Saturday, March 31, 2012

March Review: The Madness Included Rail Poll that Questioned Only Voters, Ignored the Rest; Anti-Rail Candidate’s Bus Plan Is Still a Secret

Civil Beat, the online subscription news site, posts a recurring feature each Saturday called ’10 Must Read Stories” from the week that’s winding down. It’s an innovation that only a news outlet with no space or time limitations can afford.

We’re following Civil Beat’s example today by reviewing some of March’s significant rail-related developments. One that deserves a second look was Civil Beat’s public opinion poll on the Honolulu rail project that we still believe was seriously flawed.

Civil Beat led its March 5th rail coverage with this headline: Civil Beat Poll Honolulu Voters Oppose Rail Project. But then came this opening paragraph: “The tide of public opinion is running strongly against Honolulu’s proposed rail project, according to a new Civil Beat poll.”

That was something of a shock to rail supporters in light of three previous scientific surveys that averaged 57 percent support for rail, so we wondered how the poll could come to its ebbing-tide conclusion. We found an answer in the poll’s methodology and posted about it the same day 

The survey sampled opinion only among likely voters on Oahu; non-voters' views weren't solicited. That approach may have been valid in learning which of the three major candidates was leading the race at the time, but rail will serve everyone, including the approximately one-half of the population that doesn’t regularly vote.

Non-voters’ opinions are every bit as valid on rail as voters’ opinions, especially since non-voters are statistically more likely to be dependent on transit than the more engaged, higher-educated and higher-income residents who regularly vote. And isn't government charged with serving all residents regardless of their voting patterns?

Excluding non-voters from the survey produced a result that by definition was not reflective of the population as a whole, and that’s the problem. Civil Beat Editor John Temple, who has just been named managing editor of The Washington Post, took strong exception to our view in an email exchange in which he defended his survey.
“We didn’t ‘exclude’ voters,” he said in one message, presumably meaning non-voters. “We sampled the population that will vote.” Another message said: “I wouldn’t have done (the) poll this way if I didn’t believe it would produce the most accurate reflection of what would happen at the polls if the election were held today.”
Ironically, one of the justifications to create the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (63-percent approval by the voters in 2010) was to remove the rail project from politics and the election cycle. Civil Beat’s poll did just the opposite and produced a result that clearly did not reflect the breadth of public opinion on the project.

Sampling both voters and non-voters might have produced a story with this headline: Rail’s loss of favor among voters doesn’t reflect attitudes of entire population. We just don’t know because of the poll’s methodology, but based on past polls, we think it highly unlikely rail is going out with the tide.

March’s Biggest Non-story
Civil Beat also figures in trying to discern how Mr. Cayetano, the presumed leader in the mayoral race, would address Oahu’s east-west traffic congestion if he were elected on his anti-rail platform. We had been frankly amazed at the media’s lack of push for those details, and Civil Beat was the first to step up and ask.
The candidate told Mr. Temple in an email that his plan will build on the Harris Administration’s Bus Rapid Transit plan that was developed in 2000 – a concept that was thoroughly trashed by transit critics led by current anti-railer-in-chief Cliff Slater, who called BRT a “farce” among other things.
It’s been 72 days since Mr. Cayetano officially announced he’s running for mayor, and we may have to wait another dozen or more before the candidate shares details of his recycled BRT plan. When he does, the story likely will be included in our review of April’s madness.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Traffic-free Rail Travel Will Be Big for Commuters, But One Goal Can Benefit All Residents: TOD Will Reduce Development Pressures throughout Oahu

Without rail's effect on Second City growth, other neighborhoods would feel the pressure.
We’ll never stop talking about rail’s ability to eliminate the traffic congestion issue for those who choose to ride the train. It’s a huge deliverable that rail opponents refuse to acknowledge as they harp about congestion’s continued growth even after rail is built. As the city’s Wayne Yoshioka once famously said, “ kidding….”

But increased mobility through traffic avoidance is just one of rail’s four main goals, and the other three deserve repeated mention, too. One of them is a direct response to those who oppose rail because they don’t live near the line and don’t think they’ll ride rail.

The “community” argument does seem to move some opponents off the fence and over to the pro-rail side. East Honolulu residents who embrace the community concept and truly care about what traffic congestion is doing to the lives of west side commuters have said this message resonates for them.

But self-interest is a strong motivation, and rail has an answer for the what’s-in-it-for-me folks. By focusing Oahu’s future development throughout this century toward the ewa plain and along the rail line, the project will reduce pressure to develop on the east side, windward side and North Shore.

If this isn’t a logical response to the hard-core environmentalists among us, then they might want to redefine themselves. Smart Growth is what Honolulu rail is all about, and the more we’ve thought about it, the more significant this goal seems.

Keep the Country Country
Everybody will benefit from the rail project for all the generations of the 21st century. The population in the Second City region on the ewa plain is expected to increase 350 percent by 2030 compared to 2000. The city’s General Plan has focused development in the region for decades, and rail will facilitate that focus.

Residents all over Oahu surely can see the benefit of supporting rail as a logical tool in channeling a huge slice of the island’s inevitable growth to ewa. Transit-oriented development (TOD) around rail stations will be a major feature of the project – almost the very definition of Smart Growth.

So the issue the I’ll-never-ride crowd seems to be missing is they’ll benefit from rail even if they never do ride – not only because daily car trips in the urban core will be reduced from what they'd be without rail but also by relieving development pressure in their own neighborhoods.

Not everyone is motivated by "community" spirit; far from it, but when it comes to self interest, that's a motivator that never dies.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Columnist’s Unrelenting Rants Against Rail Project Give Supporters Opening for a Rational Contrast

As if to underscore our prediction that he’d never write one single paragraph of positive content about the Honolulu rail project in 2012, Dave Shapiro steps up today with yet another anti-rail piece: City’s rush to build rail unrealistic, unnecessary (subscription required).

As a columnist, Mr. Shapiro is one of the few journalists at the Star-Advertiser whose job is to tell readers his opinions on current events. Rail’s one of those big, slow-moving targets columnists love to hate, even if they don’t particularly understand rail. There’s plenty evidence they don’t in columns written by Mr. Shapiro, Cynthia Oi and Richard Borreca.

But that’s OK, and we’re turning a new leaf here at Yes2Rail about Mr. Shapiro’s well-documented anti-politician, anti-government-spending convictions. We’re now embracing his consistent opposition as an opportunity to build on.

Wait or Act?
His column today tries to make the case that the city should have waited for final approval of the anticipated $1.55 billion in federal funding before moving to begin construction. That would have been the better course, he says, than setting an aggressive construction schedule.

When that schedule couldn’t be met due to various delays, the city paid a $15 million delay claim to Kiewit, which had geared up to start building the project. In other words, in suggesting the Full Final Funding Agreement was needed first, Mr. Shapiro believes all work should have stopped until late this year, since final approval of big federal spending on the project isn’t anticipated until around the fourth quarter.

But what about the delays? There’s no perspective in Mr. Shapiro’s column – nothing about former Governor Lingle’s refusal to accept the Final Environmental Impact Statement during her final months in office. She blocked the project’s advance for nearly half a year following the Federal Transit Administration's sign-off on the FEIS. Governor Abercrombie accepted the document on the 10th day of his new administration.

Then There’s the Lawsuit
Mr. Shapiro has said good things in his column about the lawsuit to kill the project filed by anti-railer-in-chief Cliff Slater, mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano and others nearly a year ago. That’s created another delay, of course. Oral arguments in that case won’t even happen until this August.

Commuters stuck in traffic morning and night in the east-west corridor undoubtedly have their own opinions about these delays and about those who’ve caused them. Faced with either sitting back to let all the contingencies play out or take action to start the project as early as possible, the city chose the latter.

Construction costs increase $10 million for each month of delay, according to the city, but the columnist sweeps those considerations away in yet another swipe at politicians.

Being paid to express your opinions in daily newspaper journalism is a privilege reserved to editorial writers, columnists and cartoonists. The Star-Advertiser’s three opinion columnists will continue to knock rail all year. That’s our prediction, and here’s another one:

The newspaper’s editorial position to support Honolulu rail will not waiver, thanks to the editorial page staff's broader appreciation of rail’s goals and what the project will deliver to the public for all the decades in the 21st century. It's a bigger vision than the columnists can muster.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Anti-Railers’ Main Tactic: Repetition Ad Nauseum, Plus: Law Students Get Lesson in Meaninglessness

Mr. Leslie T. Rogers
Regional Administrator
Federal Transit Administration, Region IX
U.S. Department of Transportation
201 Mission Street, Suite 1650
San Francisco, CA 94105

Subject: Recent Correspondence

Dear Mr. Rogers:

Kindly disregard Randall Roth’s letter. You’ve heard it all before.

Yours truly,


Our apocryphal letter to the FTA is a response to a letter publicized yesterday from anti-railer Randall Roth to the agency. He's one of the Gang of Four plaintiffs who want to kill Honolulu rail. Civil Beat has posted it (access is free to occasional users) and sums it up as “a reheated version of all the arguments against rail you’ve heard before….”

Professor Roth of the UH Law School dredges up everything under the tropical sun in his letter – anti-rail Governor Linda Lingle’s “study” written by known rail opponents; sewers; the retirement system; UH dormitories; the six-year-old internal emails between FTA colleagues, and he ends with a flourish by repeating Cliff Slater’s trademarked obfuscation – a quote by the city in the Final Environmental Impact Statement:
“You are correct in pointing out that traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than what it is today without rail, and that is supported by data included in the Final EIS.”
Had we actually written to the FTA, we would have pointed out the deceptive nature of the Slater/Roth/Gang of Four’s anti-rail main talking point: (1) Congestion will increase even if rail is built; (2) Why build rail?

The FTA itself says why rail should be built: “…the purpose of the Project is to provide an alternative to the use of congested highways for many travelers.” Honolulu rail will be the congestion-avoiding option that’s missing today.

Even Mr. Slater had to admit when cornered at the City Council that traffic congestion will be worse without rail than with it. The FTA knows the truth of that statement, but it’s a truth the Gang of Four doesn’t want the public to know.

Springtime Follies posted this oxymoronic headline yesterday: “New Secret Weapon in Federal Anti-Rail Lawsuit in Honolulu: University Law Students.”

The inventive Professor Roth has come up with a new way for his law students to earn extra credit – either in actual practice or in the minds of the law faculty. Nine of them are spending their spring break reviewing 155,000 pages of documents turned over in the anti-rail lawsuit by the city and federal governments.

The FTA has overseen Honolulu rail for years and has granted it a long list of approvals, culminating last month with the issuance of a Letter of No Prejudice. The LONP authorizes the city to begin construction, so there’s no doubt where the FTA stands on Honolulu rail.

The meaninglessness of the law students’ quest in dredging up “gotcha” emails from the trove of documents is easily appreciated if you imagine the FTA emails as if they were written by technicians inside the XYZ car company years before a new model rolled off a Detroit assembly line.

“If those guys up in planning keep working like this, we’ll all be part of the next Edsel,” says one. “Yeah, you can’t take seriously their solution to the radiator overflow problem,” responds another.

Once the bugs are fixed and the new car model is sitting in showrooms across the country, those emails are meaningless eyewash, yet Mr. Roth and friends would have you believe they’re the car company’s smoking gun.

It’s ridiculous, of course, and the UH law professor would know that if his judgment hadn’t been so thoroughly co-opted by the truth-twisting Mr. Slater.

This post has been added to our "aggregation site" under the heading Mr. Cliff Slater (and Friends).

Monday, March 26, 2012

In Honor of ‘Mad Men’ – Their Take on Trains

The hit cable TV series Mad Men launched its fifth season last night. The  series is attracting almost as much media attention as The Hunger Games movie these days, so to join in the Mad Men hype, we’re once again posting a video created by two of the show’s stars, Vincent Kartheiser and Rich Sommer.

They're fans of proposed high-speed rail in the United States, but as we noted in March 2011 when we first posted this video, we think most if not all of their dialogue applies to the Honolulu rail project. Enjoy the video on Kuhio Day, this uniquely Hawaiian holiday.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Mayoral Candidate Wants 'Truth' in Rail Debate, So Let It Begin: 'What’s Your Plan, Governor?'

NEW RULE: Candidates for public office can't complain about "truth" in media coverage if they avoid telling it themselves.
That seems about right this morning in light of mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano’s commentary in the Star-Advertiser (subscription) complaining about the newspaper’s hard-hitting editorial published one week ago on his recent campaign tactics.

Mr. Cayetano’s piece begins: “Since when is telling the public the truth a disservice?” There are multiple answers to that question.

First, it’s a disservice when the alleged truth the former governor is promoting is so obviously a campaign trick. He pulled six emails out of a half million documents – they represent 12/100,000ths of the total – to “prove” his assertion that the Federal Transit Administration has reservations about Honolulu rail. The FTA’s many endorsements of the project since those emails were written underscore the trick’s falsehood.

Second, the “fawning grandstanding” (Mr. Cayetano’s description) of Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood’s support for rail in testimony before a US Senate committee refutes the candidate’s gotcha campaign trick.

Mr. Cayetano takes issue with the Secretary’s statement that rail “will deliver people all over the island” – a statement the candidate himself describes as "off-the-cuff." If given a second chance at that sentence, Mr. LaHood undoubtedly would insert “from” before “all.” Cayetano ridicules a Cabinet member for want of a preposition.

In truth, rail will indeed serve people from all over the island by improving their mobility once they’re in the urban corridor. Those already living and/or working there will walk, take TheBus or drive to the nearest station, and those who live “all over the island” will avoid traffic once they’re in the corridor if they choose to switch travel modes and ride the train.

Third, Mr. Cayetano needs to avoid discussing The Truth because he strays from it so often. We’ve made the point repeatedly here at Yes2Rail, and we’re not alone; Civil Beat’s Fact Checks found examples of his and other anti-railers’ statements that were false or only half true – which means they're also half false. You can find examples here, here, here and here.

Mr. Cayetano has adopted Cliff Slater’s main anti-rail tactic of attributing statements to the city about rail’s impact on future congestion that the city has never made. We’re calling it the “Rotten Apple Effect” that could well be the campaign’s undoing if the mainstream media ever spend more than a few seconds or paragraphs on it.

66 Days and Counting
But the truth of all truths about Mr. Cayetano’s position on rail is that he entered the race for mayor without a transportation plan to replace the project.

One might have thought such a plan would have been the first thing he’d present upon announcing his candidacy, since killing rail would kill thousands of jobs and years planning. From what little we know, however, the plan is still being written – without benefit of public input in hearings or scoping meetings of any sort.

Mr. Cayetano told Civil Beat in an email that the core of the plan is “a Bus Rapid Transit system” that was written during the Harris Administration in 2000. The candidate says he’ll take the wraps off by mid-April.

Since April 15th will be the middle of that month, maybe we will read about Mr. Cayetano’s bus-based plan three weeks from today in the Sunday paper. That’s when the real truth-telling will begin about how much of what may have been Truth in 2000 is still Truth today.

Ironically, the last sentence in Mr. Cayetano's commentary states: "The public deserves answers." Truly.

Friday, March 23, 2012

LTE Forum: If Technology & Buses Could ‘Solve’ Traffic Congestion, There Wouldn’t Be Any Today, Plus: ‘Rotten Apple’ Effect Rots Anti-Rail Efforts

Today’s letters to the editor are worth that ever-popular “second look,” and we provide it in today’s LTE Forum:

Use technology to solve traffic (Star-Advertiser, 3/23 – subscription)
“I could not agree more with Jay Fidell (Yes2Rail took issue with Mr. Fidell’s column). I’ve been here 2 ½ years and notice so many non-smart traffic signals everywhere. We sit and sit, with no cross or oncoming traffic. Then the light finally turns green for both cars and pedestrians. So we sit longer still…. We need smarter traffic signals. Congestion could definitely be helped.”
Congestion presumably would be helped on streets and thoroughfares if equipped with traffic signals that were smart as smart can be, and for all we know, the city is working on it. But the biggest traffic issue on Oahu is on the H-1 freeway, which obviously has no signals. Improving traffic flow on surface streets using smart signals might attract some drivers from the freeway, but the bottom line on both the freeway and surface streets is that congestion inevitably will grow with the population’s increase. Honolulu rail will bypass that congestion and provide the traffic-free travel option that’s now missing.

Bunda was not realistic either (S-A, 3/23)
“Former state Sen. Robert Bunda’s recent commentary is more of a hit piece against former Gov. Ben Cayetano’s campaign for mayor than offering a real solution himself…. (Yes2Rail commented on the piece). “Bunda…wants us to believe that elevated rail will somehow solve West Oahu’s ‘traffic mess’ and simultaneously reduce the traffic he faces on H-1 from Wahiawa every day…. The facts as presented in the city’s own environmental impact statement show that traffic will be worse with or without rail.”
This letter from an Ewa Beach resident who frequently contributes anti-rail missives is a perfect example of what’s wrong with the anti-railer campaign (see ‘Rotten Apple Effect’ below). Mr. Bunda’s commentary did not say anything about elevated rail somehow solving West Oahu’s traffic mess. He didn’t say traffic would be reduced. These are the anti-railer’s words – inserted into Senator Bunda's mouth as a bogus suggestion that rail proponents have sold rail on the promise of “solving” traffic congestion. Not true!

To whom did LaHood allude? (S-A, 3/23)
“In the wake of the Federal Transit Administration’s email embarrassment…, U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye led Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood through a ritual reaffirmation of the FTA’s support for Honolulu rail. LaHood said: ‘We’re committed…until we hear differently from others who are intimately involved in this…’ To whom did LaHood allude? To Ben Cayetano if he becomes mayor? To the opinion of the Oahu public, which has turned against rail…..?”
We don’t know to whom the Secretary was alluding either – maybe nobody, since he was speaking extemporaneously. What’s perfectly clear, however, was his full-on endorsement of Honolulu rail, which the letter doesn’t quote (but Yes2Rail did). As for public opinion turning against rail, we don’t believe it. The Star-Advertiser’s poll showing alleged slippage of public support for the project was flawed in at least two ways, which we outlined here and here.

‘Rotten Apple Effect’
The more we see and read about the anti-rail campaign by major players like Cliff Slater and Ben Cayetano, the more obvious is the problem at its core. Bluntly put, it’s rotten.

Messrs Slater and Cayetano and their supporters, like the Ewa Beach letter writer, falsely claim the city has misled the public on rail and its effect on future traffic congestion. Mr. Slater’s website says, “The City never told the truth about traffic congestion reduction” and calls it “The Greatest Lie of All.” Since Mr. Slater’s claim simply is not true, some would call Mr. Slater’s accusation a lie in its own right. A campaign built on a lie by definition is rotten and missing the vital quality of integrity.

Ironically, one of Mr. Slater’s own websites contains the proof of the city’s truth-telling. It includes a link to a letter from Councilmember Gary Okino to his constituents in February 2006. Mr. Slater uses the letter as a “gotcha” tactic by quoting Mr. Okino’s truthful statement about what traffic congestion will be like decades later in an era of increasing population:
“City and State officials are working to make fixed rail in Honolulu a reality. Building a rail system will not eliminate today’s traffic congestion, but it will provide a convenient and effective alternative for those wishing to bypass highway gridlock in the future.”
Mr. Okino said it exactly the way the city has promoted rail from the start – as an option for travelers to bypass congestion. Rail isn’t a “solution” to traffic; it can’t make congestion magically disappear, but that’s what Mr. Slater, Mr. Cayetano, the Ewa Beach resident and other opponents want you to believe the city said it would do. It didn't then and doesn't now.

This is the cynical, dumbed-down and disrespectful core of their anti-rail campaign that we’ve been highlighting since July 2010 at our “aggregate site" under the Mr. Cliff Slater heading. Oahu residents deserve more respect than these leading rail opponents are giving them, and their lack of integrity may well be their campaign's downfall in the long run.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Civil Beat Asks Questions about Candidate’s Plan To Replace Rail, Finds Mayor Harris’ BRT Scheme That Was Run Out of Town for Stealing Car Lanes

We’ve been asking for details of Ben Cayetano’s plan to replace Honolulu rail if he’s elected and succeeds in killing it, as he’s promised to do. Call us naïve, but it seems only reasonable for any candidate with such a sweeping threat to have an alternative ready to roll out from Day 1 of his campaign.

That isn’t how the former governor rolls, however, and he’s offered virtually no details on what he’d do to address the bad and growing-worse congestion that plagues commuters between west Oahu and town.

Finally, a media outlet is showing some curiosity, too. Civil Beat, the online subscription news service that’s free for occasional visitors, today concludes that Cayetano’s Transit Plan Mirrors Harris’ in 2000.

In an email to Civil Beat, Mr. Cayetano says Oahu voters will have to wait only another month or so before we can dissect his bus rapid transit plan and see how, or if, it differs from Mayor Jeremy Harris’ ill-fated BRT scheme.

“The specifics are in a plan approved in the year 2000…,” Mr. Cayetano wrote. “It compared rail, it compared BRT, it compared other systems. And they concluded that Bus Rapid Transit was the most cost-effective because it cost a fraction of the cost of rail and because it could deliver about the same level of service.”
The Death of BRT
Civil Beat noted Mr. Cayetano'a concession that BRT had problems, “particularly with the in-town section that would have taken lanes fo traffic and dedicated them to buses.” That’s an understatement. Residents might recall that the prospect of narrowing major thoroughfares like Kapiolani Boulevard, King Street and Ala Moana Boulevard had the effect of blowing up Mayor Harris’ hopes for BRT.

Critics were in full voice against BRT back then, and since they include many of the same people who now oppose Honolulu rail, let’s see what they had to say about BRT a decade ago.

Anti-Railer-in-chief Cliff Slater:
In one of his many Second Opinion columns (BRT: Pattern of deception?), Mr. Slater touched on the dedication of exclusive bus lanes, thereby reducing the number of car lanes available to drivers, as well as the alleged reduction in congestion the administration was promising.

“Have you been led to believe that BRT will help reduce traffic congestion?” Mr. Slater asked. “Think about this: For the afternoon commute from Downtown going in the Diamond Head direction, commuters will find that two of the lanes on King Street, two lanes on Kapiolani and one lane on Ala Moana Voulevbard have been taken over by the BRT and cannot be used by regular traffic. Help reduce congestion?"
We can only assume Mr. Slater is waiting on the details of Mr. Cayetano’s BRT plan so he can extol its virtues in support of the newest mayoral candidate – even though Mr. Cayetano already says it’s pretty much the same as the 2000 plan.
Another vocal critic of BRT back then was, which now enthusiastically supports Mr. Cayetano’s continuing anti-rail campaign every chance it gets. Here’s a snippet of one HR commentary on BRT under Mayor Harris:

“Besides the obvious political payoff to supporters, opponents can’t understand why the mayor is going forward with his plan to spend $1 billion on the system just to start, with millions more to subsidize and maintain the system, especially when the city continues to face a financial crisis….”
Sound familiar? Maybe is simply recycling its anti-BRT commentaries for use today against rail. Continuing:

“Besides causing a traffic nightmare in an attempt to social engineer people from their cars, Harris’ plan will cost the state millions in lost revenue. His plan will drive out private business by funding a second monopoly bus system primarily operating in Waikiki, shut down small retail and restaurant businesses on the route, and cause the loss of hundreds of jobs, according to opponents of the plan.”
Back to the Future?
HR then included a link to an anti-BRT commentary at Cliff Slater’s site, but because the more things change, the more they stay the same, what comes up today is a commentary blasting Honolulu rail! It's perfect.

We – and we hope the media led by Civil Beat – will be urging Mr. Cayetano to release his BRT plan at the earliest opportunity. From what we can surmise, those small businesses HawaiiReporter said would be put out of business by BRT won’t even be created in the decades ahead if BRT is built. Honolulu rail’s 21 stations will be the catalyst for those business developments, but BRT express lanes would bypass communities from Kapolei to downtown.

That’s just a guess, however, since the plan is still a secret. If the plan’s release is delayed, maybe it’ll be to give Mr. Slater and HawaiiReporter adequate time to massage their new pro-BRT talking points and disguise the flip-flop.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Oahu Traffic Congestion Problem Is on Highways, Not the City’s Streets, and There’s No App for That

The Star-Advertiser’s ThinkTech columnist today (subscription) recommends a technological “solution” to Honolulu traffic congestion in his weekly piece. But just like the leading anti-rail opponents, he manages to confuse the issues.

His column begins by declaring “rail is not the answer” to congestion that’s “clogging up our highways and economy.” He asks the 2012 mayoral candidates: “What are you doing to deal with the congestion?”

He provides his own solution to the congestion question: Just build an app, or application, and for proof that apps work, he cites Los Angeles, of all places. LA has solved congestion?

Not exactly. What the columnist describes is an app-based approach to traffic light control, not a “solution” to congestion.

“As congestion builds, the system re-times the signals to stay green for congested lanes. It also builds a database of traffic patterns to adapt its analysis and avoid overreacting to a given jam….”
Well and good, but timing traffic signals on surface streets is one thing. Dealing with congestion on freeways and highways – Oahu’s biggest traffic headache – is something else altogether.

Alt, Not App
There’s no reason to infer from the ThinkTech column that there’s an app for addressing highway congestion. But there is an alternative – alt for short: Elevated rail will be the alternative to sitting in congestion for those who choose to ride it, and this alt will save them both time and money.

By reducing daily car trips by 40,000 in 2030, rail also will beneficially lower congestion – measured in vehicle hours of delay – by about 18 percent in the urban core. That’s significantly better than the 11-percent traffic reduction we now appreciate during university and school holidays.

The columnist misleads his readers in suggesting congestion can be solved. It can’t, because as the population increases in our space-short island, congestion inevitably also will increase. Rail opponents led by Cliff Slater have been using congestion’s inevitable growth against rail, suggesting the project isn’t worth building if it won’t “solve” our traffic problem.

Rail proponents’ answer is disarmingly simple: Rail will avoid congestion entirely for scores of thousands of daily riders by being the traffic-bypassing piece of infrastructure that’s missing now.

No App for That
The city might adopt the columnist’s suggestion to develop signal-controlling apps that conceivably could help as the number of vehicles on our streets increases. But as a snap solution to congestion, there’s no app for that.

The columnist ends with a complaint that reveals his basic motivation: He wants to drive his car without the inconvenience congestion imposes. “We haven’t had any relief so far, so we need to vote for the candidate who has a solution, preferably tech…,” he says. “This is America, the land of GPS on the planet of the apps. Apps can do anything we want, so let’s see what they can do for traffic.”

They can manage traffic, but solve it they can’t. Honolulu's future computer-controlled driver-less elevated rail transit system will give its riders the relief the columnist seeks. It'll be about as high-tech as transportation can get on Oahu – maybe even enough for the columnist to eventually endorse and enjoy someday.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Embarrassing Anti-Rail Tactics Attracting Ridicule; What Will Opponents Try Next – Foot-Stamping?

It’s a well-worn tactic, this constant repetition of the same anti-rail material. Cliff Slater has been doing it for years, and national anti-mass transit personality Randal O’Toole and others are working the routine here, too.

Mr. O’Toole’s piece at ever-ready anti-rail today repeats the same talking points launched last week by mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano. Using six-year-old emails sent within the Federal Transit Administration, Mr. Cayetano suggested the FTA is seriously concerned about Honolulu rail.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser editorialized yesterday that the effort was "a disservice" to the community and that residents "deserve better" (subscription required): “The rail project is important to the future redevelopment of urban Oahu, which desperately needs reliable transportation options unfettered by automotive traffic,” the newspaper said. “And that means the facts should not be treated in this cavalier and politically cynical way.”
Coming a day after this long editorial and four days after Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood’s endorsement of Honolulu rail, Mr. O’Toole’s piece not only doubles down on the cynicism but is embarrassing, too.

Rail’s prominent opponents, including Messrs. Cayetano and Slater, apparently are unfazed by the embarrassment or perhaps can’t even see how their tactics appear beyond their circle. Exaggeration and misrepresentation are tools of their trade.

More Embarrassment
The anti-rail radio host was banging away with those tools again this morning. His upset with the project included station security, fare collection, coloring books produced by the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation for children and bathrooms.

A caller who had recently visited Vancouver, B.C. noted the lack of bathrooms in the city’s rail transit stations, thereby giving the talk show host a launching pad for another anti-rail rant.

His upset over bathrooms is ironic, since the host and many of his listeners object to additional government involvement in citizens’ lives, yet the host has added the alleged absence of bathrooms in the stations to the list of reasons to oppose the project.

Aside from the fact that stations will indeed have bathrooms, bus stops in Honolulu don’t have bathrooms today, and neither do buses! Residents who ride TheBus apparently have figured out how to use mass transit and time their bathroom breaks without government’s involvement.

Nobody called the station to confront the host on his embarrassingly ludicrous anti-rail argument, but nothing is too ludicrous or embarrassing for the ardent anti-rail minority. Randal O’Toole's commentary fits the pattern.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Paper Blasts Candidate’s Anti-Rail Tactics and His ‘Email-Gate’ Ploy as Disservice to Community, Says Bus-Van-Rail Transit Will Improve Mobility; The ‘Rotten Apple Effect’ Could Be Happening

It looks like the Star-Advertiser’s editorial page staff has had enough. Ben Cayetano, the anti-rail candidate in the mayoral race, launched his campaign two months ago tomorrow, and the rail debate has gone downhill ever since.

Mr. Cayetano’s Tuesday release of five emails written by Federal Transit Administration employees years ago may have been the straw that broke the newspaper's silence.  Having heard his latest attacks on Honolulu rail, today's newspaper (subscription required) says enough is enough in a ringing editorial denunciation of his “Email-Gate” finger-pointing – Cayetano's rail tactics a disservice.

Elsewhere in the editorial section, a long piece describes how rail will improve transit service by integrating the line with other transit vehicles – Trains, Buses and Vans. The article is complemented by Star-Advertiser graphic designer David Swann’s eye-catching depiction of the future transit system’s three components working together to improve mobility for Oahu residents everywhere they live.

Reversing a Trend
For the moment, at least this corner of the Honolulu journalism community – the leading one – has shown it's still performing in the public interest. Yes2Rail asked two days ago where the media’s objectivity has gone and supplied recent examples of unprofessional writing and reporting.

There’s nothing unprofessional about today’s editorial and the transit-integration article. Now we wait for the inevitable reactions from Mr. Cayetano and his brain trust, anti-railer-in-chief Cliff Slater.

As of this writing, Mr. Slater’s website is still topped by some of the same tired rhetoric he’s been using for years about future congestion levels after rail is built (see our “aggregation site” and the numerous posts under the Mr. Cliff Slater and Friends heading).

You may have to search by date – March 17 – since Mr. Slater's website doesn’t make it easy to link individual posts. Under the headline The Greatest Lie of All, Mr. Slater writes, “The City never told the truth about traffic congestion reduction.”

Rotten-Apple Effect
That itself could be called a lie. It’s Mr. Slater’s contention (picked up by Mr. Cayetano and two other Gang of Four members, Randy Roth and Walter Heen) that the city has hidden facts about congestion levels on our highways decades from now.

Using that blatant misrepresentation, the Gang promotes a preposterous talking point: Since congestion will be worse in the future after rail is built than it is now, we don’t need rail and it shouldn’t be built. It ignores the effect another 200,000 people living on the Oahu will have by 2030 or so – more vehicles and more congestion. Nothing can make congestion disappear, but commuters who ride the train will avoid congestion entirely.

This dumbed-down and cynical argument at the heart of the Gang of Four’s rhetoric could be the proverbial rotten apple that spoils their whole campaign. Try searching the Internet for phrases like “where there is no integrity” and “integrity is everything.”

You’ll find hundreds of hits, and they all boil down to what one site says: “Where there is no integrity, other virtues have no chance of developing. You either live with integrity or you don’t.”

The Star-Advertiser is demanding integrity from candidates seeking the most important government position in the City and County of Honolulu. The newspaper’s editorial says Mr. Cayetano’s recent anti-rail remarks and tactics ”sow seeds of doubt rather than informing people responsibly. Honolulu residents, and voters in the mayoral election, deserve better.”

We won't get it from the anti-rail opposition if rotten-apple rhetoric is more evident than integrity.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Transportation Secretary LaHood Repeats Support For Honolulu Rail, Drowns Rumors of ‘Concern’ in Cold Water, Says ‘We’re Committed to the Project.’ Question: Where Has Media’s Objectivity Gone?

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood supported Honolulu rail in Congress yesterday.
The Ben Cayetano campaign event disguised as a press conference on Tuesday seemed like a tempest in a teapot at the time. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood made it official yesterday.

Consider first that Mr. Cayetano’s “big revelation” amounted to several emails written as long as six years ago between staffers at the Federal Transit Administration that had unflattering remarks about the Honolulu rail project – emails that undoubtedly embarrass them today.

Mr. Cayetano trumpeted the emails as evidence of “lousy practices of public manipulation” by the city. If ever there truly were doubts at the FTA, its recent granting of a Letter of No Prejudice to Honolulu rail wiped it away.

Seeking to put Mr. Cayetano’s relevations in better perspective, Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) questioned Secretary LaHood in a U.S. Senate hearing yesterday on the DOT’s current view of Honolulu rail. The dialogue between the senator and Mr. LaHood is available on YouTube, including Mr. Lahood’s entire response:

“I want you to know that we’re committed to this project. This is an important project. This will deliver people all over the island. It’s an important project, and at this point, we’re going to continue to work through whatever issues need to be worked through. We’re committed to this. We’re committed to the money, we’re committed to the project, and until we hear differently from others who are intimately involved with this, I see no reason why we won’t go forward.”
Are Media Taking Sides?
It was a near certainty that the Star-Advertiser’s three news columnists would line up against Honolulu rail – a big government project of the sort that usually attracts negative comments from journalists paid to express opinion. We felt confident in making our “not-very-courageous” prediction in January that none of them “will write a single paragraph of positive content about the Honolulu rail project in 2012."

It’s another matter when presumably objective reporters not paid to report their opinions either cross the line or simply fail to exercise enough professional discipline in preparing their reports on rail – discipline media consumers could once count on in local media’s objective coverage of events.

Not Enough Rigor
Playing loose with the facts has been evident in rail coverage all week. An example as fresh as the 6:06 am today was a public radio newscast on Mr. LaHood’s statement that included a long sound bite. The report then referenced Mr. Cayetano’s earlier allegations: “Federal opposition was revealed earlier this week by former governor Ben Cayetano…” The report likely was generated by a wire service, and it is demonstrably false. The FTA does not oppose Honolulu rail; just the opposite is true.

Yesterday, Pacific Business News’ transportation reporter wrote about rail in a manner that some might believe is less precise and objective than what consumers have reason to expect:

“Cayetano is one of four plaintiffs who filed a federal lawsuit last year to stop the project. The others include former state judge Walter Heen, University of Hawaii law professor Randy Roth and Cliff Slater. They have so far been successful (emphasis added). One of their arguments is that the City and County of Honolulu has a one-track mind…and did not explore options besides the elevated rail idea.”
They’ve been “successful”? The only thing they’ve successfully done is delay the project and add to its costs, so is that what the reporter thinks is a success?

Opinion as Fact
On Tuesday, the day of Mr. Cayetano’s campaign conference, Hawaii News Now began its report: “Ben Cayetano has released some damaging emails written by the federal government….” The reporter didn’t attribute the “damaging” characterization to Mr. Cayetano; he simply said the internal emails – written several years ago as kibitzing among FTA colleagues – are damaging. If they ever were, which is doubtful, they certainly aren’t today except as fodder for Mr. Cayetano’s campaign.

That kind of reporting would not have gotten onto KGMB-TV’s air, Hawaii News Now’s predecessor, when channel 9’s legendary news director Bob Sevey was in charge under the ownership of Cec Heftel. The Sevey newsroom demanded professional discipline, and he got it from reporters Dan Chun, Bart Fredo, Bambi Weil, Bob Jones, Linda Coble and others.

Sidelight: Mr. Heftel will be honored in a ceremony this morning to attach his name to the U.S. Postal Service building in Kahala, the Honolulu neighborhood where he lived for many years. He sold the station in 1976 and was elected later that year to represent Hawaii’s 1st District in Congress, where he served five terms. He died on February 4, 2010. See the Remembering Cec Heftel website.

Past as Present
Following the same trend in other media that brings the past into the present, the Star-Advertiser’s page-one headline on Mr. Cayetano’s event declared “Emails suggest problems with rail,” a statement that also is false since it describes allegedly ongoing problems that in fact don’t currently exist. The FTA has green-lighted the project through several key steps.

These and other lapses and the ones yet to come deserve attention because they reveal an apparent tendency within the local media to treat Honolulu rail with undue skepticism in their supposedly objective reporting. Far too much deference is shown to rail’s critics, but there’s been far too little rigorous questioning of those who want to kill rail.

Mr. Cayetano says in fits and starts that he wants to create a bus rapid transit system if he’s elected and kills rail. Reporters dutifully report that, but there’s no evidence any reporter has pressed Mr. Cayetano – really worked at it – for details on his alleged BRT plan, including what it would cost, how it would be funded, what communities would be served by express lanes and which would not be served, bus travel times, routes and so on.

These questions and many more need to be answered by the candidate who wants to end the rail project and the thousands of jobs that would be created to build it. The primary election is less than five months way, and the media are still content to let Mr. Cayetano roll out his BRT plan at his leisure – a plan that so far may be the recycled 2000 plan that went down in flames during the Harris Administration.

That’s not rigorous reporting, and as the examples above show, what reporting we do see has much in it that’s false. Oahu media consumers deserve better and expect more.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

LTE Forum: Senior Looks Forward To Riding Rail; Writer Knocks Potholes, but At Least He’s Moving, Plus: US Transit Ridership in ’11 Was 2nd Highest

The letters to the editor column has at least one rail-related contribution nearly every day, an indication of the community’s ongoing interest in the one Oahu issue that’s been boiling on the back or front burner for decades – traffic congestion.

Today’s LTE forum highlights two letters in the Star-Advertiser (subscription) that we hope benefit from additional exposure Yes2Rail gives them.

Improve bus system for sake of seniors (Star-Advertiser, 3/15)
“Twenty years from now when the rail system is completed, many of us seniors will not be able to walk to the rail station. I agree with former Gov. Ben Cayetano’s suggestion that we should spend more money to increase the number of city buses. For those who can’t drive, it would be most convenient for buses to stop along neighborhood driveways, so passengers can go shopping at nearby shopping malls or the to the rail station….”
The Pearl City letter-writer overlooks the key plank in Mr. Cayetano’s mayoral campaign platform – his intention to kill rail. That means this senior and all others could anticipate continued reliance on TheBus as their only public transit option in a Cayetano administration.

Many seniors are looking forward to Honolulu rail because of its potential to expand their mobility significantly. By walking or taking TheBus to a nearby station, they’ll be able to travel much farther through town in a given amount of time than they can today.

Enhancing mobility is one of rail’s four main goals, and another one is ensuring transportation equity to all persons regardless of age and economic circumstances. We wish the writer good health so he can enjoy the traffic-free benefit of rail travel within 10 years, not 20.

Why Can’t Honolulu fix all its potholes? (Star-Advertiser, 3/15)
“Try to drive through Hawaii Kai for any considerable distance without having to take drastic evasive maneuvers to avoid a pothole…. I recently traveled to Seoul, Tokyo and Sydney. I did not see any open potholes. How come these destinations are faced with similar challenges but found a way to maintain good roads? It can be done…. If we cannot main our existing roads, how can we build and maintain both our roads and a new rail system?”
The public's disdain for potholes helped push the issue onto page one today. Road maintenance is an easy target for disgruntled citizens, and rail opponents tend to be among the most vocal pothole protestors.

We have three reactions: Potholes and roads are being repaired, as driving through many Oahu neighborhoods, including Hawaii Kai, will show. Numerous streets are being completely resurfaced, not just repaired.

Seoul, Tokyo and Sydney may have found a way to simultaneously maintain their rail systems and eliminate potholes, although the existence of their disappearance from those cities is not a certainty based only on the writer’s observations. Honolulu will benefit from those cities' experience and manage to maintain roads, trains, sewers and water systems because that’s what responsible cities must do.

Finally, west Oahu residents might envy the writer’s ability to drive fast enough through Hawaii Kai to make pothole-evasion maneuvers necessary. West-siders who now creep along in traffic on their daily commutes are looking forward to avoiding that congestion once rail is built. We suspect they’ll happily pay for the system’s upkeep, just as they paid for the widening and improvements along Kalanianaole Highway that East Honolulu residents now enjoy.

Transit Ridership Up
Americans took 200 million more transit trips last year than in 2010 and 1 billion more than in 2000, pushing total rides to 10.4 billion – the second highest annual ridership since 1957, according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).

Only 2008 recorded more transit trips when citizens pulled back from driving then as oil and gas prices reached record levels. The national average price of a gallon of regular gas topped $4 that year.

Today’s national average according to the AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report is $3.821 and rising. Hawaii leads the nation at $4.445. Gas on the neighbor islands traditionally costs much more than on Oahu; the photo was taken this week at the Kaunakakai station on Molokai. The other member states in the “$4 Club” are California ($4.362), Alaska ($4.217), Illinois ($4.071) and New York ($4.001).
In reporting on the increase in transit ridership, The New York Times noted the trend follows an improvement in the nation’s economy:
“With the return of jobs came a return of straphangers. Studies have found that nearly 60 percent of transit rides are taken by people commuting to and from work, and there were big increases in ridership in parts of the country that gained employment.”
APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy said, What is exciting is that the uptick in ridership occurred in large, medium and small communities, showing the broad support that public transportation has nationwide. In fact, the largest rate of growth was in rural communities with populations under 100,000, where public transit use increased by 5.4 percent.”
Commuters also are expected to be the primary users of Honolulu’s future rail system as they travel between their homes and jobs along the 20-mile line, including in downtown Honolulu.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Cayetano Will Use Harris’s 2000 BRT Plan, Says More Buses Are What Oahu Needs To Fight Traffic; HART Board Member Takes Candidate to Task, Plus: How Media Can Influence Opinions on Rail

Ben Cayetano and Walter Heen, his campaign chair, at Tuesday's event.
Mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano held a campaign event disguised as a press conference yesterday, and sure enough, the media rolled on it because – well, that’s what they do with the former governor. He’s the big gun fighting rail and is always good for two minutes on the evening news or a six-column story.

But Mr. Cayetano’s future campaign pressers might attract less attention if yesterday’s event was a prelude to more of the same. The session was billed as an exposé of the city’s “lousy practices of public manipulation” in the early years of the rail project’s planning phase. Civil Beat even headlined the event in advance as a revelation of a “conspiracy.”

But the smoking gun promised in the media advisory was nowhere to be seen at the event itself. The “conspiracy” turned out to be snippets found in several emails among 500,000 documents filed as part of the Administrative Record in the lawsuit by Mr. Cayetano and several other plaintiffs that seeks to kill the Honolulu rail project.

FTA Responds
Here’s one of the excerpts Mr. Cayetano read – an intra-office email exchange in 2006 between two Federal Transit Administration officials: “We seem to be proceeding in the hallowed tradition of Honolulu rapid transit studies: never enough time to do it right, but lots of time to do it over.”

The author presumably would like a do-over on that one now that the email has been used as alleged proof of “lousy practices and manipulation” by the city. Here’s the FTA statement on Mr. Cayetano’s event:

“There is no question that this project has overcome early obstacles because of a much improved Federal partnership with the City of Honolulu and State of Hawaii over the past several years. The Federal Transit Administration believes that this project will bring much needed relief rrom the suffocating congestion on the H-1 Freeway and provide a real transportation alternative for the people of Oahu as gas prices rise.”

Mr. Cayetano’s ‘Alternative’
We’ve been prodding the media to start asking questions about what exactly Mr. Cayetano has in mind instead of Honolulu rail to give commuters relief from H-1 and surface traffic. Yesterday’s event was the perfect opportunity, coming as it did 54 days into Mr. Cayetano’s anti-rail campaign.

A reporter did ask Mr. Cayetano what he’d tell west side residents that he’d propose to address their traffic congestion problem if he’s elected mayor and kills rail. Paraphrasing the former governor:

“We’re working on a plan, and I’ve been asked for that plan by some people, including a blogger who’s here today.” (Yes2Rail was there.) “The specifics are in the Bus Rapid Transit plan compiled in 2000 by the same company that’s advising the city now on the rail project – Parsons Brinckerhoff. They compared all the alternatives and found that BRT would cost a fraction of what rail would cost.”
Mr. Cayetano then said the Alternatives Analysis for the rail project should have started with adding more buses to TheBus system. Instead of tossing out BRT, he said PB should have considered adjustments to the plan written in 2000 – such as using Beretania Street instead of Kapiolani Boulevard for a dedicated bus lane. Of course, the exclusion of cars from the proposed bus-only lanes was a major factor in  BRT's failure a decade ago.

We predicted yesterday that the candidate won’t “describe and defend a detailed transportation plan” during the campaign, but we may have been wrong about that. Mr. Cayetano said he has a team working on the 12-year-old BRT plan, and he may roll out a new plan any week now. We can certainly hope so, because without something to show the public as a better option than rail, we’re all just guessing at what it might be. Yesterday’s event made it clear that whatever it is, it won’t be new.

Mr. Cayetano was also asked yesterday for his BRT plan’s cost and how it would be financed. He said he doesn’t have a figure yet – just another one of those vexing details that by rights he should have been ready to discuss on Day 1 of his campaign.

Senator Bunda Weighs In
The political careers of former Senate President Robert Bunda and Mr. Cayetano took them both to the State Capitol at the same time. Mr Bunda’s commentary supporting Honolulu rail appears in today’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser (subscription) under the headline Cayetano has no realistic plan to solve West Oahu traffic mess. It’s a message we’re likely to hear a lot more often now that TheBus seems to be Mr. Cayetano’s answer to congestion.

Mr. Bunda, who's now a board member of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART), minces no words in criticizing the former governor’s position on rail. He recounts the Cayetano administration’s securing of land for a new UH-West Oahu campus and efforts to encourage economic activity on the ewa plain.

“Massive development did take place and the population continued shifting at an incredible pace to West Oahu,” Mr. Bunda says. “While much of the area infrastructure built is essential and important in the development of Kapolei, there was no clear vision by the Cayetano administration of any transportation infrastructure to move people from West Oahu to downtown as part of their commute.”
The Bunda commentary notes what has been obvious to observers since Mr. Cayetano announced his candidacy in January – that he has offered no detailed plan to replace Honolulu rail.

“Cayetano’s campaign website states that he supports dedicated freeway bus lanes and more buses, but there is no detail, nor funding in place for that, and no guarantees of anything other than wasting more time piling on additional impact studies.
“…the biggest problem with BRT is that it takes away freeway and roadway lanes from other vehicles to be used exclusively for buses. Anyone driving from Leeward Oahu into town in the morning knows the shutdown of even one freeway lane becomes a traffic nightmare.”
With HART board members showing more inclination to speak out on behalf of Honolulu rail, Mr. Cayetano’s “clear sailing” in the media so far may be heading toward a stormy patch.

The Media Present Tense in Headlines
The media obviously have a tremendous ability to influence public attitudes on any issue, especially when they show up with bright lights and cameras (yesterday's over-exposure is at right). We’ve seen that played out already in 2012, from their public opinion surveys earlier this year on Honolulu rail to something as seemingly arcane as headline writing today.
The Star-Advertiser story on Mr. Cayetano’s presser was headlined Emails suggest problems with rail. Headlines are almost always written in present tense except on the obituary page, where both the headline and the subject of the story are in the past.

It’s not until you read today’s sub-head on the rail story that it’s clear the present tense doesn’t accurately reflect the facts in the story: Former Gov. Cayetano releases documents that show federal officials HAD concerns (emphasis added).  In other words, the “problems” and “concern” were yesterday’s news, not today’s.

The only thing current about them in light of the FTA’s several approvals that have allowed construction to begin in a matter of weeks is Mr. Cayetano’s alarm about six-year-old emails.

The Media – Lack of Attribution
Something else the media often do is simply repeat a newsmaker's words without applying attribution to comments that clearly are opinion, not fact.

Hawaii News Now did this in last evening’s report on Mr. Cayetano’s event. Its story began, “Ben Cayetano has released some damaging emails written by the federal government…emails he’s using to show the Federal Transit Administration shares some of his anti-rail concerns.”

The reporter didn’t attribute the “damaging” observation to Mr. Cayetano; he simply said the emails are damaging as if that’s a fact, but it’s not a fact. It’s Mr. Cayetano’s opinion.

Even that assertion is demonstrably not true. If it were, the FTA would not have approved rail’s environmental impact statement in 2010 and given the city a Letter of No Prejudice on February 6 authorizing it to begin construction with local funds.

If the FTA ever did actually “share” Mr. Cayetano’s concerns, which isn’t at all clear, it certainly doesn’t now. Hawaii News Now’s story implied something about the status of city-FTA relations that simply isn’t true – which makes you wonder what kind of journalistic oversight is in effect at Bob Sevey’s old station.

The Media – Push-Pulling about Polls

Civil Beat’s reporter on the Honolulu rail project, Michael Levine, attended yesterday’s campaign event and managed to prompt an answer from Mr. Cayetano to one of his questions. The candidate apparently has thought better of banning Mr. Levine from his sight.

Mr. Levine let Yes2Rail’s author know that he didn’t appreciate our characterization of Civil Beat’s recent rail public opinion survey as a “push poll.” “If you understand what a ‘push poll’ is, you’d admit you were wrong,” he said.

Our response is that he’s right about one thing; the Civil Beat poll wasn't one of those unsavory telemarketing campaigns that sound legitimate but end up blackening the reputation of one candidate. We don’t think Civil Beat is anti-rail, and given the opportunity for a do-over, we would say the poll could have been improved by eliminating one push-poll characteristic that remained in the survey.

The American Association for Public Opinion Research’s website says legitimate opinion surveys “usually ask about more than one candidate or mention both sides of an issue.” Civil Beat’s poll presented only “concerns” to the respondents and none of rail’s benefits and in so doing excluded all positives about rail, such as traffic-free commuting.

Also, the survey excluded people who said they’re not likely to vote in the 2012 election. That seems reasonable in a poll about the mayoral horse race, but its weakness is that it ignored approximately half of the populace who are non-voters. That’s the half more likely to use public transit and rail, and their opinions on rail are no less valid than those who vote.

What’s Ahead?
Everyone at Mr. Cayetano’s campaign headquarters yesterday – reporters included – exhibited the cordiality we’ve come to expect in Hawaii. It’s still early, and the heavy slogging in the Great 2012 Rail Debate will play out over the next five months.

The other two major mayoral candidates – Mayor Peter Carlisle and former managing director Kirk Caldwell – have yet to really begin their campaigns except for a few radio spots. Television advertising, the great determining factor in most political campaigns, hasn’t started for any candidate to a noticeable degree.

HART board members like Senator Bunda are taking the initiative more than previously to stand up for rail, and HART’s new executive officer, Dan Grabauskas, will begin his duties here in early April after wrapping up his work in Boston. He’s articulate and certain to be influential in this debate.

Then there’s Mr. Cayetano’s "Truth Squad" that he said will hold a press conference next week. We’ll likely attend that one, too, but we doubt the local media will cover such an obviously politicized campaign event with another full-court press, as they did yesterday.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

New Prediction: Candidate Cayetano Will Not Offer Details of a Plan that Would Replace Honolulu Rail

We’re batting 1.000 in the prediction department so far this year (see below), and we’re going out on a thick and sturdy limb to make another:

Anti-rail mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano will not describe and defend a detailed transportation plan to replace the Honolulu rail project.
The latest evidence of his aversion to addressing the intolerable congestion that’s strangling the community is in Richard Borreca's Star-Advertiser column today (subscription): Tough-talking Cayetano takes aim at rail officials

Mr. Cayetano is not taking aim at traffic congestion, according to Mr. Borreca. He’s vowing to go after members of the board of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART), which voters approved 16 months ago to plan, build and operate Honolulu rail.

Hoping for Wrong
We hope this prediction is wrong, because instead of attacking HART, what the community needs to hear from Mr. Cayetano is an actual transportation plan he’d try to implement if he were elected mayor. Without a plan, there’s no expectation of action to address east-west congestion on Oahu’s streets and highways.

Knowing details of his plan would give the community something to digest and dissect instead of the candidate’s heretofore vague references to the San Diego trolley, express lanes and bus rapid transit.

No limb is required to predict that whatever he proposes, Mr. Cayetano’s plan will be incapable of matching rail’s deliverables – fast, frequent, reliable and safe transportation through the city.

Opening the Poke
Without details, Mr. Cayetano is running a “pig in a poke” campaign so far – something that’s offered with no evidence that it even exists, or in what form. The idiom dates to an era when farmers delivered goods to the marketplace in pokes, or sacks. A purchaser of what supposedly was a piglet in the poke might later find a cat instead.

Will Mr. Cayetano actually have a transportation plan, or will he let the cat out of the bag in the end by offering “alternatives” that already have been considered and dismissed?

The Honolulu news media should be asking these questions, of course, but like the candidate himself, they’re avoiding mentioning Mr. Cayetano’s transportation poke and what it might contain.

We already can predict that whatever the candidate has in mind, it can’t provide traffic-free travel to beleaguered west-side residents in place of their highway commutes between the ewa plain and downtown.

That’s the unmatchable benefit of the rail project – something at-grade transit, buses and toll roads can’t achieve.

That Other Prediction
Our prediction in January was that the Star-Advertiser’s columnists “will write not a single paragraph of positive content about the Honolulu rail project in 2012.”

So far this year, the prediction is holding true, and that’s unfortunate for the community, since David Shapiro, Cynthia Oi and Mr. Borreca are what’s called “opinion leaders” in the trade. They do the thinking for far too many people who can’t be bothered to spend the time required to be minimally conversant about the Honolulu rail project.

We noted in January that the anti-rail opinions on display in the three columns are to be expected. “Afflicting local government, elected and appointed officials and their projects is what they do and have done for decades. It’s their calling, and they’ve made it work for them.” The three have a total of more than 100 years working in Honolulu journalism.

What’s missing elsewhere in the media is any sense of curiosity about the details of what Mr. Cayetano wants instead of rail. Maybe reporters will begin such an inquiry, but that’s a prediction we’re not prepared to make.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Conditions Favor Rail as Debate Intensifies: Media Coverage Will Increase on Candidates, including ‘No-Plan’ Ben; Survey Quality Will Be Better, too

Hawaii’s Primary Election on August 11 will be five months from yesterday, which means supporters of the Honolulu rail project have that much time to ensure at least one pro-rail mayoral candidate moves on to the General election three months later.

We think the rail project is much stronger today than conventional wisdom would suggest for these five reasons:

1) The two major pro-rail candidates – Mayor Peter Carlisle and former managing director Kirk Caldwell – haven’t even begun their campaigns. They’ll use these five months to make rail’s case stronger than ever before.
2) Anti-rail candidate Ben Cayetano will be revealed to have no transportation plan that would give commuters what rail will deliver – fast, frequent, reliable and safe congestion-free travel through the city.
3) The media eventually will step up to their “Fourth Estate” responsibilities and peel away the layers of deceit in the anti-rail campaign.
4) New public opinion surveys on rail will be crafted and timed better than the two media polls that already have been taken this year.
5) A revived sense of “community” will lead Oahu residents to conclude rail must be built as an alternative to highway congestion in the east-west corridor.

Pro-Railers' Campaigns
Anti-rail candidate Ben Cayetano officially launched his campaign on January 19. Despite their own efforts so far, the two pro-rail candidates have had a fraction of the coverage enjoyed by Mr. Cayetano these past several weeks.

That won’t last. Simple math suggests that if Messrs. Carlisle and Caldwell conduct effective campaigns, they could generate twice as much media coverage as Mr. Cayetano, with this caveat: The media flock to controversy and negativity. By opposing a big government project, Mr. Cayetano will unleash colorful sound bite after sound bite, so the pro-railers will need their A Game when speaking about rail.

Paid media advertising will be as critical as ever in this race, of course. If the candidates manage to attract relatively equal contribution totals, it’s conceivable the pro-rail spending will exceed Mr. Cayetano’s. But this a rail blog, not a political blog, so we’ll leave this to the pundits.

Candidate Cayetano
It’s now 53 DAYS since Mr. Cayetano’s campaign announcement, and he still hasn’t detailed a plan to improve transportation through our city to replace rail, which he has vowed to kill.

All we’ve heard and read so far are snippets of ideas about a preference for bus rapid transit, a concept rejected by the community a decade ago. Even Mr. Cayetano’s brain trust – Cliff Slater – worked hard to defeat that concept, although he speaks favorably about BRT now that rail is so close to realization.

Mr. Cayetano also has alluded to express lanes and toll roads, but that’s as far as it goes. If you can find 20 words strung together about what he’d create instead of rail, please point us in that direction.

The Media Factor
Reporters should be asking for these details, of course, but they’ve shown a remarkable lack of enterprise so far. That also presumably won’t last once editors and reporters wake up to their responsibility to question the candidate on his “plan,” whatever it is.

But what’s the reason for the media’s lack of interest in the magic bullet that Mr. Cayetano is hiding? Are they intimidated by his semi-celebrity status? Don’t they see the story they’re missing?

We’ve said it before: The trio of celebrated journalists who directed media coverage in this town for decades – George Chaplin at the Advertiser, Hobe Duncan at the Star-Bulletin and Bob Sevey at KGMB-TV – wouldn’t have tolerated Candidate Cayetano’s silence on what he’d do instead of rail.

And it’s not just Mr. Cayetano. Mr. Slater seems to be the author of just about everything the candidate has said about rail so far, and that’s probably going to continue. The media therefore have an obligation to dig deeper than ever into Mr. Slater’s rhetoric.

His “future congestion issue” in particular – “congestion will be worse in the future with rail than it is today” – is ripe for peeling. Of course it will get worse as the population grows; rail’s purpose is to improve mobility within the community, not eliminate congestion. That’s how it works in cities all over the world. Mr. Slater is getting away with murder with this argument, and the victim is common sense.

Better Polling
The two rail-related polls conducted so far this year left a false impression that rail has lost the support of a majority of Oahu residents. Three scientific opinion surveys conducted in 2008, 2009 and 2011 averaged about 58 percent support for rail, so the two 2012 polls deserve scrutiny.

The Star-Advertiser/Hawaii News Now survey’s January timing was suspect from the start. It began only seven days after Mr. Cayetano officially announced his anti-rail campaign for mayor. With his media coverage dominating the news during the two-week polling period, the results simply can’t be taken seriously. Also problematic was a survey question that could have caused some respondents to wonder about the timing for the project to “proceed."

The Civil Beat poll that dominated its online reporting last week had issues of its own. The poll reported only on what likely voters think about rail, excluding those who indicated they aren’t likely to vote in the upcoming election. Sampling only voters may make sense in the mayoral horse race, but by excluding nearly half of the population, it failed to engage a representative sample of the entire community on rail.

The other problem with Civil Beat’s survey is that it had some characteristics of a “push poll.” The survey “pushed” only concerns about rail to the respondents and had not one word in it about rail’s considerable benefits, including traffic-free travel through the community.

We’ll have to see if our suggestion goes anywhere to include both rail proponents and opponents in the crafting of future media polls. Doing so could identify problems within a survey before it's conducted, thereby reducing the potential for erroneous conclusions that in turn drive public opinion.

Sensible Citizens
Just like they approach Christmas shopping, most citizens pay closer attention to major campaign issues as an election nears. Media coverage will increase, the candidates’ visibility will do the same and the public will have more information about rail than ever to reach personal conclusions about the project’s worth.

We believe pro-rail messages will resonate more deeply than a campaign built on negativity. Among the positives will be the “community spirit” message that will influence a majority of the electorate to support rail as a rational response to the intolerable highway congestion that even opponents acknowledge.

The west-siders' message is simple: The H-3 freeway was built to benefit  windward residents, and East Honolulu residents benefited from improvements to Kalanianaole Highway. “It’s our turn now,” west side residents say, and most citizens will respond to it.

Mr. Slater’s dumbed-down “future congestion issue” will be seen for what it is. By August, our population will have been exposed to enough information to allow common sense to kick in. Elevated rail – not toll roads and more buses on streets and highways – will give riders their first ever congestion-free commute.

Not everyone will ride, but those who do will become outspoken proponents for rail’s expansion. Of course, that depends on what happens in the next five months.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Saturday Review: Civil Beat Poll Dominated the News but Left Key Questions Unanswered, e.g.: ‘How Big an Issue Is Traffic on Oahu?’ ‘Would You Ride a Train that Bypassed All Road Congestion?’

Public opinion polling is an imperfect science, but let's keep striving for perfection. We made a “radical suggestion” early this week to improve media-sponsored surveys on the Honolulu rail system because of issues with Civil Beat’s new poll that can’t be easily swept aside.

The suggestion was to involve both rail supporters and opponents in crafting the next public opinion survey and thereby hopefully identify and avoid problems within a poll’s set-up before the survey begins and those problems are in concrete.

Civil Beat’s poll on Honolulu rail had significant problems, the first being whom it surveyed. Civil Beat’s pollster – the Merriman River Group – surveyed only likely voters. Civil Beat sees that as a legitimate approach, since much of rail’s coverage involves the mayoral election that will pit anti-rail Ben Cayetano against two rail supporters, Mayor Peter Carlisle and former managing director Kirk Caldwell.

But by eliminating about half of the population from the survey (only 52 percent of eligible voters participated in the 2010 gubernatorial election), Civil Beat disregarded attitudes about rail among non-voters. Their opinions on rail are just as valid as voters’ opinions, and there’s no legitimate reason to ignore them except for Civil Beat’s preoccupation with the mayoral race. After all, the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation was created in large part to remove rail from the political arena

The ‘Push’ Effect
The other significant problem is that the Merriman River Group (which has its critics) conducted a survey that has some characteristics of a “push poll,” a style condemned by the American Association for Public Opinion Research.

Civil Beat’s survey asked respondents for the level of their “concerns” about rail without mentioning any obvious benefits for those who will ride the train, such as giving train riders completely congestion-free travel through Honolulu’s urban corridor.

The national research industry group says legitimate polls usually ask about more than one candidate or mention both sides of an issue.” Civil Beat's poll excluded benefits entirely. It’s just that kind of problem that a collaborate effort among rail supporters and opponents could eliminate from the start. Since that wasn’t done, our conclusion two days ago was that Civil Beat’s poll did not provide “a legitimate and accurate representation of Oahu residents’ attitudes about the Honolulu rail project.”

Obsessive? Compulsive?
We’ve taken some flak at Civil Beat’s website from a rail opponent who says this Yes2Rail blog has “an unhealthy obsession with Cliff Slater and compulsively (posts) a myriad of photos of train wrecks. Honolulu’s current rail plan seems a distant second among your interests.”

Focused, yes, but unhealthy, obsessive and compulsive, too? Mr. Slater is more responsible than anyone for defeating attempts 10 and 20 years ago to build mass transit systems as a reasoned response to Oahu’s growing congestion problem. His influence is enormous even today – witness Mr. Cayetano’s use of Mr. Slater’s talking points to the exclusion of any messages that Mr. Cayetano himself seems to have crafted.

Mr. Cayetano officially announced his candidacy 51 days ago, and it’s no exaggeration to say he’s proposed next to nothing about what he’d back as an alternative to Honolulu rail. You’re invited to peruse his campaign website to see if you can find more than 20 words strung together that might be called a vision or workable plan to speed commuters through town.

Isn’t that what the public – and the media, most of all – should be demanding from the former governor if he’s running to kill rail after years of study and planning to build the project?

About those Wrecks at Right
It’s obvious why Yes2Rail prominently displays photographs of at-grade rail accidents in our right-hand column. Opponents of Honolulu’s elevated plan avoid talking about the safety issues of their preferred at-grade systems, and if they should stumble into that swamp, their advocacy can look embarrassingly ridiculous.

Honolulu’s elevated trains will be safe – as well as fast, frequent and reliable – by removing the potential for collisions with cars, buses, trucks and pedestrians that happen too often on at-grade systems.

We highlight the at-grade safety problem to illustrate why it can't be shoved into Honolulu's dense urban environment with its aging population. If that’s a symptom of AACD – accident adverse compulsive disorder – so be it. At this critical stage of the Honolulu rail debate, a little AACD doesn't hurt.