Tuesday, January 31, 2012

‘Fact Check’ Finds Candidate’s ‘Waterfront View’ Statement on Elevated Rail Half True/Half False

A waterfront perspective from the corner of Bishop Street and Ala Moana.
Civil Beat’s Fact Check on mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano’s description of Honolulu rail near the waterfront found that he deserves only a   HALF TRUE  . In our book, that’s really a   HALF FALSE  , since that’s what you’d tell elementary school children when they shaded the truth.

As we noted back in August and September when Civil Beat fact-checked the Gang of Four’s big newspaper PR piece, CB said Mr. Cayetano and his three friends rated only two   TRUE   with that commentary, three   HALF FALSE   and two flat-out   FALSE  .

Our view is that influential people who are trying to kill the jobs-producing, traffic-avoiding, commute-improving, mobility-restoring, development-shaping, travel equity-enhancing Honolulu rail project should stick with the truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth. That’s especially pertinent since three of them are attorneys – a former governor, a former judge and a current law school professor.

But that’s not what’s happening with this Gang, and Mr. Cayetano’s discussion of Honolulu rail is the latest example.

Our Beautiful Waterfront
Here’s Mr. Cayetano’s statement that Civil Beat decided to Fact Check:

“The elevated, massive, concrete structure will run along the waterfront, destroying forever the view planes of our beautiful city and changing its character for the worse.”
To do its check, Civil Beat said it had to know "how much of the 20-mile line will snake along the city’s waterfront." The investigative on-line news site writes:

“Taken literally, Cayetano’s claim about rail running ‘along the waterfront’ is plainly false. The half-mile section connecting the Chinatown and Downtown stops is really the only part that even comes close to qualifying.”
Civil Beat asked the Cayetano campaign to clarify the “waterfront” remark. Mr. Cayetano told Civil Beat:
“That structure is basically running alongside the waterfront. If you take a look from the mauka side of Bishop Street and you look down the street toward the ocean, that thing will be blocking your view.”
Google Street View
Since Bishop Street runs mauka-makai, Mr. Cayetano must have meant the view one would have up Bishop Street on the mauka side of the guideway. But a closer look suggests his warning is more hyperbole than fact.

The photo at right is from the Google Maps Street View feature; it was taken from a vehicle in the middle of Bishop Street directly in front of the Dillingham Transportation Building. The cameras are attached to the vehicle’s roof (see photo at bottom of this post) several feet above seat level and therefore also higher than a pedestrian’s perspective on the sidewalks.

As the photo plainly shows, the only portion of the view affected by a guideway 30 feet above street level will be blue sky. The view of the harbor’s actual waterfront and the boat that offers lunchtime and dinner cruises won’t be blocked at all. The view for vehicle passengers and pedestrians alike will be below the guideway. Aloha Tower will still be visible, and so will Hawaiian Electric Company’s pre-World War II power plant.

Civil Beat also used Google Street View to see just how much impact an elevated guideway might have on the mauka-to-makai view at various locations up Bishop Street. From near the Beretania Street intersection, the waterfront can’t even be seen; “It’s hard to imagine that the rail line would dramatically change the view,” CB wrote.

It’s Subjective
The closer you get to Ala Moana/Nimitz Highway, the wider the waterfront view, making it “easier to envision how a rail line one block from the water would change the landscape,” says Civil Beat. But let’s face it: Your perception of how much the elevated line would affect the narrow slice of the harbor one can see from intersections along Queen Street (that’s Alakea above) depends on your view of the entire project, because the actual impact on view planes is small. Mr. Cayetano admitted as much:
“I think, as you point out, some things are subjective,” he told Civil Beat. “I’m talking about it from my standpoint as someone who has lived here. The people who have seen those renderings are shocked because they never imagined that it would be like that. That’s the point I was trying to make when I was talking about this structure snaking down the waterfront and changing the character of the city.”
The renderings Mr. Cayetano and his Gang show to people are, of course, intended to make the elevated structure look as bad as possible, but it’s worth noting that his campaign site’s rendering linked from Civil Beat’s story isn’t even a mauka-to-makai view.
Another view of the power plant, reflected off the Pacific Guardian Center's windows.
Civil Beat's Bottom Line: “It’s true that a small section of the route runs very close to the waterfront and a larger segment is in the general vicinity of the ocean. But the line is 20 miles long and in some spots is not particularly close to any water at all. Cayetano uses metaphor and imagery to create the impression that the rail system will be built on the coast, and that’s not entirely accurate. Hence the grade of HALF TRUE .”
In other words, this particular “snake” is barely visible from where most people walk the streets, drive their cars and sit in their downtown offices – lost in the “weeds” of high-rise buildings and a power plant. Following Civil Beat's lead, we have to give Mr. Cayetano’s statement a grade of   HALF FALSE  .
Google Street View is produced using vehicles like this.

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