Monday, July 9, 2012

If Anti-Railer Pushes One Message above the Rest, What’s an Education-Focused Web Log To Do?

We’ve had 48 hours to reflect on this blog’s role since the Star-Advertiser’s story on Yes2Rail and its “sometimes biting” content.
Yes2Rail exists to educate the public about rail issues, so what’s its role when anti-railer-in-chief Cliff Slater and his friends distribute deceptive messages they hope will damage the Honolulu rail project?

If you sift through Mr. Slater’s thousands of words in his decades-long opposition to rail, you find recurring themes. One of them is a preference for driving a car, which he says preserves the individual’s independence and freedom of choice about where and when to travel, whereas rail transit restricts movement along a fixed path according to a timetable.

That’s one way to look at personal mobility, but it slides right by the whole traffic issue and the link between congestion and population: As the latter grows, so does congestion while the driver’s options shrink.

That being the case, Mr. Slater’s message of choice recently is his assertion that rail will essentially have a minimal benefit in addressing Oahu’s growing traffic congestion. Here’s what he posted on his website just two days ago:

“We have shown that…automobile traffic will be 23 percent more (in 2030) than we have today if we don’t build rail and 21 percent if we do, which would not be a noticeable difference.”

And right there is an example of how to deceive the public about rail’s future benefit. We posted about this on Thursday and again Friday, and since Mr. Slater continues to use this deceptive message, we think it’s a legitimate topic here at Yes2Rail again today.

The ‘Whole Argument’
Traffic congestion in the future will be greater than it is today.  Mr. Slater has been using that message to fight rail for years, but his delivery implies that rail will be a failure if it doesn’t actually reduce traffic congestion.

It’s a preposterous suggestion, of course, and we’ve been calling him on it every since he started using this particular sleight of hand. Two years ago this week, Civil Beat published an interview with Mr. Slater in which he floated this message:

“In talking to groups about rail, I tell them that there’s really two things you need to know about it. Number one, it’s gonna cost five and one-half billion dollars before cost overruns, and the second thing is that traffic congestion with rail in the future will be worse than it is today. And then I ask them if they have any questions, and that kinda sums up the whole argument.”

Yes2Rail’s “aggregation site” has links to numerous posts under the Mr. Cliff Slater heading, and look what’s happened: Having been called out on his deceptive message for the past two years, Mr. Slater has switched his tune and now says, yes, there will be more congestion, but rail won’t reduce it much.

Go to the Source
As we noted in last week’s posts, a relatively small reduction in the amount of traffic can produce significant reductions in the amount of time that is lost to that traffic. Quoting the Final Environmental Impact Statement:

“…even moderate decreases in traffic volumes under congested conditions can result in relatively large decreases in travel delay.”  

The FEIS says vehicle hours of delay will be reduced 18 percent with rail operating in 2030. And since that’s an island-wide reduction in vehicle hours of delay, it means that the most congested corridors may experience as much as a 30-percent reduction in hours lost to congestion compared to the no-build option.

Mr. Slater’s website doesn’t tell you that. If you have the time and motivation, you might be able to scroll through the FEIS to find where it refutes his wildfire of misinformation, but going to the FEIS isn’t what most of us do. 

So what are rail educators supposed to do in the face of the anti-railer-in-chief’s tactics -- especially since the mainstream media either don't know enough about rail or care enough to examine them?

Until recently, the federal government’s response to actual forest wildfires was to let them burn.  That didn’t work so well, so the modern response is to aggressively contain those wildfires. It’s called fighting fire with fire, and it seems to work.


Anonymous said...

This one is easy. UHM's total enrollment is under 20,500. Population on Oahu is about 950,000. Yet when UHM is out of session, traffic improves. 20,500/950,000 is about the same 2%. Noticeable difference from that 2% right? =)

Doug Carlson said...

Excellent point, Anony!! Glad you made it.

Roy Kamisato said...

At this point I'm afraid the truth is swimming up stream. Until the media takes a stance to report the truth while reporting the news things won't change. Great examples of this is many American's until this day believe WMD's were found in Iraq and of course many still believe President Obama was born in Kenya.

Anonymous said...

And in other entertainment sitings, the news site/gossip blog dubbed Civil Beat has commissioned a notoriously suspicious and opinionated (and often laughably hypocritical) cat-loving rail-hater for a three-part news series on "election issues."

Well, maybe he only hates rail on some days, and on other days yearns for it to be impossibly perfect through magic or something. It's kind of hard to tell.

Hiring such a shoot-first-and-let-them-defend-themselves-if-they-want-to opinion-slinger to produce news stories about elections might be garden variety poor judgement had the blogger not (1) recently become (along with a few other commentator types who damn sure know better) a truth-stretching apologist for the boatload of illegal campaign donations received not so long ago by the anti-rail mayoral candidate; and (2) just days ago publicly declared his vehement opposition to one of the two candidates who support rail.

The first CB installment was a snoozer that only the wonkiest will manage to slog through, so it's doubtful that this reasonably obvious conflict of interest will matter much to anything but CB's nascent credibility. CB's introductory references to his knee-jerk-opinion-riddled blog don't exactly project the notion of objectivity. Whatever.

But it's a tad ironic that his blog post today highlighted a new book by an outspoken (and highly misinformed) rail opponent. While the historical tome is unrelated to rail (and irrelevant to this election), the blogger was thrilled to find that it referenced his own earlier suspicions about, drum role please, conflicts of interest.

To paraphrase Captain Willard: "The bull(droppings) piled up so fast in Honolulu media that you needed wings to stay above it."

Doug Carlson said...

I'm appreciating the comments more and more each day! Thanks, everyone, for using this blog as a repository for incisive and often humorous commentary.