Tuesday, April 10, 2012

FTA Approves City’s Site for Rail Pre-Cast Facility; Candidate May Face Tough Questions Thursday, Plus: Where Does Public REALLY Stand on Rail?

Oahu residents are being treated to a daily display of contrasts regarding the Honolulu rail project. The city continues to announce new Federal Transit Administration approvals that allow the project to move forward, and mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano continues to suggest reasons rail shouldn’t be built.

The newest FTA approval allows the city to begin construction on the project’s precast facility. The 34-acre site within Campbell Industrial Park is described in today's Star-Advertiser’s story (subscription) and quotes Toru Hamayasu, acting executive director of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation.

“This latest federal approval keeps the project moving forward so that we can deliver a safe, reliable and efficient transit system that will provide residents with an alternative to sitting in traffic congestion.”
Anti-rail Mr. Cayetano is inviting Mililani residents to attend his Thursday evening “Do the real facts matter?” free chili & rice dinner at Mililani Uka Elementary School. The flyer delivered to Mililani homes over the weekend names members of his “Truth Squad” (one worked for rail-killing Mayor Eileen Anderson in the early 1980s) and lists a number of topics the candidate says he’ll tackle.

Come and learn “why the city’s claim that rail will create 10,000 new jobs every year is fantasy….” and how he will “develop a comprehensive bus rapid transit system that will be one-fifth the cost of rail, provide faster service and serve more people from more parts of Oahu than rail.”

Here are a couple things the candidate may not know but might hear about on Thursday if anyone but his supporters are allowed entry (his publicity flyer asks attendees to bring proof of Mililani residency).

The project’s estimate of 10,000 jobs per year is a conservative estimate. Most projects on this order suggest multiples of that number per $1 billion expended. Honolulu rail chose to be conservative at 10K, and for good reason. Based on what anti-railers say about the jobs issue, can you imagine the howls of incredulity if a bigger number had been used?

Jobs already are being generated by the project for local firms, including engineers, architects and others. What we’d really like to know is how many jobs would make Mr. Cayetano happy.

We figure no number would be satisfactory, so we’re left with the candidate’s upset that thousands of jobs will in fact be created for Oahu residents. An out-of-work Mililani construction worker might ask about that Thursday.

The Fantastic BRT
Questions might be directed at Mr. Cayetano about his unequivocal support for bus travel, especially his fantastical notion that bus rapid transit can outperform rail. Panos Prevedouros and Cliff Slater have inspired Mr. Cayetano to embrace this nonsensical assessment, which not insignificantly already has been assessed and dismissed in the rail project’s alternatives analysis.

Managed lanes on highways and bus-only lanes on city streets can’t possibly reduce congestion and improve mobility for all citizens, which is one of rail’s goals. We wonder if Mr. Cayetano realizes that the last time BRT was proposed, Mr. Slater described Mayor Harris’ plan as a “farce.”

By requiring a large number of buses that service neighborhoods to funnel onto the H-1 freeway’s bus express lanes, Mr. Cayetano might be able to claim that the system would serve people “from more parts of Oahu than rail.” But that would be making this issue a number’s game, when the rail alternative is about efficiency, avoiding congestion completely and saving time.

Unless they can fly, buses on any kind of lanes and streets eventually must be thrown back into the same traffic jams that rail will bypass.

Finally, Public Opinion
The two public opinion surveys on rail this year had flaws that we’ve taken pains to publicize repeatedly, yet the media continue to report that rail has lost favor with the public. Here’s how Civil Beat’s Michael Levine wrote yesterday about those polls and their impact:

“In the weeks since two Hawaii polls showed the public opinion has turned against the controversial Honolulu rail project, (City) council members – particularly those on the ballot this year – have asked sharper questions and expressed doubts about the future for rail transit.”
If Council members are pulling back from supporting rail, we think they’re badly misinformed. Here’s our comment at Civil Beat:

“Civil Beat's continued assertion that ‘public opinion has turned against’ the rail project ignores two facts about those polls: (1) Civil Beat didn't even ask non-voters what they feel about rail, thereby selecting out the half of the population that's more likely than the other half to use public transit. It also discounted government's responsibility to provide for its citizens regardless of their voting pattern. Polling only the likely voters may help learn which candidate is leading the horse race, but office-holders can't ignore half the population, and neither should have Civil Beat.
“(2), even Hawaii News Now, a sponsor of January poll along with the Star-Advertiser, said last week that the poll began "right after transit foe Ben Cayetano, the former governor, announced his campaign for mayor, SO THAT COULD HAVE SKEWED RESULTS AGAINST THE PROJECT" (emphasis added). Yet you ignore those factors as you declare something as fact that was both problematic and transitory in light of the absence of campaigning by the two major pro-rail candidates. One would hope Civil Beat would have greater sensitivity to what some of us believe is a gross mischaracterization of public opinion on rail.”
We suspect that a poll taken independent of any candidate’s heavy publicity for or against rail and one that’s based on a scientific sampling of all citizens regardless of their voting behavior would mirror the previous polls with those guidelines that averaged 57 percent support for rail.

The sooner policymakers and media opinion leaders see those results, the better.

This post has been added to our "aggregate site" under two headings: Mr. Cliff Slater (and Friends) and Public Opinion.

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