Sunday, October 30, 2011

Back to the Show: City Rejects Opponents’ Charge It Has Misled Public on Future Congestion Issue

We pick up from yesterday’s post at the point when our call finally made it onto the “Town Square” program Thursday afternoon to focus on a recurring theme in Cliff Slater’s decades-long anti-rail campaign.

Mr. Slater suggests to audiences – including those listening to the “Town Square” show on September 15th when he and Randall Roth spent an hour attacking rail – that Honolulu rail would be a failure because traffic congestion after rail is built will be worse than it is today. He couples that natural consequence of a larger Oahu population with an assertion that the city has deliberately hidden the future congestion issue from Oahu residents.

Professor Roth contributed to that theme with his passionate “shame on the city” remarks, which could dangle from his neck for years to come as a sign of how little he truly understands the Honolulu project.

After noting that the anti-rail guests as good as called city officials liars on their radio show, we directed our question to Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation Interim Executive Director Toru Hamayasu, and asked him, “Have you been lying all these years….?” (The question comes at the 36:32 minute mark of the archived mp3 file of the program.)

Show host Beth-Ann Kozlovich broke through the laughter from fellow guests Mayor Peter Carlisle and Makakilo resident Maeda Timson and said such a “nasty” question doesn’t need an answer, but of course, the question’s focus wasn’t nastiness but rather the ludicrous Slater-Roth allegation that the city has deliberately misled the public.

Kozlovich said she had put it to Messrs. Slater and Roth six weeks earlier that future congestion will be a natural consequence of population growth, since migration to Hawaii can’t be regulated.

Hamayasu: “We cannot guarantee that 30 years from now, 20 years from now that traffic congestion is gonna be better than today, but without the rail, it’s gonna be much worse. That’s the point that Slater is always twisting. He uses a real clever thing and says, OK, isn’t it true that traffic congestion is gonna be worse with the rail, as if the rail is the catalyst for the worse congestion. That’s a clever play on words – that traffic will be worse in the future with or without rail, but, it’s gonna be much worse without rail.”
Kozlovich: “So categorically you’re saying, yes – it will be worse without rail, period.”

Mayor Carlisle: “Let me see what Mr. Slater says. This is what I have from him, July 2010, City Council hearing (reading Slater quote): ‘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.’ Does that answer the question for you? This is the simple answer to that: There will be zero traffic congestion in the future for those who ride the rail.”
“Peggy from Pacific Heights” called to say she doesn’t think children will ride rail to school. Kozlovich gave Ms. Timson her first chance to speak up on the show by asking her to respond to Peggy’s comment.

Timson: “What is really going to happen is when the kids are old enough to do it on their own, they will, but in the meantime, because I can tell you what I personally did, when my children did not go to school (in her neighborhood), they went to town and (used) buddy systems. So they were 8 and 10, and there were (older) kids in the area that went to the same (in-town) school, so the kids all went together. They went on the bus…and the express bus, and they went to school and came back home. We trained them to be smart and independent.”
Kozlovich said the caller’s main issue was that congestion is less when school is out of session and that people are in search of near-term relief from congestion before rail is built. Carlisle interjected that congestion has grown to the point that on Saturdays, when parents aren’t driving children to school, traffic congestion is bad.

Carlisle: “The point is, on Saturdays you don’t have the 6 o’clock to 8 o’clock jam but you now have the 9:30 to 11:30 jam….it’s a disaster, it’s miserable. The point is that (rail opponents) are saying that once we get kids out of school, (congestion) is fine and dandy, and that’s simply not correct…..”
“Chad of Kapolei“ asked whether there’s been an effort to improve the efficiency of the current infrastructure. Carlisle said it happens constantly and cited the high-occupancy vehicle lane on the H-1 freeway as an example. He said stop light synchronization is addressed, as well.

Carlisle: “Are we still working to have the best type of systems at grade that we possibly can? That’s being done always by the Department of Transportation Services as well as the State Department of Transportation. They are trying to do it, but it’s not successful because of the volume of cars.”
Timson: “Yes, it’s all about the volume, but the light synchronization doesn’t necessarily help us. We have the problem when we get onto the freeway. That’s where it is – when everyone merges to go to work at the same time. In Kapolei, we have at least eight road projects that are in process right now…We have an on-ramp, an off-ramp that’s gonna happen…. The suggestion’s been made that we should go at-grade in Kapolei. That is totally ridiculous because in the area of East Kapolei where the rail will come, we are not through with building roads. We’re gonna have all kinds of (arterial) roads, so if you’re gonna put the rail on the ground, we’d go back to the same problem. It’s more congestion all over.”
Hamayasu: “I’d like to address one thing that’s seems like is getting focus. It’s like we’re putting all the eggs in one basket – rail – and that’s not true…. I’ve been a traffic engineer and transit planner, too, so the last four years we’ve been doing all of that. So the (light) synchronization, yes. Honolulu’s been engaged in that since the 1960s, so if it doesn’t look like everything’s synchronized in your favor that’s because, like the Mayor said, there are side streets (with congestion) that’s just as heavy… (Also), everybody wants to give more cross-street time to pedestrians, so when you bunch it all together, it’s not gonna be a smooth flow for the traffic. You gotta take care of everybody.”
Hamayasu noted regarding school congestion that it was former Governor Ben Cayetano (an anti-rail lawsuit plaintiff) who staggered school start times, but the experiment did not succeed in relieving congestion appreciably or “work out in a way that it was supposed to.”

Kozlovich: “Having said everything that all three of you have just said, including some of the things we’ve heard from our callers, is it really something that we all just need to get ourselves over – that there really isn’t going to be a great deal of relief, and we’re gonna have to deal with a lot of these situations pretty much as they are right now? And forgive me, but put up or shut up until rail offers another option? Because people are looking for something now. You hear people scuttling about saying, what about this, what about that, what about something else? Because they are looking for something.”
Carlisle: “We’ve been looking for things for years. I’ve just put down a list. We’ve got Zipper lanes now, we’ve got HOV lanes, we’ve got contra-flow lanes. We’ve done all those things. Has that relieved the traffic? No.”
Kozlovich: “Right, which is again back to my point. Do we just have to say, that’s the way it is, gang, and until there’s a viable option to do something else, we’re gonna have to deal with this and make adjustments on our own?”
Carlisle: “There’s no doubt that we’ll need rail no matter what we do, but are we gonna continue to look for things to try and abate the problems that we’ve got, of course we are if they’ve got something that helps, but is it gonna be a magic bullet that will replace rail? Not with what we know now.”
“Rebecca of Hawaii Kai” said she disagrees with her neighbors who say a west Oahu transit system won’t benefit them. She said traffic alleviation is one important benefit. Another is the potential for transit-oriented development around future rail stations and the opportunity it will provide for revitalized neighborhoods and affordable housing. She said communities will be built around the stations, and she said she’ll personally benefit by being able to more easily travel through the urban core by avoiding surface traffic. Her peers will have more job opportunities – a more holistic contribution than merely avoiding traffic. Carlisle said she’s “absolutely right – period.”

“John of Kapolei” called to ask “what the average person can do to get this project moving faster. It has been way too long…. We need to move forward, and we need to move forward now.”

Carlisle: “You can always help by telling the people who you have elected that you want them to support rail. Basically, politicians respond to what their constituents want….They’re just hearing (from a well-organized) opposition (that) makes sure they have phone trees and people writing emails and answering the polls on TV and other things that aren’t done scientifically. The more you can (tell) people who you’ve put in office that this is what you want them to do, then the more they’re going to be pressured into doing (rail) that will have benefits for generations to come.”
Timson: “And those of us who feel it and live it every day, we need to remind our friends that it’s OK to speak….” She said neighbors who share their frustrations can build a groundswell of support for rail. “We’ve got to go back to the grass roots. That’s what Go Rail Go is. It was just a bunch of us who are sick of fighting and being alone about rail…That’s how it got started….”
Kozlovich: “If somebody comes to you and says I’m absolutely against rail, what do you tell them?”
Timson: “First of all, we want to find out where you live, of course…. And (rail) is not just about today. It’s about the future… I went to every single rail community meeting that (the city) had a couple weeks ago. I went to Kailua, I went to Kaneohe, I went to Hawaii Kai, and there were a couple who said, Oh, we don’t need it. So I say to them….do you know what the future is? It’s all on the west side. That’s where everyone is moving. Your kids are gonna grow up to be adults. They’re gonna look for a home, and guess where they’re gonna go. And they’re gonna say to you, hey Mom, I’m in traffic for four hours. I can’t visit you, ‘cause you didn’t like rail and didn’t help us to make it happen. You’re gonna have your kids living out on the west side. You need the future. It’s not just about today.”
Kozlovich brought up the rail project’s visual impact, saying rail doesn’t necessarily fit in with what most people associate with Hawaii. “Granted, what we think about Hawaii is changing, and some people are quicker to accept change than others, and certainly, Hawaii doesn’t look anything like it it did when I was a little girl, but now, when you hear people talking about the shadows being cast and the fact that it’s gonna be elevated, what do you tell them about that?”
Carlisle: “Take a look out of your (windshield) when you’re in a traffic jam. That’s what you get to see, how many hours a day? If you see something that’s elevated…I assume we can make it actually look good, then what is better as far as you’re concerned? I think a lot has been said that would intimidate people to think that these things are going to be monstrosities. The idea that being an aircraft carrier in the sky comes up every once in a while. Nothing could be further from the truth. An aircraft carrier would block four intersections, would crush everything around it and is solid steel. (Elevated stations) ultimately have a smaller footprint than some of the things that they’re talking about when you talk about trenching…and running it through the heart of the city. (The elevated system) will (have) every 120-some odd feet (a support column) as opposed to a trench that goes 30 feet wide and 5 feet down.”
Kozlovich: “One more thing about the money. There is some concern over the (general excise tax) and how long that will have to be collected and how long the additional surcharge (0.5 percent) will have to be and the concern that it will be tacked on forever and that it somehow will not necessarily make up the amount that we’re going to have to pay for this thing, that costs will escalate. How do you allay some of those fears that people have?”
Carlisle: “We’re doing things right now. Just take a look at it…how much money we have now holding back for contingencies and how soon, once we get to the full funding agreement….the whole dynamic changes.” Hamayasu said the contingency fund now is 21 percent of the project’s total cost, and once the full funding agreement is finalized, it will drop to 10 to 15 percent. “So that tells you right now we’ve got lots of extra money sitting around, and so far, we haven’t had to go into any extra monies because (the costs) are beneath what our projections were.”
Carlisle said the GET surcharge to cover the local share of construction costs eventually will end. Operations and maintenance expenses will continue, and he said that’s no different than funding the cost for highway upkeep today. “I don’t think that’s hard to understand,” he said. “Do we maintain our highways? Yes. Are we gonna have to maintain the rail system, too? Sure.”

We encourage Yes2Rail visitors to download the mp3 files for both the ant-rail and pro-rail “Town Square” programs and compare what you hear. From the former you’ll hear unsubstantiated allegations and obfuscation. From the city, you’ll hear fact-based analysis and comment that satisfies federal oversight of the project.

We say it repeatedly: The more we hear and read from rail opponents, the better the project looks. Rail supporters would do well to follow Mayor Carlisle’s advice and speak up for this critical piece of Oahu’s future transportation infrastructure.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

‘Town Square’ Show Covered Many Rail Issues: Benefits, Funding and Whether City Officials Lie

We provided extensive quotes from the September 15th public radio show with guests Cliff Slater and Randall Roth beginning with our next day's post. Transcripts are a much quicker way to get the essence of what was said than spending an hour listening to the show, but if you insist, HPR has archived the program.

Thursday’s guests were Mayor Peter Carlisle, Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation Interim Executive Director Toru Hamayasu and Makakilo resident Maeda Timson, a former neighborhood board chair who's president of the Go Rail Go group.

After making the introductions, host Beth-Ann Kozlovich noted that Ansaldo, the company selected by the city to supply trains and operate the system, has paid a $150,000 fine for not being a licensed contractor when it first bid on the project. She said it prompts questions about Ansaldo’s reliability and asked the Mayor, “Are you satisfied beyond any doubt that Ansaldo is still the best choice, categorically?

Carlisle: “I think the doubt has to do with economic circumstances that are beyond anybody’s control, but am I satisfied that we’ve followed the right procedures to select the right person for the job? Yes, absolutely, unequivocally.”
Kozlovich asked for an update on the status of Ansaldo’s contract with the city. Hamayasu said after the evaluation of which bidder provide the best value to the city, Ansaldo was announced as the awardee. The contract was sent to Ansaldo, which has return it with a performance bond.

Hamayasu: “The one added element to this was the (HART) board had requested us to have a third-party counsel – outside lawyers – be hired and go through the bond document, so that’s what we’re doing right now. So once that’s done, then we have no reason to hold up, to execute the contract.” He said the city is now in the 30-day period it has to evaluate Ansaldo's package and bond.

Kozlovich: “A lot of people are still concerned about the money. Are people looking for too much certainty?”
Carlisle: “I think we have to give as much certainty as possible, but we also have to take a look around and say, OK, who is supporting this, what’s the oversight look like, and is this something that’s been going on for 40 years and we’ve wasted a lot of opportunities already to get this going? Is this the right time to be doing it?
“And frankly, the economic downturn is in many ways a bonus to us – less expensive labor, you can tie in contracts for longer periods of time, you have less-expensive supplies, the transportation of it is less expensive, so all of those things are real positives for us, and so far, we have gotten savings which we can detail that are less than what the original (cost) projections were. Now, that doesn’t mean we’re going to come in under that because things could happen in the future that would make it more expensive, but right now we’re coming in under budget.
Kozlovich said even though costs may appear to be less expensive now, the average person wonders about costs not being “locked in” – part of their anxiety that the project will not come together exactly as projected.

Carlisle: “If you take a look at how they used to do projections, they were nowhere near as specific as they are now. The oversight wasn’t there, and people would always be padding the numbers or making them deflated so it wasn’t what was actually going to be spent. The Federal Transit Administration took a look at that and said, we’re going to do a better job at this, and right now, everything they’ve done so far has been spot on. So we have to be very, very impressed with what’s happened so far, and there’s no reason for us to foresee in the future that that’s not going to continue to be the case.”
Kozlovich: But we’ve spent hundreds of millions and not necessarily sure in some people’s minds that we’re going to get the one point five billion in federal funds given the fact that we’ve got a huge federal deficit and that you’ve got opposition by Republicans in the House. Are you at all concerned about the chances of getting the money?”
Carlisle: “What I look at are all the people who are saying all the reasons why we’re going to get the money. You have essentially (FTA Administrator Peter) Rogoff telling you that. You have Secretary (of Transportation Ray) LaHood telling us that (rail) is something that he’s going to be working hard for and that this is the right project, and then beyond that, you’ve got Congress Member (John) Mica, who is in charge of the Transportation Committee as a Republican, and he’s saying this is exactly what we’re going to be doing, and that this is a great project, so he understands it.
On top of that you have Dan Inouye, you have Barack Obama. And who (is there) lined up against those people – people who have the same stature and ability to put this forward? I don’t think so, and the oversight that we have is ongoing and extensive. There are meetings every month to make sure that everything is being done correctly by the book and being done in such a fashion that we’ll be able to do it on time and on budget.”

Kozlovich said that even with all the local officials’ trips to Washington for meetings and oversight, there's still a chance something will go awry with Honolulu rail.

Carlisle: “It’s critical to (make those trips), and frankly, that’s one of the things that was pounded into my head early by (former Council Chair) Todd Apo, who said one of the first things I need to do after my election – and actually I was empowered to do it – was to get to Washington, DC, and (answer the question) are you a supporter or not and to answer that question truthfully. And the answer is, I was skeptical of rail at the beginning like a lot of people were, but once you take a look at all the facts, this is absolutely essential to the infrastructure of this large city from now to 50, to 75, to 100 years from now.
“So (rail) is going to transform Honolulu, not only in terms of transportation but in terms of transit-oriented development and in terms of the quality of life for the people who are going to live here. They’ll be spending more time at the office working rather than being stuck in traffic and more time at home where they can do those things that they want to be doing – being with their family and interacting with them.”
Kozlovich: “What will you do, though, if Congress decides for whatever reason to only give you a smaller portion of what you thought we might get?”

Carlisle: “Plow forward, and I think that that’s a hypothetical that so far is not particularly realistic.”
Kozlovich: “Well, that’s why I asked you earlier. Do you think people are not being realistic when they look at some of these questions?”
Carlisle: “No, I think they’re being led by people to say the sky is falling, the sky is falling, and the sky is not falling.”
Kozlovich “Are you angry at the Gang of Four?”
Carlisle: “No, they have their own view of the world, and I don’t dispute that they think it’s the right thing, but do I think they’re giving people accurate information? No. Do I think that when they say we’re deliberately misleading the public? I think that’s false.”
Kozlivich said a lot in the public feel they’re caught between the two camps and that it’s tough for people to make a decision one way or the other. She asked, “Is there a way of sitting down with some of the Gang of Four and meeting them point by point?”

Carlisle: “If they want to do that someplace in an isolated room, I’d be happy to talk with anyone. Am I going to give them a public forum that they don’t deserve? No. They have been doing everything they can to delay this project and make it more expensive and to try and frighten away the people who are doing (rail) and frighten away support from it – sometimes using things like this ‘conspiracy’ to mislead people.
“I don’t consider myself somebody who conspires to tell people things that I know are false…. I just think that’s the rhetoric that comes from these guys, and if that’s what they want to do, fine, but I think we can beat this out with the facts. If you take a look at the facts and everything that’s been looked at, all the other alternatives, there are solid reasons why (they) were rejected. When (rail opponents) start saying let’s put it all on the ground, that makes absolutely no sense. When you think about what they did in Phoenix. They trenched 30 feet across and six feet down.”
The Mayor said building at-grade transit on Hotel Street through downtown Honolulu, as some have advocated, would essentially create chaos for pedestrian and vehicle traffic through Chinatown, with cross-traffic interrupted at intersections by trains arriving every few minutes.

“The second you do that through Honolulu, Hawaii and put (transit) on the ground, you can just wipe out Hotel Street as a method of people transporting themselves from point A to point B. Now what’s that going to do with traffic downtown? It’s gonna completely kill it off and leave (traffic backups) that are completely untenable, so (at-grade transit) is not solving the problem that we have …” Carlisle said at-grade transit also would be vulnerable to accidents at intersections.

Heavy, Light, What?
Kozlovich took a call from “Eileen in Kaimuki” who asked about the terms used to describe Honolulu rail, such as heavy rail, light rail and light metro.

Hamayasu: “We’re saying ours is a light metro system. It’s certainly not heavy rail like other systems such as (San Francisco’s) BART or the Washington METRO where each car is 75 feet long, and they can connect up to 10 or 15 cars together to make a train.”
He said Honolulu’s system will have only four-car trains and will be smaller and lighter in weight, with much less noise than heavy rail systems. Honolulu rail will be automated, which makes it different that the typical light rail that runs on ground like a streetcar, “so we’re not heavy rail. We’re not light rail. That’s why there’s now this new terminology, light metro.” Kozlovich asked the caller if the terminology makes a difference to her. “Eileen” said not really; she just wanted some clarification since she’s been hearing different terms being used and wondered about what’s so.

Rail opponents Slater and Roth, two members of the so-called Gang of Four, used the “heavy rail” term to describe Honolulu rail 26 times during their appearance on the one-hour “Town Square” show. Carlisle said the use of “heavy rail” to describe Honolulu rail is misleading and conjures up imagines that are not applicable here.

City Fibbers?
Caller “Kevin of Honolulu” said it’s a “fib” that the Sierra Club endorses Honolulu rail and said “neither the local nor the national Sierra Club has endorsed the rail, and if you’re fibbing on that, could (the Mayor) be fibbing about the Alternatives Analysis…?”

Carlisle quoted from a national Sierra Club report called Missing the Train: “We will enjoy benefits, including better air and water quality, greater public health, less sprawl and more independence for our aging population.” “Kevin” responded that the local chapter hasn’t endorsed Honolulu rail, and Kozlovich attempted to summarize the Sierra Club’s position on rail transit – that the Sierra Club nationally has made supportive statements about rail but the Sierra Club locally has not endorsed the rail project in Honolulu.

As blog posts go, transcriptions go long, so we’ll pick up with more of the “Town Square” transcript tomorrow – but not before jumping further into the show to address the Sierra Club issue with our own call to KIPO:

“I have a question for Toru, but let me just tell you what I see on the Sierra Club Oahu Group’s website. I’ll read you one short sentence: ‘Sierra Club Oahu Group supports the Fixed Guideway (rail) alternative.’ That should take care of the question about what the Oahu Group says.”
We didn’t have enough time to read the rest of the position statement:

“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.”
We’ll pick up the transcription with our question to Mr. Hamayasu based on comments by Messrs. Slater and Roth on “Town Square” six weeks ago – especially Mr. Roth’s “Shame on the city” hyperbole:

To Mr. Hamayasu: “Have you been lying all these years…?”

Come back tomorrow for his response.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Honolulu Rail Supporters Stick to Facts on Show, Counter Opponents’ Earlier Penchant for Bombast

An HPR talk show hosted another rail discussion yesterday.
As fireworks displays go, “Town Square” on Hawaii Public Radio last evening was more sparkler than aerial bomb.

The city’s response to anti-railers Cliff Slater and Randall Roth was pre-ordained to be more muted and – yes – more responsible than what the two rail opponents tossed around six weeks earlier.

Messrs. Slater and Roth as good as accused the city of lying to the public, so the question had to be asked: Have city officials been lying about future congestion issues all these years?

Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation Interim Executive Director Toru Hamayasu politely declined to respond in kind to Professor Roth’s “shame on the city” sham. Preferring the sparkler approach, he dispassionately affirmed what we already know: The city has always said traffic congestion in the future will be worse than it is today – even after rail is in operation. (With 200,000 more Oahu residents in 2030 than 2005, it can’t be otherwise.)

That was a direct response to Mr. Slater’s principal accusation – that city officials never openly discussed those issues. We’ve posted several refutations of that charge here at Yes2Rail, with perhaps the most damning evidence being the “live” radio show in 2008 when Mr. Slater said he agreed with the city’s Wayne Yoshioka that congestion will only get worse on Oahu, no matter what happens with rail.

Sparkler Illumination
Mayor Peter Carlisle also was more into sparklers than bomb tossing on the show. When asked by host Beth-Ann Kozlovich whether just sitting down with the Gang of Four (the lead plaintiffs on a federal lawsuit intended to kill rail) might do some good, the Mayor said no way.

“If they want to do that in an isolated room, OK,” he responded, “but I’m not going to give them a public forum” to carry on with their anti-rail rhetoric.

The Mayor said the opponents are doing everything they can to convince the public the city has conspired to not tell the truth about the rail project. “Look at the facts,” he said, noting the several sound reasons why other travel options can’t measure up to Honolulu’s planned elevated system.

Mr. Carlisle described the impacts at-grade rail transit would impose on Honolulu. He said Phoenix’s 20-mile at-grade system required trenching the entire length – 30 feet wide and 6 feet deep. Doing that through Honolulu would produce massive disruption to cultural remains. He also described the traffic chaos and pedestrian danger that would ensue from building at-grade transit in tight quarters like Hotel Street in downtown Honolulu.

West Side Concerns
Fellow “Town Square” guest Maeda Timson provided the perspective of a long-time resident of Makakilo, one of the several west Oahu neighborhoods that will benefit from rail. She said the personal toll congestion imposes on residents who commute into town can’t truly be appreciated by those who live outside the area.

We’ll have additional comments from the show and will link to an audio file once it’s posted at Hawaii Public Radio’s website.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Today’s ‘Town Square’ Show Will Be Opportunity for Officials To Refute Bogus Anti-Rail Allegations

It took some doing, but the producers of Hawaii Public Radio’s weekly “Town Square” talk show finally agreed to bring city officials onto the program six weeks after rail opponents enjoyed a one-sided conversation last month.

Mayor Peter Carlisle, Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation Authority’s Interim Executive Director Toru Hamayasu and Makakilo resident Maeda Timson will be on today’s “Town Square” on KIPO-FM (89.3), 5 to 6 pm.

It was more than a little surprising that public radio didn't immediately schedule the city to rebut what rail opponents Cliff Slater and Randall Roth told the "Town Square" audience on September 15th. The program contained inflammatory language, vague accusations and gave rail opponents an unfettered hour to blast the project. They offered no proposals to move people over, under or around the highway congestion that Oahu residents are finding increasingly intolerable.

All they had in their kit was opposition to rail as they filled their hour by essentially accusing city officials of lying. Mr. Slater’s key talking point yet again was the totally false accusation that the city has hid the truth about future traffic congestion.  His big "revelation," which he treats as proof of his investigative prowess, is that traffic congestion will be worse with rail in place than it is today.

We’ve taken pains over the past 16 months (see our "aggregation" site linked from the red copy at right) to show why (1) Mr. Slater is relying on a ludicrous and dumbed-down argument against rail; (2) traffic will of course increase with a couple hundred thousand more residents on the island, and (3) the city has been transparent in discussing rail’s intended effect on congestion – reducing it from levels it would grow to if rail were not built.

Mr. Roth spent his airtime scolding the city with hyperbolic statements: “Shame on the city for not making clear to the public…(that)…traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than what it is today without rail.” Mr. Roth clearly has swallowed Mr. Slater’s talking point hook, line and sinker with no proof of city malfeasance in his worked-up accusations about future traffic and alleged conflicts of interest. He offered no viable alternative to rail to provide congestion relief – probably because he has none. The law professor's suggestion that synching traffic lights might do the trick is embarrassingly na├»ve.

Today’s Talking Points
Online Civil Beat already has passed judgment on the anti-railers’ August op-ed piece. Its analysis of seven issues in the piece concluded that five were either false or half-false (CB politely termed them “half-true”) – a result so infuriating to the Gang of Four that it denounced Civil Beat today in yet another commentary, a sure sign the gang is desperate.

The anti-railers’ credibility is weak, and that can be a focus during at least part of today’s show:

Accusations by Mr. Slater and Mr. Roth about city transparency were false. The city has always been open in describing the rail project’s goals, and reducing traffic congestion decades from now to 2011 levels is not one of them! It’s a preposterous suggestion that Mr. Slater in particular has been flogging in his campaign to confuse Oahu residents about rail.

Cliff Slater is anti-mass transit – always has been and apparently always will be. His only idea to address Oahu’s highway congestion problem is to build more highways. Studies of metropolitan areas’ experience over several decades show that more highways don’t improve congestion. Rail travel completely avoids it.

Mr. Slater’s preference for High-Occupancy Toll roads (see his quotes from the September 15th show) discriminates against people who don’t own and/or travel by car and those who can’t afford to pay the tolls. HOT lanes are another car-based idea that can’t possibly address Honolulu’s requirement for fast, frequent, reliable and safe transportation through the city.

Rail’s goals are influenced by society’s 21st-century requirements to conserve time, money, resources and space in providing transportation for the masses. Building more highways was the 20th century's solution.

One of rail’s goals is to provide for a rational means to develop the island throughout the decades ahead using transit-oriented development near rail stations. TOD will cluster housing and commerce and reduce the necessity for families to own multiple vehicles.

Here’s hoping today’s radio guests find 5 minutes to read the long quotes from the Slater-Roth show, linked in the bullet point above, or devote a whole hour to listening to the archived version. Doing so could only help prepare them for today’s terrific opportunity to tell rail’s story and blow away the anti-railers’ rhetoric.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Defying Predictions from Ardent Highway Lobby, Rail Ridership Continues to Grow on New Systems

Patrons line up to ride The Tide in Norfolk, VA.
Anti-mass-transit activists keep beating their anti-rail drums (see numerous posts at our “aggregation site” under the Slater and Prevedouros headings, linked from red copy at right), but the experience of new rail systems shows how readily commuters embrace the rail option.

The nation’s newest system in Norfolk, VA, began passenger service in August, and as these systems go, The Tide is small – just 7 miles long – and relatively slow due to its at-grade layout.

According to the local newspaper, The Tide’s daily ridership during its first month was 74 percent above expectations. Some rode out of curiosity – it’s “too convenient not to try” – but others already have incorporated rail transit into their daily commute. From the Virginian-Pilot:

“It takes Bobby Parks an extra 20 minutes to commute to work and an extra $50 for a monthly pass to ride The Tide. Still, he’s hooked. ’To me, not having to drive (interstate) 284 is worth it,’ he said. ‘It makes me cringe with the potholes and bumps…. Light rail is less stressful and, with traffic, it’s more consistent.'”

Fast and Reliable
Mr. Parks avoids the traffic hassle completely during his Tide ride and even is willing to go out of his way to take the train. Avoiding congestion is one reason why tens of thousands of Oahu residents are expected to choose Honolulu rail over the tedium of driving on the H-1 and surface roads that parallel the freeway.

Unlike The Tide’s relatively pokey at-grade pace, trains on Honolulu's system will exceed 55 mph between some of stations, so in addition to avoiding congestion, rail will deliver passengers reliably faster than other forms of transportation.

Reducing congestion-caused stress will be reason enough to ride for many future Honolulu rail passengers. Others will compare the per-mile cost of commuting by car – around $1 on Oahu at current gas prices – and conclude they can save thousands of dollars annually if they switch their commute to the train.

The Virginian-Pilot story and a similar posting by Metro Jacksonville summarize ridership increases by new rail systems in Phoenix, Charlotte, NC, Houston and Seattle. Honolulu likely will join that list once our rail system is up and running.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Something Else Rail Critic Wants You To Believe: More Highways Reduce Traffic, but It Isn’t True

Years from now, long after Honolulu rail transit has become an everyday convenience for scores of thousands of Oahu residents, social scientists might well wonder why it took so long to build the rail system. For their benefit, we’re offering a reason today that we think will stand up over time:

The leading opponent’s anti-rail campaign was essentially a misinformation effort that survived as long as it did because it went unchallenged far too long by far too many people, including the media.

Businessman Cliff Slater has fought mass transit projects on Oahu since at least the 1980s by employing the successful business advertising tactic of message repetition. Just drum it in over and over, and people start to believe it.

Yes2Rail yesterday showed irrefutably that Mr. Slater doesn’t tell the truth when he accuses the city of withholding information on future traffic congestion levels after rail is built. That’s one prime example – the flat-out wrong misrepresentation of fact.

Highways and Congestion
But there are numerous other false notes in Mr. Slater’s campaign that most citizens, including reporters and editors, could have noticed had they been as focused on rail’s critics as they usually are on government.

Mr. Slater wants you to believe building more highways will reduce highway congestion. That’s his focus in all his years of activism against transit projects. He’s a highwayman at heart and has spent years trying to convince Oahu residents that building more roads is the answer to relieving the road congestion we all hate.

His HonoluluTraffic.com website, in addition to its anti-rail propaganda, also is a repository of Mr. Slater’s many commentaries that claim highways are the way of the future.

One of many examples was his October 2006 “Second Thoughts” column in the Honolulu Advertiser under the oxymoronic headline “Other cities have shown that rail does not work”. Try selling that in cities around the country that rely on rail networks to move millions of travelers each day.

That particular column concludes: “We have a traffic congestion problem and that is a highway problem. It can only be fixed with highway solutions such as High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes.”

Induced Traffic
Numerous studies and actual city experience all over America* show he’s wrong (go here for links to several of these studies; see also asterisk below). In perpetuating the myth that building more roads reduces congestion, he has either been blind to the facts or has willingly misled citizens and the media on this issue, too.

Building more highways to relieve congestion actually creates more congestion. It’s called “induced traffic” and is widely studied and understood across the nation – but obviously not in Honolulu. Mr. Slater’s less-congestion-with-more-roads myth is stuck in the 20th century.

Here’s one study’s finding:

“Metro areas that invested heavily in road capacity expansion fared no better in easing congestion than metro areas that did not. Trends in congestion show that areas that exhibited greater growth in lane capacity spent roughly $22 billion more on road construction than those that didn’t, yet ended up with slightly higher congestion costs per person, wasted fuel, and travel delay….”
Some actually advocate demolishing highways to reduce congestion; one concludes “spending lots more on roads increased the toll exacted by congestion. Building more highways intensifies the urban traffic mess.”

Tearing down the few highways already built on land-scarce Oahu isn’t the solution here, but it’s time Honolulu (and its news media) wake up to modern thinking.

Honolulu rail will restore mobility, improve travel times, provide transportation equity and spur economic growth through transit-oriented development without eating up more space for toll roads or other highways that likely would make congestion worse.

Those social scientists of the future presumably will use whatever replaces Google as the preferred search engine to research Honolulu rail's history and what delayed its construction so long. We can use it now to fact-check Mr. Slater and challenge his outdated thinking.

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

* This just in from a friend who lives in New Jersey: "Tell Slater that 20 years ago the New Jersey Turnpike was 8 lanes wide, and too much congestion caused it to be widened to 12 lanes. Still got heavy congestion. Today, it is 16 lanes, and the exit flyovers are unbelievable, and congestion is so bad that it will be widened to 20 lanes shortly. At least with rail on a single (elevated guideway), all one has to do is either lengthen the train or reduce the headways, and the city can quadruple the capacity without years of added construction."

Monday, October 24, 2011

Does Repeating a Lie Over and Over Make It True? What Else Can Anti-Railer’s Main Claim Be Called?

Paying any attention whatsoever to what Hawaii Reporter “reports” is probably a fool’s game, but we’re compelled to do so because Honolulu rail is so often a topic there.

The online site is forever publishing anti-rail commentaries, including its own, so although we know in advance what we’ll find, sometimes what we find is worth a post here at Yes2Rail.

Today is one of those times. On Friday, HR reported the comments made at last Thursday evening’s Waialae-Kahala Neighborhood Board by anti-railer-in-chief Cliff Slater. Under a red-lettered headline proclaiming “Honolulu Rail Won’t Improve Traffic,” the site reported:

“…traffic will be worse when the rail line is completed in 2030 than it is today without rail. Slater, who attended the meeting last night, said no public official advocating for the rail….have (sic) ever explained or admitted to the public that this is true.”
If that’s what he said Thursday, Mr. Slater did not tell the board members the truth. A reasonably savvy fifth-grade student can easily refute it using an iPad.

Spreading It
Mr. Slater has made this accusation without reservation so often that it has become the centerpiece of his anti-rail campaign, and he’s managed to convince his fellow anti-railers (Randall Roth, in particular – he of the “Shame on the city…” scoldings) that the city “has never explained or admitted to the public” that traffic will continue to increase.

It’s simply not true. The city has never withheld the facts about future traffic congestion. It’ll get worse! Oahu in 2030 will have about 200,000 more residents than it did in 2005. As population goes, so goes traffic congestion.

Want proof the city has been open about this issue? Spend a few minutes listening to a KHVH radio program broadcast on November 3, 2008 – the day before Oahu voters approved the “steel-on-steel” Charter amendment. The program was described as a two-hour debate during which the City’s representatives agreed (emphasis added) that while the rail transit proposal would reduce traffic congestion, it will still be far worse in the future with rail than it is today.”

That’s from Hawaii Reporter’s own website! Need we go on? Has Hawaii Reporter forgotten what it wrote in 2008 regarding a city official’s statements on the public airwaves about future congestion? Here’s part of the dialogue Mr. Slater and Mr. Yoshioka engaged in on the KHVH program:

Slater: “…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."
Always In Public
Messrs. Slater and Yoshioka debated these same points in public elsewhere, including a City Council meeting in July 2010. Mr. Slater apparently has forgotten this encounter, too – either that or he’s deliberately telling his audiences something indisputably false.

So what are we to make of this key plank in Mr. Slater’s platform? We could charitably suggest that time has taken a toll on Mr. Slater’s memory, but we don’t think that’s the right explanation.

Mr. Slater and his anti-rail friends deliberately mislead their audiences by not telling the truth about the city's record on future congestion levels. He did it two weeks ago at the Rotary Club of Honolulu; he did it in his Civil Beat video interview in July 2010; he did it on public radio last month, and he did it last Thursday night before the neighborhood board.

This particular plank in Mr. Slater’s platform is rotten to the core. He knows it, and everyone on Oahu should know it, too.

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

Friday, October 21, 2011

Look Behind the Curtain when Rail Critics Speak

If you’ve been paying close attention to the Honolulu rail project over these many months, you’ve probably noticed the tendency of rail opponents to rely on the “rhetorical flourish” in their denunciations of the project.

“Shame on the city…” Randall Roth exclaims with passion as he accuses the city of withholding information from the public about future congestion levels – which it hasn’t done, of course.

Retired judge Walter Heen borrows from Hollywood when he says the City Council debate on rail reminded him of the “Silence of the Lambs” – ignoring the many critical debates engaged in by Barbara Marshall, Ann Kobayashi, Charles Djou and other members about the project over the years.

And most obvious of all the flourishes – because he’s used it so often – is Cliff Slater’s suggestion that rail would be a failure if “traffic congestion in the future with rail will be worse than it is today.” No kidding. With 200,000 more people living on Oahu by 2030 than just a few years ago, more congestion is exactly what you’d expect – yet Mr. Slater uses the flourish endlessly to attack rail in his presentations.

Relying on Statistics
We haven’t paid much attention to Panos Prevedouros lately due to the higher profile of the Gang of Four plaintiffs and their lawsuit that’s intended to kill rail here. But the good professor is never far from the spotlight with his flourishes, even if only on the margins.

He again is referring his readers to the New Geography website, which seems ever-ready to publish articles critical of mass transit initiatives around the country. Says Dr. Prevedouros at his own website, “Despite higher prices and huge media hype over shifts to public transit, the big surprise (in the U.S. Census) was the continued growth over the last decade in driving alone to work.”

And on the basis of that finding, Dr. Prevedouros concludes building Honolulu rail would be “nothing short of ridiculous.” There it is again – the first-blush flourish that really can’t hold water when just a little extra attention is applied.

Only Skin Deep
Most Americans are hell-bent on pursuing their unsustainable lifestyle, and because that’s so, he says we shouldn’t build rail. Don’t restore mobility to Oahu’s east-west corridor; don’t dramatically improve travel reliability for those who choose to ride the train, and most of all, don’t provide a congestion-free mode of transportation to and from work for scores of thousands of residents.

Skin deep is about as far as the anti-railers’ rhetorical flourishes go. They don’t hold up when given a second look, so we’re well advised to look deeper into the critics' eyes and ask a tough question or two. Do at least that much the next time you feel a flourish wash over you.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Bottom Line of Gang of Four’s PR Campaign: ‘How Four Anti-Rail Activists Misled the Public’

“It’s perfectly understandable that the city would prefer not to draw additional attention to us and our message,” says today’s commentary in the Star-Advertiser by four highly visible rail opponents (subscription required).

Who are they kidding? The more attention drawn to their rhetoric, the better it is for rail! That’s why we’ve been calling attention to their antics for years here at Yes2Rail. We even aggregate our posts (under the Mr. Cliff Slater and Friends heading) to make it easy for visitors to read what these anti-railers have said and written.

Today’s commentary is another rehash of what’s already been publicized by the so-called Gang of Four that’s trying in federal court to kill the Honolulu rail project. Anti-mass transit activist Cliff Slater and attorneys Walter Heen, Benjamin Cayetano and Randall Roth launched their new-old campaign against rail two months ago tomorrow with a 1500-word manifesto headlined “How the city misled the public” on rail.

It has been picked apart ever since. When online Civil Beat fact-checked that column, its final tally of the seven issues found only two  TRUE   – and they were true for the thinnest of reasons. CB said two were flat-out  FALSE  and three were  HALF FALSE . The Gang’s penchant for misstating facts is why we’re happy to open the morning paper and find another of their commentaries.

What About the Jobs?
The Gang’s piece today is yet another smoke-and-mirrors production that attacks the city’s forecast on the number of jobs Honolulu rail will create. It’s almost not worth the time to address it.

Project leaders certainly have mentioned job creation when talking to supporters – especially before audiences of out-of-work construction workers – but rail is not a jobs project! It’s a mobility-restoring, traffic-avoiding, trip reliability-enhancing, travel equity-enabling and rational development-planning project.

Read its goals and you find nothing that suggests “let’s build rail because it will employ people.” Of course jobs will be created in building rail, and that’s great, but to attack the project by quibbling over how many will be created is another of the Gang’s sideshows.

In fact, it’s exactly the kind of sideshow we should be encouraging, because it displays their desperation to attack, attack, attack on the flimsiest of platforms.

Channeling Slater
Today’s commentary appears to be almost identical to the contents of a March 15, 2010 story in the Advertiser (subscription may be required) under the headline "Hawaii rail project may not create as many jobs as city predicts." Looks kinda familiar, doesn't it? Numerous stories back then channeled Mr. Slater’s thinking, and it was obvious that he enjoyed unusual access to the Advertiser's reporter assigned to cover rail.

The Advertiser folded three months later, and the reporter – who went so far as to misquote city officials in his seeming willingness to paint the rail project in the worst possible light – found other employment.

What’s clear from this retrospective look at the jobs issue is that the Gang of Four is recycling old material that failed to convince the public to oppose rail the first time around. Just the opposite has happened; three scientific opinion surveys found support for rail averaging 57.6 percent.

It’s also clear the recycling is all about creating buzz around the opponents’ lawsuit against the project. They apparently believe that if they kick up enough dust, they’ll fool some people – and that’s possible.

But “2 yards and a cloud of dust” doesn’t get the job done. In their desperation, the Gang now relies on attention-getting Hail Mary bombs in the media.

It hasn’t worked before, and it’s not working now. It's sack time!!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Rail Opponents Take Their Show on the Road, so Preparing Questions for Them Only Makes Sense

If the end of the world actually happens on Friday as Harold Camping now predicts, it really doesn’t matter that two opponents of the Honolulu rail project are making numerous stops in their anti-rail crusade that began in August.

We’re surmising that Mr. Camping will be proven wrong again and that Cliff Slater will be undeterred in his role as leader of the road show. He and three fellow plaintiffs on a lawsuit that they hope will kill rail made a stop at the Rotary Club of Honolulu last week. Mr. Slater and Ben Cayetano followed that up two days later on public TV, and there’s no telling where they'll show up next.

When they do, it seems only right that they should answer some questions. We created the TEN QUESTIONS project for their TV appearance, but since none of them were used by the program’s host, these questions are still ripe for asking if the occasion arises anywhere along the way.

If Mr. Slater actually gains the floor somewhere, we can predict now with a high degree of confidence what he’ll say in any venue. First, he’ll tell his audience the cost of the Honolulu rail project, and then he’ll say traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than it is today – and then he’ll sit down.

No Deviations
That’s Mr. Slater’s routine, and he rarely if ever deviates from it. It’s how he conducted his now infamous Civil Beat interview in July 2010, and it’s exactly what he said and did last week at the Rotary club.

What’s the significance? Simply this: Mr. Slater wants his audiences to believe rail shouldn’t be built if it won’t dramatically reduce traffic congestion. He’s a highwayman at heart, so it doesn’t matter to him that Honolulu rail is a mass transit project that has four perfectly reasonable and attainable goals that will benefit Honolulu residents.

If rail won’t slash congestion in 2030 to less than we have today, it would be a failure in Mr. Slater’s book. Of course, his book is a work of fiction. With 200,000 more residents living on Oahu in 2030 than in 2005, congestion will of course be greater than today. Couples will start families, and people will continue to move here, and unless Mr. Slater has some schemes up his sleeve to prevent that from happening, both the population and traffic congestion will grow.

So if there’s an opportunity to ask Mr. Slater questions at any upcoming event, the questioning might begin with this one – an adaptation of Question #5 in our TEN QUESTIONS project:

“Mr. Slater, you continue to suggest that Honolulu rail will be a failed project if it doesn’t reduce traffic congestion decades from now to less than what we have today. That seems like an illogical assertion, since with two hundred thousand more people living on the island in 2030 compared to 2005, congestion is bound to increase, as I’m sure you’ll agree. This is a two-part question: At your core, isn’t your motivation solely to reduce road congestion and you don’t care much at all about building rail, which will offer a congestion-free way to travel through the city? And second, why do you persist in accusing the city of withholding information about future congestion when you know that accusation is false?”
He knows his accusation is false. There’s plenty of evidence that the city has been transparent about future congestion, including the radio program that Mr. Slater and the city’s Wayne Yoshioka appeared on about this very subject – future traffic congestion. You can’t be much more transparent than to be conversing on the public airwaves. (You can read a revealing quote by Mr. Slater while on that program here.)

If you happen to be at an event where Mr. Slater says why he’s against Honolulu rail, please let us know if our prediction came true by adding a comment, below.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Rail Jobs ‘Plentiful’ if Project Is Not Delayed, but Four Rail Opponents Are Fighting To Kill Project

Mayor Peter Carlisle will meet Tuesday with the Rotary Club of Honolulu, whose members probably have as much to gain as anyone else from an improved Hawaii economy. It’s the oldest club in the state – founded in 1915, club #170 out of more than 34,000 worldwide today – and therefore the club for senior business executives to join.

One wonders how they’re reacting to today’s page-one story in the Star-Advertiser beneath the headline “Rail jobs plentiful regardless of who’s counting.” The story (accessible only by subscription) says that although the number of jobs created by building the Honolulu project varies according to the computer model, the project’s positive impact on the economy can’t be understated.

“There is no ‘shovel-ready’ project, public or private, that will have the kind of immediate impact on the jobs market and the economy as a whole, as the rail project,” the story concludes.

So maybe “politeness” combined with Rotary’s Four-Way Test explained the reception the anti-rail “Gang of Four” received at last week’s meeting. Nobody challenged Cliff Slater’s observation that traffic congestion in the future with rail will be worse than it is today – and then he sat down, as if that fact is all one needs to oppose the project.

Nobody challenged Randall Roth when he insinuated something illegal is happening in City Hall because the wife of city transportation director Wayne Yoshioka works at PB, the city’s prime rail contractor.

Nobody questioned Walter Heen’s characterization of the City Council’s handling of the rail project as the “silence of the lambs,” suggesting he somehow missed the years of contentious Council debate over rail.

And nobody asked Benjamin Cayetano what he has in mind instead of rail to help commuters who battle highway congestion twice a day and waste hours a week on our roads.

Is It the Truth?
Honolulu club Rotarians certainly are sharp enough to know a shallow performance when they see one, and last week’s presentation by the plaintiffs on a lawsuit intended to kill rail qualified.

Calling them on it, though, might have been unseemly in light of the Four-Way Test of the things Rotarians “think, say or do.” The Test emphasizes fairness, good will and mutual respect for all concerned, including speakers.

Most of all, the Test values the Truth, and it’s by emphasizing the Truth of Honolulu rail that Mayor Carlisle can have the greatest impact with the Honolulu club tomorrow.

He can point out that Mr. Slater’s quip about future traffic congestion after rail, while factual, is no reason to oppose the project. Of course traffic will grow along with Oahu’s population – a solid reason to support rail, not try to kill it.

The truth of Mr. Roth’s presentation is that it failed the Four-Way Test by insinuating corruption by city officials without offering any proof whatsoever. In fact, just about everything in the Gang’s presentation – a disjointed combination of observations and accusations – failed Rotary’s Four-Way Test.

We hope that’s how the Mayor approaches his encounter with Rotarians who believe job growth on Oahu will be beneficial to all concerned. He can describe how riding the train will allow patrons to build goodwill and better friendships within their families and associates using the hours they’ll save each week by avoiding traffic on our roads.

The truth about Honolulu rail is that it will be the only way to completely avoid the traffic congestion that’s sapping the vitality out of our economy. Build it and riders will come – and so will the jobs.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Last Look at Disappointing INSIGHTS Show; New Opportunities Lie Ahead To Refute Anti-Railers

Supporters of the Honolulu rail project waited for the question to be asked during Thursday night’s INSIGHTS show on public TV. Some might have even shouted at the screen demanding to hear it: “If not rail, what?!”

But former Governor Benjamin Cayetano and anti-mass transit activist Cliff Slater didn’t hear that question and relied on their usual anti-railer rhetoric, which isn’t good enough. Opponents shouldn’t be allowed to get away with offering commuters no viable alternative to wasting hours each week in traffic congestion.

Instead, Messrs. Slater and Cayetano stuck to their usual sideshow issues that they rely on in their public appearances, including at last Tuesday’s Rotary Club of Honolulu meeting. Mayor Peter Carlisle will have his opportunity at this week’s meeting to give a point-by-point refutation of everything the Gang of Four said, especially Mr. Slater’s principal reason for opposing rail.

Mr. Slater used the TV show to flog the low percentage of rail transit ridership compared to private car use. Apparently that fact of life (roads were built everywhere in the car-centric 20th century) trumps everything in his universe, including building a congestion-free mode of travel for those who wish to avoid sitting in traffic.

Paying the Price for Congestion
Glen Astolfi of Faith Action for Community Equity responded:

“You can’t argue with the family out in Kapolei losing dinner together almost every night because they’re stuck in traffic trying to get home. Can you put a price on that? And when we get into this kind of back-and-forth, you lose this larger point, which is, our families are hurting because of this traffic. It does actual damage to actual people every single day, and it doesn’t have to.”
Mr. Cayetano slipped that direct argument in favor of traffic-free commuting by arguing that when money is spent on an expensive rail project, government’s ability to provide social programs is restricted – a curious argument since the people, through their taxes, are paying for the rail project, not some government program.

Speaking like the full-time politician he was, the former governor said: “You guys are so focused on this one issue (which, of course, was indeed the focus on the INSIGHTS program) as if it’s the only issue that’s important to any government. In my book, this is maybe three or four issue of importance to any government.

“You know, people will not die because of traffic congestion, but I tell you what. People will die if government can’t fund programs for spouse abuse and things like that. That’s the biggest problem with this project that I have. It’s gonna suck money away from the government to do things we gotta have….”

Standing Up for Government
And there it is – straight from a man who speaks for government programs. Former City Council member Gary Okino immediately responded that the local share for the rail system is being collected separately through the tax mechanism and that money is not being taken from other programs.

Moderator Boylan moved the discussion back to what rail will be – an alternative to driving. “Wouldn’t we be in better shape,” he asked, “if we had something that worked that well (as Washington’s Metro) running every three minutes?”

That was close to the “if not rail, what?” question, but not quite there. Rather than answer it, Mr. Slater said Honolulu can’t be compared to larger cities, but Mr. Okino jumped in to remind the audience of Mr. Astolfi’s previous description of Honolulu as uniquely suited for rail due to its thin east-west geography between the mountains and the sea.

Somebody might actually ask the leading anti-railers in one of their public appearances to explain themselves in ways they routinely refuse to do. Just maybe that’ll be Mayor Carlisle’s starting point on Tuesday.

Friday, October 14, 2011

With a State-Wide Audience and a Chance To Give Their Alternatives to Rail, Two Opponents Blinked

Some show-and-tell was on display during INSIGHTS.
Last night’s “INSIGHTS on Hawaii PBS” hour-long public television show had the potential to reveal what rail opponents Ben Cayetano and Cliff Slater think would be a better way for west Oahu residents to commute to and from downtown Honolulu, the employment center of the island and state.

That seemingly should have been a subject ripe for considerable discussion, wouldn’t it? Messrs. Cayetano and Slater and a few others are plaintiffs in a lawsuit that they hope will kill rail. At a minimum, it seems likely to delay the start of major construction.

So knowing what they prefer as an alternative to a grade-separated, traffic-avoiding transportation mode was something we expected to hear on this program.

It didn’t happen. The anti-railers didn’t go there. They blinked and flat-out refused to discuss their preferences. One can imagine a pre-program huddle in KHET’s parking lot between the two:

Mr. Cayetano: “Cliff, listen. Do not under any circumstances discuss high-occupancy toll roads on this program. I know you think they’re great, but they’re TOLL roads, Cliff. We don’t have any toll roads in Hawaii for a good reason: nobody wants them aside from you and a few of your supporters. I’ve not met a single person here who wants to pay a toll and add to their cost of living.”
Mr. Slater: “OK, I understand, Governor, and I won’t say a word about HOT lanes, but I’m imploring you to not say anything about your favorite – at-grade transit. If you start promoting slow, unreliable, accident-prone at-grade rail or whatever you have in mind, Dan Boylan will bore in and you’ll be on the defensive for the rest of the show. Just don’t go there.”
Get to the Point!
And he didn’t, neither did Mr. Slater and there wasn’t much boring in on the show. Messrs. Slater and Cayetano had absolutely nothing to say about their preferred alternatives when former City Council member Gary Okino tried to move the discussion away from sideshow issues that were bogging down the discussion.

“You’re missing the point,” Mr. Okino said. “We need an elevated system. That’s the only thing that’s gonna work, and you gotta accept some of these tradeoffs – the aesthetic, the view planes, whatever – because only an elevated, grade-separated system that doesn’t mix with traffic will move commuters. Everything else will be stuck in traffic. With two hundred thousand more people living out in ewa in the next twenty-five years, can you imagine how many more cars will be on the freeway? The only thing that’s gonna move is something that is not mixed in with traffic.”
Disappointingly, nearly everything else discussed on the show amounted to side issues or flat-out obfuscation – sideshows about computer modeling, cost overruns in other cities, comparing cities for the comparables as if this were a real estate transaction.

Drew Astolfi, director of Faith Action for Community Equity (FACE), noted that Honolulu’s long and narrow geography is perfect for a rail system and one reason federal authorities are so supportive of the project. Like Mr.Okino, he wanted to discuss the real issue – traffic.

“This project promises to fix that for every single rider. It ends traffic for every single rider, and that point has been lost as we’ve gotten into the weeds and computer models and different cost projections. I think this does cost a lot, and I think it’s worth what we’re paying for it because we’re buying a sustainable, livable city for the next hundred years. That’s how long a transit system lasts….”
The No-Car Option
Mr. Cayetano’s response to that line of thought was to pose a question to Mr. Okino, who lives in Pearlridge: “This is a question that should be asked of everyone who lives in the corridor,” the former governor said. “Are you gonna go and walk to the bus stop, catch the bus to get to the rail station and take it into town.”

Mr. Okino: “At some point, traffic congestion is gonna be so terrible, you’re gonna have to make a choice….. (Mr. Astolfi) said you’re gonna end congestion for people who get on the train. There will be no congestion if you take the train. Now if you have a train that can get to town in a half an hour, congestion out there is gonna get worse, and the projections are going over an hour. It’s 65 minutes already. So the choice of the people will be, 30 minutes on the train (or) two hours in traffic on the freeway. I guarantee you there will be a whole bunch of guys getting outta their cars.”

Mr. Cayetano: “Behavior is a big part of the failure of these rail systems throughout the country…. Are you gonna walk out from your house to a bus stop, wait for the bus, take the bus down to the rail station and then wait for the rail and get on it to get downtown?”
Mr. Okino: “If it takes me two hours to commute by car, of course!”
That exchange pretty much sums up the pro-car mindset of Mr. Cayetano, Mr. Slater and their fellow anti-rail friends. They’ve been dependent on their private automobiles so long they simply cannot imagine using public transit and leaving their car at home – something hundreds of millions of people do every day around the world. Their August 21st newspaper op-ed asked plaintively, “Where will commuters park their cars?”

Mr. Boylan might have asked Mr. Cayetano to describe a present-day or future commute by car from the ewa plain. He didn’t and Mr. Cayetano didn’t offer one. Messrs. Cayetano and Slater were silent on their at-grade transit and HOT lane preferences, so instead of extracting obvious differences between the lawsuit plaintiffs’ vision for the future and the vision shared by Messrs. Okino and Astolfi, the program sat there “in the weeds.”

Despite the disappointing outcome, we’ll have more observations about last night’s INSIGHTS show in future Yes2Rail posts.

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

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Question #10 Is for Anti-Rail TV Guests Tonight: ‘If Not Elevated Transit, WHAT DO YOU WANT?!’

Project TEN QUESTIONS winds up today, just in time for Hawaii Public Television’s INSIGHTS public affairs program tonight (KHET, 8-9 o’clock) with rail opponents Cliff Slater and Ben Cayetano. Rail supporters Gary Okino, a former City Council member, and Drew Astolfi of Faith Action for Community Equity also will be in the studio with host Dan Boylan.

As with eight of the first nine questions, #10 is aimed at Messrs. Slater and Cayetano, members of the so-called Gang of Four rail opponents who launched a public relations campaign in August to drum up financial support for their lawsuit that intends to kill rail.

ThE campaign kicked off on August 21st with a commentary in the Star-Advertiser that might as well have accused city officials of lying to the public. It’s all shibai, of course, and as we noted the same day, there was absolutely nothing new in the piece.

There was nothing at all about what the Gang's three attorneys and one businessman want instead of elevated rail – no answer to the question, “If not rail, what?!” So much for the Set-Up; here’s our final suggested question for INSIGHTS host Boylan:

Question #10
“Governor Cayetano and Mr. Slater, you are plaintiffs on a lawsuit that was filed to kill the Honolulu rail project. As it stands right now, this project has progressed further toward actual launch than all the previous attempts to build grade-separated transit in Honolulu. We know what you’re against. What are you for? What are you proposing to provide relief to leeward residents from the gridlock they face twice a day driving into Honolulu and back home again? If not rail, what?”
And when Mr. Slater says he wants to build a High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) road, Mr. Astolfi might pounce on HOT lanes for the non-equity issue, and Mr. Boylan could pounce with a shorter version of Question #3:

“Isn’t it true that traffic would be worse in the future than it is today even if HOT Lanes were built? And since that IS true, Cliff, you don’t have an option to rail that would reduce congestion, treat all citizens equally and restore true mobility to our community, do you?”
It could be a lively program, and rail supporters might well make a point of calling in, emailing or using social media to suggest questions to the show. Feel free to use any of the ones we’ve suggested over the past 10 days. Here are links to Questions 1 through 9 in our TEN QUESTIONS project:

10 Questions: Rail Critics' TV Gig Could Be Their 'Waterloo' if Host, Public Ask the Right Questions
Houston Truck-Train Wreck Prompts Question #2: 'Governor, Why Do You Favor Crash-Prone Rail?'
Question #3 Is about Traffic Levels: 'Mr. Slater, HOT Lanes Don't Reduce Congestion, Do They?'
If Not Rail, Ex-Governor Owes Us an Explanation; Question #4 Wants To Know Why He Prefers BRT
Question #5: 'Mr. Slater, You Know the Truth, so Why Did You Ply Your Team with Falsehoods?'
Inquiring Minds Want Answer to Question #6: "Where's the Evidence Rail Rail Is 'On the Ropes?'"
Questions Are For Discovering, so Question #7 on Holiday Delves into Decades-Long Rail Dissing
Pro-Rail INSIGHTS Guest Deserves Question #8: 'Why Do You Support Building Elevated Transit?'
Would Rotary Venue Bring Out Rail Critic's Best? Not a Chance -- which Leads Us to Question #9

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

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Would Rotary Venue Bring Out Rail Critic’s Best? Not a Chance – which Leads Us to Question #9

Wouldn’t have believed it if we hadn’t been there. Cliff Slater appeared with the entire Gang of Four at the Rotary Club of Honolulu yesterday in a continuation of the group’s PR campaign they're hoping will build opposition to the Honolulu rail project.

You'd have thought this audience – highly educated and accomplished Rotarians – would have brought out a pumped-up and polished presentation from the anti-railer-in-chief, something new and thought-provoking. It didn’t happen.

Incredibly, Mr. Slater used exactly the same anti-intelligent, pro-obfuscation material that was in his Civil Beat interview in July 2010 for his brief remarks to the Rotarians. If you weren’t at the Rotary meeting, you can still get the essence of his opening remarks, because what Mr. Slater told John Temple of Civil Beat 15 months ago was exactly the same thing he told the Rotarians. (That linked post was the first of our many reactions to this train of thought; another that examined Mr. Slater's "whole argument" came one day later.)

The Set-Up
We’ve repeatedly called attention to Mr. Slater’s dumbed-down anti-rail rhetoric because it suggests his campaign has a problem at its core. As he did in July 2010, Mr. Slater yesterday told his audience that rail will cost X billions of dollars to build, then said traffic will be worse in the future after rail is built than it is today – and then he sat down!

We don’t know if this routine reveals Mr. Slater’s supreme confidence in the virtue of his anti-rail crusade or a total disdain for his audience’s intellect. Of course traffic will be worse in the undefined future! Pick a year – any year – and Oahu will have more traffic congestion than it does today. It’s the logical result of population growth.

By shrouding his anti-rail logic in a fog bank of words, Mr. Slater wants his audiences to believe the rail project is supposed to reduce congestion from current levels. He wants you to believe that because that’s what he believes.

Monday’s Set-Up to Question #7 quoted one of his columns from 2008: “We have a traffic congestion problem and that is a highway problem. It can only be fixed with highway solutions such as High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes.”

There it is in black and white: Cliff Slater wants more highways to move cars, not an efficient multi-modal transportation system that will give commuters an alternative to congestion on highways – an alternative that will save them time and money each day they ride the train.

We’re nearing the end of our TEN QUESTIONS project with suggested “interrogation points” that the host of KHET’s INSIGHTS program can use if he chooses on guests Cliff Slater and former Governor Benjamin Cayetano. Because it's apparently necessary, today’s question bears a strong resemblance to others in this series.

Question #9
“Cliff, two days ago at the Rotary Club of Honolulu, you had one of the most engaged and potentially powerful audiences you’ll ever face. The largest Rotary club in the state probably has the highest percentage of corporate leaders among its membership than any other club. Yet on that occasion you rested your entire anti-rail case on a train of thought that some people have come to conclude is bizarre. In essence, you suggested to the Rotarians that rail should not be built because it won't reduce future congestion to levels lower than we have today. Cliff – people are gonna move here! Couples are gonna have babies! Traffic will grow! Why have you dumbed-down your anti-rail rhetoric to the point that YOU have become the issue?”
We really don’t think INSIGHTS host Dan Boylan will ask that, but we can hope. Whichever way Thursday’s show goes (8-9 pm on KHET), this is a question Oahu citizens need to ask – even if only in the silence of their own thoughts – of the man who is more responsible than any other for blocking rail transit on this island. Maybe what we saw yesterday was his best.

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

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Pro-Rail INSIGHTS Guest Deserves Question #8: ‘Why Do You Support Building Elevated Transit?’

We’ve been proposing questions for the past week that reasonably could be asked on Thursday’s “INSIGHTS on Hawaii PBS” TV show. All seven questions so far are aimed at the two anti-rail guests, but the other two are rail supporters – Drew Astolfi, director of Faith Action for Community Equality (FACE), and former Honolulu City Council member Gary Okino.

In creating questions for them rather than the opponents, we’re tempted to mirror the old joke: “Enough of this talk about me. What do you think about me?” The rail opponents’ positions are so vulnerable to probing questions in a “live” TV format that we’d just as soon finish the list with more of them for Cliff Slater and former Governor Benjamin Cayetano. But fairness demands we make a sincere effort to draw out Messrs. Astolfi and Okino on rail-related issues.

The Set-Up
Today’s set-up relies on former Council member Okino’s appearance on an INIGHTS show in February 2010. His comments then showed he’s in complete opposition to the transit preference of Mr. Cayetano, a fellow INSIGHTS guest on Thursday who favors at-grade transit. Here’s Mr. Okino’s quote from 2010:

“…If you put a system on the ground, you dramatically change the benefits of a system. You put a train on the ground, you change the speed of the thing. You can’t put a train on the ground and go 60 miles an hour (as if it were) elevated. So it changes the capacity. The cost. They (at-grade advocates) downplay the cost of putting something on the ground as being cheaper. That has to go through a total analysis. I disagree that it’s gonna be cheaper, not in Honolulu. It’s gonna change all the factors. It’s gonna change operating costs of this thing, because now you gotta put drivers on the train. I mean, there’s a whole bunch of things. It’s practically a new project once you make it touch the ground.”

Question #8
“Mr. Okino, you supported rail throughout your terms on the City Council, including your vote to shift the system’s route from Salt Lake to the airport. You were subjected to all the arguments raised by rail opponents, including Cliff Slater, and you rejected them all. My question has two parts: Why did you consistently vote for rail and dismiss Cliff’s objections to building rail, and why do you still favor an elevated system instead of at-grade transit, which Governor Cayetano prefers?”
Yes, that question does have a “what do you think about me” quality to it, but it would produce a lively exchange between Messrs. Okino, Slater and Cayetano. Isn’t that what “live” TV is all about?

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