Friday, September 30, 2011

‘Paradigm Shift’ Coming with Rail Project Launch; Worry about Station Parking Is So ‘Last Century’

Honolulu’s grade-separated transit project has been decades in the marking, and we’re able now to imagine – if not yet see – the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

City Transportation Services director Wayne Yoshioka spoke Wednesday evening at a rail town hall meeting and briefly mentioned a “paradigm shift” that’s ahead regarding travel mobility in our Honolulu.

Yoshioka, who’s a Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation board member, didn’t mention specifics about this shift, but we can imagine where he was going. Rail opponents have given us a glimpse of why a new paradigm is sure to come. (For a particular kind of commuting paradigm shift, see the end of this post.)

Consider this paragraph lifted from the four leading opponents’ August 21st anti-rail newspaper commentary:

“The city has led people to think they could drive their cars to nearby rail stations, then ride a train into town. But the city is planning to provide parking at only four of the 21 stations. Where will commuters park their cars? The airport charges $15 per day.”

And this from a September 14th Hawaii Public Radio talk show, spoken by the commentary’s “co-author” Randall Roth:

“When we’ve talked to people who’ve initially said they plan to take the train, our first question is, where do you live? Let’s look to see how far that is from a train station. Where are you gonna park? There are 21 stations and there’s only going to be parking at four of them. The city’s going to provide parking at four. Well, maybe they can go to the airport. That’s $15 a day, and that adds up after a while.”

Where Will We Park?
This question says volumes about the mindset of the rail opposition leadership that’s been assembled by Honolulu’s all-time anti-railer Cliff Slater. We’ve been making the same point continuously in recent Yes2Rail posts – that Mr. Slater and his friends misstate almost every issue involving Honolulu rail.

They misstate its goals, the extent of public support for rail and even the expectation of how most people will travel to and from the system’s stations. (They might want to update their information on the cost to park cars at those four stations; the current plan is to make it free.)

Where will they park? For tens of thousands of daily train riders, the answer is at home!

Most commuters won’t drive to the rail stations. They’ll leave their cars parked at home all day. They’ll walk. They’ll take TheBus. They’ll be dropped off. They’ll be part of the paradigm shift that Mr. Yoshioka says is coming – and it’s about time.

Asking “Where will they park?” betrays an inability to imagine anything but a car-centric society – a paradigm that explains suburban development in the 20th century but not the progressive development concepts we’ll embrace in this one.

Where will they park? They’ll leave their cars parked at home. How’s that for a paradigm shift?

Video for the Weekend

The Washington Improv Theater entered a short film contest this summer and won Best Film, Best Acting Ensemble and Best of Selection among the D.C. films. Says a Washington-based website, “…the message of the video is timeless and speaks to one of the realities of mass transit.” The Improve Theater folks created and executed the film in only two days and notes: “Family is wherever you find it.”

Some people find it on a train. Watch it here.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Community Meetings Offer Rail Project Info; Officials Address Issue of Congestion Growth

Residents turned out for a rail project briefing at Kalani High School last night.
The second of five community town hall meetings provided an in-depth briefing on the Honolulu rail project last night and answered more than a dozen questions from residents.

One of them during the Kalani High School meeting alluded to the assertion by rail opponents that the city only reluctantly has addressed the issue of future congestion on streets and highways after rail is built.

Public opinion polls and election results show that anti-rail leader Cliff Slater has been fighting a losing battle for years, so he’s taken to making an issue out of what most would consider an obvious fact: Building rail will not reverse the inevitable growth of congestion.

Toru Hamayasu, interim executive director of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART), said the city always has been open about the anticipated growth of traffic. He said Oahu’s population is expected to be about 30 percent higher in 2030 than in 2005.

Hamayasu said there will be about 40,000 fewer cars traveling on Oahu’s streets and highways after rail is built and noted that “without rail, traffic would be much much worse.” Rail will give commuters an alternative to sitting in traffic. Hamayasu said the city anticipates an 18-percent reduction in hours of traffic delay in the urban corridor with rail in place.

HART board member Wayne Yoshioka, director of the city’s Department of Transportation Services, said rail will be part of a mobility “paradigm shift” since there’s no expectation that many new roads will be built.

He noted that bicycle riders and pedestrians are demanding greater attention by transportation planners, and as that happens, road capacity may even decrease somewhat with the construction of dedicated lanes for bicyclists.

“There’s no silver bullet (in transportation planning), and everything has to work together,” Yoshioka said. “Rail will be a key component in the overall program.”

Additional Issues
A resident expressed a concern that the archeological inventory survey that’s about to begin may discover numerous burial sites along the project’s route. He asked whether the construction schedule includes potential delays due to these findings.

Hamayasu said there are no known burial sites at this time and that the survey will be completed over the course of a year. He said the project’s contingency fund amounts to 21 percent of the project’s $5.5 billion budget and likely will accommodate any adjustments that may be required due to archeological finds.

Concerns over federal government budget restraints prompted a resident to ask about the city’s contingencies if some or all of the anticipated $1.55 billion in federal funding isn’t received.

Hamayasu said the federal money will arrive in a “stream” during seven or eight years of construction but that it could take longer. If something occurs to reduce federal support, he said the city’s options could include additional sources of revenue, such as extending the half-percent GET rail surcharge beyond 2022, and reducing project costs.

Hamayasu noted that GET collections through last year were $715 million compared to the financial plan’s expectation of $699 million. Contracts already executed have saved the city $315 million compared to the original budget. He said President Obama’s recent action to inject $50 billion in transportation infrastructure funding is a strong indication of federal support for projects like Honolulu rail.

Other issues raised included a resident’s request for “greater accountability” on the project’s spending to date. He urged HART to “please hold the city’s feet to the fire” to divulge how revenues from GET collections and federal funding have been spent.

Another resident noted that the city anticipates 116,000 daily trips on the system and asked whether there would be additional capacity if that ridership is achieved. Hamayasu said the system will have an additional 50 percent of built-in capacity to respond to higher demand.

Additional Meetings
Three more town hall briefings are scheduled – tonight at Highlands Intermediate School in Pearl City, Tuesday at Castle High School in Kaneohe and Wednesday in the Blaisdell Center’s Maui conference room. All meetings are from 6 to 8 p.m.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Coincidental Headlines--Ties that Bind: Rail Town Hall Meeting Draws Crowd; Pain at Pump Deepens

And as the pain at the pump deepens even more in the decade ahead, even bigger crowds will be ready to elevate their ride by using Honolulu rail.

The “packed house” – KITV’s description – at last night’s town hall meeting was to be expected, with emphasis on “expected.” The public has been expecting this project to get under way for years, so the large turnout was not unexpected at the first of several town hall meetings by the newly formed Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART).

KITV’s report went on to highlight descriptions of commuters’ pain on the highway due to the length of their daily drives from the ewa end of the island into town.

The second meeting in the town hall series will be held at Kalani High School from 6 to 8 o’clock this evening.

Pumping More Pain
Another day, another penny added to the average price of gasoline in the 50th state – or as the gas station industry would have it, another 9/10ths of a penny. Hawaii’s nation-leading gas price today is $4.243 per gallon of regular gas, up from $4.234 yesterday, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report.

That’s nearly 82 cents higher than a year ago in Hawaii and nearly 78 cents more than the current national average. The Star-Advertiser’s top page-one story has a couple sit-up-and-take-notice quotes that we’ll reproduce here (with the presumed permission of the newspaper, since doing so will show non-subscribers what they’re missing).

Regarding the disparity in the local and national averages, petroleum industry analyst Tim Hamilton said, “You can have oil delivered to Hawaii at a similar cost to having it delivered to Houston. The gas price differential also isn’t the result of the higher cost of doing business in Hawaii.

“That’s a charade the oil companies have been pushing for years. It’s pure profit. If you had economic forces like you have on the mainland, it would be different,” Hamilton said.

There you go – the old supply-and-demand formula, which when applied to Hawaii means we have a growing demand gasoline that’s satisfied by very little supply competition in our isolated mid-Pacific location.

A little online searching for long-term oil price assumptions turns up countless potential sources, and this one seems as good as the next. In short, oil prices will rise to levels significantly higher than today, which can only mean gasoline prices approaching and leaping past $5 per gallon.

Drivers become riders of rail transit systems when the cost of fueling, insuring, maintaining and parking their cars becomes too painful. Honolulu rail will be there for them – especially those whose homes and workplaces locations make the train an ideal way to avoid that pain, as well as enjoy the convenience of elevated rail.

It seems likely that today’s gas price – $4.243 and rising – will be recalled fondly as the “good old low-price days” a decade from now.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rail Opponents Repeatedly Misstate Rail’s Goals in Ongoing Effort to Stop Project the Majority Wants

Opponents are pulling a favored tool from their toolbox as they try to convince the public Honolulu rail shouldn't be built – one so threadbare by now that you can see through it. Honolulu’s anti-rail morning talk show host was at it again today.

Their tactic is to misstate Honolulu rail's goals and describe it as a traffic-reduction project. They would have the public believe the whole point of building a 20-mile elevated rail system is to make driving easier. In other words, if travel by car doesn’t get dramatically better, don’t build it.

What we’ve got here is more than a failure to communicate; it’s a deliberate tactic to mislead the public by saying rail will fail if freeway traffic doesn’t miraculously evaporate after rail is built.

In a strange way, that’s something of a compliment to the project because it implies public acceptance in such overwhelming numbers that highway traffic will become a non-issue. But that’s not why rail transit is popular around the world, and that’s not what rail will accomplish on Oahu.

Mobility First
Honolulu rail's goals are explicitly stated in numerous documents, and we began 2011 by reviewing them in our January 3rd post – anticipating, perhaps, how opponents would attack the project during the year.

First among equals is the restoration of mobility to the traveling public by providing an alternative to sitting in the traffic congestion that population growth inevitably will cause. Opponents ignore the mobility goal (as well as the others) by repeatedly reminding the public about future congestion levels and then attacking rail for its failure to deliver a traffic-slashing miracle.

Randall Roth and Cliff Slater relied on the tactic over and over again during their appearance on Hawaii Public Radio’s “Town Square” program on September 15. Our post four days later along with several others destroyed their fiction that the city had only “reluctantly admitted” traffic will continue to grow after rail is built.

To listen to Messrs. Roth and Slater, it’s absolutely shocking that traffic levels eventually will be greater after rail is in operation than they are today. The city’s Wayne Yoshioka famously replied to Mr. Slater's recitation of that obvious fact at a City Council hearing: “No kidding,” he said, and went on to explain that without rail, there will be no option to avoid congestion in the decades ahead.

Egging Them On
A caller to the talk show this morning complained about the potential disruption of traffic patterns during rail construction along Dillingham Boulevard, which she said she uses often. “There’s no time of the day when Dillingham Boulevard isn’t congested,” she said while airing the problem Honolulu rail will circumvent for thousands of rail transit users each day.

Ramping up the emotion, the radio host said there’s “not a hint” that rail will ease traffic congestion (he’s wrong, of course) and that Dillingham will be “nearly impassable” once construction begins. The 40,000 car drivers who one day will choose to ride the train instead of driving will add up to a pretty obvious hint that congestion will be less with rail than without it, something even Mr. Slater has had to “reluctantly admit” on more than one occasion.

The host routinely ignores the benefit rail will provide to the scores of thousands of daily riders and others who choose to use the train – complete freedom from freeway and highway congestion. It’s such an obvious benefit that he and other rail opponents apparently can’t handle the truth. Their one and only goal is highway traffic improvement, a goal Oahu's long-range transportation planning addresses with other projects.

Also ignored by rail opponents are the public opinion polls whose results show strong majority support of rail. The radio host doesn’t acknowledge those results, and neither do Messrs. Slater, Roth and their fellow opponents.

All of which suggests the anti-rail pattern we’ve seen in 2011 will be repeated in the new year. That won’t change, and neither will the rail project’s goals.

Monday, September 26, 2011

USA Gas Prices Fall, but Not in Hawaii; Rail Sets Town Hall Meetings, Route’s Archeological Survey

Map shows location of archeological survey's phases.
“For those of you who yearn for the days of $4 gasoline, rest assured it can still be found in one state: Hawaii....” Green Car Reports chose an interesting way to put it in describing the falling price of gasoline across the country. Gas in South Carolina costs more than a buck per-gallon less than in Hawaii.

It always comes across as a cruel joke being played on us by somebody, somewhere – national gas prices falling while local prices are going up. The chart at right summarizes it in a glance; the national trend line in green is downward since June, while Hawaii’s prices are going in the opposite direction.

Rest assured, gas isn’t the only cost driven up by the price of oil. Hawaii’s electricity rates are the nation’s highest – currently 32 cents/kilowatthour on Oahu, more on the neighbor islands – and you’d probably have to search far and wide in the USA to buy milk around $5/half-gallon, which is what consumers pay here.

We lead off with the higher cost of driving because cost is one of two reasons most people choose to start riding transit and stop driving. The other is convenience. With the cost of driving on Oahu among the nation’s highest, consumers here will have plenty of incentive to adopt new commuting habits once the rail project is up and running.

Surveys Begin
The map at the top is from today’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser (subscription) and its report on the archeological surveys that are beginning along the Phase 4 route of the rail project.

An archeological inventory is required and will be conducted even before construction begins to assess whether subsurface cultural artifacts and burial sites will be encountered where the pillars for the elevated guideway are planned to be erected.

The first of several community meetings on the survey will be held 6 – 8 o’clock this evening at the Farrington High School Cafeteria, 1564 North King Street, Honolulu. Information about the surveys and meeting is available at the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) website.

Town Hall Meetings
A series of informational updates on the project begins Tuesday night with a meeting in Kapolei Hale’s conference rooms, also from 6 to 8 o’clock. HART representatives will be on hand to discuss the project and answer questions from the public.

Other meetings this week and next will be in Central/Leeward Oahu, East Oahu, Windward Oahu and Urban Honolulu. HART’s website has details on their locations.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Football Saturday Night--a Record-Setting Venue

Honolulu rail’s Aloha Stadium station will make this parking lot layout irrelevant for train passengers. The station will be above Kamehameha Highway near the lot shown in brown at the top. Many fans who take the train to the stadium will reach their seats in record time by avoiding the hassle of slow-moving traffic on the freeway and surface roads and lines into the parking lots. POST-GAME UPDATE: Speaking of records, how ‘bout the 7 touchdown passes thrown by UH quarterback Bryant Moniz in the first half? That tied the NCAA record!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Show’s Transcript Reveals Motivations: Opponents Want Faster Motoring, Not Faster Public Transit

This is likely our final post on the week-old radio Hawaii Public Radio talk show with anti-rail guests Cliff Slater and Randall Roth. It’s hard to let go of this rich vein of material. We’ve already filled up considerable space this week examining their factual errors and misleading statements during the program – particularly on the “future congestion issue” (see Tuesday’s post).

Today’s focus is what’s driving Messrs. Slater and Roth in their anti-rail campaign, and it turns out to be nothing more complicated than a desire to improve the car owner’s commuting experience at the expense of public transportation. That’s the logical inference, since they’d prefer money intended to build Honolulu rail going instead to largely unspecified highway improvements.

In fact, once you have time to read a long selection from the show’s transcript at your leisure (below), what jumps out in their near-total focus on moving cars quicker through Honolulu’s road and highway network. One of them goes so far as to suggest – seriously, it seems – that there are actual “traffic solutions” that would dramatically reduce congestion to accomplish their quicker-car goals.

Professor Roth said the following in the second half of the radio show: “…there are experts that say there are things they could do overnight that would relieve traffic by about 30 percent. Nobody knows for sure, synchronization, there are just a number of things the city for whatever reason has been very reluctant, slow to do, perhaps because they’re trying to convince people that traffic is so bad that we have to spend five point three billion dollars on elevated heavy rail.”

We think that statement betrays a couple things. First, Mr. Roth must be a relative newcomer to transportation issues if he thinks there are finger-snap “solutions” that could virtually wipe out traffic congestion “overnight.” Second, his opinion of public servants in city government is remarkably low if he believes they would deliberately abuse the public by making the daily commute more difficult than it needs to be.

The transcript begins around the 36th minute of the program; you can listen to the show yourself until HPR removes the recording from the “Town Square” archive, but reading the excerpts takes much less time.

Private vs. Public
Mr. Slater: “In effect, whatever you do with public transportation, it’s not gonna affect traffic congestion. (This is Mr. Slater’s key distinction; if the plan is not about highways and reducing driving time, he’s against it.) You’ve got to deal with them almost separately. They’re not intertwined the way the city is trying to sell it. You don’t get any huge increases of the transportation usage when you bring a rail line in….
Responding to a query about what he prefers as an alternative to rail transit, Mr. Slater continued:

“The thing we’ve ( advocated for is an elevated tollway coming into town from beyond Waikele for buses, van pools and automobiles paying a toll. It’s two or three lanes reversible. So if you’ve got three lanes that are reversible around mid-day, that’s the equivalent of six lanes. And when you toll, (a) it helps pay for the thing, and (b) you can keep the facility full and free-flowing without being congested.” (See a 2010 Yes2Rail post for more on how HOT lanes work.)
The program’s moderator said “there will be criticism of that idea because it would segregate people into the haves and have-nots.”

Mr. Slater: “Yes, but the devil is in the details. You’ve got to look at federal studies of existing facilities. Two have been around for a long time now – the SR 91 in Los Angeles, and the I-15 in San Diego – both very successful, and both meet with approval across all income groups. And the reason for that is that it is very reliable. If you are late for an appointment, for a doctor’s appointment or picking up your kids from daycare when there’s a penalty involved in that, you can pay your four or five dollars and go on the HOT lanes and you won’t be late for your appointment. You may not use it very often but you know that should you ever be caught like that that you can use it. That’s why it meets with approval across all income groups.”
Time Out: Saying HOT lanes meet the approval of all income groups is not the same as saying HOT lanes are affordable and equitable to everyone in all income groups. Also, HOT lanes are only used if the alternative (the free lanes) are congested enough to make paying a toll preferable. HOT lanes aren't going to eliminate congestion but rather will be an alternative to using a congested freeway – just like rail, though rail in an exclusive right-of-way is far more reliable than any toll facility.

Moderator: “You’re saying they’re not using it all the time, every day, for several trips, it may be a once-in-a-while situation, but still, what does that do for people who have to make a commute every single day and they don’t get to use it because they can’t afford it?”

Mr. Slater: “If you take the equivalent of a six-lane highway, you’re gonna take a lot of traffic off of the regular freeway.”
Mr. Roth: “Plus, those people paying the tolls, that money can then be focused on improving traffic congestions for everybody else. There are a number of things – widening highways, there’re just a number of things that I personally think the city has done relatively little of over the years when they’ve been trying to sell the public on elevated heavy rail.“ (There's that term again, which is used 25 times during this one-hour show; Honolulu rail actually is designated "light metro," as discussed yesterday.)

Mr. Slater: “Traffic signals.”

Mr. Roth: “There are experts that say there are things they could do overnight would relieve traffic by about 30 percent. Nobody knows for sure, synchronization, there are just a number of things the city for whatever reason has been very reluctant slow to do, perhaps because they’re trying to convince people that traffic is so bad that we have to spend five point three billion dollars on elevated heavy rail. There may be other reasons, but those tolls could be used for those kinds of traffic improvements. Our group, the four of us who wrote the (op-ed) piece, are in total agreement that the city has deceived the public…. And frankly, I think if we had a legitimate alternative study in front of us, I think the four of us would agree pretty quickly. I don’t think it’s rocket science once you’ve got a fair analysis of the various options in front of you.”
Caller Pualoa from Ewa Beach: “I’m really getting tired of conspiracy theories between Mayor Hannemann and the city and Mayor Carlisle, and everybody, OMPO is in on the conspiracy to make our lives miserable out on the West Side, I mean, for the most part I want to clarify. We don’t really care about traffic congestion in 15 years. We know it’s gonna get bad, but if you give us a reliable transportation alternative that IS all we’re asking, so everybody else that wants to sit in traffic, be whatever it may, we’re gonna be sitting on rail. That’s really all we’re asking for, a reliable transportation alternative. You cannot force us to use our cars for the rest of our lives. I mean, these guys must be getting money from the automobile industry! We’re just not interested in doing it. Those of us that are living on the West Side, we are struggling economically. We have some of the most needy people on this island, the biggest proportion of native Hawaiians living out here. We need more things to get us to town, and unfortunately for the folks who are advocating HOT lanes, I just don’t understand why you would force us to drive our cars every day and force us into more traffic congestion in town.”
Mr. Roth: “Well, the H and the O in HOT are High Occupancy, so right up there moving at the speed limit is gonna be TheBus, and so people in Central Oahu, for example, have TheBus as an option, and to the extent that there were attempts made to either expand the Zipper Lanes or have HOT lanes, there are a number of things that can be done that would make the buses even more dependable than they are now. We have an excellent bus system, and I personally think that at a minimum we should be beefing it up even more, but H stands for High Occupancy, so those buses would have preferred status, and there wouldn’t be a fee paid by bus riders.”
Caller Jerry in Kailua: “Isn’t it true that the congestion will increase, but under No Rail, it will increase…well, if you have rail it will still increase by a magnitude of 5 but without the building of rail you’ll have an increase in congestion of a magnitude of 10 or 15. I think that’s a strategic misrepresentation that your guests are putting forward that is just simply untrue and unfair.”
Mr. Slater: “We have never said it would have no effect on traffic congestion. Of course it will have an effect on traffic congestion, but it is relatively minor. For example, if without rail you had a 100-percent increase in traffic congestion, with rail it will be between 11 percent and 20 percent, so we’re talking about an 80 percent to 90 percent rather than 100 percent.” (Mr. Slater dismisses as insignificant a potential 20-percent reduction in traffic growth.)

Moderator: “Which goes back to the point that we’re going to have more congestion no matter what.”

Mr. Slater: “Right.”

Mr. Roth: “But, you’re looking at it as if it’s elevated heavy rail or nothing. There are some traffic congestion solutions, unlike elevated heavy rail, which isn’t a solution to current traffic problems. There are solutions. It’s just that the deck was stacked against them in the alternatives study.” (Note once again the allusion to “solutions” that Mr. Roth apparently believes would dramatically reduce congestion if only recalcitrant city employees would implement them.)

Caller Gale in Ewa Beach (excerpted): “…. Now you want to tell us we’re gonna pay a toll? Are you out of your mind? All you misters over there, when you got your community built and they built roads, you didn’t pay to drive on those roads. Why are WE paying?”
Moderator, recapping the hour’s discussion: “…as far as traffic congestion and public transportation, those are separate issues that should be viewed separately, and that you’re not at all against public transportation. You think there are things that could be done with public transportation that could be easily done if the city had a mind to do it. Would that (summary) be fair?”

Mr. Roth: “Yes. There’re clearly solutions to what we clearly have in the way of problems. There’s a traffic congestion problem. There are solutions. We need to beef up our public transportation system. There are ways of doing that. Spending five point three billion on elevated heavy rail doesn’t solve any of our problems and it prevents us from solving them with real solutions as opposed to something that I think is an excuse to spend a lot of money.”
And so it went – with Mr. Slater advocating toll roads on a new, elevated highway built between Iwilei and someplace west of Waikele that wouldn’t be equitable and Mr. Roth calling for mostly unspecified traffic-related improvements that would end commuters’ war on congestion in our time.

Both men are motivated by a desire to improve travel times for car drivers but not so much for public transportation users. Users of Honolulu rail will experience improved travel times and reliability by avoiding all surface traffic, but Mr. Slater brushes that significant benefit aside because he thinks rail wouldn’t do enough for automobile drivers.

Go to the Goals
A quick read of the goals and objectives in the project’s Alternatives Analysis document (Table 1-2) shows that reducing corridor travel times and improving travel time reliability are in the list but reducing highway congestion is not. Messrs. Slater and Roth would have the project start all over again because they’re not happy with the AAs conclusion: “While the Fixed Guideway Alternative would have the highest cost, it is also the only alternative that would provide a substantial transportation benefit, measured both by the benefit to transit users and in the reduction in congestion compared to the No Build Alternative.”

If Messrs. Slater and Roth believe highways are the way of the future, perhaps they should see how much support they have with the public and its elected and appointed representatives in local, state and federal government. Instead of doing that and launching a parallel project, they’re trying to kill rail with their federal lawsuit, which Mr. Roth said "in theory" might be decided by the end of this year but more likely "it’s going to be in the first half of next year.”

It’s more than a theory that the public wants rail built. That’s evident in the public opinion polls, the election of pro-rail candidates to political office, the defeat of outspoken anti-rail candidates and in the approval of charter amendments to create the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation and affirm the city’s pursuit of a steel-on-steel rail system.

Far as we know, HPR is still refusing the city’s request for equal time to rebut Messrs. Slater and Roth. If you believe the city deserves its hour in the studio, you might want to call the station – 955-8821.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Final Civil Beat Fact Check Is Half True/Half False; More Fiction Found in Rail Opponents’ Radio Show

On-line Civil Beat has finished its Fact Checks of seven statements made by rail opponents in their newspaper op-ed in August. The independent investigations Civil Beat performed  on the statements revealed the opponents’ tendency to not tell the truth about Honolulu rail. More on that below.

Today’s focus continues to be the statements made on Hawaii Public Radio’s “Town Square” program one week ago by guests Randall Roth and Cliff Slater. It’s important to do this to uncover the deception by both gentlemen in their interview on HPR – a pattern that mirrors their less-than-truthful newspaper column.

It’s obvious by now that Mr. Slater and his anti-rail cadre frequently bend the truth, gloss over it and misstate it to suit their purposes – all acceptable to them apparently in their headlong rush to kill Honolulu rail. The city and the project's supporters have no such license.

Messrs. Slater and Roth called the future system “elevated heavy rail” when in fact it’s “light metro.” The difference is more than semantics; heavy rail systems typically have trains with up to 8 or 10 cars and station platforms 600 to 800 feet long. Honolulu’s trains will never be more than 4 cars, and the station platforms will be 240 feet long. The two guests used the “elevated heavy rail” phrase 25 times during the radio show, so that makes 25 false statements on that issue alone.

This one came through after the show’s moderator noted that Oahu’s population will grow; there will be more cars and people wedded to their cars “as opposed to simply how do we move people more effectively.’ A transcript of the program shows Mr. Slater responded:

“Well, most people think CARS move people effectively. In fact, if you look at, for example, coming in from the Kapolei transit center, trains will not be quicker than the country C bus than it is right now. You can come in on the country C bus any time from 40 to 50 minutes, depending on the time of day, The train is going to take 51 minutes, so it’s not going to make anybody’s commute any faster (emphasis added).”

The truth, of course, is that cars traveling through the urban corridor between town and Kapolei do not move people effectively. That’s the whole point of building a travel alternative to congestion on the H-1 and other highways that’s bad now and bound to get worse. The truth is that the trains will cover the entire 20-mile route between Kapolei and Ala Moana Center in 42 minutes, not 51.

Here’s what “John of Makakilo,” a caller to the program, had to say about Mr. Slater’s assertion about the “country C bus” transit time into town:

“I think the public needs to understand that the people who are against rail don’t live out on the west side. They don’t sit in traffic. They’re not the ones commuting day to day. They don’t view this as an investment in our future. They probably don’t remember Black Tuesday when people got stuck for hours when they shut down H-1. Every time there’s an accident on H-1 is when it take you up to an hour and a half or two hours. And when Cliff was talking about the buses taking 51 minutes from Ala Moana to Kapolei, that’s if you’re lucky. If you’re not lucky, it takes you an hour and a half. I know, I’ve done it. I do it on a regular basis. So everything they keep on saying the buses, the buses…you add more buses to the congestion, you just get to sit in more traffic."

See our September 1st post for more insight on Mr. Slater’s obfuscation tactics.

We’ve dealt with this one all week already and do so again today because the “truth issue” is so important. The public needs to know that opponents are blatantly misleading them about the city’s motives and statements on the project.

To summarize, Mr. Slater (and now Professor Roth, as heard in the KIPO talk show last week) repeatedly say the city was forced to reluctantly reveal in an appendix in the Final Environmental Impact Statement the truth that traffic will continue to grow after rail is built. As we’ve said, most thinking people would agree that when the population increases, traffic increases. In truth, the city has withheld nothing about future traffic levels.

City Council members openly discussed the future congestion with city transportation officials in Council meetings issue over the years, including the meetings leading up to the selection of grade-separated rail as the locally preferred alternative. The City Council Journal notes for the December 7, 2006 meeting specifically mention it (sorry, we didn't bookmark the site and now can't find it again).

Councilmember Todd Apo: “After an analysis of all the information, he believes that while not a great solution for congestion, rail is the long-term transportation solution for continued growth on this island.”
Councilmember Barbara Marshall: She said one of her reasons for voting against rail is that “rail will not reduce congestion.”
Councilmember Okino: “While rail will not reduce congestion or travel time, commute time will continue increasing until there is gridlock without a rail system. A rail system will allow people to get out of their cars which will stop or significantly slow down an increase in commute time.”

According to the City Council Journal’s notes of that meeting, Mr. Slater was in attendance and spoke against rail in his usual fashion, going so far as to admit “while there are benefits from increasing public transportation, there is no reduction in traffic congestion.” 

Perhaps the best evidence that puts the lie to the shibai Mr. Slater and Professor Roth are promoting is the radio program in November 2008 during which Mr. Slater and the city’s Wayne Yoshioka both discussed the future congestion issue on the public airwaves! Mr. Slater even agreed with Mr. Yoshioka that congestion will continue to increase beyond current levels after rail is built.

Yet despite all the clear evidence that the city has never said rail would "solve" congestion, Professor Roth could still say last week: “And shame on the city for going out of its way to give them that impression. Shame on the city for not making clear to the public what it has admitted reluctantly to the federal government, which is quote Traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than what it is today without rail.”

It’s all just so much BS, and Hawaii Public Radio by rights should give the city equal time to respond to the inaccuracies. So far, it's refusing to do so.

7 Fact Checks Find Much That’s False
Civil Beat gives a   HALF TRUE   grade to the latest fact-checked statement by the rail commentary – which of course means it’s also  HALF FALSE . The final tally is two  FALSE , three  HALF FALSE , and two that were  TRUE . It’s a terrible record.

Shouldn’t the public expect the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth from a former governor, a former judge and a current law school professor? They didn’t get it, which suggests the opponents are being guided by Mr. Slater, who for more than two decades has led the anti-rail fight and is doing so now.

About those “true” findings by Civil Beat: One was simply the conclusion that a state official had said what the opponents said he said – i.e., no big deal. The second “true” was completely disappointing because Civil Beat bestowed it for the thinnest of reasons – another affirmation that the opponents actually had said what they said in the commentary. Our September 14th post dealt with that one and said it deserved a  FALSE . By refusing to change the totally misleading headline above that Fact Check, Civil Beat earned itself the same grade.

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

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Anti-Rail Gang of Four Mangles Truth Yet Again

Dear Civil Beat:

I've just read the new material posted at Civil Beat this morning that was written by Mr. Cliff Slater and signed off by Messrs. Roth, Heen and Cayetano (that surely is how it came about) and find once again the assertion that "the City admitted in the EIS (in 2010) that 'traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than it is today without rail,' but late is better than never." In other words, Mr. Slater is saying the city withheld facts from the public about rail’s effect on traffic congestion until “admitting” it in the Environmental Impact Statement.

The Yes2Rail post I wrote to you about last night contained the transcript of a radio program nearly 3 years ago in which the city's Wayne Yoshioka and Mr. Slater talked openly about what the true level of congestion would be and when. In his Civil Beat post today, Mr. Slater continues his charade about Mr. Yoshioka finally "admitting" something in 2010 that the city has openly discussed in the public media for years.

Mr. Slater even agreed emphatically with Mr. Yoshioka on that radio show that congestion would not be reduced from current levels but that traffic congestion on streets and highways will be less with rail than without it. But he insisted the public believes traffic will be reduced from current levels, and as "proof" of that, he cited the response to the 2008 Advertiser public opinion survey question that was flawed because of its wording, as I'm sure you must agree when you read it. The result: garbage in, garbage out. Mr. Slater continues to rely on garbage information.

Does Civil Beat see what's happening here? Decades ago, propagandists said if a lie is told often enough, it will become "truth." Professor Roth's theatrics on KIPO last week is proof the tactic works. Said Professor Roth: “Shame on the city for not making clear to the public what it has admitted reluctantly to the federal government, which is, quote, traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than what it is today without rail.”

Reluctantly admitted? Only to the federal government? That is shibai. Here’s the link to the audio file of the radio program, provided for your convenience, which makes a mockery of that charge.

Mr. Slater has told this particular untruth for so long he apparently has forgotten how long ago the city truthfully used the public media to describe the rail project's goals and the project’s effects on future traffic reduction — less with rail than without it.

Thank you for Civil Beat’s willingness to report the truth.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

To Coin a Phrase, Garbage In, Garbage Out: Slater’s Highly-Touted Poll Result Was Flawed, so Is Roth’s Allegation the City Deceived Public

We’re continuing with last Thursday’s “Town Square” program on Hawaii Public Radio to drill down to the essence of the rail opponents’ upset with the Honolulu rail project, the city’s conduct in promoting the project and the conduct of the opponents’ themselves.

Messrs. Cliff Slater and Randall Roth said during the program that the city has misled Oahu’s public into believing rail will reduce traffic congestion on our roads and highways from today’s levels. They produced no evidence the city said such things, but they clearly think it, and for them, that’s good enough to go on the radio and say so.

“Shame on the city for going out of its way to give them that impression,” Mr. Roth declared indignantly. “Shame on the city for not making clear to the public what it has admitted reluctantly to the federal government, which is, quote, traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than what it is today without rail.”

Mr. Slater was equally exercised by the anticipated future growth of traffic even after rail is built:

“There is no possibility, once rail is built, of (traffic) to get better,” he said. “Traffic is going to be worse. We say so, the city says so, the federal documents say so. No city has put in rail and seen any improvement in traffic congestion. That should be enough to convince most damned near anybody that traffic congestion, as the city says, will be worse with rail than it is today.”

Mr. Slater treats this as some major revelation, but of course traffic will be worse in the future unless the future is a place where families don’t have children and nobody moves here.

The GI-GO Phenomenon
Mr. Slater backed up his assertion that the public has been misled by telling KIPO’s audience about a 2008 poll conducted by the Honolulu Advertiser on the public's attitudes toward rail.

“In 2008 the Advertiser did a poll which quite clearly asked why people might be in favor of rail, and talking about reducing traffic congestion on H-1 – specifically mentioning H-1 – and 73 percent of the respondees (sic) to that question agreed that that was the major reason…and it’s very clear from the way people answered that question in 2008 that they firmly believed that the reason we were going to spend $5 billion on the rail line was to relieve traffic congestion.”

Remember that quote, please. Here’s an excerpt from the August 27, 2008 edition of the Honolulu Advertiser reporting on the poll results, which not incidentally reported that “nearly three out of five registered voters surveyed favor building a rail system in Honolulu.” (You may need a subscription to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser to link to the story.)

“The poll asked voters whether they favored or opposed rail following this statement: ‘The City and County of Honolulu has approved developing a fixed-rail mass transit system as a means to reduce traffic.’

Mr. Slater was quoted in that story as saying the poll’s key rail question was “very misleading,” and to that, we emphatically agree! The question was not only misleading but confusing as well – a query based on a flawed premise.

The city has never said rail would reduce congestion to less than today’s levels. We took pains to destroy that notion in yesterday’s post. The poll's question was a case of garbage in, garbage out, and the newspaper's failure to recognize the flaw is having repercussions today; it appears to be the basis for Cliff Slater’s assertion about what the public thinks rail will do to traffic. It might also be why Professor Roth believes the city has lied to the public.

When Did They Know It?
Even more remarkable is another on-air conversation on anti-rail conservative radio host Rick Hamada’s program on November 3, 2008, the day before the General Election and Oahu voters' approval of the steel wheel, steel rail concept. This conversation is significant because it makes a mockery of Mr. Slater’s and Professor Roth’s theatrics about the city’s so-called admission that traffic will be worse in the future with rail than it is today.

Here’s the headline on's November 4, 2008 item that reported on the KHVH program: “Finally, the City & County of Honolulu Admits That with the Proposed Rail Built, Traffic Will Be Far Worse Than it is Today.” The 3-minute 50-second audio file that's available on this page reveals that Mr. Slater readily acknowledged and agreed with the city’s Wayne Yoshioka on the future-congestion issue.

As you read the transcript of the 2008 radio conversation, remember Professor Roth’s quote in the third paragraph of today’s post, above, and his indignation about what the city “admitted reluctantly to the federal government, which is, quote, traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than what it is today without rail.”

The dialogue is between Mr. Slater, Michael Schneider of InfraConsult, a rail consultant, and Wayne Yoshioka, city director of Transportation Services (with emphasis added in boldface type):

Slater: Mike, are you saying that, while traffic congestion with rail in the future will be worse than it is today, it’ll be less worse than it would be if we didn’t have the rail line.
Schneider: Of course, that’s exactly what I’m saying.
Slater: Fine, but the point is that 73 percent of the people in Hawaii as polled by the Advertiser believed that by building rail we would reduce traffic congestion and reduce their commute time. Obviously, they don’t understand it.
Schneider: There’s no question that those who take the rail will have a reduced commute time.
Slater: Oh, no. They’re talking about, this is traffic, traffic congestion.
Yoshioka: Cliff, you’re talking about traffic congestion and looking at traffic congestion. Originally in the Alternatives Analysis we were projecting an 11-percent reduction in traffic congestion. Now, in the DEIS that’s up to now 21-22 percent, almost twice what we had projected because again, the DEIS is much more detailed in its scope and was able to identify more accurately what the benefits would be. Now the point is, this 21-22 percent of reduction in congestion is double of what you see when schools are not in session. And the point is that, yeah, you may have congestion, but there are different kinds of congestion. The kind of congestion that drives us mad is when it takes us 15 minutes to move two blocks. That’ll drive anybody up the wall, and that’s the kind of congestion that you’re looking at when you’re talking about gridlock without doing anything about the future. Whereas, again, if the congestion is there but it moves in a reasonable manner, most people are OK with that. And that’s exactly what we’re saying. Your choice is between absolute gridlock in that everything takes an inordinate amount of time to move a short distance, or congestion that actually flows to some extent and is reasonable for peak hour conditions. If you look at what’s happening right now, for example, is a good indicator. Growing up here, I remember, it used to be only peak hours that used to be really congested. Now, Saturdays are congested, Sundays are congested, all times of the day are congested. It’s getting to that point that if you allow this to continue without providing an alternative, what you’re gonna get is that you’ll get to that gridlock point, and we’re trying to avoid that.
Slater: I wouldn’t argue that point. I’m just going back to the thing that the public has a different take of what is gonna happen with traffic congestion in the future than you do or we do, OK? We in the room here all understand that traffic congestion is gonna get worse with rail in the future, OK. That’s not what the public understands. The public thinks that traffic today, today’s unendurable traffic congestion going from here out to Kapolei, OK, will be reduced from today’s levels once rail goes in. That’s what they believe. OK, and we don’t believe it. You and I don’t believe that, but on the other hand, that is what the general public believes.
Yoshioka: What the public is asking for some kind of relief, and I think that the only realistic relief they can expect is through the rail system as opposed to putting more cars, more buses onto the already jammed streets systems. That’s not gonna give them the relief.

Cliff Slater agreed with Wayne Yoshioka in 2008 that traffic congestion will increase after rail is built, yet he gives speeches and goes on the radio in 2011 implying that the city was forced to admit this in an appendix to the FEIS. He even told the City Council last year that he nearly had to “water-board” Mr. Yoshioka to get him to admit it in the appendix, even though Mr. Slater knew full well then and now that the city hid nothing.

Randall Roth was indignant on Thursday's KIPO program and said he was aghast when he “discovered something that quite frankly upset me more than all of the negative things about elevated heavy rail…a pattern of deception….” How much of a “discovery” could it have been when Cliff Slater and Wayne Yoshioka openly talked about future traffic congestion issues on the radio nearly three years ago?

Furthermore, this transcript from 2008 shows that Mr. Slater is relying in 2011 on the flawed 2008 Honolulu Advertiser opinion poll for what he thinks the public does or doesn’t believe about traffic.

This would be farcical if it were not such a serious issue. Professor Roth’s so-called pattern of deception that he says the city pursued is exactly what he himself is doing with his charge the city did not make a full disclosure on the traffic issue. And Mr. Slater’s continued assertions that the city was forced into an admission in an appendix to the FEIS also is a blatant effort to deceive the public, as well as the City Council and the media.

The Slater-Roth case against the city is a house of cards that’s starting to crumble after only a little air has blown against it. As their direct quotes from radio programs reveal, their own breath is enough to start the cards falling.

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

Monday, September 19, 2011

Anti-Rail Pitch Men Work the Airwaves, Show Strong Appreciation of How To Mislead Public

We start the week with a transcription of last Thursday’s “Town Square” program on Hawaii Public Radio, or at least a good portion of it. We do this to better understand – and help readers of Yes2Rail understand – where the opponents of Honolulu rail are coming from.

As we’ve said here repeatedly, the more we know about what they think and advocate, the better rail looks. That’s why we’ve clumped numerous posts in one “aggregation post” under headings such as Mr. Cliff Slater and Dr. Panos Prevedouros. As always, you’re invited to read those posts.

The guests on Thursday’s program were Cliff Slater and Randall Roth, two plaintiffs on a federal lawsuit that they hope will kill rail. They also co-authored – with fellow plaintiffs Walter Heen and Benjamin Cayetano – an anti-rail commentary in the August 21st edition of the Star-Advertiser headlined “How the city misled the public” (subscription required; see Yes2Rail's comment).

What did we learn from this radio show? Quite a bit actually, including the guests’ adherence to the maxim that if you repeat something often enough, people might just believe it. In fact, Messrs. Slater and Roth have been repeating some of their talking points so often that they’ve apparently come to believe them, too, despite the implausibility of it all.

Say It Again
Professor Roth obviously respects that maxim. By our count, he used the phrase “elevated heavy rail” 16 times in the show’s first 30 minutes, and Mr. Slater added one for good measure. When someone is that focused on repeating anything over and over again for effect (like the “class warfare” phrase that's the rage in Washington now), our radar switches on – especially when the speaker is as motivated as Professor Roth and Mr. Slater seem to be in blocking a project most people on Oahu want.

What will the Honolulu system be – “elevated heavy rail” or something else? Here’s what Toru Hamayasu, interim executive director for the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, wrote in his own September 10th newspaper commentary (subscription):

“Honolulu’s system fits more in line with the new classification that is being recognized in the industry as a light metro, and is not a heavy rail system. The shorter vehicle configuration and smaller-sized stations will be a better fit for Honolulu.”
Who to believe? Mr. Hamayasu’s entire career has been spent in the transportation business, whereas Messrs. Slater and Roth have nothing in their background to suggest they possess expertise in these matters. With the Internet at your fingertips, you can check the definitions of light metro and heavy rail at Wikipedia.

The site defines heavy rail as “an electric railway with the capacity to handle a heavy volume of traffic.” By using that description, Mr. Slater and Professor Roth are implying something they regularly discount – high passenger acceptance of Honolulu’s rail system.

Wikipedia’s “light metro” entry says the category fits between light and heavy rail and lists numerous examples of such systems, including Copenhagen’s Metro, Vancouver’s Sky Train, New York’s AirTrain JFK and the Los Angeles Green Line.

You can read this information yourself if all of this is important enough to you. Frankly, we think Professor Roth’s near-obsessive use of the “elevated heavy rail” term is a heavy-handed effort to mislead the public – something he accuses the city of doing.

Who’s Misleading Whom?
This brings us to the more substantive and revealing content of the radio program – the guests’ remarkable effort to dumb down the “future traffic congestion issue,” something Mr. Slater has been doing regularly and to which Yes2Rail has been calling readers’ attention since July 2010. Professor Roth was revealed on the program to be a loyal soldier in the campaign to obfuscate this issue.

It boils down to a common sense realization that with population growth, traffic also will grow. Oahu’s population will be greater in 2030 than it is today, as virtually all thinking people would agree. You can take your pick on what the growth number will be – 100,000, 200,000, whatever. (The planning horizon often is set at 2030 by the federal government, but common sense thinking also suggests the population will continue to increase in future decades barring inhibitors not now recognized.)

Studies suggest the vast majority of these new residents will be living in the corridor between town and the ewa plain. Will traffic increase along with the population? Again, most thinking people would conclude as much – and here is where Messrs. Slater and Roth practice their intellectually dubious anti-rail rhetoric.

In their opinion, the ultimate result of building Honolulu rail should be a reduction in traffic congestion in future decades to levels below what it is today. As illogical as that sounds, that’s what they want to accomplish – reduce traffic congestion decades from now to levels below what we experience on Oahu’s streets and highways today.

That’s different than what the city will accomplish by building Honolulu rail. If you conclude, as most thinking people will, that traffic congestion will be a natural consequence of an increasing population, it follows that a mechanism is needed to allow residents to move through the southern corridor between the ewa plain and urban Honolulu without being caught in that congestion.

That’s the key – enhancing mobility no matter how much traffic grows in the decades ahead. That has been one of the city’s goals for this transportation project from the start.

We’re going to quote Professor Roth extensively here – you also can listen to the archived program at HPR’s website – because it displays the extent to which he and Mr. Slater are venturing into extreme territory with their accusation that the city has deliberately misled the public on rail and the future congestion issue. At one point in the program Professor Roth said the city was guilty of “strategic misrepresentation” in its information campaign about rail. That would be quite a revelation if it were true, but neither Professor Roth nor Mr. Slater produced any evidence of a misinformation, misleading campaign.

“I think, I believe”
Professor Roth’s accusation rests on an extremely shaky foundation, and that foundation is Mr. Slater’s assertion that the city has tried to hide the truth about what traffic conditions will be like in 2030. Here’s an extended quote from near the beginning of the program during which Professor Roth first lays out his case for “strategic misrepresentation.” (We’ve added emphasis where we think it appropriate.) Professor Randall Roth:

"We believe the way the city went about selecting elevated heavy rail was in violation of federal law, and in doing all the research to decide whether to file that lawsuit and then in preparing the lawsuit itself, I discovered something that quite frankly upset me more than all of the negative things about elevated heavy rail. And that is I think there’s been a pattern of deception; I think the city has gone out of its way not to communicate to the public just what this project would be about. For example, they admitted in an appendix to the environmental impact study that, 'Traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than what it is today without rail.' Now a person can accept that as true and still argue that we should build rail. I understand that, but most people that I talk to think that the whole idea for elevated heavy rail is to fix the current traffic congestion problem. But there are other dimensions. This is viewed by many people, I think most people, as a solution to the current traffic congestion problem. I believe the public has gotten that mis-impression because the city has created it. I think the city, and now I’m talking about Mayor Hannemann and Mayor Carlisle and many other spokespeople for the city, I believe they have given people the reason to believe that elevated heavy rail would reduce the current level of traffic congestion, and like I say, if you do enough research you can find that even they in an appendix to the environmental impact study where they have to tell the truth or there are major legal consequences to the city. They’ve acknowledged, 'Traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than what it is today without rail.' That’s the final EIS, that’s the document that they’re operating under, and that’s just one of about a dozen examples, and our commentary in the Star-Advertiser that you mentioned that appeared on August 21, included most of – we didn’t have room for all of them, but most of them, and when you go down the list of what the city has done in an effort to sell the public on elevated heavy rail, in my opinion, if a company in the private sector in trying to attract investors to a new business opportunity, if they had approached that the same way the city has approached trying to sell the public on elevated heavy rail, I think those promoters would go to jail. There are security violations for people who don’t make full disclosure, and like I say, when we did the research for this lawsuit, I just was aghast in how dishonest in my opinion the city had been in convincing the public that elevated heavy rail was a good thing.”

Open and Honest
This extended quote reveals the heart of these rail opponents’ argument – that the city lied to the public, that the city was forced to reveal the truth of future congestion issues in the FEIS, that the public was fooled into believing rail would reduce traffic congestion from current levels.

There’s one answer to all of that: It’s not true. Professor Roth did not reference any document that says what he says the city said. All he did on the radio show was cite a truthful statement made by the city in the FEIS and elsewhere and goes on to tell us what he thinks about it. Like Mr. Slater, he treats it as a revelation of monumental proportions – the proverbial cat that's been let out of the bag.

The city’s transportation director, Wayne Yoshioka, had this to say about this presumed revelation: “No kidding, in the future, traffic congestion will be greater than it is today. I don’t think that’s any earth-shattering news.” Incredibly, Professor Roth seems to think it is.

Why do some people, including Professor Roth, believe rail is supposed to reduce traffic congestion and that it would fail if it can’t do that? Because that’s what Mr. Slater has been implying with his obfuscation campaign for years – even decades. He laid it out in detail in his interview with Civil Beat in July 2010:

“In talking to groups about rail, I tell them that there’s really two things you need to know about it. Number one, it’s gonna cost five and one-half billion dollars before cost overruns, and the second thing is that traffic congestion with rail in the future will be worse than it is today. And then I ask them if they have any questions, and that kinda sums up the whole argument.”

The implication is clear: Rail will fail if it doesn’t reduce traffic. Seen another way, it’s obvious that Mr. Slater – and now Professor Roth – are highway advocates, not mobility advocates. They want the public to believe that if only the city had listened to them, traffic problems would disappear in the future. The fact that no city in America has “solved” traffic congestion doesn’t dissuade them; that’s their story and that’s what they want you to believe.

And they do care what you believe – very much so. Their new anti-rail campaign was launched on August 21 in clear recognition of the fact that they’ve lost the public on rail as revealed in scientific opinion polls, and they’re willing to say just about anything to turn the tide. That includes misrepresenting what Honolulu system will be – the “elevated heavy rail” business – and accusing city officials and others of lying to the public.

We’ll have more to say here this week about the “Town Square” component of the Slater/Roth anti-rail campaign.

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

Friday, September 16, 2011

Anti-Rail Manager Brings In a Rookie Closer, but His Best Pitch Was Still the Same Old Screwball

It was natural that baseball would still be top of mind as we listened to Hawaii Public Radio’s “Town Square” program late yesterday afternoon.
San Francisco third baseman Pablo Sandoval had hit a triple an hour earlier (that's the Panda bellyflopping into third at right) in his fourth at-bat at Colorado to complete the “cycle” – a single, double, triple and home run in the same game. It’s a fairly rare feat and was the first for Sandoval, only the 25th Giant ever to accomplish it since the club was founded in the 19th century.

Listening to Cliff Slater and Randall Roth make yet another pitch against the Honolulu rail project tracked nicely with the idea that the decades-old anti-rail effort resembles a drawn-out, endless baseball game.

Unlike the three other major sports, baseball has no clock, and play continues until the game’s over. As we now know about both rail and baseball, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over. Honolulu rail has gone into so many extra innings we’ve all but lost count. Some say regulation play was close to ending in the early ‘90s but has dragged on thanks to the slow-down tactics of Mr. Slater and his team.

Since the tough Oahu crowd listening on the radio in the stands already is poised for victory (rail’s winning), you might have thought Mr. Slater and Professor Roth would try something new to reverse their fortunes – maybe mix up their routines, move to the edge of the pitching rubber or drop down to launch a few sidearm pitches. Expectations were high with Professor Roth now on board; the highly touted rookie just up from the Manoa Valley League might have brought something novel to the game, or so we thought.

It was not to be. From their first utterances, the two anti-railers were throwing the same junk – even Professor Roth. Over and over again he rubbed “overhead heavy rail” dirt onto his pitches, apparently believing it might give him the edge enjoyed by only the game's best hurlers – a so-called “heavy ball” that’s hard to drive.

Nobody Stood In
Yesterday’s half inning wasn’t really a contest as baseball games go, since there were no opposing players in the studio to swat away the duo’s pitches. Had they been there, almost any member of the pro-rail team could have knocked the cover off the anti-railers' softballs.

As he has for years, Mr. Slater relied on one pitch repeatedly, and so did the team’s rookie:

“Traffic will be worse in the future after rail is built than it is today.”
As nearly all of us can easily appreciate, traffic grows on Oahu as the population grows – i.e., as families have babies and newcomers move to the island. Old-timers will confirm that there’s more traffic on Oahu’s roads today than, say, in September 1945 at the end of World War II. And we’re pretty sure that when the bicentennial of the founding of the nation's’s first baseball club rolls around on September 23, 2045, there will be more traffic on Oahu than today.

Curiously, Mr. Slater especially treats this fairly obvious fact of urban life as if it were some kind of horrible secret that city officials admit only under torture in order to not reveal how much a failure Honolulu rail would be if traffic were to grow even after rail is built. Yes, it is a strange conclusion, but that’s what he believes.

Mr. Slater even told the City Council in July 2010 that he nearly had to water-board Director of Transportation Services Wayne Yoshioka to wring this fact out of him. You had to have been there or maybe watching on Olelo Community Television to appreciate how this pitcher-batter contest of words played out.

Mr. Slater stepped to the lectern, twirled the well-worn argument around in his head as he looked in and then delivered his favorite pitch – a slow curve:
“I would like to draw your attention to page 24 of the City’s letter to me in the comments on our DEIS comments. Mr. Yoshioka says, ‘You are correct in pointing out that traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than it is today without rail.’ And the rumors that Mr. Yoshioka was water-boarded to get that out of him may not be true, but nevertheless, it’s a fact that most people in the ewa plain do not understand that traffic congestion with rail will be worse than it is today.”
By the time Mr. Yoshioka had stepped into the box, the pitch was still hanging out there, high in the zone and, because he’d seen it so many times before, headed straight to where he thought it would be – his sweet spot. Without displaying any exertion whatsoever, Mr. Yoshioka took aim and dead-panned:

“Just to add to that. No kidding, in the future, traffic congestion will be greater than it is today. I don’t think that’s any earth-shattering news. I think what the difference is, is that 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 would be. It’s not appropriate to compare what the future is with rail with what it is now, but it is to compare what the future would be with or without rail. That’s the comparison that should be asked, and that’s not what Cliff Slater was just talking about.”
It’s the kind of high drama that only happens when players from both sides are on the same field. Unfortunately, only Mr. Slater’s team had been invited to play yesterday, and despite a few impassioned phone calls from the audience, some complaining about “obstructionist” tactics that have delayed rail, Messrs. Slater and Roth were only slightly touched up, and when they were, they changed the subject.

Time and again the two fixated on the “more congestion than now” argument. “There is no possibility once rail is built of traffic getting better,” Mr. Slater said. “Traffic will be worse with rail than it is today. We say so, the city says so, the federal government says so…..” And our fourth-grade granddaughter probably would say so, too, since this is all about common sense.

Mostly about Cars
In addition to the two opponents’ strange reliance on that argument, something else came through: Despite their assurances that they do support transit (Professor Roth met his wife 38 years ago on a bus, after all), they both want transportation improvements that principally favor the car-driving public, not the transit-riding public. Mr. Slater made that explicitly clear in his Civil Beat interview in July 2010: "We need to address the traffic congestion problem, not the public transportation problem," he said then and implied now.

Millions of commuters in the USA and around the world use transit every day as an alternative to driving, but it’s a concept that seems lost on yesterday's pitchers. When Mr. Slater insisted repeatedly that building rail will not reduce congestion one bit, no one on the phone or in the studio pointed out the obvious: People who ride the train will reduce their congestion problem to zero!

Mr. Slater finally was asked about High-Occupancy Toll roads, his favorite mode of transportation, and he had to duck a couple hard come-backers off the bats of listeners who strenuously objected to having to pay a toll “of up to five dollars,” he said, to travel quickly through the urban core.

You wouldn’t have to use the toll road for all your trips, he told one caller – just when you really needed to be somewhere urgently. The rest of the time you could use the regular highways and streets, where everyone who couldn't afford to pay the toll would be stuck in congestion. The distasteful implication of his suggestion also seemed lost on him.

The “bottom line” to this radio broadcast is fairly simple: Mr. Slater and his anti-rail colleagues realize they have lost the battle they’ve been waging for decades and are now working their public relations campaign hard before the game finally ends.

One wonders if Mr. Slater and Professor Roth had set a condition on their radio show participation yesterday – that they appear alone, with no possibility of having their softballs knocked out of the park by knowledgeable, well-prepared rail advocates with them right there in the studio.

Had that happened, surely everyone would know today their game's over – and it’s about time.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

What’s the Value of Using a Flawed Forecast? Also, Property Appreciates Near Rail Lines: Study

Today’s Civil Beat Fact Check dissects who said what about Oahu’s anticipated 2030 population. Summarizing:

Cliff Slater and his three fellow rail opponents said in their 8/21 op-ed that the city relied on an “old” forecast in predicting Oahu’s 2030 population would be 1,117,200. The city says it was required by federal authorities to use the earlier forecast and switched when it could to the new one, which forecasts the population to be 1,017,600. Civil Beat bestows a  HALF TRUE  grade for reasons it strives to explain.

Well, what about that “new” forecast, which was published in 2009? How well did it predict Oahu’s population one year later? Not so hot, it turns out, as we noted here on August 30th.

The newer forecast by the state’s Department of Business Economic Development and Tourism said in 2009 that Honolulu County’s 2010 population would be 911,800. The US Census Bureau found 953,207 residents on Oahu in 2010. DBEDT’s predicted growth rate in that decade was 4.2 percent, but the rate actually was more than twice that – 8.8 percent.

Civil Beat also points out the failure of DBEDT’s forecast to come close to the true 2010 population, but then it appears to have made a misstep in projecting Oahu’s 2030 population using that same forecast: “If the new actual population (in 2030) were to be extrapolated using the “new” forecast’s annual growth rates (emphasis added), Honolulu would be home to 1,063,737 people in 2030 – almost exactly halfway between the city’s earlier projection and the new projection.”

Why would Civil Beat use a flawed forecast’s growth rate going forward if it already knows the forecast was wildly off in predicting the growth rate in the 2000-10 years? Using the decade's actual rate of 8.8 percent over the next two decades would put Oahu’s population at more than 100,000 above the newer but already-shown-to-be-flawed DBEDT forecast, which Mr. Slater’s quartet thinks is the better one.

Our grade for the quartet’s population claims is a new category we've created that’s missing in Civil Beat’s Fact Check hierarchy –  MOSTLY FALSE . (In that regard, Civil Beat still hasn't corrected the wildly misleading headline above yesterday's Fact Check that isn't supported by the Check's own "bottom line.")

Rail Boosts Housing Values
A new study by the Center for Housing Policy examined the effect a rail transit line has on the value of nearby housing properties. A StreetsBlog website summarizes the finding:

“According to dozens of studies over decades, a rail station within a short walk can add 6 to 50 percent to home values.”
Not all cities and rail lines enjoy equal housing appreciation, the analysis shows. The study examines the variables.

Bombardier’s Appeal
A Circuit Court judge has denied the appeal filed by losing bidder Bombardier. A company executive said Bombardier is “frustrated” by the ruling and hasn’t yet decided whether to take its complaint to the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Going Beyond Fact Checks To Ask the Obvious

Civil Beat’s Fact Check posted this morning rewarding Honolulu rail’s opponents for their ability to quote documents accurately still feels like a chicken bone stuck sideways. Hours after our first reaction, it cannot be ignored and we're still hacking on it.

We know the old advice about not picking fights with newspapers that buy ink by the barrel, and maybe that's also true in the digital ago. Nevertheless, we still like the idea of fact checking the fact-checkers now and then.

Civil Beat was remarkably uncritical of rail opponent Cliff Slater in CB’s video interview with him in July 2010. The video is still posted online and contains Mr. Slater’s remarkable admission that he tells audiences just two things about Honolulu rail – its cost and the fact that traffic will be greater after rail is built than it is today.

We’ve just about worn out the laptop’s keys linking to Yes2Rail's reaction to that interview as a prime example of Mr. Slater’s tendency to obfuscate and dumb down his arguments against rail. As the city’s Wayne Yoshioka told the City Council later that month, “No kidding, in the future, traffic congestion will be greater than it is today.”

Mr. Slater’s comment was overly ripe for dissection but received none in Civil Beat’s write-up of that interview. Some might have seen evidence of sympathetic treatment, consciously or otherwise, by how CB ended its online report on the interview:

“The city still has many hurdles to cross. And (Slater) will be there to make every one of them as difficult as possible. The question in the end will be whether we’ll thank him for standing firm or blame him for preventing a giant new addition that could transform the look and feel of a significant part of Honolulu.”
As we noted at the time, both of those possibilities – blaming Mr. Slater or thanking him – are premised on rail not being built. Another possibility is that Mr. Slater will indeed be blamed for delaying rail’s eventual construction and increasing the project’s cost by pursuing his lawsuit and generally employing a range of delaying tactics.

Mr. Slater might well have been fact-checked then about his “just say no” campaign every time a transit project is proposed by the city. Here’s his quote (posted in the comments section below today’s Fact Check) from the March 8, 2004 Honolulu Advertiser about the bus rapid transit project that was proposed back then: “From day 1, the city has not been straight with the voters about the BRT program. Let us hope it is not too late for some action to halt this nonsense.”

Mr. Slater is consistent – always against transit and always advocating more highways. That’s why we started calling him “ABC Cliff” years ago – as in, Always By Car.

Obvious Questions
Civil Beat’s interviewer pulled out several “memorable lines” from his sit-down with Mr. Slater, but there’s no evidence CB questioned the veracity or logic of any of them. Here’s a sampling:

“Why pay more when we can get the same service for less?” Obvious challenge to Mr. Slater: Prove it. What other project(s) would provide comparable service and achieve rail’s well-articulated goals?
“These folks on the Ewa plane (sic) need some traffic relief. Nothing that’s being proposed is going to give them that.” Obvious challenge: That’s not true. Commuters who ride the train will have total relief from traffic, and so will drivers when tens of thousands of commuters stop driving and start riding.
“No metropolitan area in the United States, whether or not they’ve built rail, has in the past 20 year period improved the percentage of people traveling by public transportation.” Obvious challenges: Are you saying public transportation is a failure? Are you saying transit ridership is falling? What would New Yorkers do without transit? What about commuters into Chicago, San Francisco, LA and all the rest, including Honolulu?
“This whole thing about energy savings (from rail) is bizarre. The data just doesn’t show it.” Obvious challenge: Prove it. Show me your data that disproves the city’s assertions in the EIS about rail’s energy and pollution reductions.
“We need to address the traffic congestion problem, not the public transportation problem. We need to use tools to address congestion. Rail is not one of them.” Obvious challenges: Are you not interested in improving public transportation? Is your sole focus on cars and highways? Have you read OMPO’s transportation plan that includes $3 billion in road improvements by 2030?

Civil Beat ended its interview with Mr. Slater with a summation that surely does reflect his version of reality in the Always By Car universe:

“In Slater’s world, you do what makes financial sense and what works to solve the problem you’re trying to address. He’s not buying the arguments for ‘transit-oriented development’ that will come with rail and potentially transform Honolulu into a more dense and lively city.
“’Most people don’t want to live in vibrant neighborhoods,’ he says of the transit-oriented development concept. They want, he says, quiet neighborhoods, with soccer fields.
“It all seems clear in Slater’s world. The city is about to make a big mistake that should be obvious to anyone, a mistake we can’t afford.”
That does pretty much reflect ABC Cliff’s version of how things should be in the 21st century – exactly as they were in the 20th, with quiet neighborhoods, picket fences and soccer fields in suburbia dotted with churches, supermarkets and gas stations, all accessible by car.

The media could remind Mr. Slater that times have changed and ask for his detailed vision of Oahu’s future – something specific, something we all can hold up for scrutiny and then decide if it has any merit.

Of course, that’s exactly what the past few years were about when alternatives were analyzed, technology was selected and routes drawn on maps. Mr. Slater’s vision didn't carry the day, and the community has decided it likes a vision that includes rail.

It's just not Mr. Slater's vision, and because it isn't, we all can expect him to continue saying no to that vision and any others involving transit – over and over and over again.

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