Wednesday, March 7, 2012

On Day 3, Civil Beat’s Rail Poll Story Says Voters Don’t Believe Rail Will Eliminate Congestion, but City Never Made that Claim; It’s Cliff Slater’s Spin

Civil Beat’s latest posting on the results from its public opinion survey on Honolulu rail is so convoluted it’s impossible to draw any meaningful conclusions from it.

The set-up to today’s issue is in editor John Temple’s opening paragraph: “Honolulu’s leading rail opponents argue that the public has been hoodwinked into believing that traffic congestion will be better than it is today if the project is built.”

His piece starts to unravel almost immediately. After noting the poll’s finding that a majority of the participants say they don’t support the rail project, Mr. Temple writes:

“But do (voters) believe what some rail proponents have said to sell the project? To answer that question, Civil Beat asked likely voters on Oahu the following question: ‘Do you believe that if the rail project is built, there will be less traffic congestion in Honolulu than we have today?’”

Fifty-five percent of those polled answered “No,” they don’t believe rail will mean less traffic congestion than today. In other words, they know the truth and that traffic, congestion and population growth are connected. Only 30 percent said they think traffic will be less, and 15 percent weren’t sure.

So with those results, you’d expect Civil Beat to then determine who’s responsible for stirring the pot about future congestion levels and the rail project. Incredibly, the link in that paragraph quoted above isn’t to a city website with statements about the project’s effect on future congestion. It’s to a Cliff Slater website that’s notorious for its misleading statements on congestion and for misrepresenting what the city communicates on this issue.

Spin Job
The linked website quotes former Mayor Mufi Hannemann as saying rail will have the effect of “easing traffic overall” and that “the city needs a rail system to alleviate increasing traffic congestion.”

Those statements are irrefutably true, and Mr. Slater can’t credibly claim otherwise. The project’s EIS estimates that by 2030 there will be 40,000 fewer vehicles trips each day in the urban corridor. Vehicle hours of delay are expected to decrease by 18 percent, which is an even bigger reduction than when the University’s system is in summer break (about 11 percent).

Even with these reductions, the EIS accurately predicts – and the city accurately communicates – that congestion will continue and eventually will be as great as it is today. The city has never misled anyone on this issue – especially since the Federal Transit Administration has been overseeing the project.

The link to the Slater website for examples of the city’s alleged argument is egregious. Mr. Slater consistently spreads misleading information about the congestion issue, as we’ve noted repeatedly and as recently as in yesterday’s Yes2Rail post.

Who’s Argument?
Later in the piece, Mr. Temple writes: “A majority of every income level doesn’t buy the congestion reduction argument….”

WHAT congestion reduction argument!? The city makes no such argument! Mr. Temple seems to be confused on the whole issue of who has said what about future congestion.

His confusion might be traced to the interview he conducted with Mr. Slater in July 2010 that gave unprecedented video exposure to Mr. Slater’s chief talking point – “traffic congestion with rail in the future will be worse than it is today.”

Of course it will be worse. Rail won’t be the magic bullet that “solves” congestion. With a hundred thousand more people on the island by 2030 along with maybe that many more vehicles, congestion will unquestionably be worse in that and any future decade you want to choose than it was in 2010.

As we noted yesterday, Mr. Temple didn’t question Mr. Slater’s primary talking point during the interview, and neither have Civil Beat’s or any other reporters since, which is incomprehensible.

For Civil Beat to now impute an argument to the city it has never made about future congestion is equally incomprehensible.

What Slater Never Says
Rail’s biggest benefit (among many others) is that users will completely avoid being caught in traffic congestion as they travel through the city. That benefit can’t be found on Mr. Slater’s website, and as far as we can tell, it wasn’t given to the respondents in Civil Beat’s public opinion survey. Had it been, the survey’s results might have been much different.

We made a “radical suggestion” in our Monday post – that before the next media poll on rail, the sponsor should seek input from opponents and supporters. Doing so would reduce the possibility of unintended influences in the questions (see Star-Advertiser January poll), and it might actually improve the survey’s quality.

Since that’s not likely to happen, we can anticipate even more convoluted results like what’s reported today by Civil Beat.


Anonymous said...

Looks like the latest "revelation" from CB is that of those polled and ID'ed as rail supporters, 76% believe congestion will be better in the future. Somehow, this is some epiphany that even rail supporters were mislead but haven't been shown the actual poll results, we have no clue what the exact wording is and ultimately, is everyone even viewing congestion in the same context? IE a rail supporter can see congestion being better in the future because he/she will be riding rail.

Doug Carlson said...

We prefer to think of future congestion levels as inevitable because of the population's growth, without a "better" or "worse" adjective. Some might hope for heavy road congestion to drive people out of their cars and into the train, but the incentive to ride rail will be strong for cost and time-saving reasons.

We stand by the criticisms of the poll in today's and earlier posts.