Wednesday, June 13, 2012
It’s Not an ‘Attack’ To Call Out a Candidate’s BRT ‘Plan’ for Providing No Relief from Traffic Gridlock; Cayetano’s Support Falls as Opponents Step Up, Plus: Columnist Keeps His Anti-Rail Streak Intact
Part of the fun in interpreting political opinion survey results is dissecting the articles that report them.
Take Civil Beat’s piece today that’s headlined Civil Beat Poll – Cayetano’s Grip On Honolulu Mayor’s Race Is Slipping. (NOTE: This is a transportation blog, but we necessarily take note of the political race that could decide Honolulu rail’s future.)
We continue to be impressed by Civil Beat’s media-leading enterprise and the depth of its reporting, so our “dissection” isn’t criticism as much as it's a different way to look at the results.
Civil Beat’s poll results can be read by occasional visitors without a subscription. Ben Cayetano’s support has slipped from 53 percent in Civil Beat’s February poll of more than 1,100 likely voters to 44 percent in its recent survey. The results show former Managing Director Kirk Caldwell at 23 percent and incumbent Mayor Peter Carlisle at 21 percent.
Why the Slippage?
“The attacks on Cayetano by (the Pacific Resource Partnership) and his opponents appear to be working, as is a coordinated effort by the city’s business leaders to push the controversial rail project Cayetano is running primarily to kill,” Civil Beat writes.
Maybe we're too sensitive to Civil Beat's choice of words, but calling out Mr. Cayetano for having refused to release a detailed plan for a proposed bus rapid transit system seems like legitimate criticism, not an “attack.” The May 27 Star-Advertiser editorial that asked “What exactly is Cayetano’s transit Plan?” wasn’t an attack; it was a common-sense reaction to five months of Mr. Cayetano’s campaigning against rail without providing Detail #1 about his BRT scheme.
Mr. Cayetano’s reluctance to provide those details is understandable, since each one that leaks out is met by howls of protest. The most recent tidbit emerged in his June 3 Star-Advertiser commentary that said he’d avoid the criticism of the Harris Administration’s BRT plan to create bus-only lanes on Ala Moana and Kapiolani by running BRT down Beretania and King streets instead.
And that’s about all he's said about that plan – no details, no costs, no description of which car lanes would be dedicated to bus-only use and when, no pinpointing of the location of the elevated portion of his BRT system, etc.
Another factor figuring into significantly different survey findings on Mr. Cayetano’s support was the timing of the earlier surveys in January and February – virtually on the heels of his formal entry into the campaign.
The media were filled with Mr. Cayetano’s anti-rail campaign rhetoric when those surveys were in the field, but a more significant factor in the recent results has been the emergence of the Carlisle and Caldwell campaigns.
Mr. Cayetano’s opponents were virtually invisible until late May, but that has changed. Whether their responses to his inadequate transportation planning were “attacks” or simply good campaign rhetoric of their own, their stepped-up communications efforts have had an effect.
The pro-rail candidates can point to something literally in concrete – construction on the system’s columns has begun – when they discuss Honolulu rail as an option to traffic congestion. Mr. Cayetano’s thinking appears mostly based on a transportation plan produced for the Harris Administration a decade ago.
Relying on it to address Oahu’s growing population and traffic congestion issues that will continue throughout this century as Mr. Cayetano is doing will only attract more criticism, “attacks” and dispassionate inquiry from third parties – and presumably from individuals who have to contend with the nation's worst traffic.
Do Non-Voters Count?
If you’re a media outlet curious about who’s leading in the horse race to become Honolulu’s next mayor, you’ll include only likely voters in your polls, and that’s what Civil Beat has been doing in its 2012 surveys.
But if you’re a city government that serves all the people, voters and non-voters alike, you care just as much about what the latter think about their transportation options as those who voted you into office. That’s how a responsible mayor would approach his or her job.
But that’s not a consideration in these Civil Beat surveys, a criticism we've made previously. CB parses its latest survey results in interesting ways that have nothing to do with rail, such as which candidate’s supporters are more likely to believe the state is moving in the right direction, which candidate’s supporters approve of the job the President is doing, believe in same-sex marriage and so on.
But nowhere does the survey consider the views of the majority of the population that does not vote, even though non-voters are less educated than voters, statistically more likely to work multiple jobs than voters, more likely to have lower financial resources than voters and therefore more likely to rely on public transit than voters.
So not only are these opinion survey results the proverbial “snapshot in time” that could change tomorrow, they’re a snapshot that doesn’t include more than half the population in the picture. Maybe somebody will fill in this blank before the 2012 election season is finished.
The Shapiro Factor
We predicted in January that not one of the Star-Advertiser’s three regular columnists would write a single paragraph of positive content about Honolulu rail in 2012, and Wednesday columnist Dave Shapiro keeps the prediction alive in today’s piece (subscription).
“The current rail plan makes no sense without new housing to provide enough ridership to justify the sky-high cost,” he writes. That’s an absurd conclusion on its face, since current traffic congestion already justifies the rail alternative even if not a single new residence were built anywhere along the 20-mile line.
He essentially makes our point a paragraph or two later: “As rail columns rise on vacant land, it grates many on the Leeward side that rail seems more intended to serve new developments than the long-suffering residents of existing communities.” They’re suffering now because of existing road conditions that rail will allow commuters to bypass – conditions that will only worsen as the population increases by 150,000 to 200,000 in the next two decades.
“Cayetano’s candidacy makes the 2012 election a clear referendum on rail and the future of Oahu development,” Shapiro concludes, and that much is indisputable.
Voters have to decide whether they can trust Mr. Cayetano’s pig-in-a-poke transportation plan, because with nothing more than they’ve been told about his BRT and/or at-grade rail ideas, that’s what they’d be buying.