Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Community Turns Out for Informational Meeting; Unlikely Pairing -- Honolulu Rail & Cans of Soup, Plus: Some Questions for Candidate Cayetano

 McKinley's cafeteria was filled for the rail outreach meeting.
The first in a series of Community Information Meetings enjoyed a big turnout last evening at McKinley High School’s cafeteria. The series continues this evening at Radford per the rail meeting schedule.
The Rev. Bob Nakata (left) of Faith Action for Community Equity (FACE) reminded attendees before the session actually kicked off that his organization believes rail may be the last chance for Oahu to create affordable housing for this and future generations. With high rankings in electricity rates, gas prices, groceries, real estate and other indices that make up the cost of living, living on Oahu is bound to be even more expensive in years ahead. Reverend Nakata said transit-oriented development will be a key feature of the rail project, and he urged attendees to make that point whenever and wherever they can.

Once the meeting actually began, new HART CEO Dan Grabauskas (enjoying a quick bite at right) provided an overview of the project and answered questions from the floor before break-out groups delved into transit-oriented development, rail operations and other topics. The former head of the Boston transit system told the audience the elevated rail plan that’s being implemented – construction on the support columns began last week – was selected after numerous alternatives were studied years ago. Elevated rail is the only way for commuters in the east-west corridor to completely avoid traffic congestion.

No Soup for You?
One question from the floor had a familiar ring to it, since it riffed off rail opponent Cliff Slater’s stump speech. “I’ve read that traffic congestion in the future with rail will be worse than it is today,” the Makakilo resident said. “What’s the truth in that?”

The answer, of course, is that congestion would be worse without rail than with it, something Mr. Slater even had to admit before the City Council a couple summers ago. Later, in discussion, the questioner revealed the mindset that drives many who find a reason to oppose rail.

What he and they want is an absolute “solution” to traffic. He said if he’s hungry and goes to the store for a can of soup, he knows the soup can will “solve” his hunger problem. Rail shouldn’t be any different, he reasons; he believes an investment of several billion dollars should be able to wipe away traffic, just as a can of soup wipes away his hunger.

It’s an inventive way to find fault with rail, but our conversation reminded us that leading a horse to water won’t necessarily result in drinking. When someone is dead set against the project, there’s little likelihood “truth-telling” will get through – even the obvious truth that Oahu’s population will continue to grow and so will the number of vehicles, all resulting in more traffic congestion than we have today. Rail and nothing else will "solve" congestion.

With little enthusiasm on Oahu – let alone the space – for building more highways here, rail will allow users avoid the inevitable growth in congestion. But equating congestion with hunger and thirst may not be so off the mark after all. Sooner or later, we simply must eat and drink to overcome both – either that or die.  Traffic congestion already has reached unacceptable levels for commuters, and a daily diet of riding Honolulu’s future train will help them cope with it by avoiding it.

Questions for Ben
Anti-rail mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano will hold another of his chilli-and-rice dinners this week. It’s billed as an “ask the candidate” event, so here are the top three questions that need asking:

1. “You say rail won’t solve the traffic problem, but isn’t it true congestion would be worse without rail than with it?”
Answer: If he’s truthful, Mr. Cayetano will have to answer in the affirmative. He’s taking his cues from Mr. Slater (see above), and in so doing, there’s no other way to answer it truthfully.

2. “Isn’t it true that the bus rapid transit plan that you’re borrowing from the Harris Administration wouldn’t end the congestion problem?”
Answer: If he’s truthful, Mr. Cayetano will have to admit that. Adding more buses to already congested roads and highways can’t possibly reduce the inevitable growth in congestion.

3. “When will you do the right thing and publicize the details of the BRT plan you want to implement if you’re elected after you’ve killed mobility-enhancing, travel-time-reducing, development-guiding, transportation-equity-enhancing and job-creating Honolulu rail?”

We don’t know the answer to that one. Only Mr. Cayetano knows. He formally announced his candidacy 104 days ago on January 19. There are only 101 days to go before the primary election, which means Mr. Cayetano has managed to stall for more than half the time between announcement and election.

Of course, his supporters don’t care about his BRT plan, since most are really concerned only about killing rail. He represents their best chance to achieve that goal, but what about the media? Do reporters care?

We heard from one reporter who’s closely following rail that he’s been asking Mr. Cayetano for the BRT plan's details, and the candidate is refusing to respond to his inquiries. Is that the brand of transparency Mr. Cayetano is proposing in his administration?

That qualifies as another question, so we’re obligated to provide the Answer: Only if the media and public let him get away with it.

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