Thursday, January 5, 2012

What Matters Most to Visitors, Beaches or Transit?

Sand restoration project will add 37 feet to Waikiki Beach.
See photo below this post for same view as it now exists.
Hawaii sometimes makes news on the mainland even when the President isn’t vacationing here. Two stories that survived the cut this week caught our eye – the Waikiki Beach restoration project and a New York Times piece on Honolulu rail.

The latter included the seemingly mandatory quote from anti-railer Cliff Slater, who has secured himself a sizeable niche in cyberspace for all eternity with his decades-long opposition to mass transit projects. Need some negativity in your story? No problem; call Cliff.

Mr. Slater predictably had nothing good to say about rail in the Times story. This time he played the "what will tourists think?" card, but he mixed his message by alluding to the tremendous changes Honolulu is experiencing – a tough commute by car among them:

“(The project) starts to remind everyone that we are not all grass huts anymore. There’s this illusion as to what Hawaii is all about, and New York-style trains don’t cut it.”
Mr. Slater clearly shows more concern over what mainland visitors will think about Honolulu’s rail system (paradise lost?) than in providing new transportation infrastructure to meet local residents’ current and future needs. As the Times story says, “…the few highways here have routinely been as crammed with traffic as those in Los Angeles, a problem that seems likely to get worse.”

Catering to New Yorkers
A little common sense is needed when evaluating Mr. Slater’s alleged concern for how visitors will react to Honolulu rail. It’s part of his repertoire, of course, but it’s also not believable to think they’ll have any reaction whatsoever to Honolulu’s elevated rail line.

New Yorkers who routinely ride the city’s subway trains could give a fig about Honolulu’s future transit system, which will connect jobs in town with suburbs in west Oahu. They come for what Hawaii offers their world-weary souls – sun, sea, surf and the beach. (Photo shows yesterday’s blessing of the restoration project, which will widen Waikiki Beach 37 feet at places; see video link.)

While visitors lie on the beach in today's late-afternoon January sun, taxpaying Oahu residents of west Oahu will be commuting home and fighting their way through some of the nation’s worst traffic congestion.

Widening Waikiki Beach to accommodate more New Yorkers, Iowans and even Floridians is much more relevant to Hawaii’s visitor industry than Honolulu’s future rail system. And if visitors want to “leave the driving to us” to visit Aloha Stadium, the Arizona Memorial or other stops along the 20-mile route, Honolulu rail will be there for them, too.

Yes2Rail is enjoying a big spike in readership this week thanks to the Times story. Here’s hoping some of those readers are so taken by the pretty pictures of Waikiki Beach that they'll be lying on it soon.
The going can get a little wet at high tide these days.

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