Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Wednesday Columnist Denounces City’s ‘PR’ on Rail after Falling for Opponents’ Media Hype; Memo to Shapiro: Rail Will Avoid All Congestion; LTE Forum Is Packed with Pro-Rail Reasoning

This is really too rich with irony to pass up. Star-Advertiser columnist David Shapiro predictably blasts rail in today’s columnCity needs to give more substance, not PR, to rail (subscription) – and criticizes the city for using public relations to promote the project.

In practically the same keystroke, he reveals the extent to which he has fallen for Cliff Slater’s PR campaign:

“…honest citizens are questioning (rail’s) fundamental assumptions…. It’s sinking in that rail won’t actually reduce traffic, but will only reduce future gridlock growth by an uncertain amount.”
What’s finally sinking in for his readers is that Mr. Shapiro isn't familiar with rail's fundamental assumptions. Instead, he's bought into the Cliff Slater's assumption that rail will fail because congestion will continue to grow after rail is built (see recent Yes2Rail posts, below, and our "aggregation" site under the Mr. Cliff Slater (and Friends) heading). And he thinks the city doesn't need public outreach?

What’s fundamental here is that Mr. Slater is deliberately confusing the issues along with the public, which includes the columnist. Our memo to Mr. Shapiro would begin by chiding him for buying the Slater-led propaganda campaign that has enlisted the services of mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano.

Stop and Think
Mr. Shapiro has swallowed Mr. Slater’s suggestion that rail will be a failure if traffic congestion isn’t dramatically reduced. Rail supporters might well expect opinion leaders like Mr. Shapiro to actually acquaint themselves with the issues they write about. In rail’s case, he's obviously not spent time reading up on rail’s goals or comparing the Slater-led propaganda effort with what the transit project actually will accomplish. (Since he doesn't know much about rail, it's obvious he doesn't read Yes2Rail either!)

Rail riders will avoid all traffic, something of a perfect scenario for patrons, but no – he stopped short when exposed to Mr. Slater’s rail-will-fail argument.

Congestion will of course continue to grow with Oahu’s population. Does Mr. Shapiro believe there’s actually a magic bullet that will end congestion in our time? Does he think Mr. Slater has a congestion-killing idea dancing around in his head? Does he really believe more buses, more concrete, a toll road or anything else would actually relegate congestion to yesterday’s news?

It’s preposterous that a presumably free-thinking newspaper columnist would display so little of that quality in evaluating a project so critical to Oahu's future mobility and growth.

Usual Suspects

Mr. Shapiro fills out the rest of his column with the usual list of rail opponents' objections – rail's elevated structure, the either-or argument about roads and sewers and the pinhole vision of some environmentalists who think continued reliance on the car is preferable to mass transit.

He also seems sheltered from a major flaw in the recent public opinion poll: It was conducted in the days immediately following Mr. Cayetano’s announcement that he'll run for mayor on a kill-rail platform. Media publicity undoubtedly influenced the outcome of the ill-timed survey.

LTE Forum
Today’s letters to the editor reveal sound appreciation for rail:

Rail will serve the whole island (from a Waialae-Kahala resident)
“Wake up, Hawaii! Onde rail is built, it will not serve just the west side…. Taking all those cars off the highway from the West Oahu area means less congestion in town. People won’t have to sit in traffic wondering if an accident will make them late for work, or if the drive home will take four hours when police shut down the freeway for hours because of a traffic incident. It’s really a no-brainer….”
Oahu well-suited for a rail system (from a Kaneohe resident)
“How can so many people still overlook the fact that our island is made for rail? We have dense housing and businesses located right where the rail is going to go…. I do not know of another region that is so well suited to support rail transit. We are made for it.”
Rail will regain public favor
“….so please help give a balanced point of view so that the public is not confused about the benefits rail transit will bring to Honolulu. For example, the Star-Advertiser quotes (a resident) who says there are cheaper alternatives, such as adding freeway lanes. Where is the space to add more lanes? Double-decking the freeway is out of the question for reasons that include cost and environmental impact. It’s also physically impossible to do. Please, let us not feed the public these pipe dreams.”
The writer of that last letter has an exceptional understanding of rail transit. Amar Sapall, a Hawaii Kai resident, is the past chair of the former Honolulu Public Transit Authority. He sensibly and easily explodes the myth that there are easier and cheaper alternatives.

Like the person who prompted Mr. Sapall’s comment, columnist Shapiro supports buses and road improvements that he says would be cheaper than rail, but that’s as far as he goes. The quick-and-easy alternatives argument is another theme of Mr. Slater’s PR campaign, but proponents somehow never quite get around to providing the details, and that includes the new mayoral candidate.

Understanding rail's goals and what grade-separated transit will accomplish requires some homework, but that isn't too much to ask of Wednesday's columnist, is it?

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