Saturday, August 4, 2012

Saturday Review: A ‘New’ Anti-Rail Group that Includes the Usual Suspects Calls Itself Pro-Environment Yet Opposes Sprawl-Fighting Rail, Plus: More Hints, Guesses, Speculation and Fear from Cliff Slater

And so ends another week of double-talk and calculated misinformation about Honolulu rail.

Yes2Rail yesterday dispatched Dennis Callan’s Civil Beat anti-rail commentary to the trash bin with a transportation professional’s refutation of each and every one of his essay’s points.

Call us crazy, but we think a transit expert easily trumps every card played by a travel expert in the anti-rail misinformation game. But Mr. Callan's error-filled piece wasn’t the craziest item among rail opponents’ activities this week.

Their Pool of Deception deepened when a group calling itself the Hawaii Environmental Coalition announced it would fight rail, a project that will do more to preserve the environment than any amount of agricultural preservation.

Civil Beat, the online subscription news service, continues to demonstrate its value to the community in covering public affairs issues. It looked earlier this week at the new group’s membership, which includes the usual cast of rail-opposing characters – among them Cliff Slater, Randy Roth, Sam Slom, Scott Foster, Tom Coffman, John Brizdle and the cofounders of Stop Rail Now – Dennis Callan and Michael Uechi, who failed to stop rail in the 2008 elections.

Civil Beat observed: “The group could have been called ‘Rail Opponents Coalition’ or ‘Cayetano Supporters Coalition.’ But those don’t have the same ring as ‘Hawaii Environmental Coalition’ when it comes to an endorsement.”

We liked the pro-rail comments below Civil Beat’s article on the group so much that we’re quoting some of them today:

Long-time rail supporter Keith Rollman: It is deeply suspicious that this "environmental" group professes to be fighting sprawl by trying to kill the very project that is designed to focus future growth back into the urban corridor. The Sierra Club, nationally, supports fixed rail for this very reason. In order to curtail suburban sprawl over open space and ag land you need an incentive to re-develop existing high density urban areas. Rail does that, but trying to build more highways so you can add more cars in order to further expand low density suburban development is exactly what is causing the problem. The anti-rail group supports sprawl, oil, cars and highways, and cynically trying to pass themselves off as anti-sprawl environmentalists is insulting to anyone with a functioning brain.

Roy Kamisato, who frequently adds comments below Yes2Rail’s posts: This group could have also been named "Citizens for Urban Sprawl". "Citizens for more Freeways", "Citizens for more Traffic Congestion”, "Citizens promoting traffic alternatives which make Traffic Congestion worse'' or Citizens coalition for short term thinkers"…. There is of course no way to prevent urban sprawl without sticking to the City's General plan of placing high density developments in the West corridor. Building rail is a requirement for that to happen. There is no way to prevent urban sprawl without providing an efficient means of transportation in that corridor. Building rail does not prevent politicians from allowing further urban sprawl, but not building rail guarantees urban sprawl. (Bus Rapid Transit) is a requirement of urban sprawl. BRT's flexibility allows for development all over the place. This is the frustrating up-is-down argument that is coming from the anti-rail camp. The beauty of rail is that it is a (fixed) route and will be a magnet for development around it.

Matt Lee: For all the accusations about pro-rail groups using tricks, I don't see these anti-rail folks any better, if not worse. Why? Because if you can go to great lengths to accuse another party of mud slinging, then you engage (in) it yourself, actions speak louder than words. Basically, these folks are okay with mud slinging so long as they be the ones slinging the mud, not receiving it. (It’d) be great if the (pro-rail) side anted up and created some hocus pocus "environmentally this and that" group.

Seeing a Difference
What strikes us as a consistent difference between the pro-rail and anti-rail camps is that the former uses facts, documentation and professionalism to support its predictions that rail will have long-lasting and profound positive effects on Oahu. The latter use deception, misinformation and speculation to fight rail.

We highlighted this factor in our June 28th post, which we said at the time “may be the most important of the 772 posted here in the past four years because it cuts to the heart of the anti-rail campaign’s prominent rhetoric and exposes it for its manipulative qualities.”

We’ve added another 27 posts since then, and post #799 today uses an example from today’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser of the opponents’ reliance of scare tactics.

The story (subscription required to read online) is headlined Rail cost outlook creeps up and includes comments by city officials who say “they intend to ensure the Honolulu rail project is completed on budget.” The newspaper then cites its recent opinion survey on rail to suggest the public doesn’t agree:

“…84 percent of Oahu voters strongly or somewhat agree that the rail project ‘will end up costing a lot more than is currently estimated.’” Disregard the inadequacy of that description; to be accurate, it should have read “84 percent of very likely Oahu voters who were polled” think the project will overrun its budget.

But beyond that point, why do so many believe this? It’s because people like anti-railer-in-Chief Cliff Slater have been saying so for years without many challenges based on his hunches and speculation.

Says the paper: “Longtime rail opponent Cliff Slater said he expects the real cost overruns will come later, after the city has erected several miles of track. Slater said he believes rail contracts were awarded for artificially low amounts because contractors plan to submit change orders later to demand more money.”

We added the emphasis to highlight that these are simply Mr. Slater’s expectations and beliefs – his hunches that are driven by his decades-long opposition to public transit projects based on his preference for ABC transportation – Always by Car.

If the media had viewed Mr. Slater with more skepticism and less respect over the years, delving into his beliefs and talking points to uncover the misrepresentations at the heart of his philosophy, maybe the public would believe something entirely different about rail.

But Rolodex journalism – the media’s reliance on the same sources time and again – has catapulted Mr. Slater into near-daily prominence in local rail coverage and, because of that coverage, bestowed an aura of authority on his pronouncements.

That aura is undeserved. If you doubt that, please do spend some time with the posts beneath the Mr. Cliff Slater (and Friends) heading at our “aggregation site.”

And please also read Yes2Rail’s June 28th post, then fast forward to yesterday’s smack-down of Dennis Callan’s anti-rail screed by a certified transit expert. There’s enough there and elsewhere among rail-supporting groups to convince most people that the rail opponents are pushing an agenda that has nothing to do with rail’s four principal goals while disregarding what achieving the goals will mean for future generations of Oahu residents.

Here are those goals again, as originally described here in early 2011; they’re easily found in Chapter One of the project’s FEIS:

• 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.

That January 3 post concluded: “Anti-railers surely will raise objections to Honolulu rail even at this late date – as if the project can be reset and begin anew. There’s absolutely no reason to do that, since each and every objection they raise already has been thoroughly addressed. You can look it up, and a good place to start is the FEIS.”

In retrospect, that reads pretty funny, since the opponents haven’t just tried to “reset and begin anew,” they’re trying with all their might to kill this project.

And so the question today is, which side in the rail dispute will the public believe – the fact-based supporters or the fear-based opponents?


Anonymous said...

It's pretty amazing that some reporters continue to treat Slater as if he's a credible source.

The Honolulu Newspaper Spoof continues its played-out run.

And the Rail-Hater Club's new fake environmental group is another wooden stake in their quickly expiring credibility.

Roy Kamisato said...

Add one more potential name for that anti-rail group. "The Urban Sprawl League".