Friday, December 30, 2011

Year-End Rail Review Has Big Last-Minute News: FTA OKs Entry into Project’s Final Design Phase; Plus, Another Look at Anti-Railers’ Misinformation Efforts on What Rail Will Do and What It Won’t

Some are saying it’s a late Christmas present, but we think of it as a “pay it forward” moment that will provide benefits to Oahu residents for many Christmases to come.

The Federal Transit Administration gave the city permission yesterday to begin Final Design of the Honolulu rail project. It’s a “significant” step – a word used yesterday by several times elected officials to describe it.
The approval sets the stage for and even bigger event in 2012 – FTA issuance of a Full Funding Grant Agreement as early as September for the anticipated $1.55 billion in federal funds.

As noted by both the Star-Advertiser (subscription) and Civil Beat (free for occasional visitors), the FTA’s letter said the project’s financial plan requires strengthening before the FFGA can be granted. An updated plan could include extension of the 0.5 percent GET surcharge for rail and so-called “value capture” strategies to help provide the local share of the project’s funding. The Mayor's Office distributed a release.

Anti-railer-in-chief Cliff Slater’s website chimed in to “find it a little strange that at this stage the FTA would approve the current financial plan but have so many difficulties with it.” This was to be expected, of course, as Mr. Slater has been fighting this and every other mass transit project the city has attempted over the years, including Mayor Harris’s bus rapid transit project and Mayor Fasi’s elevated rail effort one and two decades ago respectively.

That’s an appropriate segue for our year-end recall of the major 2011 developments for Honolulu rail, since so many of them involved Mr. Slater’s misinformation campaign.

Year In Review
We end 2011 where we began the year – highlighting the Honolulu rail project’s goals just as we did on January 3. It’s necessary to keep returning to this subject because of deliberate efforts by leading rail opponents to confuse the goals and thereby Oahu residents.

We’re linking to numerous earlier Yes2Rail posts to keep the year’s final entry from going on forever, but the goals issue is something that simply must stay front and center.

Cliff Slater has implied all year long that the rail project’s goal is to virtually eliminate traffic congestion on our streets and highways. As we first noted in July 2010 and throughout this year, Mr. Slater’s anti-rail stump speech to his audiences – including the Rotary Club of Honolulu in October – relies on verbal trickery:

Mr. Slater first mentions the cost of building Honolulu rail, then says traffic will be worse in the future with rail than it is today. He immediately asks for questions and/or sits down.

Dramatic Tomfoolery
Mr. Slater’s dramatic flourish is intended to fool his audiences into believing this expensive transportation project would be a failure and not worth building if traffic will be worse 10, 20, 30 or more years into the future than it is today.

Some audiences fall for it and laugh heartily, never questioning Mr. Slater’s specious reasoning. With an ever-increasing population of people and their cars, of course traffic will be worse decades from now than it is today.

Always ignored by Mr. Slater are rail’s true goals – especially the goal of restoring mobility through the urban core between Second City on the ewa plain and downtown Honolulu. He ignores these goals because their logic is unassailable. Rail will be an alternative to wasting hours each week in traffic that can sap both time and vitality out of families’ lives. A letter to the editor today eloquently makes this point in our LTE Forum, below.

Anti-Railers’ PR Campaign
The Slater-led coalition of rail opponents has worked hard all year to portray rail as a project that appeals only to a minority of Oahu residents, yet scientific survey after survey suggests just the opposite. We covered the most recent results in a June post – 57-percent support for rail as found in a QMark survey.

Elsewhere, we noted that three such surveys dating to 2008 have found support averaging around the 57-percent mark. The only polls suggesting overwhelming opposition are those conducted by outlets like, which uses unscientific click-in methods that can rightly be laughed away. The print and broadcast media also engage in this unscientific polling, which earlier this month we suggested should be prominently labeledfor entertainment purposes only.” For uncovering true public opinion, they’re worthless.

Having filed their lawsuit to block rail, Mr. Slater and his three prominent plantiffs (we dubbed them the Gang of Four) launched a media and public relations campaign in August with their 1500-word commentary in the Star-Advertiser. Civil Beat, which continued to fill the investigative journalism vacuum in this city, launched a Fact Check of seven major assertions in the piece and found most were  FALSE . That's not much of a record for a Gang that includes a UH law professor, a former governor and a former judge. It's fair to conclude that the op-ed was written by the Gang's fourth member, Mr. Slater, who as we’ve already noted is not averse to spinning, no matter what the facts may be.

The City Fights Back
The Gang’s campaign included appearances on Hawaii Public Radio’s “Town Square” show in September; several Yes2Rail posts dissected their performance beginning the same day and continuing for several more.

After much haggling, HPR agreed to the city’s request that it be given equal time. Mayor Peter Carlisle and HART interim CEO Toru Hamayasu, along with Makakilo resident and rail supporter Maeda Timson, focused on the facts in a late October program, and as we posted the next day, countered “opponents’ earlier penchant for bombast.”

Our October 28th post discusses a 2008 radio show and has a link to it that might well be bookmarked for future reference whenever Mr. Slater in 2012 accuses the city of never telling the public traffic congestion will continue to increase even if rail is built. Mr. Slater even agrees on the show with fellow guest Wayne Yoshioka, city director of Transportation services, that congestion logically will continue to grow, yet that and his other public statements to this effect haven’t stayed his misleading comments about congestion.

Yes2Rail’s “Aggregation Site”
Many other 2011 highlights have been gathered together at our one-stop-shop July 26th post, an innovation we wish we had started earlier. The headings there include Project Goals, Public Opinion, Elevated vs At-Grade, Oahu’s traffic Problem, Mr. Cliff Slater (and Friends) and others. Serious students of Honolulu rail in search of pro-project compilations of fact and opinion might want to bookmark that post, too.

LTE Forum
We end our 2011 postings (barring major developments on New Years Eve) by mentioning two more rail-related letters in the morning paper. We’ve already dealt with the subject of one of them, the so-called ‘honor system’ of paying fares, in earlier LTE Forum posts (see the heading at the July 26th compilation), but the final one of the year couldn’t have said it better:

Rail will be our traffic savior (Star-Advertiser, 12/30)
“To all those opposed to the rail transit system: You are the very people who will be gridlocked on the freeway and not be able to move.
“You will get out of your automobiles, raise both hands to the heavens and you will profess: ‘Where is the rail?’
“The rail will be a breath of fresh air in the morning, afternoon and evening compared to a very crowded freeway.
“I do not want Honolulu to become a gridlocked city.”

The Honolulu letter-writer said in 79 words what we’ve devoted tens of thousands of words to in 2011. The year to come will demand many more of them that we'll be more than happy to provide. Some of those future automobile drivers will be our grandchildren, and it's for them – more than us – that Honolulu rail is being built.

Happy New Year!!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Letter Reveals a Basic Misunderstanding of Rail; It Will Be Travel Option for EVERYBODY, Not ‘a Few’

Today’s LTE Forum highlights a phrase in a letter to the editor in today’s newspaper (subscription) that, although short, is exceptionally revealing.

The letter is more about politics than transportation, but it reflects a common misunderstanding about rail’s purpose that has led some residents to oppose the project. Here’s the relevant sentence:

Democrats putting train over hospitals (Star-Advertiser, 12/29)
“…Are we going to let these politicians dictate to us that building a rail to relief traffic congestion for a few residents is more important than saving the hospitals….”
It’s true that the percentage of island residents who will use the elevated rail system to completely avoid traffic in their daily commute will be small. That much is obvious for a rail line with 21 stations along the route between the growing communities on the ewa plain and Ala Moana Center.

But the same can be said of those who use the H-3 freeway and the Pali and Likelike highways to commute between the windward side and town. Similarly, only a small percentage of Oahu residents use Kalanianaole Highway to commute from their homes in Waimanalo and Hawaii Kai to downtown Honolulu.

When a new link is added to the island’s transportation infrastructure, it’s available for everyone's use at one time or another. Some will use it a dozen or more times a week, others much less frequently, but the fact that rail will be a traffic-avoiding option primarily those who live near the route is no reason to oppose its construction.

Often lost in the discussion is another significant point: With tens of thousands of commuters no longer driving to and from work, traffic congestion in the urban core will be reduced by 18 percent, according to the project's Environmental Impact Statement.

That means the person who never once uses the train will experience reduced traffic congestion – as seen in hours of vehicle delay – compared to what congestion would grow to if rail were not built.

Like other Honolulu residents, the letter writer presumably will enjoy that benefit more than drivers elsewhere on the island, and no one will resent him for it.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

IRS Complaint Is New Wrinkle in the Rail Lawsuit; LTE Forum: Will System ‘Spoil’ or ‘Save’ Island?

Civil Beat provides in-depth coverage today of the complaint filed with the IRS alleging improper use of Small Business Hawaii Entrepreneurial Education Foundation funds to support the anti-rail lawsuit.

SBH has been soliciting financial support to pay the fees of attorneys working on the case. Rail supporter Hannah Miyamoto’s complaint argues that in soliciting funds for that purpose, the Foundation has strayed from its mission.

CB asked a former IRS official whether the complaint has merit and learned that the IRS likely won’t get around to dealing with it for several months. CB’s article ends: “In the end, whether the IRS investigates or takes action might be secondary. The complaint could have a chilling effect on donors, who might be concerned that their contributions would not be tax deductible.” Time will tell.

LTE Forum
A letter in today’s Star-Advertiser (subscription) boils down to whether Honolulu’s elevated rail system will “spoil” Oahu or save it – whether the system would be visually ugly or would eliminate the ugliness of traffic congestion for tens of thousands of island residents.

A rail system will ruin island beauty (Star-Advertiser, 12/17)
“I am 94 years old and cannot imagine intelligent people would ant to spoil a small island with a train. I have traveled all over the world and never seen a beautiful train area. Even in the old days the railway was on the edge of the island. We have the best bus system in the world!”
Cities the world over have already decided that introducing transportation alternatives into the urban environment was a necessary change from the way things used to be. The collection of photographs at the website suggests that rail systems can be built with sensitivity and artfulness. Here are a few of those photographs:

Lille, France

Bilbao, Spain

Paris, France

Portland, Oregon

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Dickensonian Christmas Tale with a Difference: Three Ghosts of Traffic Past, Present and Future

Yes2Rail’s annual Christmas Eve post, dating to 2009 with editorial updates to note the rail project’s progress.
  It was the night before Christmas in Kapolei, and all three of the family’s generations were in a happy mood after watching “A Christmas Carol” on TV. Mean old Scrooge turned out to be a great guy after all, and Tiny Tim was just fine.
  Everybody was happy but dad, that is. He stormed in as the show’s credits rolled up the screen from another of his last-minute Christmas shopping sprees, and his mood was as grumpy as Scrooge’s had been on the tube two hours earlier.
  “Merry Christmas!” the kids shouted. “Mom was just telling us how scary the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future were when she was little.”
  “I’ve been stalled on H-1 for the last hour,” dad growled, “and I know something a lot scarier than anything Charles Dickens dreamed up – the Ghost of Traffic Present!
  “Tell us more! Tell us more!” cried the kids as they egged him on. Rush-hour traffic always made dad’s face red and eyes bulge. It’s a pretty good show, and the kids were always up for it.
  “Come to think of it,” dad obliged with a twinkle in his eye, “I also have a story with three ghosts -- the ghosts of Traffic Past, Traffic Present and Traffic Future.”
  And so began another of dad’s “good old days” stories about driving to town in half the time it takes today. Just like Dickens’ ghost of Christmas Past, dad’s ghost of Traffic Past had fond memories – of free-and-easy driving, open highways, low-cost gasoline and reasonable parking fees.
  But then the story took a turn. Traffic congestion grew along with the population, and the city tried to build an elevated transit system so commuters could ride a train and avoid traffic altogether – just like they do in cities around the world.
  “We…came…THIS…close!” the kids sang along with dad. They’d heard it before, so all three held their fingers barely apart as dad recalled the City Council vote that killed those plans in 1992. “It would have been running since 2003,” dad sighed.
  “But that’s the ghost of Traffic Past,” he grimaced as he warmed to the juiciest part of his tale. “Here’s where my three-ghost story departs from Dickens. His scariest vision was the Ghost of Christmas Future. Mine is the Ghost of Traffic Present!”
  And off dad went on his rant – about getting up way too early to beat H-1 congestion, about arriving late for work nearly every time there’s an accident, and on and on.
  “The Ghost of Traffic Present toys with us,” he said as the kids giggled in anticipation. “This ghost sometimes gives you a wide-open road when you first hit the freeway, lets you think today will be different, that maybe you’ll breeze through the merge. But nine times out of ten, it’s all wishful thinking and you crawl the rest of the way to town. When there’s a major accident, forget about it! And when you finally get off the freeway, you’re caught in street traffic!”
  Mom had escaped to the kitchen by now, and the kids sat crowded around dad’s feet, because their favorite part was coming. The Ghost of Traffic Future would be the one they’ll live with for the rest of their lives.
  Dad did a quick circle around the kids to stretch his legs, then settled in again to pick up the story. “The Ghost of Traffic Future is the best ghost of all, because the future is when your generation will triumph over traffic! You won’t even have to worry about it!”
  The kids knew all about the plan to bypass traffic in the future. Dad read every newspaper story out loud to the family about the city’s elevated rail project. They all had tracked the project as it moved from the early planning days when the kids were in pre-school, through the City Council votes, into the environmental process, past the Final EIS and Record of Decision. And on Christmas Eve 2011, the only major obstacle was the lawsuit some perennial anti-railers had filed.
  “When the city wins that lawsuit, it’ll be clear sailing for the project’s construction!” dad exclaimed as the kids clapped their hands in unison. “Your uncle and cousins will have years of construction work ahead of them, and so will lots of other people with all kinds of different jobs.”
  Again in unison and on cue, the kids put on worried faces and cried, “They will win that lawsuit, won’t they, dad…won’t they?” Dad waited until everyone had grabbed hands so they could shout it together: “They’d better!!” Even mom and the grandparents laughingly joined in – as always.
  “You see, kids,” dad said in his serious voice, “this entire project could be delayed by the lawsuit, and that would be a bad thing – for you, for your cousins, for the entire community, and especially those who don’t want to sit in traffic. But I’m confident the city did everything by the book."
  Granddad chimed in: “Most everybody knows we need this train,” he said. “You kids will use it to get to jobs in town or to school in Manoa. Gas prices will be far higher in years ahead then, and so will parking costs. The train will be so convenient and cost-competitive, it would be terrible for anyone to block this project and toy with your future.” The kids nodded.
  “Granddad’s right,” mom called from the hallway. “Once commuters see how easy it is to ride the train and connect with buses or walk from the stations, you kids might even have to fight for a seat!”
  And so this balmy Christmas Eve 2011 progressed in Kapolei – not incidentally with the President and his family vacationing on the windward side – as dad ended his tale of the three Ghosts of Traffic and the family’s three generations sat down around the Christmas tree to hear a much older story.
  When the kids awoke early to open their presents on Christmas Day, the youngest said she dreamed all night about Santa arriving in Kapolei with a sleigh full of toys. But it was different this year. Santa's sleigh wasn't pulled by reindeer. It was riding high up on an elevated guideway, pulled by a train.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Anti-Rail, Anti-Bus Slater Now Touting Bus Rides; His Letter to FTA Is Classic Case of Obfuscation

Cliff Slater has posted a pro-bus letter to Region IX of the Federal Transit Administration in which he provides more unintentional humor.

The first laugh point is that he’s writing in favor of bus travel at all. As we noted recently here at Yes2Rail, Mr. Slater was a die-hard opponent of the Bus Rapid Transit plan put forward by the Harris Administration a decade ago.

The second laugher is his extreme parsing of travel times for the Country C route on TheBus. We spent some time on September 1 showing how Mr. Slater mixes apples and oranges in comparing travel and transit times on TheBus and the future train.

People who use TheBus regularly to commute from Kapolei to downtown will be laughing when they read Mr. Slater’s glowing report of bus travel in the Zipper Lane. Callers to the Town Square show on September 15 countered Mr. Slater’s claims of fast bus travel and said their own experience doesn’t compare to his stopwatch travel times.

And lastly, Mr. Slater reveals his inability to imagine transit-oriented travel when he writes in his letter: “Kapolei commuters would have to drive (emphasis added) to the East Kapolei rail station park-and-ride lot on North-South (sic) Road, which would take 12 minutes or more from Kapolei proper, which is six miles away.”

No, Mr. Slater, they wouldn’t have to drive. They could take a bus and leave the driving to the city – first on TheBus and then on a train, which during rush hour would arrive in less than 3 minutes. Rail will be an alternative to driving, and public transportation service will improve, contrary to his letter's claims.

As a visit to our “aggregation site” and the Mr. Cliff Slater (and Friends) section shows repeatedly, Mr. Slater enjoys playing his obfuscation role in the Great Train Debate. It’s an essential piece of his repertoire, and as his FTA letter shows, he’s not about to give it up.

This post has been added to our "aggregation site" under the heading noted immediately above.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Let’s Finally Nix these Ridiculous On-Line Polls or Apply a Disclaimer: ‘Entertainment Purposes Only’

TV and radio stations do it, Honolulu’s only daily newspaper does it, online blogs do it. How can an allegedly legitimate media outlet consider using “come one, come all” click-on polls?

These opinion “surveys” invite website visitors to register an opinion, and the results are obviously unscientific. That much should be obvious to every editor who authorizes their use. floated one of these laughers earlier this week, and the current issue of mentions the response to a recent Star-Advertiser “Big Q” point-and-click survey.

These “surveys” lack the minimum requirements of legitimate public opinion polls – scientific sampling of the population and questions that don’t predetermine the outcome.

At a minimum, the media outlets that choose to use these features should publish a disclaimer that makes the intent clear – pure entertainment. Put them in the Comics section or give them up altogether.

Pacific Business News finally ended page one “girlie” photos decades ago. Let’s see if today’s journalists have as much integrity.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Hawaii Reporter Rail ‘Poll’ Among 2011 Lowlights

Under the headline Public Not Supportive of Honolulu Rail Project, Poll Shows, the Hawaii Reporter website has published the results of its latest failed attempt at legitimate journalism.

There are polls that mean something – they’re usually called “scientific” public opinion surveys – and then there’s Hawaii Reporter’s latest solicitation of views on Honolulu rail.

HR’s poll ranks right down there with the infamous 1936 presidential election survey conducted by The Literary Digest. Says Wikipedia: “The Literary Digest is almost certainly best-remembered today for the circumstances surrounding its demise…. In retrospect, the polling techniques employed by the magazine were to blame. Although it had polled 10 million individuals…, it had surveyed firstly its own readers….”

Wikipedia goes on to note that the Digest’s readers weren’t representative of the voting public. The magazine’s prediction of an Alf Landon victory (FDR won 46 of 48 states) is remembered as a “Titanic” event; it sank the Digest.

Hawaii Reporter’s poll is guilty of the same grievous error. Judging from HR’s anti-rail editorial position that was even evident in the poll's questions, it’s safe to conclude its readers are equally opposed to rail. The website’s readership in no way represents the cross-section of Oahu citizens, so this survey – which shows overwhelming opposition to the rail project – isn't worth the bytes that make up the post.

For scientific results on what the public has said about rail, see the Public Opinion section of our “aggregation site.”

Monday, December 19, 2011

More on ‘Honor System,’ plus Flip-Flopping Rail Opponent Who Fought BRT Now Thinks It’s Swell

Saturday’s edition of the LTE Forum reacted to two letters to the editor that questioned use of the so-called honor system rather than ticketing barriers on the Honolulu rail system. Transit systems elsewhere have good experience with “honor.”

But a letter in yesterday’s Star-Advertiser did a better job of responding to the skeptics. The Manoa writer had several reasons why “proof of payment” systems make sense for Honolulu:

‘Proof of payment’ is not ‘honor system’ (Star-Advertiser, 12/18, subscription)
“…Since a turnstile system can be hurdled or crawled under, a more costly system would not guarantee payment by all riders. As most Honolulu riders carry a monthly pass now – especially seniors, disabled persons and University of Hawaii students – fare evasion will probably be lower than average. Because 42 percent of all transit riders will use rail for part of the trip, many cash-paying riders will be holding a paper bus transfer, good for their train ride…. Finally, fare checkers will keep homeless people, drunks and criminals off stations and trains.”
As with most issues that provoke knee-jerk reactions by rail critics, the “proof of payment” system will work in Honolulu, just as it does in dozens of other cities with rail transit.

Flip-Flopping on BRT
We make a point of dropping in on anti-railer-in-chief Cliff Slater’s website. It’s often rich in material that blunts his arguments against Honolulu’s future rail system, and this weekend was worth the visit.

Mr. Slater has posted three items since Friday in praise of bus rapid transit. His fondness for BRT is laughably ironic to those of us who remember his opposition to Mayor Jeremy Harris’s BRT plans a decade ago. After quoting Mr. Harris on how “cutting-edge” bus technologies and operational systems “can make big improvements at an affordable cost,” Mr. Slater asked on Friday: “In your heart of hearts, don’t you really miss the guy?”

Mr. Slater continued his new-found enthusiasm for BRT into the weekend with two more referrals – a 2010 speech in Boston by FTA chief Peter Rogoff and a Detroit News story on the FTA's support of a regional bus system.

The FTA believes BRT would work well in the Detroit region, and that’s great. The agency has its reasons, which you can read, but unless I missed it, there’s nothing in the newspaper story about what’s right for Honolulu – just for Detroit.

As for Mr. Rogoff’s speech about the importance of transit system maintenance, he mentions BRT only once: “Is Bus Rapid Transit a workable option for every corridor – no. But it’s a fine fit for more communities that are seriously considered it.”

Honolulu seriously considered BRT under the Harris and Hannemann administrations, and it didn’t fly either time. What works for one city or region doesn’t mean it would work in Honolulu. Don’t we hear all the time about “how different” Honolulu is? We know it’s true, and two reasons it’s different are outside for everyone to see – the mountains and the ocean.

Quotes by ABC Slater
Mr. Slater’s weekend work on BRT was just more obfuscation in his long-standing attempt to confuse Oahu citizens about the issues. We’ve found so many of them that we’ve created a special corner at our “aggregation site" about his tactics, and we’ll add today’s post to the Mr. Cliff Slater (and Friends) section.

Calling Mr. Slater “Always By Car Cliff” is another way of saying he favors car travel over mass transit options, but he’ll endorse BRT if he thinks doing so can add to the confusion in his fight against Honolulu’s elevated “light metro” system.

Here are some of his quotes from Honolulu’s brief exposure to Mr. Harris’s proposed BRT system:

City’s rapid transit vision will fade – Honolulu Advertiser, 9/4/01. “First you must understand that while BRT is rubber-tired, it is like a streetcar in that it uses dedicated lanes in the middle of the streets. Thus, it embodies all the congestion-causing drawbacks of a light rail line that Mayor Harris quite correctly opposed when he was promoting heavy rail transit.”
City’s BRT has degenerated into a farce – Honolulu Advertiser, 2/16/04. “While (BRT would be) great for bus riders, private transportation providers and UH traffic experts noted that the use of exclusive lanes in town would have a terrible impact on traffic congestion. Traffic congestion in town is already bad enough; taking road space away from existing traffic would cause a traffic nightmare.”
The Congestion Issue
You can find numerous Slater-BRT connections. We also found other quotable material from Mr. Slater in our BRT search, and they shed light on Mr. Slater’s tactic of attacking rail because it won’t reduce road congestion to the extent he wants.

Mr. Slater himself is the source of the erroneous belief that Honolulu rail’s principal goal is to reduce or even eliminate road congestion. He’s responsible for this "straw-man" argument that he works so hard to knock down. Rail will be an option to driving in that congestion, and since rail can’t possibly lower overall congestion to below current levels, he attacks rail for failing to do the impossible.

Here’s a quote from his “Second Opinion” column on 6/3/02: “…these fixed systems just do not do what people assume – reduce traffic congestion.” They assume that because Mr. Slater works hard to convince them that’s rail’s goal; see his Civil Beat video interview and our next-day post.

Here’s Mr. Slater’s newspaper ad (7/5/11) that solicited contributions to support his federal lawsuit to stop Honolulu rail: “Traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than what it is today.” Yes – absolutely true, but Mr. Slater’s intent is to suggestion rail will be a failure if traffic increases. With the population growing by 200,000 in the 2005-2030 period, of course traffic congestion will increase.

Mr. Slater is nothing if not clever; having it both ways on BRT and capitalizing on his straw-man tactic show that much. As Internet searches reveal, he’s been anti-mass transit for as long as anyone can recall, and he’s not going away now.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to catch him on his contradictions and in so doing lessen the likelihood he'll add another notch to his belt by killing rail.

As noted above, this post has been added to our "aggregation site" site under the heading Mr. Cliff Slater (and Friends).

Saturday, December 17, 2011

LTE Forum: Fretting about Freeloaders, Writers Ignore Success of ‘Honor System’ in other Cities

Hawaii’s geographical isolation contributes to how some Oahu residents react to Honolulu rail in its entirety or in its details. Our residents must travel farther to set foot in another metropolitan area than anybody else on earth. That means our exposure to successful transit systems is significantly less than elsewhere. Low exposure leads to skepticism and then outright opposition among some – our theory, at least.

Opponents often write that “nobody will ride this train,” an assessment that ignores reality around the world in cities with cost-effective and convenient rail transit systems. Two letters to the editor (LTE) in the Star-Advertiser this week (subscription) seemed to ignore what works elsewhere, too. They reacted to the newspaper’s earlier story on plans to use the “honor system” for fare payment rather than turnstiles, gates or other fare-collection systems.

Honor system will cost a lot (Star-Advertiser, 12/16)
“...City planners are considering an ‘honor system’ for rail transit. Every driver (the writer is one) knows that relying on people’s honor is ideal, but it does not work, leaving someone else to pay for the shortfall.”
Honor system ignores security (Star-Advertiser, 12/16)
“The ‘no barrier concept’ for access to rail clearly will not meet current security needs, post-9/11… The honor system will not meet the revenue needs for the taxpayers asnd requires greater manpower for enforcement, lower revenue and reater expense is a bad formula….”
Wikipedia has a list with dozens of cities where a “proof of payment” system – aka, honor system – works for rail and bus systems. It’s worth noting that some of the newest systems are on the list; modern concepts of building attractive rail transit systems include making them accessible to riders. Barriers like turnstiles don’t support easy access.

As for the security concerns expressed by a Kaimuki resident, safety and security have been key components in planning Honolulu rail, and there’s no reason to anticipate threats to passenger safety with a  proof-of-payment system.

A letter in today’s paper focuses on another issue that’s top of mind for rail opponents and supporters alike.

Rail will be worst case of isle visual pollution (Star-Advertiser, 12/17)
"Congratulations to Bob Loy and The Outdoor Circle for finally getting into the fight against rail…. Where is the Hawaii Visitors Bureau? Does it really think this is what visitors want to see when the come to Hawaii?... I doubt you can find a city where an elevated transportation system has improved the area around it. Honolulu is going backwards visually with rail.”
We addressed the Outdoor Circle’s 12/11 commentary at some length and acknowledged that an elevated guideway will have visual impacts. The EIS system acknowledges it, too, but those impacts have to be weighed against what an elevated system will deliver – fast, frequent, reliable and safe transportation through the urban core.

Traffic congestion is a reality in 21st century Honolulu, and it has profound effects on the lives of those who commute twice a day through our narrow east-west corridor using the H-1 freeway and parallel surface streets. Today’s letter writer lives in windward Kailua and presumably experiences none of these commuters’ frustrations. Traffic is their issue, and Honolulu rail will be an option to sitting in it.

Tourists won’t stop coming to Waikiki or even the west-end resorts because we’ve built transportation infrastructure to improve the quality of life for tens of thousands of local residents. Tourists come for sun, sea, sand and surf. Few if any will be put off by a 30-foot-tall rail system between Ala Moana Center and East Kapolei; many will ride the system to Pearl Harbor and other destinations. Vastly more visible to tourists is the high-rise forest growing in Kakaako and the ones already rooted in Waikiki and downtown that block mountain and ocean views.

The more people travel, the more they appreciate how cities deal with the issues that affect their citizens. Oahu’s major issue is traffic congestion, and we’re dealing with it by building elevated rail.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

More from Misleader-in-Chief Slater: As Usual, His Latest Post Is Example of More Flash than Bang

We asserted here yesterday that anti-railer Cliff Slater has been less than truthful over the years in his opposition to Honolulu rail. His campaign implies things that aren’t true and relies on information that doesn’t pan out.

He’s doing it again at his website in the December 13th post that’s headlined New report says the transit selection process biased in favor of rail. This two-paragraph item is classic Cliff Slater, and we’ll explain why after responding to a friend’s suggestion. If you want to skip this part, jump down to the “New Report” subhead.

Our friend slogged through yesterday’s Yes2Rail post and then emailed the following:

“The logical progression seems OK but it necessarily takes a long time to get there…. In any future address of this issue you might want to emphasize/tinker with the point that it was a HNL/ADV poll question error that is the basis of Slater's confusion. He not only refuses to acknowledge this fact but, more importantly, he disregards knowledge of the error, then he shamelessly and repeatedly floats out his misinformation.”
So before examining Mr. Slater’s latest post (as of this writing), here’s the essence of the Obfuscator-in-Chief’s anti-rail campaign:
• ”ABC” – Always By Car – Slater supports car-based options to deal with Oahu’s increasing congestion with options such as HOT (high occupancy toll) lanes, and he consistently opposes mass transit. The car is king in Mr. Slater’s world.
• He flat-out misrepresents the city’s goals in building Honolulu rail. Mr. Slater’s campaign implies rail is intended to reduce congestion to less than current levels, which is impossible with a growing population (200,000 more Oahu residents in 2030 than in 2005). Mr. Slater knows rail's true purpose, but he misleads his audiences on this point anyway. Yesterday’s post and several others cover this (see our "aggregation site").
• Mr. Slater says the public believes rail's purpose is to relieve congestion (rather than its true goals) and cites a 2008 Honolulu Advertiser public opinion survey as his source of what the public thinks. As noted in yesterday's post, the poll’s question was badly worded to suggest a different goal – traffic reduction. Garbage in, garbage out, and Mr. Slater’s use of this GIGO question's response is described by two other letters.

New Report
Mr. Slater performs the neat trick in his 12/13 post of having it both ways. His opposition to Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) was well-known during the Harris Administration, but his post refers his readers to a report from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, an organization that urges BRT instead of rail transit when it's the better option.

The report is titled “Recapturing Global Leadership in Bus Rapid Transit, a Survey of Select U.S. Cities.” However, the headline Mr. Slater posted (second paragraph, above) could easily be interpreted to suggest that Honolulu’s process was biased in favor of rail. That’s not what's in the report. Honolulu is mentioned twice in 75 pages, both times are in passing and without emphasis.

The Institute obviously is pushing BRT, so it’s logical it favors that option over rail throughout the report. Mr. Slater’s headline may in fact reflect the report’s conclusion about rail vs. BRT, but written as it is, the headline seems like a deliberate suggestion of impropriety in Honolulu’s selection process that’s simply not supported by the report.

Now, the Irony
Mr. Slater’s post mentions that “long-time transit enthusiast Congressman Earl Blumenauer, Democrat-Oregon,” wrote the report’s forward. Mr. Blumenauer supports transportation alternatives and concludes, “If American communities are to become more livable, we need all transportation options on the table for consideration.”

BRT is one of those options, and it's ironic that despite Mr. Slater's fight against BRT a decade ago, he uses this report to diminish rail. But here's where the irony ramps up: Mr. Blumenauer spoke highly about Honolulu’s future rail project when he visited here in 2004, as reported by the Honolulu Advertiser:

“People will always tell you the faults of a rail system first and then their resistance to raising local taxes to pay for it. But when one is finally put in place, it has the potential to revolutionize the way people live and work, and then they wonder how they ever lived without it.”
Digging deeper into ABC Slater’s 12/13 post found something other than what he'd like you to know. BRT has its place as Representative Blumenauer suggests, but as a travel alternative for Honolulu, Honolulu's selection process rejected it, and nothing in the Institute's report argues against that result.

We have to believe even Representative Blumenauer would think Honolulu's choice of elevated rail was excellent and appropriate for our city.

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

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Cliff Slater Won’t Stop Using Same ‘Non-Truth’ in His Anti-Rail Campaign, but Is It Something Else?

“One of our major criticisms of the City is not what they tell you but what they leave out. For example, they tell you that rail will relieve traffic congestion, and that is true, but grossly misleading. What they don't tell you is the rest of the story. That is, rail will relieve traffic congestion (slightly) from what it might be if we did nothing, but congestion will still be worse than it is today.” – Cliff Slater, 12/5/11 at
That’s definitely one of Cliff Slater’s continuing and tiresome criticisms, but the rest of the story is something Mr. Slater will never admit:

His criticism is ethically challenged because it relies on what some would call an outright lie.
Mr. Slater wants the public to believe the city hasn’t told the truth about rail, but he’s the one who’s been the Big Misleader in promoting the erroneous notion in nearly every speech and every interview he gives that the rail project is intended to cut traffic congestion dramatically.

That’s not rail’s goal; you can look it up. Rail will be an alternative to driving and wasting hours sitting in traffic congestion. By being the traffic-avoiding travel option residents don’t now have, rail will restore mobility to the community – the ability to travel through the urban core whenever you want without having to contend with traffic congestion.

We first started noting Mr. Slater’s deliberate efforts to mislead the public about rail when Civil Beat posted its interview with him in July 2010. Here’s how he began:

“In talking to groups about rail, I tell them that there’s really two things you need to know about it. Number one, it’s gonna cost five and one-half billion dollars before cost overruns, and the second thing is that traffic congestion with rail in the future will be worse than it is today. And then I ask them if they have any questions, and that kinda sums up the whole argument.”
What he implies with this opening (view the entire interview here), which he employed again two months ago at a meeting of the Rotary Club of Honolulu, is that rail is supposed to reduce traffic decades from now. Mr. Slater obviously is motivated by traffic reduction goals, which are not the rail project’s goals.

Following his Civil Beat interview, Mr. Slater testified before the City Council in July 2010 and quoted from a letter sent to him by City Transportation Director Wayne Yoshioka about the traffic-congestion issue: “You are correct in pointing out that traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than it is today without rail,” Yoshioka said.

It’s a true statement and accurately conveys what the city has said repeatedly every time the issue is raised. Mr. Slater has known the city’s position on rail and traffic reduction and even agreed with it when he and Mr. Yoshioka were on a KHVH radio program on November 3, 2008.

Slater: “…We in the room here all understand that traffic congestion is gonna get worse with rail in the future, OK…. The public thinks that traffic today, today’s unendurable traffic congestion…will be reduced from today’s levels once rail goes in. That’s what they believe. OK, and we don’t believe it. You and I don’t believe that….”
Mr. Slater bases his alleged knowledge of public thinking on rail – that it’s supposed to reduce traffic – on a 2008 public opinion survey that he says backs him up. We made the connection in September when we found a Honolulu Advertiser story about that poll.

It was a classic case of “garbage in, garbage out” because the poll itself misstated rail’s intended outcome in one of its questions. Here’s some of the Advertiser’s reporting on the poll:

“The poll asked voters whether they favored or opposed rail following this statement: ‘The City and County of Honolulu has approved developing a fixed-rail mass transit system as a means to reduce traffic (emphasis added).”
And there it is – the polling company’s misstatement of rail’s goal that Mr. Slater has dishonestly attributed to the city ever since.

We think this is worth repeating here at Yes2Rail. The public needs to know Mr. Slater is not telling the truth when he says the city has promoted rail as a way to reduce traffic congestion to below current levels. That’s how he describes rail, not the city.

The fundamental flaw in Mr. Slater’s anti-rail campaign is dishonesty at the core. His willingness to deliberately mislead the public says more about his efforts than any rail advocate could.

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

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Oahu Citizens on Rail Dispute’s Sidelines Must Wonder, ‘’How Much of All This Is Believable?’ Opponents’ Media Statements Raise Eyebrows

Nothing in today’s post or any Yes2Rail post about the lawsuit that aims to stop Honolulu rail is based on “insider” information. This is a pro-rail website, but we’re in no position to evaluate or comment on the statements made by attorneys for the plaintiffs and defendants in court.

We’re on the outside – just like the 99.9999 percent of Oahu residents who have nothing to do with the case, and it’s on the outside where the plaintiffs are continuing their public relations campaign against rail that began in August. We have to take on face value what attorneys for both sides say in front of the federal judge, but what rail opponents say to the media is another matter.

The space outside the courtroom is the plaintiffs’ Spin Zone, and yesterday’s ruling by Judge A. Wallace Tashima provided another opportunity for them to work the media and therefore the public.

In court, Judge Tashima denied the defendants’ motion to remove several plaintiffs from the case based on the city’s claim they failed to participate in several years of rail’s environmental impact statement and other processes. The judge said the argument is “premature” since the entire record of the administrative proceedings is still being compiled. The city says half a million documents are involved and that it will renew the motion once the judge has the complete record before him.

Outside federal court, plaintiff attorney Nicolas Yost called the ruling “a complete victory and a confirmation that the city/county motion was a waste of the court’s time and the taxpayers’ money,” according to the anti-rail Hawaii Reporter blog. Rail opponent Cliff Slater accused the city and Federal Transit Administration of intentionally “dragging their feet” to drive up the plantiffs’ expenses in paying Yost and his team. Plaintiff Ben Cayetano said the same: “I think they knew as well as we did that they had little chance of winning that motion, and we had to spend attorneys’ fees just to rebut the motion.”

It’s all spin, of course, since it’s based on nothing more than the plaintiffs’ predictable opinions that they hope will influence the public once they see media coverage generated in their Spin Zone. There’s plenty of reason to treat these statements with a grain of salt. Independent online news source Civil Beat found little truth in the Gang of Four’s August 21st newspaper commentary.

Examining the Record
The plaintiffs’ lawsuit charges the city with failing to properly evaluate all the alternatives to a steel-on-steel system built on an elevated guideway above surface traffic. It also alleges disregard for Oahu’s historic and cultural sites, failure to deal with noise issues, improper route evaluation and other deficiencies.

With the FTA monitoring the city’s progress every step of the way, it’s implausible that the city would have been careless and deficient during the long process leading to route and alternative selection, but readers can judge for themselves.

The record is available for examination at the project’s website. A search for “noise” finds the word on 78 pages of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS); “cultural” is on 100 pages, “historic” on 179, “alternatives” on 119, “route” on 80 and “environment” on 481.  Those are pages, not the number of actual mentions in the FEIS.

A random search for “alternatives" finds this paragraph from Chapter 8, page 23 in the FEIS; it deals with a favorite of some architects and others in the community – at-grade transit on a route that includes Hotel Street in downtown Honolulu:

“The Alternatives Analysis Report evaluated the alignment alternatives based on transportation benefits, environmental and social impacts, and overall benefits and cost considerations. The report found that an at-grade alignment along Hotel Street would require the acquisition of more parcels and could affect more burial sites than any of the other alternatives. The alignment with an at-grade operation Downtown and a tunnel through the Hawaii Capital Historic District (under King Street) was not selected because of the environmental effects, such as impacts to cultural resources, reduction of street capacity, and property acquisition requirements of the at-grade and tunnel sections, would cost an additional $300 million. Of the remaining elevated alignments that were studied, the Alternatives Analysis concluded than an elevated alignment along Nimitz Highway would have less visual impacts than one along Queen Street because of its much wider right-of-way and location along the edge of the Hawaii Capital Historic District.”
That’s typical of the FEIS. The plaintiff’s assertion that alternatives were not evaluated isn’t remotely plausible when the FEIS is filled with detailed descriptions of why an elevated guideway was chosen and the alternatives were rejected. The same is true about noise and visual impacts, historic and cultural preservation and other issues the plaintiffs say were not explored properly during the rail process.

This case may last until next summer or later, giving the plaintiffs dozens of opportunities to continue their PR offensive in the Spin Zone, a tactic than can be pretty offensive, indeed.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Friends of the Outdoors, How Big Is Your Circle? Broader Vision in the 21st Century Could Win Friends, Save Human Lives as Well as Trees

Today’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser editorial page (subscription) is a study in contrasts for supporters of the Honolulu rail project. The editorial – HART makes good case for Ansaldo deal – is just what they’d hope the paper would say about the selection of the Italian firm that will supply rail cars, the train control system and operate/maintain the system once it’s built.

Next to it is a commentary by the Outdoor Circle, the century-old environment-oriented organization that traditionally has fought to preserve trees and keep the state free of billboards. The group had been working with the city but now says it wants to kill the project.

The piece argues that Honolulu rail’s elevated structure (in most places built about 30 feet above the middle of streets and highways) will “become an ugly scar across one of the most beautiful places on Earth while there is little evidence that it will bring relief to Oahu’s unacceptable traffic.”

Didn't Even Try?
Today’s commentary is essentially the same piece the Circle posted at its website last month – a denunciation of elevated rail based on the group’s apparent belief that the city just didn’t try hard enough to find a better alternative.

Read the Circle’s commentary and you know what it’s against, but it’s also obvious the group doesn’t know specifically what it’s for – just an undefined something other than rail that will “bring relief to Oahu’s unacceptable traffic.”

The group’s leadership apparently is following the lead of the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit to kill rail when they assert the city didn’t really explore all the alternatives to achieve that relief. Today’s editorial disagrees:

“…plaintiffs face an uphill battle in proving capriciousness on the city’s part, given that the entire process was vetted by the Federal Transit Administration and congressional overseers, too.”
The Outdoor Circle clearly is happy with the delay this lawsuit is causing, and in the months it will take for the case to run it course, the group might study congestion and the range of alternatives to come up with a specific preference.

Defining the Issue
The Circle says it “is not anti-transit and would support a proposal that will reduce traffic and protect Hawaii’s greatest asset, the unique and incomparable beauty of our islands.”

That statement suggests the Circle doesn’t understand the issue. “Reducing traffic” is not what Honolulu rail is intended to do, and in fact, nothing can accomplish as long as Oahu’s population continues to grow, as it surely will over the decades. The commentary is silent on what could reduce traffic below current levels because nothing will.

In essence, Oahu’s mobility issues are about time and the hours commuters waste while sitting in traffic or creeping slowly on freeways and surface streets because of congestion.

The city’s latest attempt to address that issue is the rail project, and as all the alternatives were indeed examined, it became apparent that the only transportation alternative that will provide commuters time-saving travel through the city is grade-separated transit.

Building a subway (unacceptable for cost and other reasons) or an elevated line would be the only way to simultaneously avoid traffic congestion and provide the level of service that’s needed by commuters and others.

The project’s goals are clear, and they say nothing about reducing traffic. They’re about providing a travel option that will be fast, frequent, reliable and safe – the very definition of elevated rail. A transit option such as at-grade light-rail isn't "green" if it can't deliver those attributes; it would be just another way to rob commuters of their time.

A 21st Century Vision
While the Outdoor Circle has been successful in keeping out the billboards and preserving trees, the realities of urban life in the 21st century suggest the possibility and even a necessity for a broader vision beyond preserving Oahu’s mauka-makai view planes.

Grade-separated transit is as inevitable on this island as are the dozens of high-rises currently planned or under construction in Honolulu’s urban core – buildings that will inflict much more damage to view planes than low-rise rail. One could conclude that the Outdoor Circle has already lost that fight.

The “great outdoors” is a work in progress, and much of what’s happening outdoors needs a lot more work. Pedestrians are killed outdoors, even while in crosswalks; bicyclists are hit and killed by drivers who apparently care too little about their safety to avoid them.

Oahu’s maddening traffic congestion robs drivers of their time and also makes them impatient. Red-light running is common, and so is failure to yield to pedestrians, yet there’s little evidence traffic laws designed to protect pedestrians and others are enforced. (Late-afternoon update: We saw two cars blow through a four-way stop in Kakaako this afternoon. Life-threatening traffic violations are now commonplace in Honolulu.)

What if the Outdoor Circle’s 21st century activities included proactive efforts to reduce the number of pedestrian fatalities on our streets and highways? What if the Circle’s concerns extended to bicyclists in the great outdoors? What if the Circle moved from being against the only travel option that will reduce hours of delay by 18 percent in the urban core to supporting efforts to make the great outdoors more accessible because it will help commuters save travel time?

The Circle’s current anti-rail stance can only alienate large numbers of long-suffering commuters who appreciate rail as a congestion-avoiding option they’ll eventually use. A broader 21st century vision to make the outdoor experience a safer experience would rest nicely on the foundation built by the Circle in the 20th.

We’ll have more in future posts that might help Outdoor Circle members better appreciate congestion and population issues and rail’s promise to make life in the outdoors more livable for future generations.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Giving ‘The Tampa Look’ a Second Look; Is This What Environmentalists Say Is Better than Rail?

Some believe Tampa's elevated highway scheme is right for Honolulu
How much do Honolulu residents really know about the so-called “flyover” option that some say would be preferable to Honolulu rail? We admit to not spending much time on it until yesterday, when we realized highway proponent Panos Prevedouros is still pushing something like the Tampa Reversible Elevated Lanes toll road for Honolulu as an option to rail.

Dr. Prevedouros mentions the Tampa REL in his most recent essay (linked at Yes2Rail yesterday) , and perennial anti-railer Cliff Slater has been praising it for years at his website. We’re posting several photos of Tampa’s new look with REL.

Opponents of Honolulu’s rail system usually congregate their resistance around rail’s elevated configuration. Before they gravitate to the Prevedouros-Slater option, let them look upon Tampa’s high-visual-impact solution.
The REL is three lanes wide, plus an emergency safety shoulder lane and railings on both sides. The highway is 14 miles long, but length isn’t the issue here in Honolulu. Width is a better gauge of how an overhead highway would be received on this island. The Tampa elevated highway is approximately 60 feet wide, or twice the width of Honolulu rail’s guideway.
What strikes us about the photos we’re posting today – and even in the graphic at the bottom of this post that was lifted from Mr. Slater’s website – is the absence of traffic on the surface highway. The combined carrying capacity for the elevated and surface lanes far exceeded their daytime use when these photos were taken. Might Tampa have been better advised to add three lanes at ground level and avoid the visual impact?

We won’t second-guess Tampa on its decision, but it’s worth noting that the city has a distinguishing characteristic that made its car-based solution logical for Tampa: It’s on the mainland. That city’s residents use their vehicles in ways Oahu residents never do. Tampans (Tampanians?) can climb into their cars and drive to Miami, New York or San Francisco if the spirit moves them; their cars can transport them thousands of miles in a single trip. Not so for Oahu residents, and therefore, a more logical option than building more highways on an island is to create a transit system that's fast, frequent, reliable and safe – all of that because it’s elevated.

The REL works for Tampa, and that’s great, but try as they might, Messrs. Prevedouros and Slater can’t make a solid case for building an elevated highway in Honolulu. If environmentalists want to avoid the hypocrite label, they’ll have to oppose that “solution” here, too – and maybe, just maybe, reconsider their knee-jerk opposition to elevated rail, which will be a fraction as tall as the high-rise buildings currently being planned for Kakaako.

One More Thing
A minor point but one worth mentioning nevertheless: The Tampa REL uses an automated toll system that allows vehicles to enter the lanes without stopping to take a ticket or pay a toll. It’s a modern system that uses modern equipment – like the cameras shown at right. Remember how well cameras pointed at cars went over on Oahu a few years ago when they were used to catch speeders? Based on the “anti-surveillance” mentality that seems alive and well here, we have to believe there'd be opposition to their use, too. Call it a hunch.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Media Roundup: Congestion, More Lanes on H-1, Rail Maintenance and Tampa’s ‘Aircraft Carrier’

Tampa's elevated expressway looms above surface lanes.
You know a topic is “trending” locally when you hear and read about it all over the place in traditional media, let alone Twitter. Rail is trending on Oahu.

Highway proponent and rail critic Panos Prevedouros posted a link a few days ago at his Fix Oahu website to another of his essays on “the relative advantages of Rail and HOT Lanes for Honolulu.” We bit, clicked and found a photograph there of Tampa’s Reversible Express Lanes (REL), which he and other rail critics repeatedly praise as a better transportation option for Honolulu than rail. We posted that photo at the top of today’s post. Here’s another one:
A night-time view (below this post) makes the elevated highway look prettier, but what strikes us is how wide the elevated highway is. If anything, it looks more like the “aircraft carrier in the sky” description rail critics have tried to pin on Honolulu rail.

Beyond the visual blight, Dr. Prevedouros’s HOT lane idea has numerous issues. The most obvious one is the T; a toll road serves those who can afford (1) a car and (2) to pay the toll. Large numbers of elderly, youth, students, unemployed, underemployed and other car-less, cash-strapped citizens derive no benefit from HOT lanes unless they ride a bus on those lanes, but even that mode has a fundamental problem – limited HOT lane access.

The 11-mile HOT project would have only three exits between the project’s start and end points – the H-1/H-2 merge and “downtown,” which his site says is “one half mile before the waterfront.” Honolulu rail will have nine stations between those points and another 12 along its 20-mile route. Rail will offer many more options for using the system than Dr. Prevedouros’s “solution.”

Finally, he says “there would be no visible blight because HOT Lanes run mostly next to the H-1 freeway…..” His use of “mostly” is a warning that some segments would be elevated – resulting perhaps in “The Tampa Look." Also, building a new highway next to the existing H-1 would obviously require the taking of property. What would be taken -- parks, trees, businesses, neighborhoods....what?

Honolulu rail will use a relatively narrow elevated guideway – the missing piece of key infrastructure that will allow commuters and others to avoid streets and highways altogether as they travel congestion-free through the city.

More Lanes?
The morning drive talk show host began his program today with a traffic report that highlighted rain-induced problems on the freeways and his sarcastic observation that “…building more lanes to handle that traffic wouldn’t be a good idea” (paraphrased). He obviously is a more-pavement proponent, and that's where he veers off into the rabbit hole.

An example: The host repeatedly described the rail project incorrectly during his one-hour “Community Matters” interview with Dr. Prevedouros this past weekend on Clear Channel’s Honolulu stations (no link found). He and other opponents say rail is being built to fight congestion; in their most extreme mischaracterization of the project, they say rail is supposed to “eliminate congestion” (see the MidWeek Letter to the Editor linked from our 12/3 post).

This deliberate misstatement of rail’s actual goals obviously suits their purposes. They want the public to believe rail will be a failure for not dramatically reducing or eliminating congestion. What they ignore – again deliberately – is that there is no magic bullet to achieve their idea of traffic heaven, not as long as Oahu’s population continues to grow.

The host, Dr. Prevedouros and Cliff Slater have been repeating this mantra so long they may actually have deluded themselves into believing rail is supposed to eliminate congestion. As we noted here in October, building more highway lanes doesn’t reduce traffic; if anything, the result is that more cars join the jam and fill up those extra lanes, too. It’s called “induced traffic,” a phenomenon that’s widely studied and understood – just not by the host and his friends.

Maintaining Rail
The anti-rail editor of Honolulu magazine takes another shot at the project this month. In short, his equation goes something like this: [Potholes on Streets = Failed Rail Maintenance] – i.e., since road maintenance is a continuing problem, maintaining a more complex rail system will be problematic: “If we can’t get roads repaved any faster than every 20 years, why would we expect that rail would fare any better?

That’s one way to look at it. We’ll leave it to our readers to decide if one equals the other and simply file it along with the editor’s other observations on the rail project, such as his belief that on-demand shuttles are a better approach to Oahu’s growing transportation issues than adding rail as a critical piece of infrastructure.
Tampa's "aircraft carrier in the sky" looks kinda pretty at night -- huge but pretty.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

HART: Ansaldo Contract Oversight Is Top Priority; LTE Forum: ‘Free’ Bus Service Isn’t Really ‘Free’

Recent financial losses by Finmeccanica, the parent company of the joint venture that will supply cars and operate/maintain Honolulu’s rail system, are not a threat to the viability of the project.

That's the message delivered this morning on KIPO's "The Conversation" public radio show by Toru Hamayasu (at right), interim executive director of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation.

Despite large losses in the past year (about $480 million over the past nine months), the corporation is large enough to absorb it without causing problems for the Honolulu project, Hamayasu said. “It’s not that we’re not concerned, but we’re confident the company can do the job…,” Hamayasu said (paraphrased).
“When you look at the company that makes the train control system (Ansaldo STS), that company has been profitable and its financial standing is good. It’s responsible for about 85 percent of the entire contract. Ansaldo Breda (the car supplier) has had some financial problems, but it is responsible for only 15 percent of the contract.”
Hamayasu said the city has a “huge responsibility” to monitor the situation and that if anything were to happen to threaten performance under the contract, the city would catch it. Also, he said the city has secured bonding sufficient to cover all obligations under the Ansaldo Honolulu JV contract.

LTE Forum
Today’s rail-related letter in the morning paper (subscription) examines one slice of our observation two days ago – that providing free bus service would not result in open-road traffic-free travel on our streets and highways. The Kailua resident makes the valuable point that "free" bus services are anything but free and must be paid by somebody.

Someone must pay for ‘free’ bus rides (Star-Advertiser, 12/6)
“In response to (a 11/4 letter), it sounds like a nice idea to make the bus ‘free,’ but it’s not logical…. You can’t make TheBus ‘free’ because the money has to come from somewhere, which is from taxes… Everything comes at a cost. We don’t need the government to spend more in ‘public goods’ and increase its debt.”

We differ with the writer on the last point. Government debt is justified when it implements essential services for the public. Honolulu rail will be an invaluable contribution to the city’s infrastructure and a “public good.”

Monday, December 5, 2011

Rail Project Eyes Cost-Cutting Alternatives that Would Reduce Station Size, Improve Frequency

The page-one headline in the morning paper today (subscription) was ripe for misinterpretation if read too quickly. Leaving out the “on” in the headline – City explores ways to save on rail project – leaves an altogether different impression.

Unfortunately for opponents, the piece is about city efforts to save money, not the whole project. The story says the city is exploring how reducing the maximum number of cars on trains from four to three could result in shorter rail stations – 180 feet for three-car trains, or 60 feet shorter than platforms for trains with four cars.

The Star-Advertiser quotes Toru Hamayasu, interim executive director of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, as saying the train-length issue is part of an ongoing “value engineering” effort to evaluate costs and reduce them when feasible. Shorter stations could reduce costs, he said.

More Frequency
Also under consideration is a turnaround at Leeward Community College that would allow some ewa-bound trains to head back into urban Honolulu rather than go all the way to the last station in East Kapolei. Hamayasu said that could result in shorter headways, or time intervals between trains, in the most densely populated neighborhoods along the 20-mile route.

Service frequency would have to be increased if a three-car system were to provide the same level of service and overall carrying capacity as a four-car system. As it is, the headways during morning and afternoon rush hours will be only three minutes, but since the trains will be automated and without drivers, the headways could safely be reduced even further.

The story notes that with more frequent service and shorter trains, the system might lower costs by requiring fewer rail cars.

LTE Forum
Today’s letter-to-the-editor feature focuses on change and a Honolulu resident’s concern about what it’s doing to our “paradise.”

Tall buildings, rail are not island style (Star-Advertiser, 11/8)
“Soon we’ll be saying, ‘Remember when we could see sky and ocean?’…. Donald Trump blocked out a big hunk of sky and water toward Diamond Head. Hilton’s new building by the Ilikai created a complete wall where Ala Moana curves toward Kalia Road. Two more buildings are planned. When the Waikiki wall is complete, expect the Kakaako wall…. Who imagines rail when thinking paradise? Rail is a money pit and eyesore, making streets claustrophobic. Buildings 650 feet high around rail stations don’t scream island life….”

The writer is at least partly right: Honolulu today isn’t the town of James Michener's novel, and it isn’t what it was at Statehood in 1959 either, when Aloha Tower was the city’s tallest building. Time changes all things, even “paradise.”

Rail will meet the transportation needs of 21st century Honolulu, which has some of the worst traffic congestion in the country. High-rise buildings are here to stay, and more are on the way – maybe two dozen more in Kakaako, according to media reports. Buildings as tall as 650 feet are envisioned to provide housing that’s both affordable and conveniently located near a rail line that will be only a small fraction of their height.

Many Honolulu residents believe paving paradise to create new highway lanes would be even more objectionable than the elevated guideway, which the writer opposes. Despite the project’s impacts that are acknowledged in its environmental impact statement, grade-separated rail was selected as the best – and least-objectionable – way to provide fast, frequent, reliable and safe travel through our ever-growing city. That’s what this and future generations will require, even as we recall the paradise earlier generations once knew.

This post has been added to our “aggregation site” under the heading LTE Forum.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Enlarging TheBus Fleet and Making Rides Free Would Do Nothing To ‘Solve’ Congestion Problem

We’re using our new LTE Forum again today as a counter-point to another letter to the editor (LTE) that purports to have a non-rail “solution” to Oahu’s traffic congestion problem.

The Forum’s readership is only a tiny fraction of the exposure anti-rail letters receive in the paper, of course, but at least the Forum can be a more-or-less permanent counterweight on the Internet. Web searches with Google and other engines presumably will turn up both the letter and what we’re posting here at Yes2Rail.

Today’s LTE (subscription required) supports the free-bus-ride alternative to building Honolulu’s rail system:

Don’t wait for rail, make TheBus Free (Star-Advertiser, 12/4)
"…A free bus system will motivate folks to leave their cars at home. This will increase bus ridership, which in turn would justify increasing the number of buses and bus routes. More buses would lead to more bus availability and more timely bus schedules….This solution would serve the entire island, not just a narrow 20-mile corridor."

The Kaneohe resident’s letter says a “free bus system” would cost a fraction of the rail project’s tab, and: “Getting thousands of motorists to use the bus system would lead to immediate traffic relief.”

Taking TheBus instead of driving one’s own car certainly reduces commuting costs, even when bus rides are not free. The American Public Transit Association calculates the annual savings achieved by using public transit in cities all over the country. At current gas prices, Honolulu residents can save more than $11,000 annually by switching to TheBus and not using a car.

But beyond that important fact, the free-bus “solution” has numerous problems, and all of them were thoroughly examined in the rail planning process. Making transit rides free is no solution at all for the simple reason that congestion is a fact of modern life – here and everywhere.  There are no simple "solutions" to congestion – only alternative modes of transportation that avoid it.

When for whatever reason conditions produce a sudden surge in public transit usage (such as during the 1974 OPEC oil embargo) and “free up” street and highway lanes, new bus riders soon see car traffic moving faster than the bus they’re on and switch back to their own vehicles.

It’s a natural human response that’s been observed repeatedly. People value their own time more than the cost of a bus ride, so when they can save time by getting back in their cars, they do. The temporary congestion relief – if it happens at all – soon disappears.

Lingering Consequences
The writer recommends a big expansion of the bus fleet with free rides for all, but the cost of such a fleet certainly wouldn’t be free. In addition to the bus acquisition costs that property taxes would cover, every bus in the fleet would add to the city’s expenses, including labor costs for drivers and additional personnel to maintain the fleet. The enlarged fleet’s expenses would continue indefinitely.

With that many buses already purchased and O&M costs budgeted, the entire fleet would have to be used even as riders abandon TheBus to drive their own cars for the reason noted above. The inevitable result would be even more congestion due to a larger bus fleet that demanded to be fed.

The letter ends by asking, “What’s the harm in trying it?” We’ve briefly described some of the harm of building a much-expanded bus fleet without actually helping commuters reach their destinations faster.

Rail will do that by providing congestion-free fast, frequent, reliable and safe transit through the narrow urban core, which of course is where Oahu residents experience their biggest congestion headache – not in neighborhoods all over the island.

This post has been added to our "aggregation site" under the new heading LTE Forum.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

LTE Forum Covers Both Sides of Rail Issue, but Focusing on Opposition Seems More Productive

We launched the LTE Forum (LTE = Letters to the Editor) yesterday with a couple observations – that publications’ letters columns represent an unscientific sampling of public opinion and that opponents of major government projects probably are more energized in writing letters than the proponents.

We’ll discuss some pro-rail letters and commentaries here in Yes2Rail’s Forum, but addressing the opponents’ positions, which clearly are intended to sway public opinion, is the better option. Rail opponents’ viewpoints deserve consideration, and we’ll endeavor to respect them as we respond in our own effort to influence others to support rail. So let’s get started.

Council wimped out on rail issue (Star-Advertiser, 11/09)
(A Kapolei resident begins with a complaint that the City Council overwhelmingly rejected a proposed Charter amendment that would have prohibited the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation from developing the rail project.) “The more I hear of this rail and how it’s so flawed, full of insider privileges, self-serving politicians and their handlers, it makes me sick. Bad enough that taxpayers are force-fed this steel-on-steel monstrosity; we’re told there can be no reconsideration of styles that would be cheaper.”

Steel-on-steel technology for Honolulu’s system was recommended during the selection process by a panel of transit experts (the vote was 4-1) that evaluated the major competing options – monorail, rubber tires on cement and magnetic levitation. A prominent anti-rail Council member proposed the Charter amendment authorizing the city to include development of this technology among the duties of the Department of Transportation Services. Voters approved the amendment in 2008, so steel-on-steel wasn't “force-fed” to the public.

It’s frankly not reasonable to revisit the February 2008 selection of the most widely used technology for Honolulu’s system. The panel said steel was the best option based on cost, ride quality, safety and reliability. The competing technologies were rejected for capacity and other concerns. Throwing out steel’s selection nearly four years later would be an incredible waste of time and money. At some point, the technology considerations need to be put to rest, and that point truly was reached years ago during the recommendation and selection process. As for the writer’s accusations about insider privileges and other matters, they seem typical of the vague anti-rail comments often voiced by citizens upset with local government.

Letter to the Editor (MidWeek, 11/16)
(The writer objects to columnist Bob Jones’s 10 reasons to support the Honolulu rail project.) “I am usually a fan of Bob Jones, but I must clarify some of his observations in his ‘Just Thoughts’ promotion of the proposed railroad. To begin with, the city refused to consider some alternatives. I submitted better ideas, and the prorail (City and County) folks did not even acknowledge receipt of them…. More buses, more bus routes and greater bus frequency would take more cars off the road, just the opposite of what Bob suggests…. The city has admitted that the proposed railroad will not eliminate traffic congestion (emphasis added). In fact, that is no longer their goal; they want to create temporary jobs….”

The writer’s chagrin at not having his proposals acknowledged by the city is somewhat charming, but Bob Jones had it exactly right in concluding the alternatives were considered “in great detail. Saying otherwise is a canard from the let’s-keep-our-horse-and-buggy people.” Adding more buses to meet the demand for east-west travel through the urban core would simply add to the congestion. Elevated rail will be above the traffic and won’t contribute to it as buses currently do and would to a greater degree if more of them were on the roads. Regarding rail’s goals, they never were to “eliminate traffic congestion.” It’s a preposterous notion! The writer’s use of that phrase is a reflection of anti-railer Cliff Slater’s misleading campaign against this project.

We’ll wrap up today on a more positive note:

Rail foes waste public money (Star-Advertiser, 12/3)
“…The H-3 (freeway) was delayed for decades, but when it was opened, Windward residents found the freeway beneficial by providing a third access across the Koolaus, particularly when accidents block Pali or Likelike. Like the H-3, all residents will benefit from rail as an alternative transportation mode when the H-1 freeway is choked off due to rush hour congestion, accidents or bad weather. I hope the courts rule quickly and dismiss this lawsuit against rail. We have been down this road before, and it’s time we build rail.”

The Kaneohe resident accurately describes Honolulu rail’s purpose – to be an alternative mode of fast, frequent, reliable and safe transportation that will avoid all congestion. He undoubtedly also was correct in concluding that the anti-rail lawsuit will saddle taxpayers with additional costs.

This post has been added to our "aggregation site" under the new heading LTE Forum.