Friday, July 13, 2012

Get To Know Him on Friday the 13th: Cliff Slater’s Oahu Vision Could Mean Generations of Bad Luck

We continue examining the collected works of the man who’s more likely than anyone else to determine your quality of life for years to come.
That’s because Cliff Slater is the brain trust of the anti-rail movement on Oahu, has been for years and is the inspiration for all who oppose Honolulu’s planned elevated rail project.

If our current project dies the way Mayor Frank Fasi’s did 20 years ago, put the blame on Mr. Slater – again. He’s been nothing if not consistent in doing everything he can to deny Oahu commuters a completely congestion-free way to travel through the city.

We’ve been examining Mr. Slater’s rhetoric for years – not only here at Yes2Rail, but in letters and commentaries in The Honolulu Advertiser, which carried his anti-transit/pro-car messages for years in his Second Opinion columns.

His entrée onto the paper’s Op-Ed page apparently was based on the status accorded him by the Economics Department of the University of Hawaii as a “Community Scholar in Residence” – a teacher of “urban transportation and privatization.” It was a pro-car, anti-government spending and anti-rail curriculum.

Always Against Rail
We’re calling the decade between the end of the Fasi rail project and the start of Honolulu’s current one the “quiet years,” but Mr. Slater wasn’t quiet. He filled the interregnum with a stream of words about his philosophy that, boiled down to its essence, is what we’ve called the ABC/s – Always By Car.

It’s AAR, too – Always Against Rail. For example, his Second Opinion column on November 12, 1998 was headlined City rail plan is rubbish. The newspaper’s online archives don’t go back that far, but you can find the piece by searching for the headline’s exact wording.

He followed that up less than three weeks later on November 30 with Light rail won’t work either. This particular column provided more evidence of what we’ve been calling attention to in the past week – Mr. Slater’s use of statistics to support his anti-rail rhetoric.

The piece attempted to “prove” that building rail transit systems do nothing to reduce the car driver’s traffic congestion – Mr. Slater’s underlying motivation – by examining congestion before and after an at-grade rail system called MAX was built in Portland, OR. Quoting from the column:

“Between 1982 and 1988, the federal government studied traffic congestion changes in 39 urban areas. During this time, spanning before and after MAX, Portland experienced the 29th greatest increase in traffic congestion of the 39 cities.”

Unmentioned in his commentary is Portland’s population increase during the 1980s19.4 percent, according to the US Census. In other words, MAX “failed” to accomplish a mission assigned it by Mr. Slater – to reduce traffic congestion – whereas its mission really is giving residents a travel alternative to the private automobile.

For the Umpteenth Time
We keep pointing readers to a major talking point used over the years by Mr. Slater and more recently by his followers: Traffic in the future with rail will be worse than it is today. The implication is that Honolulu’s elevated rail system will be a failure allegedly like Portland's MAX if traffic worsens after it’s built. 

You hear it everywhere among anti-railers, yet it takes almost no brain power to understand that congestion increases along with the population, as Portland’s experience demonstrated. What Mr. Slater and his followers avoid mentioning is what he had to admit before the City Council two years ago this week:

“We don’t disagree at all that raill will have an effect on reducing traffic congestion from what it might be if we did nothing at all….

But Honolulu rail will indeed do something! Island-wide, vehicle hours of delay will be reduced 18 percent in 2030 compared to the no-build option, and as we noted Monday, “the most congested corridors may experience as much as a 30-percent reduction in hours lost to congestion compared to the no-build option.”

None of Mr. Slater’s columns discuss rail’s beneficial effects on your future through-town travel in 2030 and for generations beyond. That’s why we’ll continue examining his ABC/AAR philosophy in the days ahead.


Anonymous said...

In doing a Google search on "Cliff Slater" I discovered that he is a speaker with the American Dream Foundation, a pro-car think tank that also includes Randal O'Toole, a noted sprawl proponent. (He is the one who preferred Houston over San Francisco.) Cliff Slater's other claim to fame is a scholarly rebuttal to claims that National City Lines put the streetcar industry on the scrap heap.

Anonymous said...

One thing Slater has left with his followers is a kind of arrogance: if you don't drive, you don't matter and we'll grind you into the asphalt as a result. It's a zero sum game and we'll win in the end, so join us or else!