high number of transit commuters, such as Los Angeles, Honolulu and Philadelphia, also stand out for having small per capita carbon emissions due to transportation compared with more car-dependent areas such as Nashville and Oklahoma City.
This graphic summarizes Honolulu’s ranking among 100 metro areas and can be used as a cudgel on arguments that “rail will never work here,” a favorite anti-railer assertion. Transit already works exceptionally well here due to obvious geographical constraints and job concentration.

Honolulu’s elevated rail system will provide fast, frequent, reliable and safe transportation for a population already well served by public transit. Honolulu’s future transit system will integrate the rail guideway “spine” with TheBus’s enhanced network, reducing headways and increasing job accessibility for current transit users and attracting tens of thousands of car drivers once cost and convenience advantages become obvious to them.

Also obvious with each new scientific opinion survey on Honolulu rail, most Oahu residents are supporters. The Brookings study helps us understand why the solid majority knows intuitively that rail is needed and will work here.

(Today's post has been added to our "aggregation site" in the Project's Goals and more section.)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Advice during APEC Meet: ‘Stay Off the Roads’; Honolulu’s TheBus Ranks 1st for Access in USA

It’s Statehood Day in Hawaii, a holiday for the sizeable state and county workforce. The road sounds drifting up from the nearby thoroughfare are noticeably muted compared to a normal weekday, but traffic is always on the minds of Oahu drivers.

One has asked the Star-Advertiser’s transportation columnist whether the routes of dignitaries attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in November (a big deal here) will be known in advance. Street and highway closures to accommodate visiting presidents, princes and potentates are especially bothersome in Honolulu’s long and narrow urban corridor.

Predictably, their routes won’t be advertised for security reasons. Writes columnist Gene Park (subscription):

“The best advice I can give is to think about what route you would normally take from the airport to Waikiki, and avoid that same route at all costs. There aren’t that many ways into Waikiki, so use your best judgment and stay off the roads.”

Stay off the roads? That’s good generic advice to avoid traffic jams but impractical for countless employees who must be out on them to do their jobs.

Now, what if there were an alternative to using streets and highways to travel through the urban core – something that moved travelers quickly from place to place without a care in the world about surface congestion? It would provide fast, frequent, reliable and safe transportation day or night, rush hour or holidays, dignitaries be darned.

That something, of course, will be Honolulu’s elevated rail system, which is scheduled to begin full operations between East Kapolei and Ala Moana Center in 2019. Visiting dignitaries and their staffs who want to do some high-end shopping while in Honolulu could head straight to the shopping center from the Airport station by train and avoid all of us on the streets below.

We’re Number One!

The Brookings Institution has published a report that finds Honolulu is far better served by the city’s transit service – TheBus – than transit in most other cities across the country.

Here’s Honolulu’s “Transit Accessibility Profile” as compiled by Brookings:

Honolulu ranks #1 among 100 metropolitan areas in the study’s category that combines Coverage, Service Frequency and Job Access. That has a lot to do with our population concentration along the coastline, and that has a lot to do with why Honolulu rail will be a success.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

City Cautiously Advances Rail, Queries Ansaldo

The City’s contract with Ansaldo is on the agenda of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) today. Two committees will meet jointly at 9 am with an agenda that includes a briefing and discussion on the Core Systems Procrement process.

With the State having dismissed appeals by losing bidders Sumitomo and Bombardier, City attorneys have cleared the project to move ahead barring a court-ordered injunction on the Ansaldo contract. Bombardier sued the City earlier this week over the dismissal of its bid early in the process.

HART’s Project Oversight Committee will meet at 10 am to review rail’s monthly progress report, receive an update on property acquisition for the route and discuss the committee's areas of responsibility.

The City has asked Ansaldo for additional information on its parent company's financial strength in light of recent comments by its CEO regarding Ansaldo's performance.

58.7% to 38.3%

These percentages are the average results from three scientific public opinion polls on Honolulu rail in 2008, 2009 and 2011 showing overwhelming support for the project among residents.

As the political season intensifies, any politician running to represent the 1st Congressional District, which encompasses the system’s 20-mile route, presumably will factor these results into the campaign. Failure to endorse the rail project wholeheartedly would be at odds with public opinion and likely result in electoral support much closer to the lower figure than the higher.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Rail Critic’s Latest Reads Like More of the Same

Cliff Slater will tell you what lies ahead for the Honolulu rail project. Just ask him – or don’t ask him and he’ll write something somewhere to tell you anyway, and while he’s at it, he’ll try to start a debate that most of us feel was decided long ago.

Take his latest broadside against the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit (HART). Mr. Slater never met an agency or authority or office associated with Honolulu rail that he liked, and HART’s no exception.

Oahu citizens overwhelmingly approved HART’s creation in an affirmative vote to amend the City Charter last November, passing the measure 63.6 percent to 29.1 percent. When blank votes are set aside, the "yes" vote was 68.6 percent, a landslide in anybody’s book and not much less than Senator Daniel K. Inouye’s usual reelection dominance (71.9 percent).

But that matters not to Mr. Slater, who’s still battling against HART and trying to convince us that it was formed for reasons other than why the voters approved it – to remove rail from the ever-fluid world of elective politics and have it administered by a semi-autonomous body. As the Honolulu Star-Advertiser editorialized on June 23:

“The whole reason for taking control of the dedicated transit fund away from a political body (the City Council) is to keep decisions in the hands of those not seeking campaign contributions, and to ensure that they’re based on professional reasoning, not politics.”

Mr. Slater doesn’t see it that way. In his world, HART was created “to shield elected officials from the harsh criticisms that will well up from voters when the cost overruns and ridership shortfalls occur and consequent increases in property taxes are needed. Then the mostly anonymous HART appointees will take the flak.”

He can see it any way he wants, but this is classic Slater – conjuring up a universe in which (1) HART exists for a reason of his own choosing, not the public’s, and (2) anticipating a dismal future for Honolulu rail that springs entirely from his own anti-rail tendencies that go back decades. Repeat something often enough, he apparently reasons, and maybe it’ll stick. (For more on Mr. Slater’s ongoing anti-rail campaign and his dubious reasoning, visit our July 26th “aggregation post.")

As usual, we’ve linked today's post to Mr. Slater’s latest views on HART, since we believe the more exposure he receives, the better Honolulu rail looks.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Wayne Yoshioka Talks Transportation at CB

Director of Transportation Service Wayne Yoshioka’s interview with Civil Beat was streamed “live” online and came off with only one 30-second audio drop. Here's a close approximation of the exchange, transcribed as it happened. Civil Beat has posted the entire interview on its site.

Questions by Mike Levine: What’s the city doing to relieve congestion?
A: One of the biggest of course is the rail project. We don’t anticipate building new facilities/highways, so we have to make it more efficient to move people.
Q: Nothing new in highway construction?
A: State is looking to open up some bottlenecks, in the Middle Street area, for example, and an am/pm contra-flow lane. Shifting all this traffic to other modes is important. Buses also get caught in the congestion, and that’s why we’re looking at grade-separated transit that doesn’t get caught in the congestion.
Q: Bombardier’s actions? 
A: It’s a prescribed process. Bombardier talked about taking the legal route, and we’ll just have to wait to see how it plays out.
Q: Is there anything preventing the city from signing the contract with Ansaldo? 
A: My understanding is that there’s nothing technically standing in the way. We’ll have to see how it plays out.
Q: Concern about Ansaldo worldwide. How does that factor in now? 
A: It’s been discussed through the whole procurement process. The rulings speak for themselves. The procurement process was proper, and we can move on if we’re allowed to do so.
Q: What’s your role with the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation? 
A: Explained what his role is in HART…sits as an ex-officio member of the board, but I want to stress that these are my own comments that I’m expressing here today.
Q: How’s the relationship between the Administration and the rest of the HART board? 
A: It’s a very cooperative relationship, like all departments. We have close relationships with all city departments and the state. Everything is interrelated with transportation, so all agencies have to work together; otherwise, we’re working against one another.
Q: Will there be surfboard racks on the train? 
A: We haven’t made the decision about surf racks, but we have said we’ll initially allow surfboards on the trains, monitor it and go from there.
Q: The route? Are you satisfied that the current route will service enough of the community to help enough people? 
A: The project will be completed before we know it. It’s a good route, from East Kapolei and the UH West Oahu campus all the way to the Ala Moana Center. The intent is in the future, should funds be available, we’d extend it to UH Manoa, West Kapolei, and elsewhere perhaps. The current route does provide a solid backbone on which we can build.
(Sound was lost during a question  about the bike program.)
A: …We’re not going to build the entire bike program all at once. We want to have a good plan for incremental improvements to get to the ultimate plan. When that’s done, we’ll have a good path to get it done.
Q: Waialae Avenue in Kaimuki….an opportunity to implement the plan as roads are improved? 
A: In Kailua, our staff had been looking at the Keolu Drive area and had polled the neighborhood about reducing the lanes to two to liberate space for bike lanes. Regarding Waialae Avenue, we hadn’t moved along as far as in Kailua; the Waialae project was sorely needed, and the timeframe didn’t match up with ours. We were still studying it. We’ll be closing down one of the five lanes on Waialae and cone it off to test the concept of making space for a bike lane. We always make sure everyone’s comfortable with what we’re intending to do, but the resurfacing project came before we were ready to do this. We have in fact prepared to put down pavement markings to alert motorists that they can expect to share the space with bikes. That’ll happen as we go forward.
A: What’s happening with the Complete Streets program? 
A: Complete Streets says you have to respect all modes of travel – not only cars, but pedestrians and bikes, too. Generally, Complete Streets isn’t a program for new areas; we already plan to put them in with new streets. The real issue is in the established streets and areas. Transit-Oriented Development will enable us to implement Complete Streets in those station-focused areas. We’re formulating a Complete Streets policy for the entire County, then we’ll take it to the Council. That’ll guide our activities for the future.
Q: Street traffic lights sometimes change to "go" but there’s no walk signal. What’s with that? 
A: To clarify the signal issue, the reason why we ask pedestrians to press the button to trigger the walk signal is that we require a certain clearance level – 3 to 3.5 feet/second, a leisurely pace that allows them to step off and get across if they push the button and step off before the flashing begins. When the flashing already has started, you should not be stepping off into the street. In heavy pedestrian environments, we’ll have the Walk sign set automatically, but in most other areas, the pedestrian needs to push the button. The solid hand tells you you shouldn’t be walking.
Q: Retro-fitting some areas to make them more modern? 
A: It’s a function of what was done much much earlier than when I came on in 2007. It’s easy to second-guess things that happened in the past. Honolulu was originally designed before there were cars. Streets were designed for horses and buggies. I can’t see criticizing people back then for doing that. We have to look at ways to take what we have and make it more pedestrian-friendly.
Q: Any examples of old decisions that have made your life easier? 
A: Things that really helped were when certain promenades were planned with enough width to give us flexibility as we retrofit. Land is at a premium here, so another approach we’re looking at is viewing corridors rather than individual roadways. Maybe it doesn’t make sense for every street in an area to have bikeways. Hopefully we can do that without disrupting the historical significance of much that we have in Honolulu.
Q: Federal lawsuit on the FEIS. One of the major gripes in the lawsuit is that rail will have major impacts on historical sites. 
A: In the process that was followed, our procedures were very prescribed by the federal rules. The FTA’s response speaks for itself. All the alternatives that were studied are in the FEIS. It’s a very complete document.
Q: In terms of price, given financial crises in the US and Italian governments, some are saying the project should stop.
A: We have a very conservative financial plan. We’re not hanging by a shoestring. Second, we have tremendous support in both the administrative and legislative branches of the federal government. It’s to the country’s advantage to look at ways to make transportation more efficient, and we’re doing that here and are well-positioned to take advantage of the climate.
Q: Your relationship with Parsons Brinckerhoff; given your position…can the public trust this project? 
A: Absolutely. Everything is above board. First, back in 2007 a lot was made that I came from PB, but PB was already aboard, so I didn’t bring them. Secondly, the directors are not involved in selecting consultants like PB. We think the best-qualified candidates rise to the surface. PB deserves to be there. It’s an excellent firm, and I learned a lot and it’s benefiting me in my job now.
Q: Is there a way you or the Administration can reach out and communicate better with the public? 
A: We try to do that. There’s an extensive public information process—a weekly show on `Olelo, appearances at neighborhood boards and other community events, newsletters. We’re trying to do that across all the departments. We’re adding more information on-line for the public.
Q: Some viewers have concerns about construction. 
A: We’re meeting with other departments on how we can put more information out there online so people can see it. It needs to be organized so people can understand it.
Q: What comes next? There’s been mention of a “toll cordon” around downtown, and smarter parking meters. 
A: First about the cordon around downtown Honolulu. It’s tied somewhat with the concept of managed lanes, or toll roads. The whole point of tolls is to influence travel demand. If it gets expensive enough, people will be less inclined to use the car. We have to be very careful about that. Some people can’t afford tolls. We’re certainly not trying to force someone to use one mode or another. We have to be very careful about making life harder for people.
Q: Parking hikes downtown would influence people’s decision to go there, presumably. 
A: We currently have an RFP out for advanced parking devices. We’re out there soliciting them so we can implement some innovative approaches. San Francisco is experimenting with dynamic parking rates. If parking is at a premium in an area, parking rates would rise, and they’d go down elsewhere where there was less demand. We also could put information up on the web so people could tell where the parking is less expensive and available. People would spend less time looking for parking and save money, too.
Q: Other areas are growing on the island…Hawaii Kai, North Shore. Are there ways to increase the capacity of single-lane roads to some of these areas? 
A: Some communities talk about it, but on the other hand, there are just as many in these communities who don’t want the road capacity increased. We’re trying to keep the country country. It might not be consistent with that policy to increase the road capacity. The state is considering a bypass around Haleiwa that would make it easier for people to get around very congested areas when there are events on the North Shore.
Q: Wrapping up, do you think the solutions you’re talking about today will be good for Honolulu in 10 to 50 years? 
A: I’m benefiting from the work that occurred years ago. If that hadn’t happened, our issues would be far far worse. Moving on, we’re excited. We’re developing a Joint Traffic Center, co-housing all traffic-related agencies. Active Traffic Management is the plan. We don’t foresee much widening of existing roadways or building new ones, so we have to manage our existing roadways better. We’ll have to do that to address the future needs of our road system.

Bombardier Takes Case to Feds, Circuit Court: 'Wayne’s World' To Be Focus of On-Line Chat

Bombardier, one of the two losing bidders to supply the Honolulu rail project with rolling stock and operational expertise, is appealing its loss to both the Federal Transit Administration and state circuit court.

The company has swung twice and missed so far. The city disqualified its bid earlier this year as non-responsive, after which Bombardier appealed unsuccessfully to the state.

“Bombardier is hugely disappointed it was never afforded the chance for a full hearing to present evidence and testimony to tell the real story…,” a company statement said.

Bombardfier says it will ask the FTA to terminate the contract award to Ansaldo and also will file a lawsuit over the city’s procedures.

Noon Interview

Director of Transportation Services Wayne Yoshioka will be Civil Beat’s newsmaker today at noon, HST. The online subscription news service allows “occasional visitors” to drop by without paying for the privilege, so the interview should be accessible to everyone at this page.

Mr. Yoshioka provided answers to five preliminary questions last week.

Monday, August 15, 2011

State Makes It Final, Rejects Sumitomo Appeal; Comprehending Elevated Guideway as Essential

Once upon a time it seemed only Senator William Proxmire (D-WI) had enough media savvy to make news on the weekend. His “Golden Fleece Awards” on government waste always seemed to break on a Saturday or Sunday, and he made headlines while other politicos were asleep at the switch.

Not so anymore. The State Department of Consumer Affairs chose Sunday to post the final decision of Hearings Officer David Karlen to reject Sumitomo Corporation’s appeal of a major Honolulu rail system contract to Ansaldo of Italy.

Karlen’s decision is long, but some media boil it down to a sentence or two. Hawaii News Now says the contract award to Ansaldo “was not unreasonable based on Sumitomo’s allegations.” Civil Beat has a longer story.

Sumitomo and the other losing bidder, Bombardier, still have the option to appeal to circuit court.

Essentially Elevated

The federal defendants provided their response on Friday to the lawsuit filed by several individuals and entities to block construction of Honolulu rail. At least two of them have learned something about slow-news weekends; one distributed a press release on Saturday commenting on the response, and anti-railer-in-chief Cliff Slater posted about it on his website yesterday (look for 8/14).

We stay clear of commenting on the lawsuit itself, but the objection to elevated rail by the project’s opponents, including some plaintiffs, is fair game.

We’ve added a few photographs in our photo column at right showing one of the major disadvantages of at-grade rail compared to elevated. They speak for themselves, but for added emphasis, we’ve also reproduced (below) the links found at our July 26th “aggregation post,” a “one-stop site for pro-rail talking points.” Numerous other issues are posted there as well.

Every city with at-grade rail has had to contend with train-vehicle collisions, even Norfolk, VA, where the city’s new 7-mile at-grade line goes into revenue service a week from today. Without carrying its first passenger, "The Tide" already had its first collision with a car last Thursday.

Spend some time with these previous Yes2Rail posts, and when you do, try to imagine how an at-grade system in Honolulu’s exceptionally dense and narrow urban environment could provide fast, frequent, reliable and safe service. It couldn’t.

You may not like elevated rail's looks; that's a personal thing, but as a travel option that will completely avoid all traffic (and collisions) while achieving the project's goals, it's beautiful.

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

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Saturday Review: Feds Respond to Lawsuit, DKI Says Funding Solid, another At-Grade Collision

The workweek ended (does it ever?) with word that the federal defendants in the lawsuit to stop Honolulu rail have responded to the suit and its allegations. As Civil Beat reported yesterday, the response makes for pretty dry reading unless you’re an attorney. This is typical of almost every paragraph:

“The allegations in paragraph 3 contain statements of jurisdiction to which no response is required. To the extent a response is required, Federal Defendants deny the allegations in paragraph 3.” And: “The allegations in paragraph 54 purport to characterize the NHPA and its implementing regulations, which speak for themselves and are the best evidence of their content. Federal Defendants deny any allegation contrary to the plain language, meaning, and context of the NHPA and its implementing regulations.”

That seems plain enough, and we now await developments in court. The City already responded to the lawsuit.

At-Grade Pilikia

Norfolk, VA is taking justifiable pride in The Tide, an at-grade rail transit system that begins its official run next Friday. It recorded its first car-train incident on Thursday in a hit-and-run collision, hopefully not the first of many, although that could be hope against hope. At-grade systems around the country have racked up numerous accidents with vehicles; Phoenix recorded 52 in its first year of operation. Elevated Honolulu rail will record none. Norfolk understandably is emphasizing accident prevention at its website with a “Safety Starts with You” campaign. It’s therefore ironic that a photo cycling through The Tide’s home page shows the kind of track encroachment that leads to accidents:

Senator Inouye Says

We reported this week on the encouraging words of Senator Daniel K. Inouye (D-HI), who has represented Hawaii in Congress continuously since statehood was granted in 1959. Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, the Senator told reporters this week Honolulu “can count on” the federal funding in the project’s financial plan.

That stands out as the best news of the week.