Friday, July 20, 2012

What’s the REAL Reason To Build Honolulu Rail? Opponents Make It Difficult To Know the Truth

Where should Oahu residents turn for the truth on why the city has been trying to build grade-separated transit for decades?
Here are three places they shouldn’t go –, and and are Internet-only sites, unlike, which mirrors the anti-rail content of the alternative newspaper’s print edition.

The three websites are anti-rail in philosophy and content and have been for years, but let’s look at one particular current offering. HawaiiReporter’s latest contribution to mixing up rail’s intent appeared yesterday in a commentary that was topped by this unusual headline: 

 Rail Does Preserve or Protect Oahu's Open Spaces
It surely is right up there among other local journalism gaffes, since only by adding the word Not does the headline reflect the commentary’s thrust. But beyond the headline, the first two sentences of the piece deserve attention because they misstate rail’s purpose:

“The main argument made by pro railers to continue support for this rail plan outside of claims for jobs or traffic relief, is that if you do not build the rail, future housing development will threaten and eventually plague the Windward, North Shore, or east Honolulu areas and all green space as we know it that is characterize (sic) as ‘open space,’ will be jeopardized. The premise that keeping the country country is only possible if rail is built is a complete farce.”

Everybody is free to provide their own favorite reasons to build the 20-mile elevated rail guideway; of course, but their “main argument“ isn’t about preserving open space. It’s just one argument, but clearly, rail’s primary purpose is to provide a travel option that will be completely unaffected by street and highway congestion.

For the record, here are rail’s four main goals as described in the project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (summarized by Yes2Rail 18 months ago at the start of 2011:

• Improve corridor mobility – Congestion has increased steadily through the decades and will continue to worsen in the decades ahead. The FEIS states: “Given current and increasing levels of congestion, an alternative method of travel is needed within the study corridor independent of current and projected highway congestion.” In other words, Honolulu rail will provide congestion-free travel through the urban corridor and thereby restore true mobility – the ability to know both your departure and arrival times for trips across town.

• Improve corridor travel reliability – Car and bus travel are susceptible to delays that can occur without warning. “This lack of predictability is inefficient and results in lost productivity or free time,” the FEIS states. “A need exists to provide more reliable transit services.” Honolulu rail will operate on a time table; train travel from one end of the line to the other will take 42 minutes day in and day out.

• Improve access to planned development to support City policy to develop a second urban center – Again from the FEIS: “Accessibility to the overall `Ewa Development Plan area is currently severely impaired by the congested roadway network, which will only get worse in the future.” Without improved accessibility to support Ewa’s growth, the area is less likely to develop as outlined in the City’s General Plan for decades.

• Improve transportation equity – Proponents of elevated highways make no allowance for this goal in their schemes to build high-occupancy toll (HOT) roads as an option to rail. They ignore transportation equity, which the FEIS defines as “the fair distribution of resources so that no group carries an unfair burden of the negative environmental, social, or economic impacts or receives an unfair share of benefits.” HOT lanes would serve only those who can afford to pay the toll, an option that obviously ignores the equity issue. Honolulu rail will provide fast, frequent, reliable and safe travel to all groups of citizens, regardless of their income and age.

Tricky Predictions
Zeroing in on the author’s intent, which is to marginalize the “open space” argument to support rail’s construction, he seems to predict that since no major housing projects are currently proposed outside the ewa plain, they wouldn’t materialize if rail were killed either.

Predicting what the future holds in rail’s absence is tricky business, but going to the source documents once again can help clarify what might happen.

Here’s are quotes from the FEIS’s paragraph 1.8.:
“Consistent with the Honolulu General Plan, the highest population growth rates for the island are projected in the Ewa Development Plan area…., which is expected to grow by approximately 150 percent between 2000 and 2030. This growth represents nearly 50 percent of the total growth projected for the entire island. The communities of Waianae, Wahiawa, North Shore, Windward Oahu, Waimanalo, and East Honolulu will have much lower population growth of up to 23 percent, if infrastructure policies support the planned growth rates in the Ewa Development Plan area (emphasis added)….

“Accessibility to the overall Ewa Development Plan area is currently severely impaired by the congested roadway network, which will only get worse in the future. This area is less likely to develop as planned unless it is accessible to Downtown and other parts of Oahu; therefore, the Ewa Development plan area needs improved accessibility to support its future planned growth (emphasis added).”

There in a nutshell is the rail-preserves-open-space argument within the FEIS, a document that’s been approved at all levels of government during the rail project’s planning process.

Failure to build rail would put added pressure on the ewa region’s road network. Since Oahu’s population will continue to grow, housing to accommodate that growth will have to go someplace. There’s only so much urban space available for that growth, so it’s not unreasonable to suggest pressures would increase to build that housing elsewhere on the island.

So’s inadvertent headline indeed makes sense:

Rail Does Preserve or Protect Oahu's Open Spaces
It just reads better when or is replaced by and.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hawaii Reporter seems to be suffering terribly from self-induced selective amnesia these days.

HonoluluTraffic has been so shamelessly misleading and dishonest that anyone associated with it should be permanently discredited.

And Honolulu Weekly makes a handy umbrella, windshield rag or vomit sponge.