Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Talk Show Rail Debate Again Reveals Opponents’ Main Motivation – To Reduce Traffic Congestion; Rail’s Option to Daily Grind is Virtually Ignored, and So Is Reality that Congestion Can’t Be ‘Solved’
The morning talk show is taking on a new and refreshing format – actual give-and-take between rail opponents (no change there) and supporters (the new part.)
The show’s anti-rail host long turned his program into an open channel for the likes of anti-railer-in-chief Cliff Slater, UH Professor Panos Prevedouros and others who've used the air time to campaign against the project.
Fairly recently, however, the host has been inviting supporters to be on the show, and recent appearances by Mayor Peter Carlisle and HART CEO Dan Grabauskas have given the pro-rail side of the argument that had been missing.
Today’s program featured Cindy McMillan of Pacific Resource Partnership (PRP), which is supporting the Honolulu rail project with an array of media messages, and highway proponent Dr. Prevedouros. They covered numerous topics, but the one that jumped out repeatedly was the identification of rail opponents’ primary transportation goal – the elimination of congestion.
It’s not going to happen, of course, as numerous studies have shown. Some reasons are obvious; traffic increases as the population grows, and Oahu’s population is increasing. Others are less obvious, and even building more highways and increasing the number of lanes available to drivers doesn’t reduce congestion.
We posted in April about two of the studies, one of which is titled “The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion: Evidence from US Cities.”
From the Show
Today’s radio program once again supplied evidence of what motivates rail opponents and what they really want – free-flowing traffic on our streets and highways. It’s a wish, a hope, a longing for another time, perhaps, but it’s fantasy, as most reputable transportation experts assert.
Here are some exchanges that drive home the point we’re making today:
Host: Well, one thing that always seems to rein large over whichever side of the issue you’re on. We have terrible traffic. I mean, it’s not just anecdotal. It’s by statistics. We just had another release about Honolulu being number one in the country with the worst traffic. Cindy, how will the rail project address what is a burgeoning congestive issue?
McMillan: You’re right, Rick, when you say this is top-of-mind for everybody…. The rail project is actually designed to take cars off the road and give commuters an alternative to driving their car. Specifically, for the people who are coming in from the west side where we have designated growth as the pattern for that area…. They need a way to get (into town) that’s reliable, right? They need to know that they don’t have to get up at 4 o’clock in the morning in order to make it into work for their job at 8 o’clock. So rail transit will provide that alternative for them and get them into town, back and forth, without having to waste time and money (in traffic). Time is money….
Host: Specifically, how will rail relieve that congestion, though? How many cars off the road? How many people utilize rail? How will that translate to reduction?
Notice how the host always circles back to congestion reduction while ignoring rail’s actual purpose, as Ms. McMillan has stated it – to be the piece of infrastructure now missing that will give commuters congestion-free transportation.
Ms. McMillian responded to the host’s question by noting there will be about 40,000 fewer daily vehicle trips in the urban core thanks to rail’s construction by 2030. She compared that reduction to what commuters experience on the roads when schools are out of session.
Dr. Prevedouros disputed the comparison, said the trip reduction when school is out is actually closer to half a million, so rail is a “one-percent solution” to the congestion problem. Ms. McMillan observed that the data means different things to different people.
But even this exchange once again focuses on rail’s impact on reducing congestion – Dr. Prevedouros’ goal – and rail’s true purpose as an alternative to that congestion. The host once again circled back to the opposition’s canard that rail was “sold” as a congestion-relief project.
Host: I was just thinking back to the genesis of the project and also to where we are now. It was a transportation issue. We’re going to alleviate congestion, and that kinda transferred over to actually a jobs creation project. We’re going to stimulate the economy, create new jobs, and we’re hearing increasingly more that now it’s about development. We need to look to the future and ensure that the burgeoning increase in population needs to be addressed for affordable housing. (Transit-oriented development) is the way to go about doing that. Have you witnessed that? Is that the progression we’ve come to now where it’s about the future, it’s about developing in a smart way?
McMillan: I’d say it’s about all of those things. Originally, as you said, it was about the traffic congestion. It still is, because when you’re driving in from ewa you need anther way to get in. You want to know that you have a reliable way to get to work, so it’s still about traffic and transportation alternatives, and it’s still about traffic congestion because we will have a way to opt out of congestion. You might now always want to use it, but you will have a way, so it’s still about traffic congestion. It’s still about jobs. 10,000 jobs a year, 4,000 of them direct, 6,000 of them indirect. That hasn’t changed. And it is about our future in terms of what we can do with development along the rail alignment. But if we don’t develop along the alignment, we need houses here, and if they’re not along the alignment, where are they going to go? You can’t put more housing in the urban core without some sort of traffic mitigation, because we’re at gridlock now. If we put more people along the corridor,
Prevedouros: There’s gonna be some growth. It won’t be particularly fast. This county actually has a big problem. Between 2000 and 2010, (Oahu) had a net out-migration of 50,000 people. We did gain population because of the large numbers of dependents from Asia and Micronesia that came to our county, but if you take the residents that were here in 2000 and follow them in the 2010 Census, we lost 50,000 people to the other counties of Hawaii. That’s an alarming message that’s not anti-rail. It is concerning, and I also have serious doubts about the ability of our (state and county agencies) to do forecasts……
Dr. Prevedouros glided right past the fact that Oahu's population grew by 8.8 percent in that decade, even taking at face value his claim that 50,000 residents counted in 2000 moved off the island by the next Census. He eventually concluded that Oahu’s congestion may not be as severe as forecast – if only the Second City could be developed to make it somehow independent of Honolulu’s urban core area.
But for anybody who wants or needs to travel between Kapolei’s Second City and downtown in, say, 2040 (that need presumably won't end for a huge number of residents), there will be no option to driving without rail. The rail option will avoid all congestion, which as Ms. McMillan said will be worse in the future with or without rail. Even Mr. Slater acknowledges that traffic would be even worse without rail than with it.
So despite the new radio format that invites pro-rail voices onto the show, don’t expect to ever hear the host or his fellow opponents talk about rail’s function as an alternative to driving. It wouldn’t support their goal of congestion reduction in the extreme – a goal most thinking residents will realize is an impossibility.