Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Anti-Rail Forum was Big on Stats & Scare Tactics, Scarce on Ways To Give Oahu Commuters Relief, Plus: Calling Out Opponents on Their ‘Big Lie’

The only TV station to cover the anti-rail event featured a pro-rail rally outside.
The Hawaii News Now report on last night’s anti-rail forum with four nationally known anti-mass transit activists summed up the event pretty well:

“PowerPoint presentations were no match tonight for good old-fashioned chanting. On one side, a panel of rail critics with their charts and graphs. On the other, west side families who say, ‘Enough talk already. Let’s get this train built!’
The presenters managed to avoid the scores of chanting rail supporters in front of Kapolei Hale, including representatives of Oahu’s youngest generation (below), by entering the building through a side door. By the time the meeting started and some of the rail supporters had come inside to watch the canned performance, the audience totaled less than 50.
Subtracting out the pro-rail people, the presenters and Stop Rail Now organizers who attend all rail events left maybe a dozen “unaffiliated” citizens in attendance, which doesn’t say much for the alleged anti-rail fervor in the community allegedly uncovered recently by a flawed public opinion survey.

The visitors shoveled a blizzard of statistics at the audience in their PowerPoint slides, suggesting once again that you can prove just about anything if you have enough statistics. That’s essentially the theme of the book How To Lie with Statistics, which has been on high school and college reading lists for decades.

You also can scare the bejesus out of people with stories of rail’s alleged failure in mainland cities and the costs of Oahu’s needed infrastructure improvements, but in the end, left unmentioned in the presentations was rail’s key deliverable:

Rail will give users congestion-free travel through the city.
Chevy vs. Lexus
Heard more than once, however, was this generalization: “The only statistically proven way to reduce road congestion is to expand highways lanes,” which is a close paraphrase of the HOT lane advocate's main pitch last night.

Adrian Moore of the Reason Foundation “proved” with his statistics that high-occupancy toll roads are not Lexus Lanes that serve only the well-to-do. He or someone else “proved” this by writing down the makes of cars being driven on toll roads and surmising that Fords and Chevys are driven by poorer people – hence, even poor people use HOT lanes.

John Charles of Cascade Policy spent virtually all his time showing how transit oriented development has allegedly failed in Portland, OR and therefore will fail here, too. That’s the implication, but despite all the stats about mainland travel and references to things that didn’t work out so well there, the canned presentations avoided the realities of space and transportation on Oahu.

Nobody stepped up with graphics or anything resembling a concept that could inject HOT lanes into Honolulu’s urbanized environment – just vague references to a managed lane “proposal” that’s really no proposal at all.

The whole island is still waiting for anti-rail Ben Cayetano, who announced his mayoral candidacy six weeks ago tomorrow, to articulate details of a transportation plan that he’d pursue instead of rail. A Dick Adair cartoon in MidWeek unintentionally made this point; we know what Mr. Cayetano is against (in his left hand) but have no idea what he wants (the empty right hand).

Population and Traffic
Randal O’Toole of the Cato Institute flooded the audience with statistics to “prove” transit is failing to attract riders even as cities grow. For example, he said the population in Atlanta, GA has doubled since the 1980s, yet transit’s share of trips taken by residents has fallen by half.

That’s it – no further explanation required, Mr. O’Toole reasons, yet that’s exactly the result you’d expect when suburbs are built that require continued dependence on America’s car culture for mobility.

Oahu’s population growth is being channeled to west Oahu, a region bordered by mountains and an ocean, unlike Atlanta and Houston and other mainland cities mentioned in the visitors’ statistical presentations. Left unaddressed by these highway advocates is Honolulu’s unique long and lean layout that transit experts for decades have said is ideal for a rail transit system.

But the underlying statistical snow job within all the presentations last night can be heard locally, too. We call it:

The Big Lie
It was heard as recently as this morning on Honolulu’s #1 radio station: Building rail will not reduce traffic congestion. Mr. Cayetano has picked up anti-railer-in-chief Cliff Slater’s main talking point, and forum moderator Panos Prevedouros used it last night: “No city in the world has reduced traffic congestion by building rail.”

If that’s true, it’s therefore also true that building more highways hasn’t reduced traffic congestion either. Congestion increases with the growth in population and vehicles, and even adding more highway lanes results in "induced traffic" on them. It’s not a difficult concept, so why is it so hard for talk show hosts to understand?

Using the same reasoning, it’s also true that no city in the world has reduced its solid waste volume by building more sewage treatment plants. It happens!

So it went with last night’s rhetoric (it’ll be repeated at noon today in the City Hall complex), much of which deserved to be shredded and left in a statistical waste dump for all the relevance it had for Oahu residents. We’ll have more tomorrow on what motivates these “hired guns” to show up all over the country with their anti-rail dog-and-pony shows.

And showing up in Kapolei wasn’t easy. The photo below was taken on our drive from town to the forum and illustrates what commuters living on the west side deal with twice a day. Note the bus creeping along with the rest of us in the high-occupancy-vehicle lane.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tonight’s Anti-Rail Forum Will Be Wakeup Call for Rail Supporters, Especially West Side Residents Who Want To End Traffic’s Grip on Their Lives

“Night of the Hired Gun” could be the title of this evening’s anti-rail performance at Kapolei Hale if it were a movie. Mainland imports who’ve made their reputations on hiring out to mass transit opponents will be the featured speakers in a forum moderated by UH highway expert Panos Prevedouros.

The visitors’ trip to Oahu was announced in mid-January in a Star-Advertiser ThinkTech Hawaii column that we referenced at the time, noting that the doctrine that binds them is anti-rail and pro-highway outlook.

It’s also an anti-government-spending doctrine that’s selective in what kinds of government programs they oppose and what they like. “Highways are good, rail transit is bad” pretty much sums it up.

We’ll have more here in this space tomorrow about this evening’s event. In the meantime, congestion-weary west-side residents might want to Google the names mentioned in the January post linked above to get a read on what they’re likely to hear this evening.

We can confidently predict what you won’t hear – anything that could be interpreted as favorable commentary on Honolulu’s future traffic-avoiding rail transit system. The “Night of the Hired Gun” script has no room for that kind of dialogue.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Auto Titan Warns of Urban Mobility Crisis, Says Smarter Cars, Rapid Transit Both Are Needed for Freedom of Movement throughout 21st Century

Bill Ford, Jr., chairman of the car company, made news in Barcelona, Spain today that might just get into the local daily newspaper in a day or two. It should, because the urban congestion crisis he says could threaten our freedom to commute already has hit Honolulu.

Mr. Ford gave a keynote address at the Mobile World Congress, a forum on mobile communications, and his pitch for advanced communications between vehicles surely went down well among the tech-oriented participants.

“What I’m really worried about is the role of the car in the long term,” he said. “If we do nothing, it will limit the number of vehicles we can sell. If we can solve this problem of urban mobility, I think there’s a great business opportunity for us.”
That’s what you’d expect from the brainstorming head of the company as he tries to understand how Ford Motor Company might thrive for another century. Communication’s the key and not just between people, he says. Mr. Ford envisions a future in which cars will “talk” to one another.

Kinda Like Trains
By reducing human control and relying on communications and computers to improve car travel, cars will flow along in tight formations, maybe even bumper to bumper at speeds unthinkable today, he says. If this sounds familiar, it’s because magazines like Popular Science and Popular Mechanics decades ago envisioned such a future, with cars computer-controlled by highway circuitry.

Mr. Ford anticipates a more sophisticated vehicle-to-vehicle network that improves upon the technological advances we already enjoy. In a way, his “vehicle trains” would retain the illusion of personal control over commuting while actually ceding it to the system.

Mass transit has been doing this for generations with bus and rail systems, of course. Mr. Ford understandably is fighting for a future that includes a place for his company’s product.

Too much success in selling that product could produce gridlock beyond anything already experienced in a world with 1.2 billion cars today. That number is expected to double or triple in the decades immediately ahead.

The Congestion Issue
Mr. Ford’s assessment of urban mobility and the consequences of population and vehicle growth is the perfect antidote to Cliff Slater’s anti-rail message. Mr. Slater is forever saying Honolulu rail will be a failure because congestion will continue to increase after rail is built.

As the DailyTech piece linked above notes in the summary paragraph, “Ford said as the population increases, auto sales will increase, but congested highways will prevent us from traveling/commuting.”

Maybe that obvious connection articulated by the great-grandson of Henry Ford will finally prompt the local media to examine Mr. Slater’s rhetoric deeper than ever. Why must it always be left to rail supporters to peel away the layers of Mr. Slater’s anti-rail messages? Where are the media's questions in digging into the platitudes of rail opponents who promise a better alternative but fail to actually describe one in detail?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Envelope, Please: Recognizing Performers in Honolulu Rail Drama’s New or Recurring Roles

Sunday’s celebration of the movies will be watched by hundreds of millions of movie fans around the world, but Honolulu has its own drama playing day after day, week after week, and the players in it deserve recognition, too.

The plot – a classic cliff-hanger reminiscent of the Saturday adventure serials our grandparents watched for a dime when they were kids – plays well in the Islands. Will Honolulu finally build a rail transit system and join the ranks of modern cities that offer citizens traffic-free travel through the urban landscape, or will a familiar cast of characters foil those aspirations by kicking up yet another cloud of dust to obscure the facts?

We’ll recognize a few favorites for the local Honolulu Anti-Rail Awards:

Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Cliff Slater
Mr. Slater gives another superb performance as the anti-rail celebrity of the era, not just one year or decade. He first came to prominence in the late 1980s and the early years of the Fasi Administration’s proposed rail project. That effort failed in its last act in large measure due to Mr. Slater’s frequent appearances on stage and in the media to sway public relations against the project.

His performance in that role prompted some critics to observe that Mr. Slater had become type-cast as “ABC Cliff” for always promoting his personal travel preference: Always By Car. The Honolulu Advertiser even gave Mr. Slater a recurring column called Second Opinion that played on the editorial page for the following decade. He used the space to attack, not support, virtually every new mass transit proposal advanced by City Hall to address Oahu’s growing congestion problem.

A Google search of “Slater BRT farce” today readily returns one of Mr. Slater’s columns attacking the bus rapid transit concept. The actor deserves special recognition in 2012 for his adept and nuanced performance that now includes the illusion of sincere support for BRT –  simply because it's an alleged “better option” than the planned Honolulu rail project. Once again, critics scoff.

Best Original Screenplay: Cliff Slater
The perennial anti-rail actor showed his versatility by being the principal author of the “How the City Misled the Public,” the 1500-word anti-rail newspaper commentary that launched the Gang of Four’s PR blitz in August.

The other three members of the so-called gang may have signed off on the piece, but Mr. Slater’s style was unmistakable throughout the screed. One Slater flourish in particular – the assertion that rail will be a failure if congestion continues to grow on Oahu’s highways along with the population – was evident not only in this commentary but throughout his never-ending campaign against congestion-avoiding rail.

Best Original Song: Cliff Slater
Mr. Slater not only writes his anti-rail songs but he performs them, too, as he did in October when he and his fellow Gang members appeared on the Royal Hawaiian Hotel’s stage before the Rotary Club of Honolulu.

While a recording of the event isn’t readily available, his rendition was virtually the same as his performance before Civil Beat in July 2010, when he explained how he performs before audiences, an act that we’ve reduced to a haiku:

“I tell them rail’s cost,
then say congestion won't end,
and then I sit down.”
The audacity of the performance, which ignores every positive result of grade-separated transit and its goals, often leaves rail supporters nearly speechless, but as a stand-up effort, Mr. Slater chutzpah is unequaled.

Best Actor: 'Cliff Cayetano'
The local Academy was split down the middle on this category and could not settle on one performer for the award. It therefore has shared the recognition between former governor Ben Cayetano, who is running for mayor on an anti-rail platform, and the ever-present Mr. Slater – hence, the conjoining of their personalities into one celebrity.

Mr. Cayetano, an original member of the Gang of Four cast of players who’ve sued in federal court to kill rail, clearly is following Mr. Slater’s script on how to combat the majority's will to build Honolulu rail. The former governor might have won the award in his own name but for the fact that, despite announcing his candidacy more than five weeks ago, he has kept his transportation plan under wraps and has adamantly refused to discuss its details.

Local media critics have been so spellbound by Mr. Cayetano’s comeback effort that they’ve yet to question him forcefully about his transportation ideas – with one exception: A Civil Beat reporter has done just that and was rewarded by being banned by Mr. Cayetano from covering his campaign.

And Finally – Best Overall Performance
The winner is the Honolulu rail project itself and its unsung cast of characters. Despite the publicity-hogging but substance-scarce anti-rail performances of the aforementioned actors, the project has progressed steadily through the years and in recent months received approval to enter into its Final Design phase and actually begin heavy construction thanks to the the Federal Transit Administration’s issuance of a Letter of No Prejudice.

Yesterday’s announcement by the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation that it has selected a finalist for the position of executive director is more affirmation that the rail project will become a reality despite the thespian flourishes of rail’s critics.

The local Academy wishes to thank all the participants in this ongoing drama for their collective efforts for and against rail – performances that Yes2Rail is only too happy to report.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Mayor Reviews State of the City, Challenges Rail Opponents To Specify What They’d Build Instead

Mayor Peter Carlisle’s State of the City Address yesterday was a review of his accomplishments during the first full year of his term and included a challenge to opponents of the Honolulu rail project.

Having won a special election in 2010 to replace recently departed Mufi Hannemann, Mr. Carlisle is seeking a four-year term and will face former city managing director Kirk Caldwell, who also supports rail, and former governor Ben Cayetano, who vows to kill it.

Unless a candidate receives 50 percent of the votes cast plus 1 additional vote in the August “primary” election, the two top finishers in that election will face off in November’s General Election.

Mr. Carlisle devoted a significant section of his speech to a defense of the Honolulu rail project and issued a challenge to “naysayers and critics,” chief among them Mr. Cayetano and his anti-rail Svengali, Cliff Slater.

“What do you have to offer these workers in the next seven years if we have to start all over again (on rail)” he said. “What do you have to offer the commuters from the West side, who in seven years would have a completed project?”

The mayor presumably was mindful that in the five weeks between Mr. Cayetano’s official entry into the race and yesterday’s address, the chief anti-rail candidate had not issued a plan to address Honolulu’s severe traffic congestion, which the Texas Transportation Institute called the second worst in the nation.

“I am committed to seeing our project move forward as I am about holding to the core values of honesty, transparency and fiscal accountability that you expect,” Mr. Carlisle continued. “My values have not changed. And my enthusiasm to do rail transit the right way has not changed.”

The Elevated Way
The “right way” in Honolulu is to build the system elevated above all surface traffic, which Mr. Cayetano and other rail critics oppose for aesthetic reasons. As Yes2Rail has noted innumerable times – well, maybe at least a hundred – grade-separated transit is the only way to provide fast, frequent, reliable and safe transportation through Honolulu’s urban core.

Mr. Carlisle recalled a recent visit to Manila and his ride on the city’s elevated rail transit system.

“This vibrant and energetic waterfront metropolis suffers from some of the worst traffic congestion and vehicle pollution in the entire world,” he said, “but residents have a clean, reliable and safe alternative, and they use it by the thousands.
“While swarms of cars and buses jockey for position on choked thoroughfares, the most recent portion of the rail system whisks passengers along overhead and completely avoids the turmoil. It’s a system that works. For passengers who rely on the system every day, Manila without rail transit would be unthinkable.”

Mr. Carlisle’s emphasis on safety is another challenge to rail opponents, some of whom have expressed a preference for an at-grade light rail system – Mr. Cayetano among them. A quick scan of the photographs in Yes2Rail’s right-hand column shows what Honolulu could anticipate if the city’s elevated project were replaced with at-grade transit.

At-Grade Crashes
Beginning with a triple fatality last month at a Sacramento, CA light rail crossing, the photos document accidents in cities around the country with at-grade rail transit systems. Hundreds occur each year involving cars, trucks, buses and pedestrians.

Predictably, rail opponents avoid any discussion of the safety issue, and when they do dare to approach it, they’ve managed to trip themselves up. A representative of the local architect chapter appeared on public TV two years ago yesterday and claimed at-grade transit is as safe as elevated – a preposterous assertion on its face.

Anti-rail Mr. Cayetano apparently did not respond to the open invitation in Mr. Carlisle’s speech to tell the public what he’d do to make the morning and afternoon commute better for west side residents.

It’s now five weeks and a day since Mr. Cayetano formally announced his candidacy, and as far as we can tell, he still hasn’t proposed anything resembling a plan. His post-speech comments didn't, so we’re left with knowing what he doesn’t like but nothing about what he does.

The mayor said yesterday, “It’s not time to get cold feet while you’re walking down (to) the altar” after all the years of planning and preparation for rail. Like some would-be grooms who have second thoughts about the institution of marriage, maybe Mr. Cayetano just doesn’t like public transportation  and simply can't walk down that aisle. Whether he'll offer any kind of proposal is still anybody's guess.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Cayetano vs Civil Beat Update: Mayoral Candidate Refuses To Talk with Investigative Journalist, Tells Reporter: ‘I Don’t Want You To Call Me Anymore’; Will Journalist Group File a Protest?

Civil Beat is an innovative online news service and well worth the monthly subscription price if you’re public affairs oriented and value in-depth reporting. CB is less than a year old and won the “Best Overall News Site” award from the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Although the site is free to occasional visitors, it’s a sure bet that the vast majority of Oahu residents don’t subscribe and therefore aren’t exposed to some of the best investigative reporting in Hawaii, including the site’s in-depth coverage of the Honolulu rail project.

Former governor and mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano – who one recent poll said is the leading candidate – doesn’t like Civil Beat’s rail coverage, which has included Fact Checks of Mr. Cayetano’s statements about rail and those of his fellow anti-rail plaintiffs in a lawsuit to kill the project.

Civil Beat gave the Gang of Four’s August 20th commentary in the Star-Advertiser a barely passing grade when it fact-checked seven check-able statements in the piece. We think a Half True is also a Half False, so Civil Beat's final tally was two True, Two False and three Half False – not a good score for a Gang that includes three lawyers.

“Don’t Call me, OK?’
Mr. Cayetano is running for mayor on one issue – rail, although he regularly denies he’s a one-issue candidate (MidWeek’s Bob Jones doesn’t agree). Michael Levine is CB’s rail reporter, so Mr. Cayetano has decided to not talk to Mr. Levine because of his inquisitivve reporting style.

CB first reported last week on Mr. Cayetano’s refusal to talk with him or answer his questions. Mr. Levine thought he’d try to get past this new “Berlin Wall” by calling Mr. Cayetano’s cell phone yesterday to offer him an opportunity to comment on Mayor Peter Carlisle’s State of the City address, which was scheduled for Thursday morning.

Thinking Civil Beat won’t mind, here’s their entire conversation for the benefit of those who don’t visit the CB website:

Levine: Governor, this is Michael Levine from Civil Beat. How are you doing today?

Cayetano: Hey, Mike. Don’t call me, OK?

Levine: Sorry, governor, I had a question for you. I’m not sure if you saw my email the other day…

Cayetano: (interrupting) No, no, no, no. I told you guys, I don’t want you to call me anymore.

Levine: OK.

(click)

Hello, SPJ?
As a former City Hall reporter who once was barred from attending Mayor Frank Fasi’s press conferences until a federal judge ordered otherwise, we think it’s a big deal when a major candidate for mayor refuses to talk to or answer questions posed by a legitimate journalist.

When Mr. Cayetano does that, he’s also shutting out the public, since journalists are the public’s eyes and ears – and sometimes the nose – of individual citizens. Mr. Cayetano’s thin-skinned response to Civil Beat’s reporting smells.

Mr. Levine’s questions in the weeks ahead quite reasonably would includes inquiries about Mr. Cayetano’s transportation plan that he has yet to articulate in anything resembling acceptable detail in the five weeks since his official campaign announcement.

Here’s a question for the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists: What's your move? Will Mr. Cayetano’s remarkable anti-transparency refusal to talk to Michael Levine prompt a protest from your organization? Will Media Council Hawaii take note? Will local media boycott the Cayetano campaign until the candidate starts talking to Civil Beat's reporter again?

The public has a stake in the Cayetano Contretemps Caper, and Yes2Rail will continue to follow its developments.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ex-Councilman: ‘Isolated Snapshot’ on Rail Views No Excuse To Abandon Years of Planning, Says Mayoral Candidate Is Encouraging Misinformation; Gas Prices Hit Historic Level for This Early in Year

Today’s Star-Advertiser has two rail-related op-ed pieces (subscription), and we’ll comment on one of them, since it shares our view about problems with the recent public opinion poll on rail that question its validity.

Former City Council member Gary Okino served two terms during years of crucial planning for the Honolulu rail project. He knows rail better than just about anyone, and he’s heard all the vocal opposition’s arguments against rail that nevertheless failed to win a majority in recent elections. (See two Yes2Rail posts on Mr. Okino’s previous outspoken support for rail on public television – February 2010 and October 2011.)

Mr. Okino says the entry of anti-rail Ben Cayetano into the mayoral campaign is “the latest chapter in the effort to nullify the democratic process and thwart the will of the voters…. His candidacy has provided a platform to resurrect the entire catalog of anti-rail misinformation.”

The Survey
Mr. Okino then mentions the flaw in the recent public opinion survey on rail that we previously identified – that it was conducted during the “hoopla” of Mr. Cayetano’s official entry into the mayoral race and in the aftermath the media-fueled brouhaha over the selection of an Italian company to supply the rail car and core systems for the project.

It was “small wonder that support for rail took a dip” in the poll, he writes. “A single isolated shot of opinion should not be seized on as an excuse to second-guess the wisdom of rail transit or the years of planning and input that have gone into making it a reality.”

Elsewhere on the same page as Mr. Okino’s commentary, syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts has an “open letter" to African-American young people. “You should know all about (stereotypes)” he writes. “After all, the stereotypes about you are manifold…. Indeed, one is reminded of the axiom that if you repeat a lie long enough, people will accept it as truth….”

The constant repetition of misinformation on rail may be having the same effect. One talking point in particular used by rail opponents is notable not only for its misinformation but also for its lack of intellectual honesty.

It’s logical to conclude that the stepped-up campaigns by the two pro-rail candidates for mayor will have the effect of moving public opinion back into the pro-rail column.

The 'No Information' Campaign

Misinformation is one thing, but no information is another. We’ve been promoting the view that if someone vows to kill the rail project if elected, he or she has an obligation to describe an alternate transportation plan in considerable detail.

To date, that still hasn’t happened in Mr. Cayetano’s campaign. We know nothing more today than we did five weeks ago when he officially announced his candidacy about how he proposes to speed the daily commute for scores of thousands of Oahu residents through the urban corridor – nothing more than vague references to express lanes, buses and San Diego's trolley.

Mr. Okino’s first-hand experience with the detailed planning that’s gone into the rail project presumably motivates him to speak out against the pig-in-a-poke approach pursued by leading rail opponents. He’s been vocal in his support for rail and has appeared twice in the past two years on public TV’s “Island INSIGHTS” programs, linked above.

He and Mr. Cayetano were among the guests on the October 13, 2011 show and had this memorable exchange:

Mr. Okino: “…So the choice of the people will be, 30 minutes on the train (or) two hours in traffic on the freeway. I guarantee you there will be a whole bunch of guys getting outta their cars.”

Mr. Cayetano: “…Are you gonna walk out from your house to a bus stop, wait for a bius, take the bus down to the rail station and then wait for the rail to get on it to get downtown?”

Mr. Okino: “If it takes me two hours to commute by car, of course!”

Historic Gas Prices
Mr. Cayetano finds it hard to believe people would actually walk to a bus stop and take mass transit instead of driving, and in that respect, he would seem to be out of step with an entire generation of younger citizens.

The Star-Advertiser op-ed commentary that kicked off the Gang of Four’s anti-rail PR campaign in August – Mr. Cayetano is one of the Gang – included this question: “Where will commuters park their cars?”

As we noted at the time, anti-railers “just don’t get that cars eventually won’t be a necessity for scores of thousands of commuters who, without rail, would have to drive. Rail will be part of a public transit system….”

Driving will seem even less attractive when gas prices years from now hit much higher levels – higher than even in 2007 when the price of oil hit $147 per barrel in mid-summer.

Already this year, gas prices are higher than they’ve ever been this time of year, according to the Associated Press. The AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report for today says the average price of regular gas in Hawaii is $4.252/gallon. The only other state above the $4 mark is California, at $4.072.

We were tracking gas prices closely last year and reported on March 29, 2011 that Hawaii’s average price for regular was $4.223. It’s nearly 3 cents a gallon more than that today – five weeks earlier on the calendar than last year.

The cost of driving will be another key factor in helping Oahu residents choose rail for their daily commute if they live anywhere within a convenient distance of a station. Maybe that won’t matter to the wealthier members of the community, including leading anti-rail activists, but will it matter to the average man and woman who must take gas prices into account?

We’ll quote Mr. Okino's answer again: “Of course!”

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Media Ignore Obvious Flaws in Rail Opinion Poll, Repeat GI-GO Results in Stories; Senator DKI Expects Attitudes To Change with Issues Debate

When the media commission a public opinion poll, they report the results and repeat them over and over again to get the most mileage out of their investment in the survey. That seems reasonable enough except when a survey had problems within it that affect the outcome – the old Garbage In, Garbage Out syndrome.

That’s what’s happening with the Star-Advertiser/Hawaii News Now poll on the Honolulu rail project, which allegedly found public support for rail slipping to 43 percent. The survey had two obvious flaws; it was conducted within two weeks of Ben Cayetano’s official announcement to run for mayor on an anti-rail platform, and its key question was poorly worded.

Here’s how Hawaii News Now began its story yesterday on Senator Daniel K. Inouye’s decision to support a pro-rail candidate in the race: “A recent poll showed 53 percent of people on Oahu want rail stopped and 43 percent want it to force ahead.” The question they responded to was, “Do you think work should proceed on Oahu’s rail transit system?” As we noted last week, that’s not the same as asking for an opinion on whether the system should be built.

Poll’s Weaknesses
This isn’t simply quibbling about words. The media have given considerable coverage to the lawsuit filed by Mr. Cayetano and others to kill rail. Although plaintiffs aren’t seeking an injunction to stop construction, the outcome is far from certain and won’t be known until August at the earliest.

Respondents who in effect answered “don’t proceed” may have really been thinking “don’t proceed until rail has a green light, then build it as fast as you can!” The poll’s two media sponsors simply ignore the wording problem.
They’re equally blind to the timing issue. It’s almost inconceivable they would sample public opinion on rail immediately after Mr. Cayetano launched his anti-rail campaign. All the media gave it extensive coverage, including Honolulu Weekly, which made Mr. Cayetano the subject of a glowing cover story (that's HW's cover photo at right).
Too bad the Gridiron show fundraiser for the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is being presented only in odd-numbered years nowadays. The unprofessional poll fiasco would be a good skit.

Senator Inouye
Hawaii’s senior senator (photo by S-A staffer Jamm Aquino), who has served in Congress since Statehood was achieved in 1959, held a Presidents Day press conference yesterday and said he will support a pro-rail candidate for mayor. According to today’s Star-Advertiser (subscription), Senator Inouye said he couldn’t support Mr. Cayetano in the city’s non-partisan race because of his fellow Democrat’s anti-rail stance.

“If asked to say anything, I would be in favor of rail,” he said. “To be honest I suppose I would support a candidate who supports rail. I’m not the type that goes out of his way to cut his own throat.”

Mayor Peter Carlisle, who is seeking reelection, and challenger Kirk Caldwell, the managing director under Mr. Carlisle’s predecessor, both support the rail project.

Mr. Inouye also alluded to the recent opinion survey’s results and timing. The S-A reported the senator said he was surprised the alleged slippage of voter support but that he gives little credence to polls several months ahead of the August election.

“...I feel certain that once the debate begins and reasons are given, it’ll change,” he said. Messrs. Carlisle and Caldwell have yet to begin their campaigns, and media coverage so far in 2012 has tilted heavily toward the anti-rail candidate.

As Senator Inouye noted, that’s bound to change, and so will public opinion – assuming, of course, that the polling company can do a better job of constructing questions that don't give the respondents something to ponder before they answer.

LTE Forum
The newspaper’s letters to the editor column continues to reflect the public’s interest in rail, and while the paper attempts to balance the count of pro- and anti-rail letters without comment, we’re under no such restrictions.

Rail will cut waste for businesses (Star-Advertiser, 2/20)
“The rail transit system will stimulate our economy and provide jobs, but it will also improve productivity for Honolulu businesses and reduce congestion-related costs affecting many local companies. Traffic congestion is costing businesses real money. The time workers spend stuck in traffic is wasting countless work hours and a staggering amount of time paid for work that cannot be done… Delays caused by traffic congestion increase expenses and problems for those sending, receiving and transporting the goods….”
This letter was from the president of the West Oahu Economic Development Association, and before an eager anti-railer posts a comment below about rail “not eliminating congestion,” we’ll note that an 18-percent reduction of vehicle hours of delay in the urban corridor is expected by 2030. Even anti-railer-in-chief Cliff Slater admits traffic would be worse without rail than with it.

Cayetano should change view on rail (Star-Advertiser, 2/20)
“…I cannot emphasize enough the travesty it would be to see this project killed, as our politicians have done in the past. Former Gov. Ben Cayetano brings experience and credibility with him to the mayoral race. Howevr, I sincerely encourage him to reverse hiis opinion on the rail project. We are counting on the rail to keep our island moving.”
Rail system leaves passengers standing (Star-Advertiser, 2/21)
“Wake up, rail supporters: 254 passengers will have to stand all the way to Ala Moana, unless you are one of the 64 lucky passengers to get a seat…. Somehow I doubt that the 40,000 automobile drivers that the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation is expecting to ride the rail are going to leave their cars to stand sardine-style with 3128 other passengers….”
Maybe the Kailua resident who wrote this letter has never ridden rail transit. For a combination of reasons, millions of commuters do it every day all over the world – to save money, for convenience and to improve their lifestyles with the time they save. They may stand for a stop or two, then take a seat when someone else gets off.

That’s the way it works, and that’s how it’ll work here, too, in a city with some of the highest gas prices and car ownership costs in the country. We’ll gladly stand, then sit during our morning and afternoon commute if doing so helps pay for any number of things, including that long airplane trip to Vegas, New York or Paris – sitting down just about all the way.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Star-Advertiser Prints First Comprehensive Piece on Rail Construction as Project Readies for Phase One; LTE Forum: What HOT Lanes Are and Aren’t

Elevated guideway above Farrington Highway will give users a traffic-free ride.
The front pages of two consecutive editions of the Sunday Star-Advertiser have been devoted to the Honolulu rail project, and this week’s version has a much stronger foundation than what we read last week.

Today’s paper has a “double truck” layout on facing pages (8 and 9, subscription needed) that will probably win some graphic design awards somewhere along the way. (The images in today's post are only tiny slices of the in-print original.) It’s an impressive piece of artistry that visualizes how construction of the rail project will be accomplished. The accompanying copy focuses on traffic control measures that will be used during the three years of phase one work. The project is likely to begin heavy construction within a few weeks following the city’s receipt earlier this month of a Letter of No Prejudice from the Federal Transit Administration. The LONP was yet another critical approval the project has received during its long planning and design period. The city is now green-lighted to use local funds on major construction. A Full Funding Grant Agreement is anticipated in the last quarter of 2012 that would lead to $1.55 billion in federal funding.
This image is part of a wider graphic showing how support columns will be built.
LTE Forum
A letter to the editor today responds to an anti-railer’s commentary (subscription) last week extolling the alleged virtues of managed lanes; Yes2Rail responded to the piece the next day. Today’s authoritative letter was written by the rail operations manager of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation:

Managed lanes are really just toll roads (Star-Advertiser, 2/19)
“…’managed lanes’ is simply another term for toll roads. The truth is:
“Buses are not ‘guaranteed a ride at 55 miles per hour during rush hour.’ Speed and travel times are subject to traffic conditions and offer no ‘guaranteed’ speed.
“Vehicles on managed lanes are still subject to accidents that can tie up lanes for hours. Elevated rail offers congestion-free commutes.
“ Managed lanes for a toll limits access to those who can afford to pay extra for the privilege of driving on them. Public transportation should provide affordable access to all.
“Elevated managed lanes have limited entrances and exits, reducing the number of people who actually use them.
“Managed lanes can carry ‘more than 1,000 cars per hour,’ the author claims. Rail has an initial capacity of 7,200 passengers per hour, per direction.
“The bottom line is rail removes cars from congested roads and highways and offers Oahu residents a reliable transit alternative. That’s the real solution.”
And this is the Yes2Rail post we’re likely to link back to whenever rail opponents tell us how much better their toll road would be than rail.
Each Ansaldo two-car train can carry more than 300 passengers.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Week in Review: Poll Says Rail Support Has Fallen, But Flawed Question, Timing Erode Its Credibility; Call for Serious Transit Discussion Went Nowhere

It’s not how rail supporters wanted their Sunday to begin -- with a big fat headline on page one announcing a dramatic erosion of public support for the Honolulu rail project.

In the end, however, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s public opinion survey may become a University of Hawaii case study on how not to sample public opinion.

After the initial shock, the survey’s flaws seemed as obvious as the huge headline. That same morning Yes2Rail’s own headline said Newspaper’s Rail Poll Can’t Be Taken Seriously: It Was Conducted as Cayetano’s Mayoral Campaign Dominated Broadcast, On-Line, Print Journalism.

Former Governor Ben Cayetano formally announced his mayoral candidacy and intention to kill rail on January 19. The newspaper’s survey research company began its telephone poll one week later and continued calling over the next 10 days – throughout the heavy media coverage of Mr. Cayetano’s anti-rail comments.

There’s a host of ways to unintentionally weaken a survey’s credibility, and not being mindful of what else is happening at the time is one of them. You have to wonder how both the newspaper and its survey experts failed to see the obvious potential for their poll’s timing to affect its results.

But There’s More
As bad as the timing was, it’s even worse to include a question in a survey that can influence the response. The survey had a second major problem, as we headlined on Thursday: It’s Time To Blow Up the Star-Advertiser’s Rail Opinion Survey because of a Flawed Question: ‘Do You Think Work Should Proceed on Oahu’s Rail Transit System?’ Isn’t the Same as Asking ‘Do You Think the Rail Transit System Should Be Built?’

In addition to the publicity surrounding Mr. Cayetano’s campaign for mayor, the media have been covering the so-called Gang of Four’s lawsuit that’s proceeding through the federal court process with the goal of killing the rail project.

It’s highly probable and even likely that some survey respondents who answered “no” to the “should proceed” question, which was reproduced in our headline exactly as it was asked, actually support rail but think it’s prudent to wait until the lawsuit is settled, one way or the other.

The two obvious flaws add up to a flawed result. The alleged erosion in support for rail is so different from the results of previous surveys and elections (see our "aggregate" site under the Public Opinion heading) that the recent poll must be viewed with suspicion.

And then…..
By week’s end, when it seemed a full quota of weird already had been achieved, things got weirder, as summarized in our Friday headline: Civil Beat Challenges Mayoral Candidates To Talk Seriously about the Merits or Problems with Rail, So What does Ben Cayetano Do? He Refuses To Talk with Civil Beat’s Rail Reporter, Banishes Him.

Mr. Cayetano’s strange response to Civil Beat’s aggressive investigative journalism may itself become a case study in UH’s political science and journalism courses. How it all plays out, as editorials often sagely observe, remains to be seen. The serious debate of transportation issues among the three leading mayoral candidates has yet to begin.

And with three more opinion pieces in the S-A this week by the paper’s regular columnists, our 2012 prediction is holding true: They still haven’t written “a single paragraph of positive content about the Honolulu rail project.” Holding your breath is not recommended.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Civil Beat Challenges Mayoral Candidates To Talk Seriously about the Merits or Problems with Rail, So What does Ben Cayetano Do? He Refuses To Talk with Civil Beat’s Rail Reporter, Banishes Him

We couldn’t agree more with Civil Beat editor John Temple’s column yesterday that was headlined Time to Get Serous About Rail Conversation. Of course that’s what needs to happen, but focusing on rail alone would be leaving out an equally important part of the conversation.

We even had written a headline and most of today’s post urging the media to include what rail opponents like mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano want instead of rail, since that’s virtually unknown at this time. Surely whatever Mr. Cayetano is proposing must be scrutinized, too.
But here comes the bizarre and incomprehensible part: According to a new post today at CB’s website, Mr. Cayetano has cut Civil Beat from his campaign’s media list and is refusing to talk with Civil Beat’s reporter who covers rail! Writes editor Temple:
“And Cayetano told me in an email that he will not answer questions, phone calls or emails from Michael Levine, our reporter on the Honolulu beat.”
Mr. Cayetano’s email:

“…There is no point in talking to a reporter who accuses me of lacking in ‘believability’. (Temple notes that the CB item in question was actually written by him, not Levine.) “So tell Levine not to bother. I will not answer his questions, his phone calls or emails. Moreover, it is clear that Civil Beat’s pro-rail stance is embedded in Levine’s reporting. I believe strongly in holding people accountable for their actions. Therefore, I will tell my campaign chairpersons to remove Civil Beat from our media list.”
Incredibly, It Continues
So do me this favor: Tell Levine not to call me on my cell phone or try to contact me by email anymore. Notwithstanding my previous complaints about his journalism I always took his call and answered his email – and answered his questions. No more. Nor will I answer any question from him at my press conferences. If Civil Beat wants my opinion on issues – send another of its reporters.”
And to think long-time political observers have been praising Mr. Cayetano for his political smarts. The Cayetano decree is almost unbelievable. Credible mayoral candidates don’t run away from tough questions about his transportation “plan” and ban the reporter. Didn’t Mr. Cayetano learn anything from Frank Fasi?

Honolulu’s feisty former mayor tried banning reporters in 1974 when he disliked the Star-Bulletin's Richard Borreca so much he kicked him out of his city hall press conferences. That move prompted a federal lawsuit by the Advertiser, whose city hall reporter (Yes2Rail’s blogger) also was barred entry under the shaky assumption that keeping out all print reporters would be permissible. A judge disagreed.

As Temple writes today, “people in public life do not get to choose who covers them,” and in an emailed response to Mr. Cayetano, the editor wrote:

“I do believe it’s news when a mayoral candidate says he’s going to cut off a news organization from its media list. I don’t see how that serves a purpose I believe you and Civil Beat share, and that’s to make sure the people of Honolulu are informed and able to make the best decisions on important public policy issues.”
Cayetano’s Non-Plan
We can draw at least three conclusions about what may have prompted this bizarre decree: First, the former governor hasn’t had to deal with the “new media” and its aggressive, independent investigative style in the past decade, and tough questions come as something as a shock.

Second, he truly has no firm ideas about how to address Oahu’s intolerable and worsening congestion problems, so he’s cutting off a “serious conversation” before it can begin. All we’ve heard are vague references to spending “a billion” here and there, such as his remarks in Honolulu Weekly’s February 8th edition.

And third, Mr. Cayetano may have been goaded into banning Civil Beat by anti-railer-in-chief Cliff Slater, who presumably isn’t nearly as media-savvy as politicians must be. Mr. Slater seems to be filling the “Svengali” role for Mr. Cayetano and has his fingerprints on virtually everything the candidate says or lends his name to. Both men and two other federal lawsuit plaintiffs have been waging an anti-rail PR campaign for months.

John Temple’s Civil Beat report on the Cayetano Contretemps is fascinating reading and includes links to previous CB reporting on the anti-rail campaign by the Gang of Four, of which Messrs. Cayetano and Slater are members.

We’ve resisted until now the temptation to create a new heading at our “aggregate” site where we could group Yes2Rail posts on rail-related developments in the mayoral race. That resistance was blown away by these latest developments, and this post has been included in the aggregation.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

It’s Time To Blow Up the Star-Advertiser’s Rail Opinion Survey because of a Flawed Question: ‘Do You Think Work Should Proceed on Oahu’s Rail Transit System?’ Isn’t the Same as Asking ‘Do You Think the Rail Transit System Should Be Built?’

The Star-Advertiser published the results of its Honolulu rail survey last Sunday (subscription). It reported: “Support for Honolulu’s planned rail system…has sagged to less than a majority, with only 43 percent of Oahu voters now saying they believe work should continue on the project….”

If you go to the expense of commissioning a public opinion survey on a highly visible and contentious issue, you had better be absolutely certain the poll’s questions are crystal clear and impossible to misinterpret. Your poll risks being attacked and dismissed if the questions are otherwise.

The two questions in the headline above could very well produce contradictory results. The first question promotes ambiguity about what “proceed” means and about when it or some part of the “system” should proceed. The second question is a straight-forward request for an up or down answer on rail.

Rail supporters have questioned the timing of the survey; it was conducted during the first two weeks of former governor Ben Cayetano’s new campaign for mayor. The media gave considerable time and space to his anti-rail messages while providing little balance from the two pro-rail candidates. That fact alone is reason enough to be skeptical about the survey’s validity.

A Bigger Problem
We believe the poll’s greatest flaw wasn’t in the timing but in the key question, which was worded as shown in our headline: “Do you think work should proceed on Oahu’s rail transit system?”

Whoever created that question must have thought it was plain enough – proceed or don’t proceed – but it was not posed in a vacuum. Many of the 549 Oahu residents who participated in the survey must have been aware of the federal lawsuit that Mr. Cayetano and several others are pursuing to kill rail. The suit was filed last May and also has enjoyed extensive media coverage in the months since.

One of the many anti-rail statements made in recent weeks by Mr. Cayetano and his mentor, Cliff Slater, has been their demand that the city suspend any major construction on the project until after their lawsuit is decided months from now. The two have said millions of construction dollars would be wasted if the federal judge rules against the city. They’ve speculated about other uncertainties, including whether Congress will appropriate the requested funds for Honolulu rail and Mr. Cayetano’s potential victory in the mayoral race.

'No' Now, 'Yes' Later?
Asking whether “work should proceed on Oahu’s rail transit system” in light of these uncertainties might well have produced a “no” response from someone who actually supports rail – just not now, not until the unknowns are cleared away.

A far superior question would have been: “Do you think Oahu’s rail transit system should be built?” There’s no ambiguity in that question, no requirement to think about what “proceed” means and wonder in an instant about the list of uncertainties.

That question requires little thought at all, which is desirable in public opinion surveys. Pollsters just want us to give them our top-of-mind answer with no set-up, no preamble, no explanation about impacts and benefits and nothing to confuse us.

Not the First Time
The Star-Advertiser’s poll relied on a question that was not nearly as clear as it should have been. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time a local newspaper has publicized a rail survey that was flawed from the start due to the influence buried in the question.

In 2008, the Honolulu Advertiser reported (subscription) on a rail opinion survey that uncovered strong support among those surveyed. The August 27, 2008 edition of the Advertiser had the key question: “The City and County of Honolulu has approved developing a fixed-rail mass transit system as a means to reduce traffic (emphasis added).

The very next sentence in the story was Mr. Slater’s quote: “It doesn’t reduce traffic. Traffic will be far worse in the future with the train.” What Mr. Slater didn’t admit then but did two years later before the City Council is that traffic would be much worse if rail isn’t built: “We don’t disagree at all that rail will have an effect on reducing traffic congestion from what it might be if we did nothing at all,” he told Council members on July 14, 2010.

Our point in recalling the 2008 poll’s question is not to highlight Mr. Slater’s contradictory statements. It’s to point out how a poorly worded question can influence the response. In this case, the question asserted rail is being built “to reduce traffic.”

The city is not building rail primarily for that purpose – absolute reductions in traffic congestion are all but impossible as population also increases – but as a means to travel through the city completely unaffected by traffic. Rail will be the missing piece of the infrastructure that will improve mobility and reduce travel times for anyone who chooses to use it. Honolulu has no such piece today.

Mr. Slater is forever saying the public believes rail will reduce traffic, and he uses the 2008 question to back up his supposition. But that question was severely flawed in suggesting a purpose for rail that isn’t even one of the rail project's goals. Congestion certainly will be less with rail than without it, but the question misstated the project’s purpose, which is inexcusable in an opinion survey.

The Bottom Line
The recent Star-Advertiser poll differs markedly from the three previous scientific surveys that averaged about 58 percent support for rail. By playing the poll story across the top of page one beneath a 72-point headline, the paper managed to muddle up the public opinion issue. Reviewing our objections posted here this week, we’ve suggested three reasons for the alleged slippage of support the research allegedly found:

• The survey was conducted within two weeks of Mr. Cayetano’s high-visibility anti-rail campaign launch;
• The two pro-rail candidates said next to nothing in the media as a counter-weight to Mr. Cayetano’s rhetoric;
• The poll’s key question was flawed.
Rail’s support almost certainly will rebound when the media ask Mr. Cayetano for details on his transportation platform, which to date consists of vague references to San Diego's trolleys, buses and express lanes. Pro-rail candidates for mayor will surely break their silence one of these days, and one has to believe the rail project's support base is about to be energized to preserve this project and prevent yet another Cliff Slater-inspired defeat of a mass transit initiative here – elevated rail during the Fasi Administration and BRT under Mayor Harris.

Enough is enough.

This post has been added to our “aggregate” site under the Public Opinion heading.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Wednesday Columnist Denounces City’s ‘PR’ on Rail after Falling for Opponents’ Media Hype; Memo to Shapiro: Rail Will Avoid All Congestion; LTE Forum Is Packed with Pro-Rail Reasoning

This is really too rich with irony to pass up. Star-Advertiser columnist David Shapiro predictably blasts rail in today’s columnCity needs to give more substance, not PR, to rail (subscription) – and criticizes the city for using public relations to promote the project.

In practically the same keystroke, he reveals the extent to which he has fallen for Cliff Slater’s PR campaign:

“…honest citizens are questioning (rail’s) fundamental assumptions…. It’s sinking in that rail won’t actually reduce traffic, but will only reduce future gridlock growth by an uncertain amount.”
What’s finally sinking in for his readers is that Mr. Shapiro isn't familiar with rail's fundamental assumptions. Instead, he's bought into the Cliff Slater's assumption that rail will fail because congestion will continue to grow after rail is built (see recent Yes2Rail posts, below, and our "aggregation" site under the Mr. Cliff Slater (and Friends) heading). And he thinks the city doesn't need public outreach?

What’s fundamental here is that Mr. Slater is deliberately confusing the issues along with the public, which includes the columnist. Our memo to Mr. Shapiro would begin by chiding him for buying the Slater-led propaganda campaign that has enlisted the services of mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano.

Stop and Think
Mr. Shapiro has swallowed Mr. Slater’s suggestion that rail will be a failure if traffic congestion isn’t dramatically reduced. Rail supporters might well expect opinion leaders like Mr. Shapiro to actually acquaint themselves with the issues they write about. In rail’s case, he's obviously not spent time reading up on rail’s goals or comparing the Slater-led propaganda effort with what the transit project actually will accomplish. (Since he doesn't know much about rail, it's obvious he doesn't read Yes2Rail either!)

Rail riders will avoid all traffic, something of a perfect scenario for patrons, but no – he stopped short when exposed to Mr. Slater’s rail-will-fail argument.

Congestion will of course continue to grow with Oahu’s population. Does Mr. Shapiro believe there’s actually a magic bullet that will end congestion in our time? Does he think Mr. Slater has a congestion-killing idea dancing around in his head? Does he really believe more buses, more concrete, a toll road or anything else would actually relegate congestion to yesterday’s news?

It’s preposterous that a presumably free-thinking newspaper columnist would display so little of that quality in evaluating a project so critical to Oahu's future mobility and growth.

Usual Suspects

Mr. Shapiro fills out the rest of his column with the usual list of rail opponents' objections – rail's elevated structure, the either-or argument about roads and sewers and the pinhole vision of some environmentalists who think continued reliance on the car is preferable to mass transit.

He also seems sheltered from a major flaw in the recent public opinion poll: It was conducted in the days immediately following Mr. Cayetano’s announcement that he'll run for mayor on a kill-rail platform. Media publicity undoubtedly influenced the outcome of the ill-timed survey.

LTE Forum
Today’s letters to the editor reveal sound appreciation for rail:

Rail will serve the whole island (from a Waialae-Kahala resident)
“Wake up, Hawaii! Onde rail is built, it will not serve just the west side…. Taking all those cars off the highway from the West Oahu area means less congestion in town. People won’t have to sit in traffic wondering if an accident will make them late for work, or if the drive home will take four hours when police shut down the freeway for hours because of a traffic incident. It’s really a no-brainer….”
Oahu well-suited for a rail system (from a Kaneohe resident)
“How can so many people still overlook the fact that our island is made for rail? We have dense housing and businesses located right where the rail is going to go…. I do not know of another region that is so well suited to support rail transit. We are made for it.”
Rail will regain public favor
“….so please help give a balanced point of view so that the public is not confused about the benefits rail transit will bring to Honolulu. For example, the Star-Advertiser quotes (a resident) who says there are cheaper alternatives, such as adding freeway lanes. Where is the space to add more lanes? Double-decking the freeway is out of the question for reasons that include cost and environmental impact. It’s also physically impossible to do. Please, let us not feed the public these pipe dreams.”
The writer of that last letter has an exceptional understanding of rail transit. Amar Sapall, a Hawaii Kai resident, is the past chair of the former Honolulu Public Transit Authority. He sensibly and easily explodes the myth that there are easier and cheaper alternatives.

Like the person who prompted Mr. Sapall’s comment, columnist Shapiro supports buses and road improvements that he says would be cheaper than rail, but that’s as far as he goes. The quick-and-easy alternatives argument is another theme of Mr. Slater’s PR campaign, but proponents somehow never quite get around to providing the details, and that includes the new mayoral candidate.

Understanding rail's goals and what grade-separated transit will accomplish requires some homework, but that isn't too much to ask of Wednesday's columnist, is it?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Rail Opponent Floats Toll Road Alternative, Paints Rosy Picture but Fails to Mention Key Fact: Only Those Who Can Afford Tolls Use Managed Lanes; Plus, Obama Budget Targets $250M for Rail Here

Let’s be clear about what “managed lanes” are. They’re toll roads. The only people they help are those who can afford to pay the toll. If you can’t, you get to creep along on “unmanaged lanes” in traffic congestion.

Highway advocate Panos Prevedouros described how “managed lanes” work in October 2010: “Higher tolls are necessary to discourage overloading,” he wrote in a HawaiiReporter.com commentary.

By “overloading,” Dr. Prevedouros means “congestion,” so the way managed lanes manage to keep congestion at bay and down there on surface streets is to jack up the tolls until only the relatively well-to-do can afford them.

That’s quite a concept. It obviously fails to satisfy one of the Honolulu rail project’s main goals – to ensure transportation equity for all citizens along the line, regardless of financial capability.

With that preamble, we can examine a commentary extolling managed lanes in yesterday’s Star-Advertiser (subscription). One of Cliff Slater’s anti-rail colleagues described their alleged benefits; not mentioned, of course, are the disadvantages, which we’re happy to cover.

Elevated Exclusivity
“Managed lanes on Oahu would be elevated high-occupancy lanes….,” wrote John Brizdle. Stop right there if your primary objection to Honolulu rail is because it will be elevated. If you detest overhead obstructions, there would be more to dislike in an elevated highway compared to narrower elevated rail.

John Brizdle writes that “express buses on managed lanes would be superior to rail in every category” on their route from Waipahu to downtown Honolulu. Details are scarce throughout the commentary, including the failure to mention on- and off-ramps between those two points to service communities along the route.

He also skips past the build-up of congestion at the start and end of those lanes that the rail project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement says would become a significant problem. Here’s how a letter in today’s Star-Advertiser (subscription) puts it:

“…Brizdle’s plan has hundreds of buses cruising nicely at top speeds up and down the H-1 freeway with no mention of how these lanes operate in the Honolulu central business district, where people actually need to go.”
With a dozen stations between Waipahu and downtown, rail will be unquestionably superior in its ability to service communities along the line – communities that an elevated highway with no access ramps would bypass.

A Jobs Project?
Mr. Brizdle writes that “local workers can build and maintain an express bus system, not so with rail.” That last phrase is false, of course. Local residents will provide the bulk of rail’s labor force, not only during construction but for operations, too.

Beyond that, the commentary praises managed lanes as a jobs project, a observation that is out of synch with opponents' objections to rail on that very point.

Mr. Brizdle then notes that his express buses would have drivers, a feature he praises as a security enhancement. Drivers would increase the cost to operate the bus fleet, and since fully automated trains with no drivers (and therefore no human error potential) is a significant way to control operating expense, the lanes come up short in this respect, too.

Accidents Happen
“The city can decide which other vehicles besides express buses can use the managed lanes,” the commentary continues. Unmentioned are what happens on highways being negotiated by inattentive lane-switching, following-too-close, sleepy, inebriated, texting-while-driving, high-on-drugs and/or low-skill vehicle drivers. They crash; highways are shut down.

That’s a huge blind spot for managed-lane advocates. They wave off or simply refuse to acknowledge the accidents that happen on our streets and highways each day – accidents that would severely degrade the performance of elevated lanes that would give motorists no possibility of escape.

Elevated Honolulu rail will completely avoid all traffic congestion, including that caused by accidents. How often must that be said?

Motorcade Avoidance
Here’s where the commentary goes off the rails. Mr. Brizdle writes, “As the manager, the city can close the lanes to all traffic in order to allow for the presidential motorcade and leave the H-1 freeway open (rail cannot do that). As the manager, the city can open the managed lanes to all traffic when there is an accident on H-1 (rail cannot do that).”

Rail cannot do what – close lanes and open lanes? It makes no sense, and beyond that, Mr. Brizdle ignores the obvious advantage of rail transit – complete segregation from whatever is happening on roads and freeways. Let them close the freeway all they want for visiting dignitaries; that would not affect rail commuters in the least.

Getting Down to Business
The commentary finally gets around the mentioning tolls: “Would local drivers be willing to pay? …. rail offers no benefit to our commercial companies that use our public highways other than to pay higher taxes and experience more traffic.”

Aside from the fact that managed lanes would not appear out of thin air with no taxpayer support, this is as bizarre argument. Rail opponents seem to think their managed lanes concept is a “magic bullet” that would “solve” congestion. Today’s letter dismisses magical thinking:

“Honolulu needs to stop looking for the magic bullet for our traffic problems. The only viable solution is a combination of management methods that includes all modes of transportation: a comprehensive network of pedestrian paths separated from traffic, managed lanes, increased bus service and, yes, rail.”
Maybe there is a role for managed lanes in Oahu’s future decades from now to meet the needs of future generations of our children and grandchildren. As a substitute for rail, toll roads are a non-starter.

Obama’s Budget
The Obama Administration released its 2013 budget yesterday and included $250 million for the Honolulu rail project, the largest request to Congress for any rail project in the nation. Senator Daniel Inouye’s announcement noted the continuing commitment to Honolulu rail by the federal government.

“Like any large, publicly funded project, there are bound to be questions and concerns about how best to proceed,” Inouye said, a reference to the recent Star-Advertiser opinion survey that – more than anything – revealed the result of ongoing efforts by rail opponents to confuse the issues.

“But the facts remain that the successful construction and timely completion of this project will create jobs, decrease our dependence on imported oil, and offer a long awaited alternative to driving for thousands of working families on the West side of Oahu.”
Unmentioned in the statement is rail’s biggest feature – complete freedom from traffic congestion that toll roads would never deliver.

Monday, February 13, 2012

S-A Columnist Doesn’t Understand Rail, so It’s Not Surprising the Public Is Confused, too; Issue: If Rail Dies, Will East Honolulu, North Shore and Windward Oahu Welcome their New Neighbors? Plus: Mayor Race Poll Merits Only a Few Words

Here’s the first sentence in Star-Advertiser columnist Richard Borreca’s column yesterday under the headline Anti-Rail poll results to take politicos, voters on wild ride (subscription required):

“Honolulu's traffic problems are getting worse, but Honolulu residents remain deeply skeptical of the city's solution."
In other words, Mr. Borreca believes rail’s purpose is to “solve” Honolulu’s traffic problems. But since traffic congestion inevitably will increase as the population increases, there is no “solution” to traffic congestion, is there? Like the vog from Kilauea, it's with us, and there's nothing we can do to "solve" it.

Therefore, it follows that Mr. Borreca’s personal opposition to rail (read his columns for confirmation) synchs nicely with anti-railer-in-chief Cliff Slater, who continues to belittle rail for failing to do the impossible – reduce congestion. Don’t build it if it can’t do that, he argues.

See how it works? If anti-railers like Mr. Slater – and now mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano -- repeat their bizarre argument often enough, even presumably objective newspaper columnists and opinion leaders can and do fall under their spell. (There’s a remarkable juxtaposition of the anti-railer and the columnist in Hawaii News Now's survey story.)

That’s what Messrs. Cayetano and Slater are counting on, and judging from the newspaper’s ill-timed public opinion poll, it’s working. The paper commissioned a polling company to conduct a survey on rail within two weeks of Mr. Cayetano’s official entry into the mayoral race. Broadcast, print and online media prominently carried his anti-rail rhetoric while providing virtually no balance from rail proponents.

Goals, Not Solutions
For media types who care to bone up (for the first time?) on why rail is being built, the project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement can be accessed with no difficulty at rail’s website; pull down the menu below Document Library. But here’s a quickie review of the four main goals as described in our January 3, 2011 post:

Goal: Improve corridor mobility. The FEIS says, “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.” Rail is that method.

Goal: Improve corridor travel reliability. Says the FEIS: “This lack of predictability is inefficient and results in lost productivity or free time. A need exists to provide more reliable transit services.” Rail is that service.

Goal: Improve transportation equity. The FEIS defines this equity as “the fair distribution of resources so that no group carries an unfair burden of the negative environment, social, or economic impacts or receives an unfair share of benefits.” With 21 stations along the route and easy access by foot, bus or car, rail will deliver that equity.

And finally, this Goal: Improve access to planned development to support City policy to develop a second urban center. The City’s General Plan for decades has called for the vast majority of Oahu’s population growth to occur in west Oahu – most of it on the ewa plain – and some of it in Central Oahu. The Plan also stipulates that growth should not occur in East Honolulu, along the Windward Side or on the North Shore.

Rail Keeps the Country Country
Our question to residents living in areas not designated for growth is simply this: Since you don’t want rail to be built – most likely because you think you’ll never use it and don’t want to pay for it – are you prepared to accept more housing development in your own neighborhoods?

We can write today without fear of contradiction that the federal lawsuit plaintiffs who want to kill rail, including mayoral candidate Cayetano and Mr. Slater, have never told Oahu residents this key rationale for building rail – to relieve pressure to build housing throughout the island.

And because this key goal is virtually unknown among the general public, residents of East Honolulu, Windward Oahu and the North Shore who told the Star-Advertiser’s opinion research survey they oppose rail are encouraging growth in their neighborhoods with their opposition.

Ironic, No?
West Oahu residents express frustration about the apparent disinclination of residents elsewhere on the island to support transportation improvements between town and the west side. West-side people reason they helped widen Kalanianaole Highway out to Hawaii Kai and supported construction of the H-3 freeway between town and the Windward Side with their taxes. They’re happy to let North Shore residents enjoy their rural lifestyle.

So they ask, why won’t you support what WE want and need? It’s a good question. People living far from the west end often answer it by citing the cost of building and maintaining rail and the potential for rail’s elevated structure to block view planes.

Those are not insignificant issues, but do they overwhelm the reasons to build the project? Commuters who spend needless hours on the road each day because of ever-increasing congestion don’t think so. They respond directly to that challenge, as the person did who commented on a letter to the editor on Saturday:

“When you spend upwards of 2 hours, not unusual if it’s 3 hours-a-day to travel to school or a job that’s only 25 miles away, finding a way to reduce that time is a real need.”
So, too, is planning and building housing for most of the 100,000-plus new Oahu residents who will live here by 2030. Completing the rail project would locate most of them along the line and on the ewa plain. Not building rail would likely result in major housing developments in Kaimuki, Waialae-Kahala, Aina Haina, Niu and Kuliouou valleys, Hawaii Kai, Waimanalo, Kailua, Kaneohe, Laie, Kahuku, Sunset Beach and Haleiwa.

Call it an unintended consequence of opposing Honolulu rail.

The Latest Poll
Today’s Star-Advertiser poll on the Honolulu mayoral race (subscription) merits just a few words. The results are meaningless in February for an election six months from now – with one caveat:

Mr. Cayetano’s lead among the 549 Oahu residents polled in the survey over Mayor Peter Carlisle and former Managing Director Kirk Caldwell – they received 44, 35 and 16 percent respectively – serves as a wake-up call for the two trailing candidates, whose campaigns have yet to begin.

That also means Mr. Cayetano’s perspective on rail has yet to be confronted by his opponents. His demonstrable lack of depth on transportation issues hasn’t had to withstand the glare of TV lights and other publicity generated by his two pro-rail opponents, both of whom have a stronger grasp of the island’s transportation needs than the former governor, who left public life a decade ago.

Above all, the S-A’s candidate poll is not believable for the same reason we criticized it yesterday. The survey was conducted within two weeks of Mr. Cayetano’s entry into the mayoral race, when his views were receiving unusual amounts of media coverage without challenge from his opponents or the media, for that matter.

The survey’s “all about Ben” results made the talk show host positively giddy this morning. He should make merry while he may; the feeling's not destined to last.