Saturday, June 30, 2012

Saturday Review: Sierra Club Rail Endorsement Is Step that Could Decide Issue for Many on Sideline

Sierra Club support for the rail project has been implied for months, but now it apparently will be official.
Hawaii News Now broke the story last night:

“The Sierra Club, one of the state's best known environmental groups, appears ready to back the city's $5.2 billion rail transit project in what would be a major victory for rail supporters.”

According to the TV report, the Oahu Group’s leadership voted unanimously a week ago to support the rail project. HNN quoted Robert Harris, executive director of the club’s state chapter, in saying an official announcement could be made in the coming week.

The announcement should put to rest once and for all at least one statement by four leading rail opponents in their August 2011 op-ed piece that launched their public relations campaign against rail.

Civil Beat fact-checked several major observations in the piece, including this one: “Virtually every environmental group in Hawaii opposes heavy rail.” A week after the 1500-word essay’s publication, Civil Beat’s check gave it a  FALSE . That was a reasonable conclusion given the Oahu Group’s clear statement of support for Honolulu’s fixed-guideway project.

Excellent Summary
Rail supporters appear to be as eager as opponents to leave comments below the Star-Advertiser’s stories, editorials and letters. Here’s one from today’s review of the week’s news in the Editorial section. It’s a good summary of why supporters believe Honolulu rail is needed now and for future generations, quoting:

Rail benefits everybody for the following reasons:
1) Rail provides a transportation alternative for those who cannot drive or do not wish to drive in traffic.
2) Rail provides a faster ride than buses through congested areas. Elevated rail has its own right-of-way and will not get stuck in clogged surface streets as buses.
3) Rail can carry a higher volume of people faster between any of the stops along its route.
4) When car drivers take the rail, there are less cars on the road which alleviates traffic congestion for other drivers.
5) Building the rail will create jobs and provide billions of dollars in economic activity.
6) The federal government will provide $1.5 billion of free rail subsidy which helps our economy.
We should be committed to building the rail and be confident that we can afford it. Rail is a needed infrastructure which will help alleviate our traffic problem and stimulate our economy with sorely needed jobs. Build rail now for the future. Rail projects are always opposed when planned but never regretted after they are built. GO Rail GO! Close Quote.

Opponents naturally have chimed in to ridicule the sentiment, and some presumably would argue against some or all of these six points.  As an educational primer, however, we think it works.

Friday, June 29, 2012

City Submits Request for $1.55 Billion in Federal Funds, Plus: Another Look at Yesterday’s Post

Of all the rail “milestones,” this one may be the biggest.
The City has submitted its application to the Federal Transit Administration for a Full Funding Grant Agreement to complete work on the 20-mile elevated rail line between East Kapolei and Ala Moana Center. If fully funded, the federal government will provide $1.55 billion for the project.

The Star-Advertiser’s Kevin Dayton has a comprehensive story (subscription required) in today’s paper that covers several significant pieces of news, including the FFGA application.
Michael Levine’s story in Civil Beat may be more accessible. 

The above chart is from Levine's story. Both are recommended reading for the clarity in describing the project and its financing. The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation’s press release also is online.

The estimated completion date for the first phase of the project is now mid-2016. The push-back was caused largely to delays in completing the Final Environmental Impact Statement.

Also, the revised financial plan includes the FTA’s higher collection estimate for the general excise tax surcharge of 0.5 percent on Oahu transactions that is providing the local share of rail’s construction costs.

Look-Back
We called yesterday’s Yes2Rail post perhaps the most important one in this space over the past four years. It focused on the “traffic reduction” issue within the rail discussion that seems to be on the front burner this summer.

You’re encouraged to keep reading, below, if you didn’t see it yesterday.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Understanding Honolulu Rail Project’s Big Benefit Involves Going Beyond the Opponents’ Rhetoric

Quick, answer this: Do you believe building Honolulu rail will result in less traffic congestion?
If you answer Yes, you’re correct. And if you answer No, you’re also correct. How can both answers be correct? It’s confusing, right?

Since Yes2Rail exists to provide information about the Honolulu rail project that helps educate the public, let’s take this whole issue apart, piece by piece.

First, can we all agree that Oahu’s biggest traffic problem exists on streets and highways that run east-west through the urban corridor? At least that much should be obvious; Honolulu’s worst-in-the-country traffic congestion is on those thoroughfares, so although this first point is not in doubt among most residents, it’s a key piece in understanding the traffic congestion issue.

Another point most would not disagree with is that Oahu’s population will continue to grow over the coming decades, just as it has in decades past. Another 150,000 to 200,000 people are expected to be living on the island by 2030, and the vast majority of them will be living in the long-and-lean urban corridor between town and the ewa plain.

Point three: As the population goes, so goes traffic congestion. Those additional residents will be driving vehicles, so the number of cars on the island will also increase, resulting in increased congestion.

Number four: Oahu doesn’t have space in the east-west corridor for more highways, and there’s little if any evidence that residents are enthusiastic about building them. Aside from some tweaks here and there – a new Zipper lane (created out of existing freeway space) and repainting lanes on the H-1 in town to narrow them – we have what we have. (Even if a new highway were built, it would soon be choked by congestion, but that’s a topic for another day.)

Finally, using sophisticated computer modeling that has been enhanced and improved over the years, the Honolulu rail project anticipates a daily ridership in 116,000 passengers in 2030.

Without rail, those people would be traveling on streets and highways to reach their destination along the corridor – either on TheBus or in cars and other vehicles. Another projection: There will be 40,000 fewer vehicle trips each day in 2030 than there would be if rail were not built.

Summarizing
More people driving their cars on essentially the same network of streets and highways in 2030 will produce more congestion than we have today. Congestion’s growth is inevitable, as most of us would agree.

And if we agree on the five basic points discussed above, we should be able to agree on this, too:  Without rail, there will be more congestion on Honolulu’s streets and highways than with it. Rail will reduce congestion – plain and simple. Even anti-rail leader Cliff Slater says so (see below), and since this much is obvious, the Yes answer at the top obviously is the right one.

But we also said you’d be correct if you answered No. How can that be?

It should be obvious by now that both answers are correct depending on how you view the facts.  Rail opponents are fond of saying congestion will be reduced by only 1.3 percent, a benefit too small to justify such a large expenditure. But here’s how they get to that figure:

They calculate the reduction in daily trips (due to drivers becoming rail riders in the corridor) and compare it to the total number of daily vehicle trips around the entire island. It’s a neat trick that accurately describes rail’s effect on total traffic everywhere on the island – the Windward Side, North Shore, East Honolulu, Mililani, the Waianae Coast, everywhere.

But as for describing rail’s true impact in the most congested traffic corridor in the country, it fails miserably. Rail’s actual reduction of vehicle hours of delay (VHD) in that corridor is expected to be 18 percent, not 1.3. (Note: See July 5th post for an update and clarification on the 18-percent issue.)

When you consider that VHD in the corridor is reduced by about 11 percent when the University of Hawaii is out of session, you begin to appreciate rail’s true impact on congestion. Like Mr. Slater said before the City Council, “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.”

Rail's Biggest Benefit
But that’s not what you hear him and his fellow opponents say in their anti-rail campaign. They promote a misleading message that, while accurate, also obfuscates why rail is needed – because it will restore true mobility and improve travel times, not only for riders but also for drivers. We wrote about it here yesterday.

Opponents also always ignore this essential fact, which is rail’s biggest benefit: Residents who ride Honolulu’s elevated train will avoid all congestion as they travel through the east-west corridor. For them, congestion will be a big zero.

Rail will be a piece of transportation infrastructure that’s missing on Oahu today but which is found in all progressive cities around the world – a congestion-free mode of travel, either above or below street level. Decades from now, daily living on Oahu would be unimaginably difficult without elevated rail, with no alternative to massive traffic congestion that can only continue to worsen.

A final comment: Today’s Yes2Rail mini-essay may be the most important of the 772 posted here in the past four years because it cuts to the heart of the anti-rail campaign’s prominent rhetoric and exposes it for its manipulative qualities. (Visit our "aggregation site" and the section under Mr. Slater's heading for a compilation.)

Understanding the congestion issue requires more than a 30-second message on TV or radio, and we thank you for taking the time to read Yes2Rail.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

With Readership Spiking, We List Rail Project’s 4 Goals, Plus: Civil Beat Reports Candidates’ Views

“There’s no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary.” ~ Brendan Behan

That adage has its detractors, and we also had our doubts after Monday’s City Council meeting that put Yes2Rail in the spotlight at least for now.

But the blog’s readership is up, and that means new visitors can be directed to material that can help educate them about the Honolulu rail project.

First-time visitors might well bookmark the project’s website – HonoluluTransit.org.  There’s more material there than you can read in a month of leisure-time browsing, but the site’s search engine is helpful in narrowing your quest.
We’d suggest getting acquainted with key sections of the project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement, which is easily downloadable as a PDF. There’s no better place to start than the project’s four principal goals, which are discussed in detail in Chapter 1, beginning in paragraph 1.8. Table 1-4 summarizes them (click on the image at right to improve readability).
Although these goals were written years ago, they accurately anticipated the long-term threat to citizens’ ability to travel through Honolulu’s long and narrow urban corridor. We learned just last month that Honolulu has the worst traffic in the country according to a study published by INRIX, Inc.

Restoring our mobility is the first goal in the list. We’ve lost the ability to pick up and go in this town without being delayed by ever-increasing congestion. 

Goal two – improving corridor travel reliability – ties in nicely with the mobility goal. It’s virtually impossible these days to accurately predict your time of arrival when you begin your commute, say, from Kapolei to town. In addition to the normal traffic that adds big chunks of time to the trip, accidents and break-downs happen all the time to impede traffic flow.

We encourage you to spend time with the goals and think through how Honolulu’s elevated rail project is better able to achieve them than any other form of mass transit that would put its vehicles – buses and/or light rail – at street level in the mix of vehicle congestion.

You might also want to acquaint yourself with some of the many studies that have been published on the very nature of traffic congestion itself.  Yes2Rail linked to two of them in our April 6 post under the headline, Land use Commission Testimony Offers Insight on Why traffic Congestion Simply Won’t Go Away…

With Oahu’s population expected to grow another 150,000 to 200,000 souls by 2030, congestion is naturally going to increase, and even building more highway lanes (as if Oahu had the space) wouldn’t improve the traffic flow.

Phenomena like “generated traffic” and “induced travel” are well understood by researchers, and their findings in a nutshell are that you can’t build your way out of congestion and “solve” it. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that Honolulu rail will carry passengers above ever-increasing congestion and enable them to avoid wasting time and money (since “time is money”) in the nation’s worst traffic.

Civil Beat Today
Without commentary, we direct your attention to today’s coverage of the mayoral campaign by online Civil Beat, the subscription news service that’s free to read by occasional visitors.

All three mayoral candidates answered Civil Beat’s questionnaire, and the first question is relevant to what we discuss here at Yes2Rail: “If elected, what will you do to mitigate the nation’s worst traffic congestion in the near term – within your four-year term?”

While Yes2Rail isn’t a political blog and doesn't advocate for or against candidates, the mayoral race can’t reasonably be segregated from the rail discussion, and you’re encouraged to read Civil Beat’s coverage of the questionnaire’s responses today – all the while keeping rail’s four goals in mind.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Being the News Isn’t Our Goal, but When We Are, It’s Appropriate To Give the Rest of the Story

Yes2Rail became the news yesterday. That’s never our intention, but now that it’s happened, today’s post is a response.
I’m a member of the rail project’s public involvement team and have been writing this blog since 2008. Today’s post is number 770 in the series, and I can only guess about the number of words in this space, but they’re in the high hundreds of thousands.

Yes2Rail is one of many tools the team uses to provide information about the rail project to the public – how it will work, the communities it will serve, its benefits, its speed, its cost and on and on.

The rail project obviously isn’t being planned and built in a vacuum.  For a representative sampling of rail opponents’ commentaries and criticisms of the project, you can click on the “aggregation site” link in the right-hand column.

This being an election year, rail is the biggest issue in the mayoral race. As proposals have been floated to kill the rail project and replace it with other transportation plans, such as bus rapid transit, managed lanes and/or at-grade rail, Yes2Rail has commented on those plans.

My commentaries have compared BRT and the other proposed modes to elevated rail. When those comparisons have been unfavorable, I’ve said so. For example, my primary criticism of BRT is that buses inarguably must eventually be reintroduced to and delayed by street-level traffic congestion – something elevated rail will never experience.

Criticizing those alternatives to rail is not the same as criticizing the proponents. There’s a difference, and while I respect the viewpoint of those who think they’re the same, I have to disagree.

As a former City Hall reporter for the Honolulu Advertiser, I write Yes2Rail from a journalist’s perspective. These commentaries also have addressed the media’s apparent reluctance to ask the questions that need asking about the so-called alternatives to rail transit.

As early as January, Yes2Rail noted that details about the alternative transportation proposals were virtually non-existent, so it was impossible to truly understand how BRT, for example, could be better than Honolulu’s elevated rail system.

Eventually, even the Star-Advertiser wondered the same and printed an editorial (subscription) calling for those details to be released. You're invited to read Yes2Rail's post about this editorial.

Yes2Rail serves an educational function by making comparisons between competing transportation systems. If those competing systems have glaring deficiencies compared to rail, I say so.

That’s not the same as criticizing the messenger, which seems to be what Yes2Rail is experiencing now. I hope that clears up some of the concern about this blog and why I write it.

Monday, June 25, 2012

‘Rail: Designed To Fail'? If Eliminating Traffic Is Your Goal, Go Find Yourself an Island and Buy It!

The anti-rail contingent is running out of material, so don’t be surprised if what you read this summer looks like the same old tired stuff.
The online conservative Hawaii Free Press  – always a source of anti-rail sentiment – recycles a column by Randal O’Toole this week. Mr. O’Toole, a stalwart of the libertarian Cato Institute, blew into Honolulu a few months ago to the delight of the local anti-railer group that hopes to block the Honolulu project.
His column – Rail: Designed to Fail originally appeared online at The Antiplanner website (that's his moniker), and he’s impossible not to find all over the map if you do a web search.
Understanding Mr. O’Toole’s mindset helps put this new/old column in perspective, so here – in his own words – is what he wants:
“…what I want is a process that allows people to live in whatever kind of city they do want to live in. I think that if a process were implemented that basically allows property owners to do what they want with their property…I think most American cities would look a little more like Houston and Omaha then (sic) San Francisco or New York….”
Those dots leave out a good deal of what he said in that 2008 Next American City interview, which you may wish to read to better understand the libertarian’s approach to urban planning, but there’s enough in even this abridged segment to make you question why his philosophy is appropriate for Honolulu.
More Like Houston?

This “screen shot” at maps.google.com shows Houston’s highway sprawl and gives a sense of what Mr. O’Toole’s ideal city looks like. Highways and freeways circling the city center is what it looks like, and that’s undoubtedly the way property owners in Houston want it to look like.
But Houston and Honolulu are about as dissimilar as can be imagined. The one has miles of open space in every direction ready for more development to satisfy the demands of those car-loving Texans. The other has open space in all directions, too, but it’s either wet or mountainous, and you can’t build on it. Yet local anti-railers would have you embrace Mr. O’Toole’s philosophy as perfect for our town.
In his “Designed to Fail” column, the Oregonian tries to make the case that Honolulu’s rail project is the nation’s “most ridiculous transit proposal.” He comes to that conclusion by relying on numbers that he believes just don’t add up.
Someone we respect a lot for his background and knowledge of transportation issues recently emailed us this: “You can make numbers say anything you want if you just read them the right way.” That’s how Mr. O’Toole works through his anti-rail thesis – by reading numbers the “right way” to conclude that rail is wrong for Honolulu.
His main argument is that rail’s $5.3 billion cost can’t be justified in a city with only about a million residents today, and he flogs those numbers this way and that to make his case. But here’s another number he chooses not to consider:
0 – as in zero space to build new highways, let alone rings of highways to accommodate a car-centric culture. And not only is there zero space on Oahu for new super-highways, there’s zero enthusiasm among the public to build them, far as we can tell. On an island where “keep the country country” is a mantra, more highways would threaten that vision.
That Old Congestion Argument
It’s instructive that Mr. O’Toole’s 2008 interview positioned San Francisco as the anti-Houston. San Francisco and Honolulu both are severely constrained by their geography, and planning to accommodate future generations of residents must work within those constraints.
Bay Area planners have surmounted the city’s ocean and bay barrier by expanding the size of the urban region – north to Marin, east to the East Bay and south toward San Jose. Those communities use highways, bridges and the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system to connect with the city. 
So what does Randall O’Toole think of  BART? Predictably, he doesn’t like it – and he frames his disapproval the same way local anti-railer Cliff Slater frames his opposition to Honolulu rail: Building rail won’t eliminate or reduce traffic congestion.
Mr. O’Toole wrote a column for the San Jose Business Journal in 2007 with this lead: “Extending BART to San Jose will do nothing to relieve the region’s traffic congestion.”  It’s the same message Mr. Slater uses repeatedly: “Congestion in the future with rail will be worse than it is today.” (See Mr. Slater's many quotes at our "aggregation site".)
Neither bothers to explain this fundamental fact: Without rail, there can be no congestion-free travel through either region. BART users avoid traffic and its inevitable growth that’s a natural consequence of population growth, and Honolulu rail riders will avoid it, too.
Mr. O’Toole prefers double-decking freeways to open more road space for car users, and that presumably would work up to a point. That point would be met when drivers flood onto those highways – both the old and new lanes – once they’re available. That’s just what happens, and whatever short-term gains might be realized in congestion reduction are quickly overtaken by that flood.
Far-sighted planning – the kind that has characterized the Honolulu rail project – ensures a traffic-free way to move through the region that’s independent of congestion’s inevitable growth.
San Francisco without BART would be like imagining the city without Tony Bennett, cable cars and the Giants. Honolulu without elevated rail would be like Houston.
Oahu residents: What kind of city do you want?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Something To Know about Letters to the Editor: They Don’t Have To Be Accurate To Be Printed

Attention Newspaper Readers: What you read in the letters column may not be factual.
The city has not spent a dime of the rail “line of credit” fund approved by the City Council earlier this month, but that’s not what’s in today’s rail-related letter to the editor (subscription):
Rail costs have only just begun (Star-Advertiser, 6/23)
Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle said that “the likelihood is next to zero” that a $450 million line of credit will ever be used for the rail transit project…. The next day, we learned that we’ve only just begun, and already the city is tapping the contingency fund for overruns and unexpected costs.
We are up to $88 million and counting, and Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation Director Daniel Grabauskas that “it is not unusual.” I find this flippant attitude to be appalling and a direct disregard of where the money is coming from to pay for all of this.
We all know the payback will mean increased taxes….
The writer is confused. The line of credit that received 7-to-2 support from the Council will be an emergency-only “cash cushion” (the Star-Advertiser’s description) if completely unexpected developments occur.
HART CEO Grabauskas described the fund in a city press release: “The funding source Bill 37 provides would only be used as a last resort if there is a dramatic, unforeseen circumstance.” HART does not expect to use it.
Totally Different
A completely separate fund that’s already built into the project’s $5.3 billion budget is a contingency fund to cover increased costs above the original estimate. That fund is the source of the $88 million mentioned in the letter to the editor.
They’re not the same. The city has not tapped the line of credit, and the letter writer has it completely wrong.
The letters column isn’t where you go if you’re looking for facts. It’s all about opinion, and that’s why it’s there – to give readers a place to vent.
But don’t lap up everything you read there as factual. Today’s anti-rail letter obviously isn’t.
Come to think of it, you have to be careful about what you read elsewhere, too. (See the numerous links to anti-railer Cliff Slater's comments at our aggregation site.) It's a maxim for a reason: "Consider the source."

Friday, June 22, 2012

LTE Forum: Letter Praises Bus Rapid Transit but Ignores BRT’s Major Problem – At-Grade Traffic, Plus: Will Columnist Ever Examine Transit Plans?


 Dillingham Boulevard -- suitable for BRT?
Is bus rapid transit superior to rail?
Making BRT’s case in the affirmative, as a letter to the editor does in today’s Star-Advertiser, requires an apple-and-oranges comparison that’s bogus from the get-go. Here’s the letter (subscription):
BRT superior in many ways (Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 6/22)
A Bus Rapid Transit system would surely be rapid compared to the 42 minutes it would take for the train to go at an average 29 miles per  hour from Kapolei to Ala Moana with 19 required stops (emphasis added).
The BRT would have express buses using a single lane that could be built along the proposed rail line (emphasis added) at a fraction of the cost. These “super” buses would be able to go to Makaha, Waianae, Ewa Beach, Mililani and other areas not scheduled to get rail.
Unlike rail, the “super” buses would have enough seats for nearly all riders and would have Wi-Fi connections for riders to begin their workday as soon as they get on the bus.
Contrary to what the pro-rail groups want us to believe, there really is an alternative that beats rail in all ways (emphasis added).
Using the writer’s route description, his BRT system would run on Dillingham Boulevard (the “proposed rail line”) and all the other streets in the rail corridor for his “super” buses.
He wouldn’t elevate his line along Dillingham, since doing so would jump BRT’s cost dramatically, so what he proposes is the creation of two BRT lanes (one in each direction) that somehow would be inserted into the space shown in our photo at the top.
Where would he put those exclusive bus lanes -- in two of the four street lanes now used by cars, trucks and buses, or would he demolish houses and businesses on both sides of Dillingham to make room for BRT?
As they say, the devil is in the details, and details like this are what proponents of at-grade transit (BRT and at-grade rail) conveniently ignore as they tout the advantages of their favorite plan. There’s no way to run BRT down Dillingham and many other streets along the rail line without taking dozens (hundreds?) of properties and/or reducing the number of street lanes available for vehicular use.
Elevated Honolulu rail will impact exceptionally few properties along the 20-mile line and will take no street lanes, but that’s just the beginning of rail’s favorable comparisons with BRT.
A Matter of Equity
The writer emphasizes rail’s “19 required stops” (there actually will be 21 stations along the 20-mile line), so he obviously believes that’s too many and would have his BRT system make fewer stops as it carries passengers between communities on the west side and town.
And what of the people in between? How would BRT make their daily commute any better if BRT allegedly saves time by not stopping to take on passengers in communities along the route?  The only way BRT can “beat” rail’s end-to-end time of 42 minutes is for buses to avoid making stops to service those communities.
Bypassing thom with an allegedly rapid bus transit system would discourage smart growth around stations or terminals and push it out to the west end to create even more sprawl. As another letter-writer says in today’s paper, “We need smart growth in Ewa, not sprawl; we need transit-oriented development there and in town.”
Finally, how BRT “beats rails in all ways” is virtually impossible to understand. No detailed BRT plan has been proposed, so its costs are unknown – both for construction and for property condemnation.
No matter where BRT might be elevated (along the H-1 freeway, for example), those buses wouldn’t be so “super” once they’re back at street level, where congestion already is bad and will be worse in all the decades to come. Even with stops along the way, rail patrons will travel through the corridor completely unaffected by traffic on the streets.
As for the seating issue, are Honolulu citizens really so different from hundreds of millions of rail patrons who commute by rail in cities around the world each and every day? If you’ve traveled by rail in those cities, you’ve seen how it works: If you have to stand when you first get on a train, you almost always can find a seat sooner or later. It’s not a hardship!
Friday’s Columnist
We take note briefly of Richard Borreca’s column in today’s paper. As usual, his focus is politics, but since he’s one of the paper’s three columnists predicted to write not one paragraph with positive content about rail in 2012, it’s worth checking in with him now and then.
In today’s criticism of a pro-rail advocacy group’s launch of a media campaign attacking anti-rail mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano (one of Mr. Borreca’s favorites, by the way), the columnist writes “…there is much to be discussed about both the city’s and Cayetano’s transit plans….”
There certainly is, but we’ll likely never see it in his column.  There’s little evidence Mr. Borreca and fellow columnists Cynthia Oi and David Shapiro have studied rail and its goals enough to understand the project.
And since Mr. Cayetano has yet to release details on his alleged BRT plan – routes, costs, impacts, travel times, communities served and all the rest – there’s really nothing to compare. 
All we have is Honolulu rail’s exhaustively documented description of its purpose and need – volumes of material with detail piled upon detail.
If the devil is in those details, it would be refreshing if the Star-Advertiser’s troika of writers would find them, dissect them and discuss them rather than simply attack the idea of Honolulu elevated rail transit. That’s too easy.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Wednesday Columnist Can’t Stand Government Spending and Can’t Abide Pro-Rail Efforts in His Continuing Campaign against Honolulu Rail, Plus: Avoiding Traffic Is Only ‘Small Benefit’ to Slater; LTE Forum: Letter Buys Into Slater’s Mis-Info

This blog is written to perform an educational function, so we’re taking an educated look today at what motivates a journalist who has nothing good to say about the Honolulu rail project.
The collected evidence from the columns he writes for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser suggests that David Shapiro’s principal motivation is a need to criticize and oppose big government and big government spending projects.
We predicted in January that Mr. Shapiro and his fellow S-A columnists, Richard Borreca and Cynthia Oi, “will write not a single paragraph of positive content about the Honolulu rail project in 2012,” and we explained why:
“Journalists often describe their business as comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. As for the latter, there’s no bigger target to view with alarm than the biggest construction project in state history…. 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.”
Mr. Shaprio was at it again yesterday (subscription) – pushing the right buttons and using the right words to put government, the rail project and its supporters in the worst possible light.
Mr. Shapiro can’t mention rail’s contingency fund without attaching “slush” to it.  He can’t write about the project’s public outreach activities (he calls it “PR”) without attaching “heavy-handed” and “hard-sell.”
When HART CEO Dan Grabauskas – a transportation professional with decades of experience – says the drawdown on the rail contingency fund (3.4 percent of the fund’s total, so far) is “not unusual,” Mr. Shapiro dismissively waves it off.
“The big contingency fund allows rail officials to sweep those additional pennies under the rug and keep claiming they’re on budget,” Mr. Shaprio wrote yesterday.
“The budgeting structure has encouraged contractors to come in with low initial bids to make the politicians look good, comfortably knowing there’s that big slush fund to pay them change orders out the back door.”
You just can’t write that stuff without a deep-seated animosity toward government that goes beyond healthy “fourth-estate” watch-dogging. Mr. Shapiro’s disdain for big government and those who work for it has driven him to the nether regions of newspaper criticism.
Taking the Pulse
Near the end of yesterday’s piece, Mr. Shapiro writes: “Rail is losing support not because of public doubt about the value of a good mass transit system, but because an apparent majority now doubts the city’s ability to building a good system honestly and competently.”
Those doubts have been fueled by opinion-leading newspaper columnists who evidence little understanding of rail but nevertheless give only negative treatment to this huge public works project – infrastructure that will provide significant relief from traffic congestion.
There are other explanations for the alleged shrinkage in the public’s support for rail that Mr. Shapiro hasn’t detected. Consider the timing of the opinion polls he’s relying on; they were conducted soon after Ben Cayetano announced his candidacy in the mayoral race.
Their “snapshots in time” captured the news of the moment when the media were filled with his anti-rail rhetoric and the campaigns of Mr. Cayetano’s opponents were virtually invisible. They’re invisible no more, and neither are pro-rail groups that have stepped up their rail advocacy and criticism of the anti-rail candidate. Mr. Shapiro’s observation that “rail is losing support” is woefully out of date.
In addition, non-voters were excluded from at least one opinion survey – an odd decision by its sponsors since non-voters are traditionally more dependent on transit than voters.
‘A Good System’
Mr. Shapiro implied yesterday that Honolulu’s elevated rail project is “a good transit system.” He’s never come close to making such a statement before, but sorry – his back-handed compliment didn’t spoil our January prediction about what he’d write in 2012.
As we wrote then, we encourage Mr. Shapiro and his fellow journalists to spend time here at Yes2Rail reading some of the 766 posts (counting today's) that have been entered here during the past four years. There’s a handy index on dozens of topics in the right-hand column under the Blog Archive heading, but clicking on the link to our “aggregation site” is quicker.
‘Such a Small Benefit’
We posted Tuesday about The Big Divide that separates rail supporters from rail opponents. The latter want relief from traffic congestion and advocate changes they say would “solve” it. Nothing has “solved” traffic anywhere in the country, of course, but that doesn’t stop them from urging more subsidies for car travel.
Rail supporters recognize that congestion has become a fact of life, and the best way to offer relief from congestion is to build an alternative that allows users to avoid it completely.
Elevated rail is their solution, but its benefits are small potatoes to anti-railer-in-chief Cliff Slater. He’s quoted in yesterday’s Star-Advertiser: “I don’t think it’s possible to justify (rail’s) cost-effectiveness with such a small benefit (emphasis added) at such a huge cost.”
Of course he doesn’t think it’s justified; he’s a car travel advocate who believes mass transit funding is ill advised. Fellow anti-railer Panos Prevedouros spoke for both of them when he sought to answer mayoral candidate Kirk Caldwell’s list of questions that were aimed at Mr. Caldwell’s mayoral race opponent, Mr. Cayetano.
Dr. Prevedouros is quoted at Mr. Slater’s website: “Cliff and I are strong proponents of real traffic congestion relief. No form of transit qualifies as an effective mitigation for traffic congestion…”
But when you’re a public figure like Mr. Slater is, sooner or later you’ll say something that hangs out there with undeniable clarity – like his statement to the City Council on July 14, 2010:
“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….”
That’s exactly right – but Mr. Slater has repeated his “traffic will be worse in the future with rail than it is today” line so often he’s managed to mislead and confuse Oahu residents about rail's considerable benefit, as seen in today’s Star-Advertiser letters column.
LTE Forum
An Ewa Beach resident who clearly is upset with traffic's effect on her life has bought into Mr. Slater’s message:
If rail doesn’t cut traffic, what then? (Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 6/21):
“...Traffic get (sic) worse because there are more cars regardless of those riding rail, and it will get worse because the city is now not making any planned traffic improvements, putting all their traffic relief in the rail basket. So once rail is in place and traffic is still horrendous and getting worse, what will (pro-rail officials) say? We need more rail?”
The writer has it right about congestion: It will increase as the population increases, but she misses the whole point of building Honolulu rail.
The system will give residents a way to commute east-west through the corridor that bypasses the traffic-clogged H-1 freeway and surface roads. Ewa Beach residents will head to the closest rail station on TheBus or by other means to avoid that congestion.
Nothing Mr. Slater and his anti-rail friends have proposed will provide congestion-free travel into town from the west side. That's rail’s job.
This post has been added to our “aggregation site” beneath the Mr. Cliff Slater and Friends and the Project Goals, Rail’s Critics and More headings.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

What Goes Together Like Love and Marriage? Mobility and Honolulu’s Elevated Rail System, Because 'You Can’t Have One without the Other'

Beans and rice, cats and dogs, traffic and congestionthey’re words that naturally fit together like Love and Marriage in the 1950s hit song by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen.
 
Here are two more that make a natural pair: Mobility and grade-separated transit, because as Frank Sinatra sang so well, “You can’t have one without the other.” You can’t achieve complete relief from traffic congestion – Honolulu has the worst traffic in the country – by using ground-level streets and highways for any part of your trip.
It’s an illusion to suggest it can be done with managed lanes, bus rapid transit and/or at-grade rail transit. At some point along their routes, each of these so-called alternatives require users to travel on or in competition with surface streets – and back to the traffic congestion they tried to avoid.
The only way to avoid it and achieve unimpeded travel through town – we call it “mobility” – is to avoid street-level travel altogether.
A subway on Oahu would be ill-advised for cost, aesthetic and numerous other reasons, so rail transit built above grade is Honolulu’s approach to restoring mobility, which is one of rail’s four goals.
Another Pair
Population and growth go together like Love and Marriage to produce ever-increasing traffic congestion. “Try, try, try to separate them, it’s an illusion” the song goes, because here’s the brutal truth:
Congestion is here to stay. You can try to eliminate it, but “solving” traffic congestion is as futile as pushing the proverbial boulder up the proverbial mountain.
Numerous studies come to the same conclusion, and we quoted some of them in April, including this excerpt from one study:
“Traffic congestion tends to maintain equilibrium. Congestion reaches a point at which it constrains further growth in peak-period trips. If road capacity increases, the number of peak-period trips also increases until congestion again limits future traffic growth….”
Adding more lanes on space-constrained Oahu isn’t ever likely to happen, but even if managed lanes were somehow created – either by building new ones or excluding “unmanaged” vehicles from existing lanes – the result would be the same, the studies say: “…without congestion pricing (tolls), increasing road or public transit supply is unlikely to relieve congestion….”
Trying to achieve mobility by imposing tolls for using managed lanes would violate another of rail’s goals – to ensure transportation equity throughout the population.  Only those with the means to pay the tolls (or own a vehicle) would benefit from congestion pricing.
But going beyond these obvious impediments, vehicles using managed lanes eventually would return to surface level and be caught in traffic congestion that they avoided while on the managed lane.
Anti-railer Randy Roth told a caller on a radio program who made that point “You’re flat wrong,” an assessment that’s hard to square with his presumed analytical abilities as a law school professor. What was he thinking? Of course they’d be caught in surface traffic!
So as songwriters Cahn and Van Heusen concluded about Love and Marriage, you can come to only one conclusion about mobility and grade-separated transit:
“You can’t have one,
You can’t have none,
You can’t have one without the other.”
It’s elementary.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

More about Questions: Pro-Highway Prevedouros Stands In as Surrogate for Anti-Rail Cayetano in ‘Answering’ Pro-Rail Caldwell’s List of Questions

One thing’s certain: The Cayetano campaign crowd doesn’t read Yes2Rail – either that or they’re OK with typos and misspellings.
We used “sic” a few times yesterday in our post on Ben Cayetano’s response to Kirk Caldwell’s 55 questions about Mr. Cayetano’s bus rapid transit, managed lanes and/or at-grade rail transportation “plan.“
Those typos and misspellings are still uncorrected at the Cayetano campaign’s website as of this writing today, further underscoring the lack of respect details enjoy in Mr. Cayetano’s camp.
But details are what Mr. Caldwell was trying to uncover with his dozens of questions about of Mr. Cayetano’s alternative plan to address congestion and provide relief to commuters if he’s elected and kills rail.
By our count, Mr. Cayetano answered one of those questions, leaving the other 54 unaddressed, but that gap has been partially filled by Panos Prevedouros, the anti-rail UH engineering professor who doesn’t attempt to hide his disdain for mass transit.
The Big Divide
This is a good place to highlight what motivates Dr. Prevedouros and fellow anti-railer Cliff Slater in their endless campaign against rail.  It sure isn’t what motivates rail supporters.
Dr. Prevedouros, Mr. Slater and Mr. Cayetano presumably are motivated to “solve” traffic congestion – something no city has achieved no matter what highway and car-travel advocates say. There’s ample evidence in traffic conditions nationwide that congestion has become a fact of life, and the only thing highway advocates can do is apply tweaks here and there to manage it.
Advocates of elevated rail transit, on the other hand, want to provide Oahu commuters something no highway, managed lane or bus rapid transit plan can ever achieve – complete freedom from congestion.
Grade-separated transit is the only travel option that avoids traffic congestion completely. It’s the only way to accurately predict the time of arrival at your destination before you even begin the trip.
But that fact is never acknowledged by highway advocates, who don’t have a good answer for what happens to vehicles once they leave BRT/managed lanes and re-enter street traffic. Obviously, they’re caught in traffic that elevated rail will speed by above.
Dr. Prevedouros revealed his true intentions in his response to one of Mr. Caldwell’s questions:
Mr. Caldwell: "Why is candidate Cayetano supporting Bug Rapid Transit when his own transit advisors – including Cliff Slater – are against it?"
Dr. Prevedouros: "Cliff and I are strong proponents of real traffic congestion relief. No form of transit qualifies as an effective mitigation for traffic congestion….”
And there it is – a true confession about what rail opponents want in life: Less Traffic. It’s not going to happen, as numerous studies have shown repeatedly, but they know what they want and they’re going to keep fighting rail if it suits their purpose.
You can read all of Dr. Prevedouros’ responses to the 55 questions at Mr. Slater’s website. We’ll have more to say about them in days ahead, since the questions by and large are still unanswered notwithstanding the “answers” provided by Mr. Cayetano’s surrogate.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Caldwell Asked Cayetano 55 Questions about His Transportation Plan, and Cayetano Answered 1; Isn’t It Time that News Media Asked Them, Too?

We made a big deal of mayoral candidate Kirk Caldwell’s questions to fellow candidate Ben Cayetano last week, so it’s only right we focus today on Mr. Cayetano’s response – such as it is.
Mr. Cayetano’s single-answer response to the 55 transportation-related questions may eventually be seen as a pivotal moment in this year’s mayoral campaign. Since Yes2Rail is an a-political transit blog, we could be flat wrong about that, but it’s a reasonable working hypothesis about Mr. Cayetano’s response to a tsunami of probing questions that the media are ignoring.
Honolulu residents aren’t going to find many answers about Mr. Cayetano’s plans to implement bus rapid transit, managed lanes and/or at-grade light rail by reading and watching the news media. For whatever reason, most reporters covering the ongoing rail debate have shown a remarkable lack of reportorial enterprise in asking would-be rail killer Mr. Cayetano probing questions about his plans.
Playing Patty-Cake
You can get a sense of the media’s interaction with Mr. Cayetano by watching a video of his June 7 press conference. He invited the media to his home after Mr. Caldwell and Mayor Peter Carlisle, also a mayoral candidate, criticized Mr. Cayetano’s stance on rail earlier that day.
It was a patty-cake performance by the reporters in attendance and nothing like the Washington, D.C., press conferences you see on television. With an opportunity to ask pointed questions of the man who vows to kill rail if elected mayor, their “questions” seemed more like sound-bite set-ups.
And it’s worse than that. When you watch the entire video (especially around 11:30 mark), what emerges is a fawning deference by some of those reporters to Mr. Cayetano as they showed an obvious sympathy to his position and a reluctance to ask anything of substance. It’s enough to make stomachs turn among reporters from another era.
But one direct question of the kind you’d hope reporters always ask eventually surfaces at 13:55 into the video:
Reporter: “What you’re saying is (regarding BRT), once you get into town, BRT at grade is not going to disrupt traffic, just parking.”
Mr. Cayetano: “Well, you know, it may take some lanes, you know, during the peak hours, but you gotta make choices. You know, you want a 50-60-foot-high rail system running across the waterfront, disrupting ancient burial sites and all that? Or, you look at running the bus rapid transit down maybe King Street or Beretania Sreet, and looking to what the issue is. The issue is parking for small business, and so, can you deal with that? Well, we’re gonna take a look at that.”
The only question in this 15-minute video that could be termed “probing” about Mr. Cayetano’s alleged BRT plan produced an answer that reveals there is no thought-through assessment about BRT’s impact on small businesses on King and Beretania streets. Wow.
55 Asks, 1 Answer
This kind of media performance may be why Mr. Caldwell has created a list of 55 questions about Mr. Cayetano’s BRT, managed lanes and at-grade rail concepts, plans, notions, hopes, possibilities – whatever you want to call them.
For his part, Mr. Carlisle also is posing issues the media should be asking about. The Mayor told reporters on June 7: “The truth is, Cayetano rejected the very proposal he is now campaigning on, and for good reason,” he was quoted in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “Small businesses would be hurt, much-needed parking would be taken away and traffic congestion would be much, much worse.”
Faced with all these non-media-but-essential questions, Mr. Cayetano’s campaign website posted a statement yesterday. We’re quoting all 214 words:
“If the three volumes of the $10 million 2003 Environmental Impact Statement approved by the FTA and me, as goveror, which concluded that BRT was superior to rail is not specific enough, Caldwell should demand that Parsons Brinkerhoff (sic), the consultant, reimburse the City’s taxpayers.
“Caldwell should refrain from making up facts to suit his purpose. For example, to rebut my contention that no city comparable in size to Honolulu has built or is planning to build elevated, steel on steel rail Caldwell lists Seattle, Dallas and Vancouver as cities which have steel on steel rail. Question: are the rail systems heavy or light rail and are these cities comparable to Honolulu in size?
“He asks me to name cities in which rail has been a financial disaster? Try San Juan’s Tren Urbano which experienced an 83% construction cost overrun and actual ridership that was only 25% of forecasted ridership. Try Miami’s elevated heavy rail system built 30 years ago which experienced huge cost overruns and actual ridership was 20% of forecasted ridership. The fact is that FTA studies revealed that FTA approved (sic) rail systems on average experience a 40% cost overrun and on average only 41% of forecasted ridership – and there is very (sic) indication that the City’s rail project will exceed these shortfalls.”
That’s the exact quote as of this Yes2Rail posting. The spelling and grammatical mistakes may have been corrected by the time you read this, but beyond those errors, all we can find in this 214-word statement is one answer to Mr. Caldwell’s 1380-word, 55-question list.
Will Honolulu residents decide to swap a fully thought-through rail plan for something as unformed as Mr. Cayetano’s non-rail intentions? He seems content to duck the tough questions today, but at some point, residents are likely to realize “we’re gonna take a look at that” amounts to no plan at all.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Saturday Review: Candidate’s Float of At-Grade Rail Option Goes Nearly Unnoticed in the Media, But Crashes Get Their Share of Play Elsewhere


 This June 1 Sound Transit crash created plenty of "dew-dew."
You could be in for a surprise if you think this year’s mayoral race is a contest between only two forms of public transportation – elevated rail vs. bus rapid transit.
Almost unnoticed in media coverage was candidate Ben Cayetano’s “and/or” statement a week ago that hinted at-grade rail transit could be part of his plan if he’s elected and scraps the current rail project.
As we noted in yesterday’spost, Mr. Cayetano’s commentary at HawaiiReporter.com on June 8 included this commitment near its top: “I will explore what many cities throughout the US have turned to: bus rapid transit and/or at-grade light rail (emphasis added).”
It appears the so-called mainstream media didn’t pick up on that nuance, but one of Mr. Cayetano’s opponents in the race to lead Honolulu did. Former managing director Kirk Caldwell’s list of questions he’s directed at Mr. Cayetano included this among its dozens of bullet points:
“Candidate Cayetano recently has added ‘at-grade’ light rail systems as part of his plan for Honolulu. Where does he plan to use light rail? How does he plan to fund it? How will trans intersect and therefore interfere with street traffic?”
Many more questions must be asked and answered about Mr. Cayetano’s apparent intention to use light-rail transit as fall-back position. For starters, how could slow, inefficient, costly-to-operate and relatively unsafe at-grade rail get the job done in Honolulu?
Honolulu’s unique geographical layout and Oahu’s severe space restrictions require something other than an off-the-shelf rail “solution.” At-grade rail simply can’t be inserted into this environment and produce anything comparable to elevated rail’s fast, frequent, reliable and safe service.

Job One: Safety
At-grade rail’s greatest drawback, as we see it, is its safety record. Try inserting a ground-level rail system into Honolulu’s crowded mix of vehicles and pedestrians and you’d introduce the potential for accidents in dozens of locations throughout the urban corridor, especially in downtown Honolulu.
Thanks to the News.Google.com website, we keep track of at-grade rail accidents around the mainland. On June 1, a Sound Transit at-grade train sliced through a truck carrying cases of Mountain Dew soda in Seattle (photo at top).
There were no injuries, but train passengers headed to the airport were inconvenienced (at right). That’s another consequence of at-grade rail accidents – the loss of schedule reliability that commuters must have on their daily trips through town. Elevated rail in Honolulu will deliver predictability and reliability to passengers each and every time they ride.
So in addition to all the questions Mr. Cayetano confronts about his proposed BRT scheme, the public needs answers about his “and/or” intentions regarding at-grade rail transit.
As our dad was overly fond of saying, “He poured it out. He has to clean it up.” A variation was, “You poured it, you lick it.” (A ketchup bottle frequently was the heart of the matter.)
Happy Fathers Day to one and all, especially our dads.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Tsunami of Questions Washes Up on Cayetano’s BRT ‘Plan’; Caldwell’s List Goes On and On, Plus: Denver At-Grade Rail Has Another Car Accident


 Car meets at-grade train in Denver.
It was only a matter of time before a proposal to build bus rapid transit to serve Honolulu commuters instead of an elevated rail system would begin crumbling like a sand castle on the beach.
That’s what’s likely to happen now that mayoral candidate Kirk Caldwell has thrown a long list of questions at opponent Ben Cayetano’s BRT “plan.”
We’ve been asking some of those same questions for months here at non-political Yes2Rail, since anything that threatens Honolulu’s rail project is fair game. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s recent editorial also probed for answers, but Mr. Caldwell’s list of literally dozens of questions is the most complete we’ve seen.
Here’s a sample, and they’re all good:
If candidate Cayetano is elected, he will undoubtedly have to conduct a new EIS for BRT with all relevant studies (traffic, air quality, other environmental impacts, social impacts, economic impacts). He cannot use 2003 EIS as he claims – his preferred route, traffic, population and economic conditions have changed and costs for construction have changed. Since the EIS process normally takes four years before construction starts, how can he claim his plan will be in operation before his first term ends?
How does candidate Cayetano propose to pay for the cost of conducting a new EIS for his transit plan?
Why does candidate Cayetano keep saying that no one is using steel-on-steel technology anymore when several cities – Seattle, Portland, Vancouver and Dallas, to name just a few – have recently completed successful steel-on-steel rail systems? (Every new rail transit system in the U.S. is steel-on-steel.)
  Which specifically are the all the city rail systems that candidate Cayetano keeps referring to as failures?
  Which cities are effectively using Bus Rapid Transit exclusively instead of rail?
• How are diesel-guzzling buses environmentally smarter than electrically-powered trains?
That’s just a small fraction of Mr. Caldwell’s barrage of legitimate questions that Mr. Cayetano has yet to answer about BRT. And if the heat on his BRT plan gets too hot, it appears the former governor may be willing to abandon BRT for – wait for it – at-grade rail transit.
Cayetano Wants Rail?
A week ago, HawaiiReporter.com carried a piece by Mr. Cayetano following the first assaulton his no-rail manifesto by Mr. Caldwell and fellow candidate Mayor Peter Carlisle. Included in the opening paragraph was this:
“I will explore what many cities throughout the US have turned to: bus rapid transit and/or at-grade light rail (emphasis added).
There it is – without equivocation: Mr. Cayetano apparently would try to build an at-grade rail transit system either as a substitute for or supplement to his BRT plan, which is under assault.
Yes2Rail has published more words than we can estimate about at-grade rail’s severe and obvious problems – with safety ranking at the top of the problem list. We dedicated the right-hand column of this blog to the visual evidence.
Another incident happened this week when a car ran a red light in downtown Denver and collided with a Regional Transportation District light rail train, resulting in injuries on the train and in the car. At-grade vehicle collisions with at-grade transit are commonplace across America, so they’d be commonplace in Honolulu, too. Ask just about anybody, and they’ll confirm they see extremely poor driving habits on just about every trip around town.
Beyond the safety issue, at-grade rail could not begin to match the speed of Honolulu’s elevated project, nor its reliability and frequency. It would cost more to operate, too, since at-grade trains require drivers.
The biggest cost, though, would be the injuries and worse that citizens would incur due to vehicle and pedestrian mishaps in Honolulu, a city with one of the highest age demographics in the country.
Yet there’s no evidence Mr. Cayetano has considered these drawbacks any more than he’s considered the questions posed by Messrs. Caldwell and Carlisle. He’s had all the time in the world to think them through, but the evidence suggests he hasn’t.
Only elevated rail will be a congrestion-free option that will deliver fast, frequent, reliable and safe transportation to commuters and others as they travel through the urban corridor. It’s a message we can expect the other two mayoral candidates to hit hard in the weeks ahead.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Unsettling Development in Local Television News: Anchor Uses Anti-Rail Talking Points in Newscast, Plus: More about Who’s Included in Rail Surveys

Something happened a week ago tonight on Honolulu’s top television news station that deserves a second look.
Joe Moore, the former sports reporter and anchor at KGMB-TV and KHON-TV who was elevated to the news anchor job three decades ago, has been caught with his professional best-practice down.
At the end of Thursday’s report on the latest round of contretemps between the three mayoral candidates, Mr. Moore said: “The rail plan is budgeted at more than 5 billion dollars, with most experts saying the real cost will be 7 billion or more and that rail will not relieve traffic congestion.”
That sentence is essentially an anti-rail talking point that, we’re told, was not in the reporter’s script for the story but was added by Mr. Moore a short time before the 10 pm newscast.
Objectivity Lost
The $7 billion figure was made up by the team that wrote Governor Lingle’s financial study on the Honolulu rail project in 2010. The study satisfied Ms. Lingle’s anti-rail perspective by predicting a higher construction cost than the $5.2 billion figure supported by both the city and the Federal Transit Administration.
The second dubious assertion in that sentence is something you frequently hear anti-railers saying – that rail will not relieve traffic congestion. This whole issue of future traffic congestion requires more thought than anti-railer-in-chief Cliff Slater and other opponents want you to give it.
Of course congestion will continue to grow on Oahu after rail is built if the population increases by 150,000 to 200,000 in the next two decades as forecast. There will be more of it than what we experience today, but by using the “will not relieve traffic congestion” phrase, anti-railers imply rail will be a failure.
Beyond the opponents’ slick turn of phrase, the statement is itself false. Rail will reduce vehicle hours of delay (caused by congestion) in the urban core by about 18 percent in 2030, compared to what traffic would be like if rail were not built. Even Mr. Slater acknowledges the truth of rail's contribution to reducing congestion.
Why It Matters
Mr. Moore is the highest-rated newscaster in Honolulu and has held that distinction since he supplanted KGMB-TV’s Bob Sevey in the 1980s. What he says is Gospel to many who’ve watched him for decades.
His use of anti-railer talking points in a presumably objective newscast is simply unacceptable and raises the alarm among rail supporters. No professional journalist should be caught doing the bidding of one side or the other in this ongoing debate – whether it was deliberate or not.
More about Polls
Civil Beat’s latest public opinion poll on the rail project was yesterday’s Yes2Rail focus, and we’re raising the issue once again about whose views are reflected in these opinion surveys.
Since Civil Beat’s surveys contact only likely voters, we’ve concluded previously that they’re missing at least half of the electorate due to Hawaii’s remarkably low voter turnout – around 40 percent in the 2010 primary election.
But this issue goes even beyond that comparison. Reporter Michael Levine says only about 65 percent of age-eligible residents 18 years old and older are registered to vote.
When you do the math, it’s obvious that only about a quarter of Oahu’s adults are in the group being sampled. We’re guessing (with some justification in the data) that the non-voting and eligible-but-not-registered adults are less affluent, less financially secure and more dependent on public transit than those who do vote.
Governments serve all citizens, so until someone does a poll that includes a representative sample of the 75 percent who’ve previously not been surveyed, we won’t know rail's standing among all citizens, including the segment that likely would be heavily dependent on on rail.