Friday, August 3, 2012

Latest Anti-Rail Misinformation Piece Gets a Smack-Down Response from Someone Who Knows More about Honolulu Rail Transit than All of Its Critics Combined!

Stop Rail Now co-founder Dennis Callan, a self-described world traveler who thinks the dozens of stamps in his passport make him an expert on rail transit, has yet another misleading, error-filled essay in Civil Beat today.

Yes2Rail doesn’t know whether the Honolulu rail project will attempt to correct Mr. Callan’s mistakes and blatant disregard of the facts, but we’re not waiting. We’ve secured a point-by-point deconstruction of Mr. Callan’s piece written by a professional transportation planner who’s had years of experience with Honolulu rail.

Don’t worry about who the author is as you read his refutation of Mr. Callan’s commentary, which is headlined There are Many Reasons To Reject Rail. Just reading his fact-based analysis should convince you he knows his stuff. Mr. Callan’s paragraphs are shown below in purple, followed by our expert’s commentary.

There has been a truck-load of ink spilled on this topic but never, ever, have ALL the arguments been assembled in one place. One Place. There has not bee a place or time when all the arguments have been collected in one composition. This critical issue has so many dimensions to consider that we need a summary at this tie to properly state the case. The tragedy is that opponents say "too noisy, ugly, expensive" or "too..." but singling out one aspect, like financing or corruption, is not enough. It narrows and cheapens the argument.
TRAFFIC & ALTERNATIVES: Rail will not solve our traffic problems. City and FTA admit that congestion will be worse with rail than now. Cheaper, more effective alternatives could be implemented quickly, benefitting all, but were never properly studied by city.
Contrary to this comment, the other options were studied and did not result in measurable improvement compared to rail benefits. Congestion will be worse, that is true, but much better than if we don’t build rail.  No other “solutions” Callan points to can claim that.  He simply chooses to ignore the results because they don’t agree with his views.
More express buses are needed now: one express lane could provide four times the passenger capacity than rail, at higher speed, with seated passengers. Future cars will be computer-guided, self-driving, making better use of lanes, safely fitting more vehicles into existing roads. Other solutions include telecommuting, ridesharing, added lanes, modified work & school hours.  
Callan is not viewing the reality of the conditions in Honolulu. In the extreme, buses can carry a lot of people. That is true. But they do so only when they can travel unfettered by other traffic. In Honolulu, that condition does not exist even if you build a new facility. Eventually, they MUST return to the surface streets and the congestion they carry. That negates whatever benefit might have been achieved from other improvements. Callan simplistically claims capacity for buses as ridership. Providing capacity is not the same as attracting ridership. The rail project forecasts ridership, not capacity. That's all evaluated in the rail project and clearly explained. Elevated rail has none of those problems.
ENVIRONMENT & LAND USE: 20-mile, elevated, massive concrete slab would be an eyesore. The train would have lower energy-efficiency than future cars and current buses. Archaeological and historic sites will be disturbed and existing neighborhoods disrupted. 
The elevated rail system will have some visual effect on parts of the city. Those locations are identified in the EIS and addressed in detail.  Most of the project will not have any notable effect on the Island.  The train, contrary to Callan’s repeated comments, is more efficient that cars and buses, current or otherwise.  Though I guess we should reflect on the fact that he now proposes we wait for future cars to solve the problem.  He loves to claim benefits for telecommuting and carpooling that are, in reality, miniscule.  While they might still be a good idea, they have not worked anywhere else at reducing congestion.  Why would they work here?  The historic sites that are along the project are being addressed in accordance with the requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act.  A lot of effort has gone into ensuring that no critical site is affected and not properly mitigated from that effect.  The project does not knowingly disturb neighborhoods or sensitive sites.  Callan is just making that up.
Transit Oriented Development is unlikely, e.g. Portland, still waiting for development 25 years later. Resulting low-density Leeward sprawl encouraged by rail will further increase congestion and destroy farmlands. Feds have stated “Waipahu, Pearl City, and Salt Lake communities may not be very adaptable to redevelopment.” A better planning option is to increase city-center population. 
“TOD is unlikely.”  This statement just makes Callan look foolish. First of all, we already have TOD in parts of the city.  Callan is ignorant of the experience in other cities yet passes himself off as somebody who has expertise in such matters. Portland has entire neighborhoods built around the concept.  And, while TOD does not happen just because you want it to, it is a reality in many cities around the country and the world and an effective tool to address transportation issues.
RAIL COSTS: This is the most expensive per-capita rail project in US history. Construction was $2.7 billion in 2006, now $5.3 billion and climbing. Historically rail has had average overrun +40 percent from initial estimates. Operation and maintenance during the next 20 years will total over $6 billion. Combined this will cost each family of four $48,000, which we don’t have.
So, the argument here is that “because it costs money, we should not do something…”  This is a costly project.  With few exceptions, every project in Honolulu is likely to be more expensive than a similar project elsewhere in the country.  But there is no way around that if anything effective is to be done about the issue.  Callan would rather condemn the citizens of a great city to the vagaries of his personal ideology because there is a financial cost. 
OTHER COSTS: We cannot afford it, especially considering needed improvements for sewers, $5 billion; water, $5 billion; and roads, $2 billion. Subsidy for operation & maintenance of rail and bus in 2023 estimated at $285 million/year. 
This is a red herring.  The source of funds for other projects cannot by law come from the funding for the rail project. It has to be raised independently or it won’t happen.  In other words, just because the rail does not go forward does not mean something else will. This is a good example of how Callan sees the people of Oahu.  He thinks they are simple and that he can sell them on a lie to further his personal agenda.
RIDERSHIP: Transit use would only increase from current 6 percent to 8 percent, benefitting just 2 percent while using half our transportation budget. Inflated claims of 116,000 daily require a 100 percent increase in transit riders, which has never happened anywhere.
Again, this is a gross display of ignorance on Callan’s part.  By now, he should certainly know better given the chances he’s had to inform himself about the rail project.  But then, why let the facts get in the way of an opinion?  The ridership forecast is actually conservative.  It could go to well over 130,000.  The project purposely, with the FTA’s oversight, kept the forecast conservative.  Rail will represent only about a third of the transit system ridership (including TheBus).  Right now, TheBus carries about 270,000 riders a day.  In 2030, the number can be expected to be substantially higher.  The rail forecast of 116,000 would be about 40% of today’s ridership and a lesser proportion of future ridership.  How does Callan arrive at a 100% increase in ridership?  Then he says “it has never happened before” clearly without having a clue about the truth of his statement.  His math is either in need of serious remedial work or he is, once again, trying to foist a lie upon the citizens of the City to further his own views and prevent them from exercising their right to make an informed opinion.
Existing residential pattern is low density, not suited for rail. Very few (perhaps 2 percent) will walk to rail; time-consuming bus-to-rail transfers always discourage ridership; parking available at only 3 of 21 stations; city claims 60 percent will transfer by bus, which is a four times higher than national average. The first rail segment starts in farmland with full route not open for 20 or 30 years. Riders would be uncomfortable with 80% standing, some for 41 minutes. Average train speed is only 27 mph, stopping every mile.
The density in the rail corridor is among the highest in the country.  It is not a “low density pattern” and is all within a very narrow linear space which is exactly why rail lends itself very nicely to this location.  The farmland Callan refers to is planned for high density residential.  The rail project does not judge the good or bad of that decision by the City and County, but it provides a vehicle for moving those people around that Callan certainly does not have a solution for.  Callan makes up all these weird statistics to support his position and never provides any documentation of his sources.  His interpretation of national data is often bizarre and either misinformed or malicious to further his objectives.  It is difficult to believe any of his statistics because they are mostly made up.  New parking facilities will be available at five locations, not three.  Existing parking is available at a number of station locations already and at most, there is no need for parking because they are at the destination end of most trips.  OK, I agree it will take 41 minutes from Kapolei to Ala Moana by rail.  Do that in a car at rush hour!
JOBS: $500 million foreign payments to build the trains will export employment. Rail technology requires importing specialized workers. Bus transit alternatives would create local jobs. Traffic relief, not job-creation, should be main justification.
I will give Callan credit for being persistent. This thing about rail creating foreign jobs is another red herring. Buying buses will also create foreign jobs. So what?! The issue is not foreign jobs, but whether the project create jobs here. And, as we've seen, it is already doing that. Comparing jobs for a bus alternative to jobs for the rail project is like saying that we have a choice between marlin fishing and buying a can of tuna. Buses will offer little or no relief. Let's get past this. It's clearly discussed in the EIS. Callan just wants to perpetuate misinformation ahead of the vote for Mayor to gain his selfish ends. If we want traffic relief, let's built the rail project. Nothing else can do as well.
OPERATION: Train has no drivers, no police, and security is not in budget. Honor system for fare collection is unreliable. Trains are old-fashioned, obsolete technology, with rigid alignment that cannot be modified for changing conditions.
This is a flat out lie.  All these features are part of the plan.  They have always been a priority item.  Callan just does not want anybody to know that.  Also, for all the travel Callan does, you’d think he would know how trains have changed over the past two decades.  These ain’t your father’s choo-choos.
POLITICS: The public has been subject to years of misleading ads by government, paid with tax money. Our city administration is irresponsible to proceed now, issuing $300 million in contracts in the face of lawsuits and the upcoming election, without guarantee of Federal funds. If rail is not approved, new construction will have to be torn down (“cheaper” city claims).
Arrogant politicians have been intolerant of criticism, and unwilling to listen to alternate opinions. Biased studies were conducted by the same city-contracted planner, Parsons, who recommended Bus Rapid Transit in 2003 and dismissed rail. Major polls show public now opposed to rail. The 2008 election was rigged by big $$ on misleading ads, and promises of reduced congestion and lower price. Rail benefits special interests: bankers, developers, politicians, unions and planners with ties to rail. We need real solutions.
The misleading information is coming from the anti-rail crowd.  They compound it with feigned paranoia to further excite their audiences.  They have nothing to offer that improves upon the rail project.  Their ideas were, despite their continual whining about dismissing “alternate opinions”, studied in detail during the Alternatives Analysis and discussed in the EIS.  They expected a particular outcome and did not get it, so they make up stories to mislead people about what will work.  It’s a childish position to take and, hopefully, people will not fall for it.  Callan has nothing to offer but a perpetuation of current conditions that will get substantially worse over time.  Rail gives people a choice they do not have today.  Callan does not want to citizens of Honolulu to have that choice.
About the author: Dennis Callan co-founded Stop Rail Now in 2008. He has learned about mass transit during the past 30 years leading tours to Europe and elsewhere, riding metro rail in 62 different cities, nearly all of which are larger and more densely populated than Honolulu. He has been opposing the Honolulu rail for 35 years and is currently active in the Cayetano mayoral campaign. 
Sorry. Traveling around the world as a tourist is not a substitute for studying and understanding the principles that shape transportation. It's OK to disagree with a project or a position, but it's not OK to tell stories that take away from the people's right to make an informed decision.

There you have it – a thorough and credible dismantling of the anti-rail set’s best list of reasons to oppose Honolulu’s elevated rail project. If they didn't think so highly of this commentary, they wouldn't have placed it 8 days before the Primary Election.

Please digest our friend's response and take it to the bank. As they say in Vegas, "It's money."

This post has been included in Yes2Rail's "aggregation site" under the Mr. Cliff Slater (and Friends) heading.


Roy Kamisato said...

TRAFFIC & ALTERNATIVES: Rail will not solve our traffic problems. City and FTA admit that congestion will be worse with rail than now but will be even worse with a half bake BRT system. Cheaper, more effective alternatives could be implemented quickly in our dreams, but were never implemented because they exist only in our dreams. All alternatives were studied by the State and City governments and the first option thrown out was the half baked BRT system. The $5 billion price tag for rail is time and inflation adjusted and is falling because the Federal Transportation Department required the City to inflate the costs of certain parts of the rail construction to be on the safe side. An arrogant politician who is intolerant of criticism and unwilling to listen to the facts is trying to kill the most vetted project in the history of Hawaii. Major polls are showing support falling due to misleading ads and promises of the anti-rail coalition. About the author....Often travels to Las Vegas but is smart enough not to gamble. Spends most of his time taking his wife window shopping and eating well.

Anonymous said...

I can't figure out whether Callan has actually managed to convince himself that he is some kind of expert who knows more about rail transit and Honolulu's needs than actual transportation experts who really study and comprehend such matters, or whether he is just deceitful and arrogant enough to put on a show knowing full well that his arguments range from specious to preposterous.

And I can't figure out why someone who spends most of his time gallivanting in Europe is so angry and dogmatically opposed to Honolulu's best, and perhaps last, chance to acquire a modern and efficient rail transit system that will serve it well for generations to come.