Thursday, June 21, 2012
Wednesday Columnist Can’t Stand Government Spending and Can’t Abide Pro-Rail Efforts in His Continuing Campaign against Honolulu Rail, Plus: Avoiding Traffic Is Only ‘Small Benefit’ to Slater; LTE Forum: Letter Buys Into Slater’s Mis-Info
This blog is written to perform an educational function, so we’re taking an educated look today at what motivates a journalist who has nothing good to say about the Honolulu rail project.
The collected evidence from the columns he writes for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser suggests that David Shapiro’s principal motivation is a need to criticize and oppose big government and big government spending projects.
We predicted in January that Mr. Shapiro and his fellow S-A columnists, Richard Borreca and Cynthia Oi, “will write not a single paragraph of positive content about the Honolulu rail project in 2012,” and we explained why:
“Journalists often describe their business as comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. As for the latter, there’s no bigger target to view with alarm than the biggest construction project in state history…. Afflicting local government, elected and appointed officials and their projects is what they do and have done for decades. It’s their calling, and they’ve made it work for them.”
Mr. Shaprio was at it again yesterday (subscription) – pushing the right buttons and using the right words to put government, the rail project and its supporters in the worst possible light.
Mr. Shapiro can’t mention rail’s contingency fund without attaching “slush” to it. He can’t write about the project’s public outreach activities (he calls it “PR”) without attaching “heavy-handed” and “hard-sell.”
When HART CEO Dan Grabauskas – a transportation professional with decades of experience – says the drawdown on the rail contingency fund (3.4 percent of the fund’s total, so far) is “not unusual,” Mr. Shapiro dismissively waves it off.
“The big contingency fund allows rail officials to sweep those additional pennies under the rug and keep claiming they’re on budget,” Mr. Shaprio wrote yesterday.
“The budgeting structure has encouraged contractors to come in with low initial bids to make the politicians look good, comfortably knowing there’s that big slush fund to pay them change orders out the back door.”
You just can’t write that stuff without a deep-seated animosity toward government that goes beyond healthy “fourth-estate” watch-dogging. Mr. Shapiro’s disdain for big government and those who work for it has driven him to the nether regions of newspaper criticism.
Taking the Pulse
Near the end of yesterday’s piece, Mr. Shapiro writes: “Rail is losing support not because of public doubt about the value of a good mass transit system, but because an apparent majority now doubts the city’s ability to building a good system honestly and competently.”
Those doubts have been fueled by opinion-leading newspaper columnists who evidence little understanding of rail but nevertheless give only negative treatment to this huge public works project – infrastructure that will provide significant relief from traffic congestion.
There are other explanations for the alleged shrinkage in the public’s support for rail that Mr. Shapiro hasn’t detected. Consider the timing of the opinion polls he’s relying on; they were conducted soon after Ben Cayetano announced his candidacy in the mayoral race.
Their “snapshots in time” captured the news of the moment when the media were filled with his anti-rail rhetoric and the campaigns of Mr. Cayetano’s opponents were virtually invisible. They’re invisible no more, and neither are pro-rail groups that have stepped up their rail advocacy and criticism of the anti-rail candidate. Mr. Shapiro’s observation that “rail is losing support” is woefully out of date.
In addition, non-voters were excluded from at least one opinion survey – an odd decision by its sponsors since non-voters are traditionally more dependent on transit than voters.
‘A Good System’
Mr. Shapiro implied yesterday that Honolulu’s elevated rail project is “a good transit system.” He’s never come close to making such a statement before, but sorry – his back-handed compliment didn’t spoil our January prediction about what he’d write in 2012.
As we wrote then, we encourage Mr. Shapiro and his fellow journalists to spend time here at Yes2Rail reading some of the 766 posts (counting today's) that have been entered here during the past four years. There’s a handy index on dozens of topics in the right-hand column under the Blog Archive heading, but clicking on the link to our “aggregation site” is quicker.
‘Such a Small Benefit’
We posted Tuesday about The Big Divide that separates rail supporters from rail opponents. The latter want relief from traffic congestion and advocate changes they say would “solve” it. Nothing has “solved” traffic anywhere in the country, of course, but that doesn’t stop them from urging more subsidies for car travel.
Rail supporters recognize that congestion has become a fact of life, and the best way to offer relief from congestion is to build an alternative that allows users to avoid it completely.
Elevated rail is their solution, but its benefits are small potatoes to anti-railer-in-chief Cliff Slater. He’s quoted in yesterday’s Star-Advertiser: “I don’t think it’s possible to justify (rail’s) cost-effectiveness with such a small benefit (emphasis added) at such a huge cost.”
Of course he doesn’t think it’s justified; he’s a car travel advocate who believes mass transit funding is ill advised. Fellow anti-railer Panos Prevedouros spoke for both of them when he sought to answer mayoral candidate Kirk Caldwell’s list of questions that were aimed at Mr. Caldwell’s mayoral race opponent, Mr. Cayetano.
Dr. Prevedouros is quoted at Mr. Slater’s website: “Cliff and I are strong proponents of real traffic congestion relief. No form of transit qualifies as an effective mitigation for traffic congestion…”
But when you’re a public figure like Mr. Slater is, sooner or later you’ll say something that hangs out there with undeniable clarity – like his statement to the City Council on July 14, 2010:
“We don’t disagree at all that rail will have an effect on reducing traffic congestion from what it might be if we did nothing at all….”
That’s exactly right – but Mr. Slater has repeated his “traffic will be worse in the future with rail than it is today” line so often he’s managed to mislead and confuse Oahu residents about rail's considerable benefit, as seen in today’s Star-Advertiser letters column.
An Ewa Beach resident who clearly is upset with traffic's effect on her life has bought into Mr. Slater’s message:
If rail doesn’t cut traffic, what then? (Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 6/21):
“...Traffic get (sic) worse because there are more cars regardless of those riding rail, and it will get worse because the city is now not making any planned traffic improvements, putting all their traffic relief in the rail basket. So once rail is in place and traffic is still horrendous and getting worse, what will (pro-rail officials) say? We need more rail?”
The writer has it right about congestion: It will increase as the population increases, but she misses the whole point of building Honolulu rail.
The system will give residents a way to commute east-west through the corridor that bypasses the traffic-clogged H-1 freeway and surface roads. Ewa Beach residents will head to the closest rail station on TheBus or by other means to avoid that congestion.
Nothing Mr. Slater and his anti-rail friends have proposed will provide congestion-free travel into town from the west side. That's rail’s job.
This post has been added to our “aggregation site” beneath the Mr. Cliff Slater and Friends and the Project Goals, Rail’s Critics and More headings.