Wednesday, November 30, 2011

‘New Media’ May Have Its Place, but Don’t Expect To Find ‘Balance’ and ‘Objectivity’ There, too

We mused yesterday about how different the community’s conversation on Honolulu rail might be if there were a DeeJay on the air to counter the daily anti-rail remarks by a certain morning talk show host. Today we step back to marvel at HawaiiReporter.com and its “reporting” on the Honolulu rail project.

“Journalism” it isn’t – not if your idea of journalism as a craft includes the traditional standards that apply to objective, unbiased reporting. To be sure, some of the website’s content is produced by writers who earned their spurs decades ago working at newspapers, but HR.com’s coverage of the rail project is driven by an anti-rail agenda that shouts from your computer’s screen with each and every post on the project.

Time out: Please see the white-type paragraph in the blue band at the top of this blog. Yes2Rail exists to promote rail, but at least we strive for accuracy when describing rail’s goals, elevated rail’s advantages and the drawbacks of so-called alternatives, like at-grade transit.

Yesterday’s HR.com post on rail was typical of the site’s rail coverage – an anti-rail writer’s summary of the lawsuit filed by several plaintiffs with the intent to stop the rail project. The lawsuit’s first hearing was scheduled for this morning in federal court, and we’ll be summarizing what happened there later today or Thursday.

The 1500-word-plus piece might well serve as a can’t-do-this-in-real-journalism teaching point for high school and college students if balanced, objective journalism is their intended career path. Some examples:

• Flat-Out Inaccuracy: “Ansaldo company officials convinced HART board members to sign the deal when they presented more information on the company’s finances in a closed door meeting and told the city that (it) has contracts for $10 billion worth of transit projects around the world.”

The door to the hall may have been closed, but the HART meeting itself was open to the public and was reported extensively by the Honolulu news media. Calling the meeting “closed-door” implies that the public was excluded and the discussion was a back-room deal. HR.com got it flat wrong.

• Cheerleading: This piece and just about every rail-related post at HR.com is transparently tilted toward and supports the viewpoint of rail opponents. If one paragraph has a rail supporter’s comment, the next five or more will be about the opponents. The top third of Tuesday’s post was a perfect example.

• Stretchy, Sketchy Writing: Some stuff at HR.com simply demands a response or comment. For example, from Tuesday’s post: “The public appears to be passionately spit on the project, with support largely coming from the neighborhoods that believe the rail will alleviate their traffic.”

Is that for sure what those neighborhoods believe? The writer presumes to think she knows – or more precisely, to know what residents of those neighborhoods think. Cliff Slater and HR.com obviously believe rail is being built to reduce congestion – a fundamental misunderstanding of the project’s goals. As we noted in October, traffic will grow over the decades no matter what; building rail or even more highways can’t reduce it in the long run. The people we’ve heard from in neighborhoods along the route appreciate rail for what it will be – a travel alternative that will allow them to completely avoid traffic congestion by providing fast, frequent, reliable and safe travel through the urban core.

About those neighborhoods: OF COURSE they support the project! Conversely, look who opposes it; they’re generally from neighborhoods not directly served by the rail’s route. You hear it from opponents all the time: “I won’t ride it, so why should I support it?” They might consider supporting it because it will greatly benefit other communities on the island – just as building the H-3 freeway benefited windward side residents and Kalanianaole Highway improvements benefited Hawaii Kai residents.

More from Tuesday’s HR.com post: “The opposition alliance speculates rail proponents’ (sic) are ramping up publicity around the project, to include press releases on the newly signed Ansaldo contract and (Senator) Inouye’s announcement, to convince taxpayers and Judge Tashima that the rail project is a done deal.” Really? Supporters think a federal judge will be persuaded by press releases to ignore the evidence presented to him? That’s just nonsense and not atypical of what you find at HR.com.

Finally: “Former Gov. Benjamin Cayetano, a Democrat who served in public office for more than three decades, said the rail project is driven by politics, not sound engineering.” Mr. Cayetano’s opposition to rail seemed to be driven by politics when Mufi Hannemann was the biggest rail supporter as mayor of Honolulu. That was the media buzz whenever Mr. Cayetano spoke up against rail during the former mayor’s tenure.

But more to the point, Mr. Cayetano has said he supports at-grade transit instead of elevated rail – for reasons that appear to be about aesthetics, not engineering. He would be hard-pressed to explain why at-grade rail is superior for anything other than aesthetics; it can’t match elevated rail's fast, frequent, reliable and safe service – all attributes sorely needed by Oahu commuters. HR.com naturally does not challenge Mr. Cayetano’s assertions in this regard.

Other content in the Tuesday post deserves attention, such as the writer’s statement that the Italian-owned consortium selected to build Honolulu rail, Ansaldo Honolulu Joint Venture, is “financially troubled.” The description is overly broad and attributes to the joint venture a condition that is simply not supported by the facts. HART met last Friday to explore this very issue and came to a conclusion that is completely opposite of what HR.com wrote – in a meeting that was open to the media and the public.

Which brings us back to where we began today’s Yes2Rail post. The bottom line: Don’t expect to find fact-based, objective reporting on the Honolulu rail project at Hawaii Reporter. It’s no more in evidence there than it is five mornings a week on that anti-rail radio show.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Top Ironic News of the Day: Traffic-Stuck Drivers Hear Radio Host Blast Signing of Rail Contract; What If Honolulu Had a DeeJay Who Liked Rail?

What would the tone of the so-called “rail debate” in our community be like if Honolulu had a radio talk show host who supported the Honolulu rail project five mornings a week?

There’d be a certain logic for a radio station to adopt a pro-rail viewpoint during morning drive, especially one that carries traffic reports four or five times an hour.

Honolulu rail will give scores of thousands of drivers complete freedom from traffic tyranny. By being elevated above all surface-street congestion, the system will deliver fast, frequent, reliable and safe transportation to patrons who board anywhere along its 20-mile route.

You have to believe the local buzz would be decidedly different if a Honolulu station provided an outlet for the pent-up frustration commuters feel in their twice-a-day grind along the H-1 freeway and other east-west routes.

Airwave Irony
As it is, the conservative anti-government-spending host on the formerly all-news Honolulu station uses the public airwaves to attack rail day in and day out. Rail opponents, including a handful of high-profile activists, are always welcomed onto his air.

This host does invite pro-rail listeners to call, but few if any ever do thanks to the reception they receive. Personal habits being what they are, rail supporters are more likely to have found another station to entertain them in their daily commutes.

But it does seem ironic for a radio personality to be so dead-set against rail while complaining so much about traffic. Two weeks ago today, as President Obama shut down the freeway to travel from the Ko`olina resort in west Oahu to the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for his flight to Australia, the host wailed about the plight of commuters affected by the highway’s closure.

They were caught in “a very difficult situation…. What you’re enduring right now has to be just unbelievable…. We have limited routes to get around. We have the H-1, H-2, H-3, and it all filters into downtown, and you have to get there!”
All his pro-commuter hyperbole doesn’t extend to supporting the rail alternative to traffic, of course. Rail is the costliest government project in the state’s history and therefore must be condemned as a matter of principle.

What If?
We heard more of the host’s anti-rail rhetoric this morning as he reported HART’s signing of a contract with Ansaldo Honolulu JV to provide rail cars, train controls and to operate and maintain Honolulu’s future system. It got us to wondering how listeners would react if a morning drive host supported Honolulu rail consistently and sympathized with commuters’ traffic woes.

Honolulu traffic is among the nation’s worst, according to the Texas Transportation Institute, and it takes a toll on commuters who must deal with it twice a day. Wouldn’t a radio host who both complains about traffic and supports the rail alternative find an audience among those commuters?

Listeners gravitate to programs and hosts with whom they agree – or at least, to hosts who manage to avoid being disagreeable. That’s one way the Perry and Price show has dominated Honolulu radio rankings for nearly three decades – agreeable music, agreeable opinions, agreeable format. (Agreeability isn’t always the winning formula. P&P took over KGMB radio’s morning program after the death of host Hal Lewis – aka "J. Akuhead Pupule." Owner Cec Heftel had made the disagreeable Aku the highest-rated, highest-paid radio host in the nation.)

A station that “played the rail card” might find an audience among long-suffering commuters who look forward to having a rail travel option but find no support for it on a radio dial mostly dominated by conservative talkers -- the exception being (mildly conservative but likeable) Perry and Price.

The rail card play probably isn't going to happen, but it sure would be a refreshing counter-point to the knee-jerk anti-rail opinions we hear Monday through Friday.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Big Week for Honolulu Rail: Federal Lawsuit’s 1st Court Date, plus Likely Ansaldo Contract Signing

As 2011 winds down into the holiday season, the Honolulu rail project feels like it also is entering a new season, having passed through the planning and evaluation season that produced the Alternatives Analysis and Environmental Impact studies.

A lawsuit filed last May by opponents of Honolulu's grade-separated transit project will finally begin its courtroom phase Wednesday morning before visiting 9th Circuit Judge A. Wallace Tashima.

The defendants (officials of the City and County of Honolulu and Federal Transit Administration) have moved to dismiss some of the plaintiffs from the suit, saying they have no standing or should have pressed their case against rail during earlier phases. The court is expected to rule on some of those issues this week and schedule future proceedings.

The plaintiffs allege violations of federal environmental, historic preservation and transportation laws in Honolulu rail’s planning process. Just speculating here, but if city officials knew every step of the rail project would be under a microscope in court at some future date, wouldn't they have dotted every "i" and crossed every "t" throughout the process?

This lawsuit by long-time transit opponent Cliff Slater and friends was anticipated years ago, and now it’s finally here. The defendants likely will cite precedents and provisions of law that support the city’s actions over the years. We’ll know soon enough whether Honolulu has been cleared to begin the construction season.

Ansaldo Contract
Last Friday’s joint meeting of two Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation committees apparently satisfied their members that the Ansaldo Honolulu joint venture is financially sound.

Ansaldo STS CEO Sergio De Luca met with the committees for nearly three hours, after which HART Interim Executive Director Toru Hamayasu said the city could well sign its contract with the Ansaldo team this week.

Traffic Updates
Preparation work for Honolulu’s biggest project ever continues, and HART’s website is a handy reference for information on streets where work is underway to relocate utilities and trip and relocate trees. HART also maintains a hotline with information and updated work schedules at (808) 566-2299.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

HART Panel Quizzes Ansaldo on Firm’s Stability, Finds ‘No Red Flags’ To Block Contract Signing

Ansaldo executive meets with HART members (Hawaii News Now image).
Board members of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit reportedly have had their concerns allayed about the joint venture that was selected to supply cars and train control systems for Honolulu’s rail transit system.

Members of HART’s Finance and Project Oversight committees met jointly yesterday and questioned Sergio De Luca, CEO of Ansaldo STS, who had flown in from Italy for the meeting.

The session was prompted by media stories on the financial losses sustained by Finmeccanica SpA, the parent company of the Ansaldo Honolulu joint venture.

According to Civil Beat (free for occasional visitors), the session covered 10 topics and ended with “no red flags” about the venture’s ability to perform under a $1.4 billion contract with the city.

The Star-Advertiser (subscription) quotes Finance Committee Chair Don Horner as saying the committee was “satisfied that the questions we had have been addressed.” The contract could be signed as early as next week, according to several media stories.

Hawaii News Now’s video report has additional details.

Streetcars Returning to Los Angeles?
Rail transit continues its comeback in America’s leading car-crazy city. Los Angeles officials are evaluating the reintroduction of streetcars onto their old thoroughfares, a move they hope would revitalize the downtown district.

KTTV FOX 11 carried a report earlier this month on how rail transit was once a vital component of the region’s transportation system until the post-war years, when tracks were replaced by concrete for vehicle lanes.

Two disadvantages of at-grade rail transit are obvious in KTTV's archived video footage – its relatively slow speed and the potential for collisions with other vehicles.

Just yesterday, a Metro Blue Line train collided with a car in downtown Los Angeles, resulting in injuries to nine people, including five train passengers. KNX newsradio described the aftermath.

Honolulu’s future rail system will be built elevated above city streets and traffic, making accidents like this one impossible.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thankful To Still Be Alive on Black Friday; Map Shows Oahu Traffic Death Locations, Including Where Dozens Died While Crossing City Streets

Each square shows the location of a traffic fatality 2001-2009.
We managed this Thanksgiving to avoid the fate of San Francisco Chronicle sports columnist Scott Ostler. He’s the newest member of the Cornball Hall of Fame (his description) thanks to his what-I’m-thankful-for-on-Thanksgiving column published yesterday. (He didn’t mention it, but he should be especially thankful he’s no longer the sports editor of The Lompoc Record, as he was in the early ‘70s when we both lived in the Flower Seed Capital of the World.)

Maybe we can get a future HOF nomination for expressing thanks to not be shopping on the day after Thanksgiving. For us, the “black” in Black Friday has a dark connotation and nothing to do with the bottom line. Black Friday is now entrenched in the language, along with other “new” phrases and words that weren’t in use all that long ago – like “lede” to describe a news story’s “lead” paragraph, and the ubiquitous “no problem.”

So in keeping with the “dark” symbolism of Black Friday, we’re posting a map showing the location of road fatalities in the USA 2001-2009, along with a Key to the map, at right. Oahu had three hit-and-run incidents less than a week ago, including the fatality of a Hawaii Public University student on the Windward Side. A few days later, another pedestrian was struck while in a crosswalk, this time in Kalihi.

Hawaii leads the nation in the senior pedestrian death rate. In just the past few days while driving through town we’ve seen multiple red-light runners and several failures to yield to pedestrians.

Another phrase now in common use is the can’t-we-all-just-get-along question. Do you suppose we all can be more attentive to traffic laws and each other while driving and walking this holiday season? We all want to be around to express our thanks for being alive in 2012 -- don't we?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Open Letter to Outdoor Circle Members: Some of You Oppose Rail, but Have You Weighed Impacts vs Benefits? Unless Your Life Is Impacted Daily by Congestion, You Can’t Appreciate Traffic’s Costs

Aloha,
Thank you for your years of support for the generations-long determination to keep billboards out of Hawaii. The Circle’s influence can be seen with every drive we take through town and country, and we’re always pleased when first-time visitors remark on the billboard-free environment that differs so markedly from their hometowns. Your conservation of notable trees is another ongoing campaign that rightly deserves praise.

This letter comes to you as a sincere attempt to encourage a broader view of the Honolulu rail project than what your organization’s leaders seem to have embraced. As you know, the Circle’s leadership has just declared its opposition to the Honolulu rail project. The story in today’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser (subscription) raises issues that are familiar to both rail opponents and supporters alike.

Even those of us who endorse rail recognize that an elevated 20-mile-long rail structure will have impacts. But the newspaper story contains information that suggests areas ripe for further discussion, and it totally ignores the impacts that other construction projects will have on our town that will be far more visible than what rail will impose.

Benefits vs Impacts
Rail supporters disagree with the Circle’s leadership that believes impacts outweigh the benefits that rail will provide to our population. In that regard, it may be worth noting that according to the Circle’s website, your group apparently has no organized representation in Leeward Oahu. Branch Presidents are listed for the North Shore, the Windward Side and East Honolulu but not for the communities on the ewa plain where hundreds of thousands of residents live now or will live decades from now in the one large area on Oahu designated by the county’s General Plan for development – the Second City.

If you don’t experience the morning-and-night commute in traffic congestion that even a prominent anti-rail morning talk show host calls “a very difficult situation” and “unbelievable,” you undoubtedly can’t appreciate what that daily grind is doing to commuters on the H-1 and the surface streets and highways and to their families. Quite obviously, traffic congestion robs them of their most valuable commodity – time. Commuters who reside on the ewa plain and drive to their jobs in town waste dozens of hours each month caught in traffic that they simply cannot avoid. The Lanikai resident who called the morning radio show today almost certainly never ventures into that kind of congestion.

Representatives of leeward communities attended several outreach meetings conducted by the rail project a couple months ago. Residents of Kapolei and Makakilo stood up at the sessions at Kalani High School in East Honolulu, Castle High School in Kaneohe and at other venues in town to tell others about the hours they spend in their cars each day. They said building rail would afford them a travel option. That’s what rail will be for them and anyone else who chooses to ride – an option that will completely avoid all traffic congestion on the H-1 freeway and other thoroughfares in the east-west corridor.

Understanding Rail
Today’s newspaper story contains a quote from your organization’s website that deserves special attention: “The project is destined to become an ugly scar across one of the most beautiful places on earth while there is little evidence that it will bring relief to Oahu’s unacceptable traffic situation.” That quote suggests your leadership does not understand what we’ve just stated in the preceding paragraph – that rail’s first-among-equals goal is to restore mobility to our community by providing an alternative to driving and sitting in traffic. Rail is not a “traffic relief” project; those of you who have actually spent time with project documents know that its goals are about mobility, travel reliability, transportation equity and future development rationality – things Outdoor Circle members presumably care about. And while the website decries the “degradation to neighborhoods” along the rail route, others see opportunities for in-fill development that will enrich those neighborhoods with housing and supportive commercial activities.

Unfortunately, it’s not surprising that some in the Circle have succumbed to misinformation about rail’s goals and rail’s true relationship to traffic – a way to avoid it, not reduce it. Prominent anti-rail activists, including those who want an elevated toll road built instead of elevated rail, have been deliberately confusing the issues and thereby the public for years. It’s a despicable practice that does them no credit, and it’s a shame that the Circle’s leadership seems to have been persuaded that traffic reduction is rail’s goal. That simply is not the case, but as should be obvious, without rail there will be no relief from traffic congestion that’s already horrible and will only worsen as Oahu’s population increases in the decades ahead. If you haven’t spent time understanding rail’s purpose, please take time to do so by acquainting yourself with the project’s website and the many documents posted there.

And to members of the Circle’s leadership, we pose this simple question: If not rail, what? What is their alternative to rail, which exhaustive analysis has found is the only way to provide fast, frequent, reliable and safe transportation through the urban corridor for large numbers of commuters and other travelers and thereby achieve the project’s goals.

About that ‘Scar’
There’s no question that an elevated rail line will have impacts, but they are exaggerated by those with an agenda to oppose rail no matter what and no matter the benefits of building the project. According to an October 27th story in the Star-Advertiser, a proposal to increase the height limit of buildings in Honolulu would allow a 650-foot tower to be built in Kakaako “that would offer spectacular, unobstructed views of the ocean and downtown….” The views truly would be spectacular, but a 650-foot tower would have other impacts on views – the ones this building and the 26 other high-rises currently planned for Kakaako would obstruct.

All this vertical construction begs the question: What about those impacts, and how will they compare with a 30-foot tall structure that will be dwarfed by existing and new buildings? The rail project’s environmental impact statement readily acknowledges rail’s potential to affect the environment, especially when viewed from a short distance, but as distance increases, the elevated guideway’s impact will decrease, too. Adding two dozen high-rise buildings to our cityscape will create view blockages for miles in every direction. Rail’s presence in that environment will be virtually invisible, a fact that we would ask the Outdoor Circle’s membership to weigh against the benefits it will deliver to our community.

Thank you for your attention to these issues, most of which seem to be lost in the misinformation campaign that is influencing the discussion about rail. The bottom line is simple: Nothing will reduce traffic congestion one, three or five decades from now – not as long as families have babies and people are free to move to our state and settle here. With congestion a fact of life, the issue then becomes how we deal with it while providing a fast, frequent, reliable and safe travel option for our citizens. At-grade transit can’t meet those requirements, and neither can a reversible toll road, a so-called “solution” that benefits those who can afford to own a car and pay the tolls, but nobody else. We've posted dozens of entries on these issues here at Yes2Rail, and you're invited to scan through them by clicking on links to their headlines in the right-hand column – below the many photographs of vehicle accidents in cities with at-grade rail transit.

In conclusion, we urge Outdoor Circle members to think beyond your traditional areas of concern and embrace rail for its potential to benefit our community and future residents for decades to come.

This post has been added to our “aggregation site” under the heading Project’s Goals, and more.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tell It Like It Is: Cliff Slater Campaign To Mislead Oahu Residents on Rail Deserves Rebuke; His ‘Big Lie’ Doesn’t Become 'The Truth’ with Repetition

What would you think if you knew someone was waging a propaganda campaign in your community built on “the big lie”?

This isn’t a hypothetical question about what the Nazis did a long lifetime ago. It’s happening now in Honolulu.

After posting our Prediction on Sunday, we went to the Internet to get a sense of how viral Cliff Slater’s basic talking point has gone. Mr. Slater’s “big lie” is that the Honolulu rail project is being built to reduce congestion on our streets and highways.

He wants the public to believe traffic reduction is the project’s goal because such a goal is unattainable. Oahu’s population total is expected to be 200,000 higher in 2030 than it was in 2005. The number of vehicles to service that population also will be much higher than today.

If natural population growth will increase congestion after rail is built, Mr. Slater’s reasoning is that rail should not be built if it can’t produce absolute reductions in traffic congestion from current levels. It’s a bizarre proposition, but that’s what he wants you to think. (The project’s actual goals were listened in a January post.)

Say It Again
We first came across Mr. Slater’s dubious assertion about rail's purpose in his video 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.”
It was remarkable to hear him use the exact same approach in his presentation to the Rotary Club of Honolulu last month. Mr. Slater wouldn’t repeatedly use this stand-up routine if he thought it weren't effective, and it made us wonder just how far this “big lie” about rail’s purpose has spread.

Here’s a short and incomplete review of Mr. Slater’s “big lie” presence on the Internet in no particular order:

• City Council meeting, July 2010: Mr. Slater used the occasion of a Council hearing on rail to assert his familiar refrain about traffic being worse in the future after rail is built than it is today. The city’s Wayne Yoshioka responded, “No kidding…,” etc. It was probably the best ever put-down of Mr. Slater’s specious talking point. As Mr. Yoshioka noted, the city has never misled the public on traffic issues – something Mr. Slater does routinely.

• “STOP THEIR TRAIN!” newspaper ad, July 2011: The ad solicited funds to support Mr. Slater’s lawsuit that was filed with the intent of killing rail. Using the “big lie,” the ad says the city “admits” that traffic will be worse in the future, which is no admission at all – just a fact.

• “How the city misled the public” Star-Advertiser commentary, August 2011: This 1500-word piece dredged up the past and offered nothing new (our assessment at the time). Civil Beat went to town fact-checking seven statements in the op-ed and found two  FALSE , three  HALF FALSE  (CB called them half truths), and two  TRUE . As we noted, one of those allegedly TRUEs deserved a flat-out   FALSE . The op-ed piece popped up elsewhere, such as at this Hawaii Political Info site.

• Civil Beat commentary, September 2011: The lawsuit plaintiffs responded to Civil Beat’s fact-checking by complaining the independent online investigative news organization “went to extraordinary lengths trying to convince it readers we were wrong” in their newspaper op-ed piece. The “big lie” is the centerpiece of the Gang of Four’s complaint against Civil Beat. Mr. Slater takes advantage of CB’s comments sections to bang away with his “worse” point, as he did in October and December 2010.

• Pacific Business News editorial, August 2011: With little evidence of independent analysis, PBN’s new editorial leadership bought into Mr. Slater’s same old arguments that had failed to persuade the business weekly’s earlier management team. It ran the “worse-in-the-future” comment first in a list of "highlights."

• Letter to Pacific Business News, October 2008: More of the same re “the city has to admit (but only when pressed)…” that traffic will be worse with rail than it is today. The more we look into it, the more evidence we find that the “big lie” is the centerpiece of Mr. Slater’s campaign against rail.

• Hawaii Reporter, numerous times: This online aggregator of anti-rail opinions is ever ready to publish Mr. Slater’s “worse-in-the-future” talking point, whether signed or unsigned. For examples, go here and here.

• Hawaii Free Press, numerous times: This conservative “aggregator” site is as eager as Hawaii Reporter to publish anti-rail opinions, including the “worse-in-the-future” observation. See here and here, and go to the Grassroots Institute for its own iteration of the “worse-in-the-future” “big lie.”
*    *    *
You get the picture. By dumbing down his argument before uncritical audiences and using cooperative websites to repeat it, Mr. Slater is waging an anti-rail campaign that abuses the public by confusing the issues. We publicize his tactics with confidence that the more sunlight they receive, the more they’ll wilt.

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

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Prediction: Anti-Railers’ Illogical Messaging on Future Congestion Issue Will Be Their Undoing

Today’s Star-Advertiser’s main story on page 1 (“Court fight may decide if rail stays on track” subscription) summarizes the federal court lawsuit that will have its first hearing this month.

The story comprehensively covers the main issues and sets the stage for what’s been expected all along, a court fight that will either validate the opponents’ view of the project or reject it.

The city filed its response to the lawsuit in July, and the federal defendants followed with their own in August. The responses are classic legalese, but Toru Hamayasu, interim executive director of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, states the city’s position in plain language in today’s story:

“The notion that alternatives and various technologies were not properly considered is incorrect. We followed a comprehensive process that included several layers of review and analysis, public scoping meetings and comment periods and more.
“…This lawsuit is unfortunate and an unnecessary waste of taxpayers’ dollars for the special interests of a select few. We in Hawaii know all too well how lawsuits can delay and increase costs of worthy projects, so it is our hope that this lawsuit is resolved quickly in the taxpayers’ favor."
Judge A. Wallace Tashima of the U.S.. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco will conduct the lawsuit’s first hearing on November 30.

Bogus Messaging
It’s worth noting that today’s newspaper story accents a continuing message by the lawsuit’s prominent “Gang of Four” plaintiffs – that “the city acknowledges Oahu’s traffic congestion will get worse even with rail.” The story continues with the city’s response to the Gang’s talking point – a response so central to understanding the rail project that it deserves boldface type, not parentheses:

“(The City replies that future traffic congestion would be much worse without rail.)”
We’ve written here repeatedly about anti-railer Cliff Slater’s deliberate mischaracterization of rail as a traffic-reduction project (see our “aggregation post” and nearly three dozen links beneath the Mr. Cliff Slater and Friends heading).

Virtually all of his speeches and essays accentuate the observation that traffic will continue to grow on Oahu after rail is added to the mix of travel options. He wants Oahu citizens to believe rail will be a failure if traffic congestion isn’t reduced by building rail.

It’s a dumbed-down argument that disrespects his audiences’ intelligence. Traffic will increase as the population grows along with the number of vehicles on the island. An estimated 200,000 more people will be living here in 2030 compared to 2005; that’s the inevitable consequence of migration to Oahu and of families having babies.

We sincerely hope the plaintiffs’ attorneys attempt to press this Slater-inspired point sometime during the court case. The city’s attorneys would certainly tear it to bits, ending once and for all this deliberate effort by Mr. Slater and friends to confuse the issues and the public.

As Mr. Slater was forced to admit when cornered in a City Council meeting in July 2010: “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….” Rail's actual goals are certain to be highlighted during the case, and residents might well keep them in mind whenever Mr. Slater attempts to recast them as something else.

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

Friday, November 18, 2011

HART Delays Ansaldo Contract for Second Look

New concerns about the financial health of Finmeccanica SpA, the Italian parent company of Honolulu rail’s car supplier, have delayed execution of a contract with Ansaldo Honolulu.

Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal had stories this week on Finmeccanica’s potental sale of its rail car subsidiary, as well as other financial news on the parent company’s losses.

Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation Interim Executive Director Toru Hamayasu said additional due diligence will be conducted on Finmeccanica. Hamayasu told the board, “If the results are favorable, we will execute the contract,” according to Civil Beat’s report on the meeting.

Looking on along with all the other interested observers are executives of Sumitomo, one of the losing bidders in the selection process. Civil Beat quotes Gino Antoniello, Sumitomo vice president:

“The time for questions has expired. What HART needs to do is require Finmeccanica and Ansaldo to provide a real financial guarantee.”

Project supporters, while perhaps frustrated by the delay, are united in wanting rail built on time and on budget. Hawaii has no experience with projects this big and this expensive, so what’s page-one news here may be tucked inside elsewhere as “business as usual.” Regardless of how it’s played, the largest project in the history of the islands must be done right. If that includes a delay now and maybe others later, so be it.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

If You Believe Rail’s Goal Is To ‘End Congestion,’ You’ve Been Fooled by the Project’s Opponents

A tactic used by some of Honolulu’s most visible anti-railers is to misstate the project’s goals and intended outcome, then attack the project because that outcome can’t possibly be achieved by building rail.

They posit something that’s completely absurd – that rail is being built to achieve absolute reductions decades from now in traffic congestion below 2011 levels in the urban corridor on the H-1 freeway, Farrington Highway, Kamehameha Highway, Nimitz Highway and presumably all surface streets.

Since a new rail system can’t possibly do that as the population grows by a couple hundred thousand by 2030, they argue rail will be worthless and a failed project and therefore should not be built. (NOTE: building additional highway lanes doesn’t reduce congestion, either, as demonstrated repeatedly in studies around the country; see our October 25th post.)

This anti-rail tactic is pretty clever when you think about it. For most people, the rail project and most other functions of local government are fringe issues that are “out there” somewhere but not top of mind day in, day out.

Cliff Slater highlights his “gotcha” argument in his anti-rail presentations but ignores entirely rail’s actual project goals, which include improving travel mobility and reliability in our community. There’s nothing in the goals about eliminating congestion in our time or even drastically reducing it to levels far below what commuters experience today.

Misleading the Public
The radio host has been following Mr. Slater’s lead all week – boldly going where no transportation expert or even thinking citizens have gone before. Here’s how he put it yesterday (paraphrasing):

“Rail was supposed to be a transportation issue in the beginning. The initial conclave was called by Governor Linda Lingle, and rail was supposed to alleviate congestion, improve our quality of life and provide relief to those who’ve been forced to sit in traffic.
This project was supposed to give you a better morning and afternoon drive, but the overriding agenda was never about taking care of you folks out in Waipahu and Kapolei and the ewa plain. They don’t care about your drive or about the hours you spend in traffic.”

Notice how he applies ex-Governor Lingle’s alleged goal – a “transportation issue” of traffic reduction, if that truly was what she had in mind – to Honolulu rail without actually saying what the true goals are.

The host delivers this standard anti-rail line with considerable outrage, either feigned or legitimate. If his outrage is truly legitimate, it’s a reflection of his gullibility in swallowing Mr. Slater’s bogus talking point hook, line and sinker. That can’t be good for someone so prideful about his alleged independence and original thinking,

The Congestion-Free Choice
But he did get something right in yesterday’s rant: The city is building rail to “improve our quality of life and provide relief to those who’ve been forced to sit in traffic” with no option to avoid that congestion.

Riding rail will be that option, and those who find rail’s convenience and economy to their liking will choose to ride and thereby completely avoid the thoroughfare congestion that robs hours from their lives each week. Millions of commuters use traffic-avoiding rail each day all over the planet. We highlighted grade-separated systems in several cities in last Saturday’s post.

So when you hear the radio host, Mr. Slater and other anti-railers blast rail because it won’t reduce traffic congestion below current levels, ask them what would. When they say an elevated reversible-lane highway and/or High Occupancy Toll roads would achieve that pie-in-the-sky outcome, tell them flat-out they’re wrong.

Be ready with facts to confront their outrage at your defiance. Facts are available in abundance, and our October 25th post contains links to useful websites.

Ansaldo Caution; Revenues Up
News stories about the financial viability of Ansaldo Honolulu’s parent company prompted the City Council yesterday to request a delay in approving a contract with the company to supply rail cars for Honolulu’s rail project and operate the system. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser (subscription) has the story today.

Civil Beat (free to occasional visitors) reports that revenues in the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2012 from the rail surcharge that’s funding the local share of the project’s construction cost were $46.4 million, 5.9 percent above the budgeted amount.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

With President Out of Town a Few Weeks, Focus Returns to Top Anti-Railer’s Smokescreen Efforts; Rotary Video Edited To Make It Less Offensive

We reluctantly leave the anti-railers’ upset over APEC-connected traffic jams; there’s just so much irony in their opposition to grade-separated transit, which is the proven way to avoid traffic congestion.

But an equally rich vein to mine is the obfuscation campaign conducted by anti-railers like Cliff Slater. If his HonoluluTraffic.com website has a theme, it’s a determination to divert the visitor’s attention from that central fact by highlighting other issues.

Case in point is the website’s video of the anti-rail presentation to the Rotary Club of Honolulu on October 11 by four plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit intended to kill rail. We attended that presentation and called attention here at Yes2Rail the next day about its shallow content.

Let’s Go to the Tape
Our October 12th post noted Mr. Slater’s familiar routine in making his anti-rail pitches, something we’ve been pointing out since we first saw it on July 12, 2010 in his interview with Civil Beat. Here’s our review of Mr. Slater’s Rotary talk:

“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!”
It’s the simplistic nature of his pitch that deserves attention. As we’ve noted innumerable times and as the city also freely acknowledges, of course traffic will be worse in the future than it is today! With a couple hundred thousand more residents by 2030, how could it NOT be worse?

Here’s where Mr. Slater’s Rotary video gets interesting: The video has been edited to insert other material between the “here’s what it will cost” part and the “traffic will be worse” part. See it for yourself.

Mr. Slater begins the essence of his opening remarks at the video’s 3:00 mark. His presentation proceeds as usual for 22 seconds; in his “live” performance he continued on to the “traffic will be worse” bit, then asked for questions without taking any and then sat down.

But not on the video. At 3:23, new material has been inserted – remarks Mr. Slater made later at the Rotary Club meeting after anti-rail pitches by Messrs. Roth, Cayetano and Heen. He uses the 13 inserted seconds to deride the appearance of the rail system’s stations, which he calls “ugly as sin.”

At 3:36, the video jumps back to the original “live” sequence of events: “To cap it off,” says Mr. Slater, “the city admits in the EIS that traffic congestion in the future, with rail, will be worse than it is today. So do you have any questions?”

Embarrassing
The line produced Mr. Slater’s hoped-for response – laughter. As a 20-year Rotarian, we felt a tinge of embarrassment at the time for those who had succumbed to Mr. Slater’s misleading rhetoric.

Traffic congestion growth is normal, natural and expected over time, and reacting to Mr. Slater’s opening gambit as if he had just delivered the coup de gras to the project was – well, embarrassing.

The editing job is telling, too. It tells us that criticism of Mr. Slater’s shallow presentation opening seems to be getting through. If not, why did he find it necessary to edit the Rotary video? Why did he change the sequence of the October 11th presentation from what Rotarians saw that day?

We think the answer is that he, too, now realizes the folly of his dumbed-down illogical conclusion – that rail will fail if traffic continues to increase. What seemed to him to be a good argument in July 2010 has long since started to ring hollow. With just a little thought, citizens are able to see through it.

Mr. Slater still seems capable of fooling some of the people all of the time, like many of the good Rotarians he met last month, but as another American president once famously remarked, you can’t fool all the people all the time.

With Oahu residents consistently giving their majority support to Honolulu rail, Mr. Slater’s ability to fool most people has passed.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Parting APEC Shot: Morning Drive H-1 Shutdown; Radio Host Goes Ballistic over Traffic Congestion, Ignores Future Rail Option that Will Avoid It All

Honolulu’s only daily newspaper’s top headline on page one today says the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum proved Hawaii is a place to do serious business. Elsewhere, the paper is in “day after” mode with reports on APEC’s impact on the local economy – whether business was up or down, which businesses benefited and which were hurt, and so on.

The broadcast media, however, are still reporting on APEC as if it’s still here, and part of it is. President Barack Obama’s entourage is heading from the west-end resort where he spent the night to Honolulu International Airport during drive time.

The S-A’s website announces “Police close H-1 Freeway for President Obama’s departure.” Honolulu radio stations all are carrying updates from the Traffic Management Center and from callers stuck in the shutdown.

We’ve been listening to the morning talk show host who regularly blasts Honolulu’s elevated rail project. Ironically, he’s been saying things about today’s traffic that we can confidently predict congestion will resemble without a presidential visit in decades ahead.

Drivers are caught in a very difficult situation,” he says, and then asks whether “there's a better way” that would have avoided the congestion. What you’re enduring right now has to be just unbelievable,” he says. We have limited routes to get around. We have the H-1, H-2, H-3, and it all filters into downtown, and you have to get there.”

The Future is Now
A caller complains that he’s at a standstill on the H-3 freeway that brings commuters over the mountains from the windward side. The backup is three or miles long, he says, prompting the radio host to note that traffic’s impact is “unbelievable on the daily lives of all our citizens, and it directly impacts our productivity.”

The host says everybody caught in traffic has an absolute right to be outraged at the President’s insensitivity about the plight of the freeway shutdown on citizens. It’s an ironic statement, since everyday commuters might well feel outrage at the insensitivity of Honolulu rail opponents like the radio host and the plaintiffs on the lawsuit that was filed to kill Honolulu’s future traffic option project – elevated rail.

Everyday commuters along the H-1 freeway and on east-west thoroughfares confront slow-crawl congestion morning and night. That much is obvious to anybody watching late-afternoon TV newscasts that show views from H-1 traffic cameras.

What truly is outrageous is the failure of rail opponents, including the radio host, to suggest a workable alternative to elevated rail that would satisfy the project’s goals of providing fast, frequent, reliable and safe traffic-free transportation through the urban core.

“Gang of Four” plaintiff leader Cliff Slater’s HOT lanes wouldn’t do it; ex-Governor Ben Cayetano’s preference for at-grade rail wouldn’t do it, and as far as we know, former Judge Walter Heen hasn’t suggested an alternative at all.

“We have elevated our politicians and statesmen to a position of celebrity,” the radio host says as he continues his rant against the car caravans that shut down freeway and street access during APEC and again today.

Maybe he’ll never ride Honolulu rail, but those who do will ride an elevated guideway that completely avoids traffic. Drivers might well take some comfort from that reminder if they're caught in freeway shutdowns when the President and his family return to Oahu next month for their annual holiday.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Biggest APEC Take-Away for the Oahu Audience: We Absolutely Want To Go When We Want To Go

Star-Advertiser's Sunday photo of H-1 gridlock caused by APEC security.
Even considering all the local stories over the past 10 days about high-level trade talks and one unfortunate incident in Waikiki, the biggest news to come out of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum was the traffic.

Local television reports on APEC began with overhead shots of traffic jams and details about travel restrictions that were creating gridlock. Honolulu officials flooded Twitter with cautionary blurbs about when and where not to drive.

Traffic updates were the most important content of radio reports and talk shows, and today, after APEC’s conclusion, a page one story in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser is headlined “Traffic woes continue as global leaders depart.” Even National Public Radio mentioned Oahu drivers’ plight by noting President Obama “thanked the islanders for their Aloha Spirit in the face of mammoth traffic jams.”

APEC proved beyond a doubt that Oahu residents obsess over traffic, and the reason is clear: The ocean and mountain ranges squeeze our streets and highways into a narrow east-west channel. When that channel is blocked repeatedly as it was by APEC security measures, we’re stuck. We don’t have the option, like most mainlanders do, of driving around the “congestion inundation zone.”

Predictability
Can there be any doubt that Oahu residents will embrace elevated rail? We know to a person what we all hate, and that’s the traffic congestion that comes with unusual events like APEC but also what we encounter each day. Given an option to avoid that traffic, we’ll take it.

We’ve been saying it here at Yes2Rail for years: Only grade-separated transit – elevated rail in Honolulu – allows users to know even as their trips begin exactly when they’ll arrive at their destinations.

If you catch a train at the Waipahu Transit Center, you’ll arrive at the Kalihi station in 21 minutes – every time. If you board at the Kapalama station near Honolulu Community College, you’ll arrive at UH West Oahu in 32 minutes – every time. Trips from one end of the line to the other will take 42 minutes – every time and no matter what’s happening on surface roads.

You simply can’t say with certainty how long your drive will take when you set off using streets and highways. Whether it’s a fender-bender, a broken water main, too many cars in too little space or a caravan carrying one of the world’s most powerful leaders, if it’s in your way, you’re stuck and out of luck, as thousands of drivers learned all over again this weekend.

End of Debate
Do the four plaintiffs on a lawsuit that was filed to kill rail really think Honolulu drivers don’t want a grade-separated alternative to that congestion that would save them both time and money? Does anti-railer Cliff Slater, who has fought mass transit for decades, really think a majority of Honolulu residents buy his pro-car propaganda?

The evidence is overwhelming that most Oahu residents support rail. We’ve elected pro-rail candidates and defeated those who would shut down the project. We’ve endorsed charter amendments to include a rail system in our transportation mix and manage its construction, operation and maintenance with a transportation authority. Support for rail in three scientific opinion polls since 2008 averaged 57.6 percent.

APEC was a reminder of how much Oahu drivers loath traffic. We want what we want when we want it, and we want to get where we’re going as quickly as possible. Rail will be that option for many of us if and when the world’s leaders ever return for an APEC summit in our beautiful but traffic-choked mid-Pacific home.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Next Time APEC Comes to Honolulu, Residents Will Choose — Elevated Rail or Traffic Gridlock

Nearly all our energy is imported. The state is overwhelmingly dependent on the outside world for its sustenance. The islands are the most isolated and remote inhabited spot on the planet, but this weekend Honolulu can legitimately claim to be a power center.

Presidents of the three most powerful nations on Earth and other regional leaders are here for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, and with that concentration of political power come the security requirements you’d expect.

Social media sites have become dumping zones the past few days for residents upset about street and highway closures – precautions that truly world-class cities take in stride. Honolulu’s good citizens don’t complain about the weather much, but traffic is nearly always on their list of complaints, especially now with more than a dozen heads of state in town.

It struck us that these leaders have something in common besides their moving security bubbles. All of the national capital cities where they reside saw the need long ago to provide their residents a grade-separated transit option.

Travel mobility is a requirement for vital economic development and progress, and grade-separated transit has preserved mobility in our visitors’ hometowns. Honolulu rail will restore mobility through the urban core by the end of this decade, and that’s when we’ll have something in common with the world’s major cities represented this week at APEC.

To those who argue truthfully that these cities are all much larger than Honolulu, we'd suggest this: Honolulu's gridlock – now bad and growing worse – has robbed citizens of their mobility, which can be restored with construction of an alternative mode of transport through the southern urban corridor. Grade-separated rail works for all these larger cities, and it'll work for Honolulu, too.

Calling the Transit Role
Here a roll call of some of APEC's most distinguished visitors and the modern transit system in the city they call home:

President Barack Obama, United States of America
Most visitors to the nation’s capital return to Hawaii raving about the Washington Metro, one of the nation’s busiest rapid transit systems. The Metro has 106 miles of rail connected to 86 stations, half of them serving Federal facilities. The distinctive station design was created by Chicago architect Henry Weese and relies on exposed concrete in repetitive design motifs. Metro rail and the system’s 323 bus routes help visitors move through Washington quickly and easily.

President Hu Jintao, China
The Beijing Subway is the fifth busiest system in the world, with 1.84 billion riders in 2010. The first of the system’s 14 lines opened in 1969, and 209 miles of track today service 172 stations. All but two of the lines were built within the past 10 years to meet the population’s burgeoning demand for mobility, and capacity is still inadequate. The system is aggressively expanding and will have 410 miles of track by 2015 and 620 by 2020.

President Dmitry Medvedev, Russia
The Moscow Metro carried 2.348 billion passengers last year and ranks second only to Tokyo in ridership, with an average of more than 7 million passengers on weekdays. The system opened in 1935 with one line and now has 182 stations along its 187-mile route. The stations often are cited as among the most beautiful in the world. An interesting feature is how the system announces the next station; a male voice is used when traveling toward the city’s center, and a female voice when going away from it.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, Japan
The Tokyo Subway reigns supreme at the top of the annual ridership list, with 3.161 billion passenger trips in 2010. The Tokyo Metro and Toei networks carry a combined average of more than 8 million passengers each day. The Japanese are heavily reliant on rail transportation, and despite the subway system’s ridership, it represents only 22 percent of Tokyo’s 40 million daily rail passengers. Hawaii’s visitors to Japan invariably come home with praise for the city’s rail network.

President Benigno Aquino III, The Philippines
Many in Honolulu’s sizable and growing Filipino community are familiar with Manila’s Light Rail Transit System. Its 19 miles of track connecting 31 stations are mostly elevated, as Honolulu’s rail system will be. The system carries around 200 million passengers annually on its two lines. The Yellow Line opened in 1984 and travels on a north-south route; the Purple Line was completed in 2004 and runs east-west. A reusable plastic magnetic ticketing system has replaced the previous token-based system.

President Lee Myung-bak, South Korea
The Seoul Metropolitan Subway ranks third in the world in passenger trips, with 2.048 billion in 2009, an average of more than 8 million daily trips on the system’s 13 lines. More than 70 percent of the total metro track length is underground, and according to Wikipedia, many of the system’s stations are equipped with platform screen doors, which provide a barrier between station platforms and the tracks. Honolulu’s system will be similarly equipped.

Former Vice President Lien Chan, Taiwan
The Taipei Metro serves the metropolitan Taipei region with 89 stations and 63 miles of track. The system carried an average of more than 1.6 million passengers each day last year, and according to Wikipedia, “has been effective in relieving some of Taipei’s traffic congestion problems,” which is what Honolulu’s elevated system will do on Oahu. Trains operate with headways (time between trains) of as little as 90 seconds.

President Sebastian Pinera, Chile
Metro de Santiago is South America’s second longest metro system (after Mexico City) with more than 60 miles of track, mostly underground, and 82 stations. The system carried 621 million passengers last year. The first line was opened in 1975, and new lines are projected to be in operation by 2014 to keep pace with Santiago’s growing transit needs.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Canada
Canada’s capital city of Ottowa is just now building its light rail system, but other Canadian cities have long experience with their rail transit systems. Montreal’s Metro is a rubber-tired system and is grade-separated as a subway. The Metro was inaugurated in 1966 and is Canada’s largest system with 68 stations and 43 miles of track. Toronto’s system was launched in 1954 with 12 stations on its underground line.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore
The city-state’s Mass Rapid Transit or MRT forms the backbone of Singapore’s railway system. It opened in 1987 and is Southeast Asia’s second-oldest metro system after Manila. The system has 89 stations on its network and in 2010 carried an average of more than 2 million passengers each day. Except for one at-grade station, the entire MRT is elevated or underground. The system has steadily expanded in response to public support for more service.

President Felipe Calderon, Mexico
Mr. Calderon withdrew from the APEC forum after the helicopter crash that killed members of his government last week. His capital city’s transit system, the Mexico City Metro, carried nearly 1.5 billion passengers in 2008, which places it eighth on the world’s highest ridership list. The first Metro line opened in 1969, and the system now has 11 lines with 280 miles of track and 163 stations – 106 underground, 53 at ground level and 16 elevated. Each station was given a distinctive logo when the system was launched to help riders identify their station due to the widespread illiteracy at the time. That purpose is no longer required, but logos have persisted as a feature largely unique to Mexico City’s system.

Those are just a few of the dozens of world-class cities with rail transit systems that transport millions of commuters and other passengers each day. A global list would include the famed systems of Europe, Africa, South Asia, North and South America – in other words, just about everywhere. Honolulu will join the list in less than a decade.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Travel-Wise Military Personnel and Veterans Will Likely Be Appreciative and Frequent Rail Riders

We’ll pair some facts with a few assumptions and come to a conclusion on this Veterans Day. The “facts” are from a variety of sources that sometimes don’t agree, but they’re a starting point. (Try your luck in searching for them if you like.)

A friend with solid Veterans Administration credentials says 116,210 veterans were living in Hawaii in 2009, with 85,482 of them on Oahu. The Census Bureau found a higher number in 2010 – 11.4 percent of the state’s total population, or about 155,000 vets statewide. The majority presumably is on Oahu.

The State’s Data Book said active duty military personnel totaled 37,527 in Hawaii on July 1, 2009, with nearly all of them on Oahu. A 2008 survey located more than 50,000 military dependents on the island.

Counting them all up somewhat conservatively, there would appear to be upwards of 200,000 people living on Oahu with some connection to the military – active duty personnel and their dependents or veterans. That latter’s dependents aren’t in that aggregate, so when they’re added, we probably have close to a quarter million Oahu residents with an up-close and personal connection with the military.

Our conclusion is that as a group, these folks have traveled more and have experienced more of the world than those without a military connection. It’s the consequence of active-duty life – pulling up temporary roots for a new assignment elsewhere in the USA or around the globe.

Personnel with two- or three-year assignments abroad often embrace the experience of living like a local – enjoying the cuisine and traveling about on trams and trains. Sailors putting into world-class port cities see the sights using transportation that’s available – buses, subways, streetcars, high-speed trains, whatever.

Bringing it back to Honolulu rail, a sizeable percentage of Oahu residents already are conditioned to using public transit – presumably more so than residents without a military connection. If anything, the military’s presence in Hawaii is expected to be higher by the time the city’s elevated system is up and running around the turn of the next decade.

We doubt that few if any of the “Oahu people won’t ride rail” letters to the editor are from military personnel and veterans. They know better because they’ve traveled more, have seen more and experienced more travel options than the typical resident.

This isn’t to say the non-militarily connected among us won’t embrace rail, too. People start riding and give up driving – even if only occasionally – when public transit offers them cost and convenience advantages.

Honolulu’s future trains won’t know a veteran from a dependent from an active-duty service member from a civilian. The “All Aboard!” welcome will apply to everyone, as does Happy Veterans Day!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

With Growth our Century's Operative Principle, ‘Aroundward’ Joins Upward, Outward as Option

Aloha Tower (foreground) was Hawaii's tallest building 50 years ago.
We weren’t living here in the 1950s when the H-1 freeway was being planned and discussed, but we’re pretty sure there was plenty of opposition to this thoroughfare, without which driving through Honolulu today would be unthinkable.

We can imagine some freeway opponents arguing that Honolulu should either build the freeway or improve surface streets, but not both.

Both obviously were necessary to accommodate the travel needs of Oahu’s growing population. Doing one but not the other was not an option, and those who could foresee the future’s requirements won that argument.

Oahu population growth is an acknowledged fact of life in the 21st century, just as it was in the 20th, and Star-Advertiser columnist Cynthia Oi’s “Under the Sun” column (subscription required) today has her perspective on how and where it should happen.

Ms. Oi flatly declares there should be only one direction for Oahu’s future growth; it should be either upward in taller buildings or outward in suburbia.

Her principle focus is Governor Abercrombie’s recent proposal to raise Honolulu’s height limit to 650 feet. The Governor reasons that significantly taller buildings in urban Honolulu would include a mix of both luxury and affordable housing, with the latter available for Honolulu’s so-called “work force.”

Limiting the Options
Ms. Oi argues that planners need to decide whether to build upward with high-rises or outward in a continuation of the pattern of the past half-century. She concludes, “They can’t have both.”

Reading between the lines, we detect Ms. Oi’s familiar anti-rail sentiments that go back at least five years (see her “Under the Sun” column on 12/13/06). The inference we draw from today’s piece is that if future growth is channeled into town, it won’t be necessary to build Honolulu rail to support growth in the Second City on the ewa plain.

This either-or approach to planning Oahu’s future seems as far-fetched as the earlier one would have been to either build freeways or improve surface streets, but not both. We know the Second City is on the planning map. We know people will continue to drive their cars. We know there will always be pressure to provide homes where 50 years of planning says they should be – in ewa.

We also know building housing in town makes sense. It lessens the need to drive and add to the congestion on streets and highways. “They can’t have both” just doesn’t ring true in a century that is only 11 years old.

The Third Option
Both are going to happen, but there's a third option that will be an important component of the Honolulu rail project. The “aroundward” option in our headline is about creating housing and commercial opportunities around the system’s 21 rail stations.

Transit-oriented development (TOD) is one of the project’s goals. It's going to happen in urban Honolulu with new high-rise buildings and along rail's 20-mile route linking Ala Moana with Kapolei out west.

Fifty years ago, the tallest structure in Hawaii (aside from broadcast towers) was 10-story Aloha Tower on the Honolulu waterfront – all 184 feet of it. We can imagine more than a few voices being raised in opposition to the first building that would exceed the Tower's height.

Predictions made in 2011 about where people will be living on Oahu 50 years from now will be accurate only if they embrace the obvious possibilities – upward (27 high-rises already are planned for Kakaako), outward to areas already designated for growth and around Honolulu rail’s stations.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Ariyoshi: ‘…I Can No Longer Remain Silent…’ ‘…Rail Options Are Important…’ ‘…the City and HART Have Left No Stone Unturned…’

It’s good to read in the morning newspaper that former Governor George Ariyoshi is a strong supporter of the Honolulu rail project. That’s certainly a proper inference from the above headline, but unfortunately, the headline doesn’t accurately summarize Mr. Ariyoshi’s commentary in today’s Star-Advertiser (subscription). It’s only how a movie blurb writer might summarize it.

Movie ads are notorious for using only a few words from a movie review to create a short but entirely erroneous impression – always positive. For example, a review might say “John Travolta’s character is back in ‘Be Cool,’ and although Travolta is as smooth as ever, the picture is a bust….” An actual  movie blurb said “…Travolta is as smooth as ever…”

All the words in our headline today were lifted exactly as quoted from Governor Ariyoshi’s commentary in today’s newspaper. Our “movie-blurbing” was done to make a point: It’s important to read Mr. Ariyoshi’s piece with care and discernment.

Despite the commentary’s cautionary message, rail supporters might take heart from what he revealed in the first paragraph – that he declined to become a plaintiff in the lawsuit filed by another former governor, Ben Cayetano, along with anti-railer-in-chief Cliff Slater.

Staying in Touch
Mr. Ariyoshi has been a constant voice for temperance and careful planning since leaving office a quarter century ago. His latest commentary is another in a long series of messages to the public about how he believes Hawaii must proceed with education, business, environmental protection and numerous other issues.

If he considered but declined to join a lawsuit that was filed with the intent to kill rail, that’s good to know and something positive for rail supporters to take from this commentary. Mr. Ariyoshi’s political theme in his day was “Quiet and Effective.” Joining in the lawsuit would not have fit that image. He is not urging that contracts be tossed out and the project start all over again:

“…the public has every right to expect that the City and HART have left no stone unturned to ensure that the right, the best decision is made so that taxpayers’ dollars are spent wisely. The public has a right to expect the City and HART to take every precaution to ensure that rail does not just get started, but that it is completed on time and on budget.”
That’s a reasonable cautionary note – something with which officials charged with executing the rail project undoubtedly agree.

They probably would not agree with the implication in Mr. Ariyoshi’s closing paragraphs – that it’s necessary to “take another close look at the options” that already were thoroughly vetted. HART officials so far seem satisfied that winning bidder Ansaldo is qualified and equipped to deliver on its contract and that elevated rail is the only option that will deliver fast, frequent, reliable and safe transportation through the urban core.

We suspect Governor Ariyoshi will continue to watch over the rail project from a distance, and as an attorney, will respect the outcome of the legal challenges to the rail project and its component parts.

He didn’t become “Mister Quiet and Effective” by throwing bombs.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Welcome, APEC Delegates: Sorry for the Traffic Tie-Ups; Come Back and Ride Our Elevated Train

Imagine how the media will treat traffic-related issues the next time APEC comes to town.

For off-islanders, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference is being held this week in Honolulu. We’ve been treated to a stream of media stories for the past month about which roads will be closed and which will be intermittently affected.

The advice often comes down to what mainlanders hear in winter: Just don’t go out unless absolutely necessary. Many of us find it absolutely necessary to make a living, and don't go out isn’t a workable response to major traffic disruptions.

We have to think local residents will get around these disruptions in the 2020’s and beyond by riding above them. Elevated rail’s passengers will bypass surface traffic disruptions entirely.

At-Grade Accident Roundup
Which brings us back to the theme of our two most recent posts Рan expos̩ on at-grade rail accidents. We call it an expos̩ because the safety issue has been under-reported here.

Some critics of Honolulu’s intention to build elevated rail prefer an at-grade system, which they say would have fewer impacts than the elevated structure. They can only mean “visual impacts,” since at-grade rail would have far greater impacts that hardly ever are mentioned in the media.

We’re filling in the blanks here at Yes2Rail about at-grade rail’s safety record impacts, and today’s post continues our recent theme by highlighting a few cities’ experiences with their at-grade system in recent weeks.

NJ Transit and the City of Garfield are reevaluating their railroad crossing safety precautions after a 13-year-old boy was killed on OUtwater Lane near the Plauderville station earlier this month.

The woman who was hit and critically injured by a light-rail train in Denver on Friday has been identified as Laura Triem, a 21-year-old student at Metropolitan State College in Denver….Police said Triam was waiting for one train to pass when she failed to see another coming from the opposite direction and stepped into its path…. Witnesses also said the woman might have been distracted because she was wearing headphones from an iPod.

A woman injured when she was struck by a San Francisco Municipal Railway light-rail vehicle near the city’s Parkmerced neighborhood on Thursday evening is now in critical condition.

A semi-truck carrying cars pulled out into a Hillsboro MAX Monday afternoon, hurting the truck driver and seven passengers on board the train, according to the Hillsboro Fire Department… Traffic in the area was diverted at both Southeast Baseline Street and East Main Street.

Within one week at the intersection of Branbleton Avenue and Second Street in Norfolk, the light rail was involved in two accidents. Although the two crashes were similar, police only gave one of the drivers a ticket.

On Wednesday morning, one woman was transported to the hospital after a light rail collision in Folsom.

A driver takes a wrong turn in Mesa and plows iright into a support beam for the light rail. The crash shut down the light rail in both directions near Dobson and Main. Medics are now treating the driver. It’s not clear the extent of his or her injuries. Workers are busy clearing the accident, and the light rail is expected to be up and running shortly.

The autopsy on 26-year-old Jessica Christine Lubken showed she died from “multiple blunt force injuries” after being hit and dragged by a light rail train in Denver last month. Her manner of death on Sept. 20 was ruled an accident by the Denver Office of the Medical Examiner today.


At-grade rail advocates can’t hide behind their aesthetic concerns any longer. Their obsession with view planes is a good "cover" for their apparent disregard for the hazards of building rail transit at ground level.

One last thing today: Houston’s Metro trains have plowed into hundreds of vehicles during its years of operation, and YouTube has the evidence.