Saturday, February 11, 2012

Columnists Mangle Their Mothers’ Advice: ‘If You Can’t Say Something Nice, Say Something Bad’ -- Plus: LTE Forum Examines Our Fixable Needs

Cartoonist Tom Toles' take on the transit-highway debate, from The Washington Post.
The new game we call “Watching the Columnists” and their commentaries about the Honolulu rail project is becoming even more entertaining than we had imagined at the start.

You might recall our prediction early in January that the three regular Star-Advertiser columnists “will write not a single paragraph of positive content about the Honolulu rail project in 2012.”

The prediction is holding true through this week’s columns – Dave Shapiro on Wednesdays (he wrote about teacher contract issues), Cynthia Oi on Thursdays (no column this week) and Richard Borreca on Fridays (sandalwood protection).

This was one of the most significant weeks in the history of the Honolulu rail project. On Monday, the Federal Transit Administration granted a Letter of No Prejudice to the city, which now can begin major construction.

Despite the positive news (“positive” in the sense that it advanced the project), the three columnists couldn’t bring themselves to take note. Their “good news” switch is perpetually clamped in the off position regarding rail, whereas the circuit that transmits news of unfavorable developments is always energized.

One might conclude from their commentaries that the scribes oppose the project, and that would be accurate. Here’s the corollary of our original prediction: The next piece of negative news on rail will be trumpeted in at least two of their columns in the days that follow. You can bet on it.

LTE Forum
The newspaper carries a letter to the editor criticizing the rail project today, and readers have posted reactions in the online version of the letters column (subscription required). We’re highlighting both:

Rail is diversion from real needs (Star-Advertiser, 2/9)
“If rail is so good for jobs, what jobs will be there afterward? Another rail?... This is a Band-Aid solution. Why not fix the roads, sewers, public housing, etc., needed now – and above all do the maintenance. That is plenty of jobs….”
One responder in the “comments” section wrote:
“…it’s hard to imagine a need more pressing to address than the twice-daily highway congestion that scores of thousands of commuters face. Imagine having to do that morning and night, which I’d wager (the writer) does not. If her house’s sewer had a backup each day, I could understand her perspective, but that’s undoubtedly not the case….”
Someone who does deal with congestion each day commented:
“When you spend upwards of 2 hours, not unusual if it’s 3 hours-a-day to travel to school or a job that’s only 25 miles away, finding a way to reduce that time is a ‘real need.’ It’s a ‘quality of life’ issue. Why bother trying to be a contributing member of society when you don’t have a ‘quality of life’ to speak of? There’s nothing like getting up at 4:30 am so that you can be on the road by 5:30 am, just to have a reasonable chance of making it to your job by 8 am….”
Congestion as ‘Cancer’
Rail opponents who aren't affected by Oahu's congestion crisis might have more sympathy for those who do if the issue were framed differently. Thinking of “traffic” as a “cancer” might help.

Most citizens presumably don’t oppose government funding of cancer research and treatment even though the disease may not affect them or their families. As the second response to the letter shows, freeway congestion has become a cancer on the quality of life for scores of thousands of commuters. Putting yourself in someone’s shoes could go a long way in resolving some of the opposition that lingers about rail transit here.

And a final point: The streets leading to and through our home’s neighborhood have been repaved within the past month with smooth-as-silk blacktop, and there’s not a single pothole to be found along their length. The city is fixing roads, and sewers, too. It’s time to “fix” highway gridlock on this island by building the Honolulu rail alternative. The cartoon at the top has it exactly right.

This post has been added to our "aggregation" site under the LTE Forum heading.

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