Tuesday, January 31, 2012

‘Fact Check’ Finds Candidate’s ‘Waterfront View’ Statement on Elevated Rail Half True/Half False

A waterfront perspective from the corner of Bishop Street and Ala Moana.
Civil Beat’s Fact Check on mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano’s description of Honolulu rail near the waterfront found that he deserves only a   HALF TRUE  . In our book, that’s really a   HALF FALSE  , since that’s what you’d tell elementary school children when they shaded the truth.

As we noted back in August and September when Civil Beat fact-checked the Gang of Four’s big newspaper PR piece, CB said Mr. Cayetano and his three friends rated only two   TRUE   with that commentary, three   HALF FALSE   and two flat-out   FALSE  .

Our view is that influential people who are trying to kill the jobs-producing, traffic-avoiding, commute-improving, mobility-restoring, development-shaping, travel equity-enhancing Honolulu rail project should stick with the truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth. That’s especially pertinent since three of them are attorneys – a former governor, a former judge and a current law school professor.

But that’s not what’s happening with this Gang, and Mr. Cayetano’s discussion of Honolulu rail is the latest example.

Our Beautiful Waterfront
Here’s Mr. Cayetano’s statement that Civil Beat decided to Fact Check:

“The elevated, massive, concrete structure will run along the waterfront, destroying forever the view planes of our beautiful city and changing its character for the worse.”
To do its check, Civil Beat said it had to know "how much of the 20-mile line will snake along the city’s waterfront." The investigative on-line news site writes:

“Taken literally, Cayetano’s claim about rail running ‘along the waterfront’ is plainly false. The half-mile section connecting the Chinatown and Downtown stops is really the only part that even comes close to qualifying.”
Civil Beat asked the Cayetano campaign to clarify the “waterfront” remark. Mr. Cayetano told Civil Beat:
“That structure is basically running alongside the waterfront. If you take a look from the mauka side of Bishop Street and you look down the street toward the ocean, that thing will be blocking your view.”
Google Street View
Since Bishop Street runs mauka-makai, Mr. Cayetano must have meant the view one would have up Bishop Street on the mauka side of the guideway. But a closer look suggests his warning is more hyperbole than fact.

The photo at right is from the Google Maps Street View feature; it was taken from a vehicle in the middle of Bishop Street directly in front of the Dillingham Transportation Building. The cameras are attached to the vehicle’s roof (see photo at bottom of this post) several feet above seat level and therefore also higher than a pedestrian’s perspective on the sidewalks.

As the photo plainly shows, the only portion of the view affected by a guideway 30 feet above street level will be blue sky. The view of the harbor’s actual waterfront and the boat that offers lunchtime and dinner cruises won’t be blocked at all. The view for vehicle passengers and pedestrians alike will be below the guideway. Aloha Tower will still be visible, and so will Hawaiian Electric Company’s pre-World War II power plant.

Civil Beat also used Google Street View to see just how much impact an elevated guideway might have on the mauka-to-makai view at various locations up Bishop Street. From near the Beretania Street intersection, the waterfront can’t even be seen; “It’s hard to imagine that the rail line would dramatically change the view,” CB wrote.

It’s Subjective
The closer you get to Ala Moana/Nimitz Highway, the wider the waterfront view, making it “easier to envision how a rail line one block from the water would change the landscape,” says Civil Beat. But let’s face it: Your perception of how much the elevated line would affect the narrow slice of the harbor one can see from intersections along Queen Street (that’s Alakea above) depends on your view of the entire project, because the actual impact on view planes is small. Mr. Cayetano admitted as much:
“I think, as you point out, some things are subjective,” he told Civil Beat. “I’m talking about it from my standpoint as someone who has lived here. The people who have seen those renderings are shocked because they never imagined that it would be like that. That’s the point I was trying to make when I was talking about this structure snaking down the waterfront and changing the character of the city.”
The renderings Mr. Cayetano and his Gang show to people are, of course, intended to make the elevated structure look as bad as possible, but it’s worth noting that his campaign site’s rendering linked from Civil Beat’s story isn’t even a mauka-to-makai view.
Another view of the power plant, reflected off the Pacific Guardian Center's windows.
Civil Beat's Bottom Line: “It’s true that a small section of the route runs very close to the waterfront and a larger segment is in the general vicinity of the ocean. But the line is 20 miles long and in some spots is not particularly close to any water at all. Cayetano uses metaphor and imagery to create the impression that the rail system will be built on the coast, and that’s not entirely accurate. Hence the grade of HALF TRUE .”
In other words, this particular “snake” is barely visible from where most people walk the streets, drive their cars and sit in their downtown offices – lost in the “weeds” of high-rise buildings and a power plant. Following Civil Beat's lead, we have to give Mr. Cayetano’s statement a grade of   HALF FALSE  .
Google Street View is produced using vehicles like this.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Triple-Fatality SUV, Light Rail Train Crash Prompts Question: ‘Why Is At-Grade Transit the Problem?’

A Sacramento light-rail train speeds through intersection.
Sacramentio, CA police and transit authorities are still sorting through why the driver of an SUV reportedly drove around a crossing arm and into the path of a light-rail train two days ago. Two adults and a toddler died, and one adult is in intensive care.

The light-rail system’s general manager added details yesterday after viewing video from cameras mounted on the train. “There are sound walls on their side of the tracks, so visibility is limited, and the train was traveling 50 to 55 miles per hour,” he said.

Yesterday’s Yes2Rail post focused on the tragedy and prompted a question at Twitter from someone we respect who is truly a transit expert. “Why is the problem at-grade transit?” he tweeted. “You could just as well blame at-grade cars, especially since they’re almost always at fault.”

It’s a reasonable query from a transportation professional who has decades of experience with grade-separated and at-grade systems around the world. We can appreciate his preference to focus on one possible cause of the Sacramento crash – driver impatience and disregard of traffic laws.

Fault Isn’t the Issue
Our response acknowledged the truth in the expert’s tweet but also noted that in a city where at least some prominent rail opponents apparently want at-grade transit built here instead of an elevated guideway, safety is a top issue, and citizens need to be reminded of that.

Finding fault in one at-grade crash is irrelevant when comparing the overall safety of ground-level and grade-separated transit systems. Honolulu’s future elevated guideway simply will never experience the kind of train-vehicle crashes that have become all too common in cities like Phoenix, Houston and Sacramento. TV stations like Sacramento’s KCRA-TV often post videos of these accidents, such as this one.

Honolulu already selected elevated rail after an exhaustive analysis of which technology would be the best choice for this city. Oahu’s restricted space and population density entered into the decision, but so did safety – an issue the vast majority of residents undoubtedly believes is important.

Rail opponents are pressing their case against Honolulu’s future elevated guideway but never mention at-grade transit’s "safety problem" and its potential to forever change lives and even end them.

They’ll continue to blast the current project over their concern about the guideway’s potential to affect view planes. Proponents of the current plan have every right to demand a forthright discussion of the safety issue, too, which more than a few of us believe is more important than aesthetics.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

At-Grade Tragedy: 3 Die in Sacramento after SUV Ignores Barrier, Drives into Light-Rail Train’s Path

Aftermath of yesterday's multi-fatality car crash with an at-grade train.
Opponents of Honolulu rail talk ceaselessly about the elevated guideway’s potential to block view planes. They warn that digging into the ground to build its support structure will disturb cultural remains along the line.

Some allude to their preference for at-grade light rail transit without offering specifics, so it’s virtually impossible to critique their ideas for a new piece of transportation infrastructure on Oahu. But it is possible to critique their preferred technology.

At-grade rail’s proponents rarely talk about safety. That’s because the comparison between technologies is stark: Elevated rail completely avoids cross-street and other traffic and therefore is immune to cross-traffic, while at-grade rail is in the traffic mix.

That point was driven home tragically yesterday in Sacramento, CA when the driver of an SUV ignored flashing warning lights and a rail crossing arm and drove into the path of a light-rail train. Two adults and an 18-month-old boy were killed.

Issue #1: Safety
At-grade advocates have contorted themselves into unbelievable positions as they attempt to explain why ground-level rail may actually be safer than elevated. The local architecture chapter pushed that view through an all-too-compliant Honolulu Advertiser reporter two years ago this week.

The reporter, who’s no longer reporting here, actually wrote the following in a January 31, 2010 story headlined Honolulu rail would be safer at ground level, AIA contends: “On a passenger-mile-basis, street-level rail had fewer reported injury incidents than elevated rail in all but one year between 1998 and 2007, based on FTA data.”

To reach that rationalization, the AIA compared the number of passenger miles in 2007 for systems with an exclusive right of way (12.6 million) and at-grade systems (1.9 billion) and found fewer injury incidents on a per-passenger-mile basis.

The AIA said safety data supports their argument that street-level trains aren’t too dangerous for Honolulu,” wrote the reporter. “The safety of street-trains is supported by a decision by more than two dozen U.S. cities to build commuter train systems that operated at least partially at street level since 1984, according to the AIA.”
Ludicrous Rationalization
It’s preposterous to suggest that street-level train safety “is supported” by those decisions to build at-grade rail in places like Phoenix, Denver, Salt Lake City and others, all of which have recorded dozens of at-grade accidents. The more plausible reason is that those systems’ planners succumbed to anti-elevated arguments on cost and view-impact issues and subsequently chose ground-level transit.

The Advertiser story continued: “The AIA cites the relative safety of street-level trains as one reason why the city should consider building portions of the rail line at grade. City officials argue that the added safety of an elevated train is one more justification for the project’s relatively high costs.”

It’s true that exclusive right-of-way systems have experienced accidents and fatalities, including the notorious failure on the Washington, D.C. Metro a few years ago. But that system and Honolulu’s future elevated rail project are dissimilar in at least one significant fact: The Metro has human beings at the controls in both the trains and control room, and Honolulu’s elevated system will be completely computer controlled.

Driverless Safety
The safety of automated systems is proven and documented by now, as noted in a 2009 Engineering and Technology magazine piece. The first such technology was built nearly 30 years ago in Lille, France. To our knowledge, that system has never recorded a fatality – precisely because it’s separated from street traffic, mostly above ground, and because platform safety screens prevent passengers from falling, jumping or being pushed onto the tracks.

But the biggest distinction between Honolulu's future system and at-grade systems is the lack of interaction between trains and surface vehicles. As the city’s Director of Transportation Services Wayne Yoshioka said in January 2010:

“Let’s go back logically and look at this. You’re elevated. You’re totally separated from the roadway. You’re in a protected environment and completely separated out…. What cars are flying at that level above the ground? And what people are flying through the air at that level above the ground? As opposed to an at-grade transit that’s crossing active streets with active vehicles turning in front of the train, with pedestrians crossing in front of the train. That (comparison) doesn’t seem to make logical sense to me.”
Unlike the Sacramento family, Honolulu families won’t be able to drive past a crossing arm and flashing warning lights or otherwise stumble into an at-grade train’s path here. No amount of hype about at-grade safety can alter the fact that our system will be safer than what the AIA -- and apparently some candidates -- propose.

Yesterday's tragedy in Sacramento can't be ignored.

This post has been added to our "aggregation" site under the Elevated vs At-Grade heading.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

LTE Forum: A Letter from 2002 Makes Rail’s Case; One from This Week Sees another TheBoat Fiasco

Some research into the origins of the anti-rail campaign of certain long-time opponents had a surprisingly good discovery – a letter printed by the Honolulu Advertiser in December 2002 that’s as good a description of how Honolulu rail will serve the community as any other we’ve seen. We’ll have more to say about those campaign origins later.

Today’s LTE Forum starts off with that letter and ends with one published just yesterday (Star-Advertiser subscription required). It’s not as if we’re giving the pro and con rail arguments equal weight, as you’ll see.

Rail system is only way to ease traffic (Honolulu Advertiser, 12/16/02)
“The Dec. 18 article ‘City bus plan far from certain’ reported officials as saying opposition to the Bus Rapid Transit System at the state and Civil Council levels could delay or derail the project.
“I found the use of the word ‘derail’ very ironic and sadly prophetic. It should be painfully obvious by now that any kind of proposed ‘bus rapid transit’ system that does not service a ‘rail rapid transit’ system is bound to failure. These ridiculous proposals that suggest adding more buses to already congested roadways make absolutely no sense at all.
“For those who have never lived in a city with rail transportation, please allow me to explain. Here in Honolulu, as in other cities, every day, all over the world, a rail transit system works like this:
“Step 1: In the morning commuters make their way to the nearest bus stop. Yes, almost all of us on Oahu live within walking or biking distance of a bus stop. And yes, these bus stops are equipped with bike racks for those who prefer to ride a bike rather than walk. Perhaps one may even choose to be dropped off at the bus stop or train station by car.
“Step 2: From the bus stop the bus takes us directly to the nearest train station. And, as an added bonus, there are many shops and cafes there. We get our morning coffee, read the newspaper, perhaps have breakfast with our friends and co-workers. We could even do a little early morning shopping before work (hmmm…helping the economy?).
“Step 3: Board the train that takes us to the station nearest to our workplace. We arrive on time, relaxed and ready for the day’s work.
“Step 4: Repeat the above, only in reverse. Oh, and don’t forget, on your way home please stop at the supermarket at the train station to pick up those items on the grocery list.
“It seems very simple, really. And, having lived in Japan for nearly four years, I can assure everyone that the above mentioned daily transportation ritual works and is the only viable way to get from here to there in the least amount of time and using the least amount of energy and resources.
“Furthermore, for the Japanese people, bicycles and walking are an essential part of everyday life, and just coincidentally, Japan has one of the healthiest populations on earth. Hmm….”
The writer’s endorsement of rail transit nearly a decade ago – based on his personal experience – is as sound as anything anyone could submit to the newspaper today. Wherever he is this morning, he’d probably just shake his head in disbelief if he knew the anti-rail minority is fighting Honolulu’s project in court and running a candidate for mayor in opposition.

TheBoat = The Train?
We move from the sublime to the difficult to swallow – yesterday’s letter that deserves a short response.

Rail will sink like TheBoat (Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 1/27)
“…How many people rode TheBoat to work? I believe the fare was subsidized by the city. TheBoat is gone for two reasons: Lack of ridership and lack of maintenance.
“If people did not ride TheBoat, what makes the train advocates think they will ride the train? And if the city could not maintain TheBoat, how in the world do they think they can pay to maintain the train?...”
Let’s answer the Hawaii Kai writer’s questions. We never were overly impressed by the concept of commuting by boat from the leeward side to downtown. “Rapid transit” it wasn’t; we have no idea what TheBoat’s top speed was, but it wasn’t anything like the 55+ miles per hour Honolulu’s trains will achieve – probably more like 8. With that “speed” to offer commuters, TheBoat didn’t attract customers looking for fast and convenient travel to and from downtown.

As for comparing a boat plowing through saltwater waves to a modern 21st century train system, there’s no comparison.

Stumbling across the 2002 letter was a stroke of luck, and we recommend it to anyone who wants an appreciation of how rail will work for more than one hundred thousand daily riders when the system’s up and running.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Question Answered: No, Mayoral Candidate Does Not Understand a Basic Issue re Honolulu Rail – Why Construction Is Starting on Line’s West End

Our Monday headline asked the question, and the new edition of MidWeek answered it. The weekly quotes new mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano as follows:

“They want to start (building rail) in Kapolei and go to Waipahu. Usually you would start from the city and go outward. That way, if you run out of money, you can still run the transit from the city and continue from there.”
HawaiiReporter.com added additional remarks from the “fiery former governor” (HR’s description) about the west end of the project:

“Cayetano also noted the project ‘doesn’t make sense’ because it starts in an empty field in Kapolei and in three years, would extend to Waipahu, a town nearby. He questioned who will ride a train from an empty field in Kapolei, to Waipahu, a town several miles from Downtown Honolulu, except politicians who voted for the project.”
MSF Basics
We’ve discussed this with audiences all over Oahu, and it looks like rail construction basics need a permanent home here at Yes2Rail, a place candidates for public office can visit to brush up on the facts.

Think it through: Wherever Honolulu rail’s first segment is built, a maintenance and storage facility (MSF) must be built nearby. It makes sense because it’s common sense; you have to park and maintain train cars each night, and the facility therefore must be connected to wherever the first segment is built.

This means that starting in town and building outward toward Kapolei would require finding room in town for the 44-acre MSF. Imagine 44 football fields laid out in one big clump, each 300 feet long and 160 feet wide. Scrunch them all together, and that’s about how much space the MSF will fill.

Since just about everything between Ala Moana Center and Middle Street – the first segment that would be built if the candidate were planning rail's construction – existing buildings, businesses, homes and infrastructure would have to be cleared away to make room for the MSF. The cost in both dollars and social impact would be unacceptably extreme.

As Mr. Cayetano himself said, there’s a lot of unoccupied space (for now) on the west end between Kapolei and Waipahu – two communities that will be connected by segment one. The MSF will be located near Leeward Community College to service that segment; work on it began in October.

That’s why rail will be built west to east – sensibly so.

As for the concept that this city would begin building a multi-billion dollar rail project without having the necessary funding in place and could run out of money before it’s completed – that’s a remarkable way to look at it.

Honolulu rail is on a different track.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

LTE Forum: Traffic Reduction Is Greatest when UH Isn’t in Session, so Here’s a Surprise: Rail’s Effect On Reducing H-1 Congestion Will Be Even Greater; Also, Majority Has Voted To Help Leeward Side

You hear this factoid all the time: Freeway driving is never so good as when the University of Hawaii at Manoa is out of session. Summertime highway travel is sublime compared to the rest of the year, and UH’s neighbors can find parking in front of their homes again.

Today’s LTE Forum uses a letter to the editor in the morning paper (subscription required) to make a crucial point about rail’s effect on congestion.

Rail won’t work without UH stop (Star-Advertiser, 1/25)
“…If you’ve sat in stop-and-go traffic from Central and West Oahu, you know like I do that the only time there ever seems to be any decrease in town-bound traffic is when the University of Hawai`i is not in session. Therefore, it is the students who need to be encouraged to utilize rail, but a route that does not reach UH will not do that. This project will not have the desired effect on traffic everyone is hoping for….”
This may come as shock to the writer and others: There will be a much greater reduction in traffic congestion because of rail than what the writer says happens when students aren’t commuting to school.

The “out-of-session” effect currently is a reduction in congestion of about 11 percent. With tens of thousands of commuters switching from driving to riding the train by 2030, the reduction in vehicle hours of delay in the urban core will be about 18 percent. In other words, rail’s effect on traffic will be 64 percent greater than the “out-of-session” effect that the writer appreciates so much.

Let’s be clear about why rail is being built. The system will provide a travel option every day of the year to those who don't want to fight congestion and sit in traffic jams. The line will be an attractive and convenient way to and from work that will completely avoid street and highway congestion.

But let’s not forget future students’ advantages in using rail even when the last leg of the trip to Manoa will be on a bus from the end of the rail line at Ala Moana Center. Taking the train and then TheBus will be quicker than driving on a traffic-clogged freeway, and it also will be extraordinarily less expensive than relying on high-priced gasoline to get to school.

More from LTE Forum
Voters showed they want rail (Star-Advertiser, 1/25)
“…How many times do Oahu residents have to tell the politicians we want the rail. Didn’t they vote on it? Why is (Ben) Cayetano so intent on going against the people’s will?... A vast majority of us, young and hard-working, needs the rail desperately.”
Rail will Help Leeward folks (Star-Advertiser, 1/25)
“Please let the rail transit project roll on its track. More buses will create more traffic. If the Leeward side had three highways to go to work and go home each day, like the Windward side, the Leeward side wouldn’t need rail. Come on, Windward and East side people – help the Leeward side ease traffic by having the rail built…”
If you’re counting, that’s two for rail and one against, and maybe even the Mililani resident who wrote that negative letter would change his tune if he were aware of the information we’ve provided today.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Get Ready for the Anti-Transit Invasion: ‘Hired Guns’ Will Be Here Soon, so It’s Time To Examine Rail’s Blending of Efficiency and ‘Experience’

It’s not too soon to start anticipating what we’ll hear from the four late-February visitors who’ll tell us why Honolulu shouldn’t build its rail transit system.

We know that’s what they’ll say in their two public appearances in late February because (1) they’ve been invited here by our local anti-rail minority, and (2) anti-transit advocacy is how they’ve been making a living for years.

One of the four will be Randal O’Toole, a senior fellow with the Cato Institute, which describes itself as “a public policy research organization — a think tank — dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace.”

Mr. O’Toole believes rail transit systems are failures if they don’t cover their costs, and since no transit system in the United States makes a profit, he thinks they’re all failures. Transit systems also have to pass his “Cable Car Test,” and as you might surmise, they don’t. He authored a study headlined Defining Success, the Case Against Rail Transit. Rail proponents might want to scan it to be prepared.

Academics such as Mr. O’Toole whose research is supported by the libertarian-leaning free-market Cato Institute and others churn out studies like his Defining Success analysis using all sorts of metrics to make their case. Of course, other researchers guided by different philosophies and principles view transit systems far differently than Mr. O’Toole and the other highway advocates.

The ‘Human Transit’ View
Jarrett Walker, a Portland-based transit consultant, has a perspective that was highlighted in a Slate.com piece last week headlined What’s the Best Way To Get Users To Embrace Mass Transit – Make it pleasant or make it efficient? (The Economist posted a column yesterday with reflections on this article.)

Walker hosts the Human Transit blog, which has favorably mentioned Honolulu’s future rail project several times (search for “Honolulu” at the site). The Slate article by Tom Vanderbilt contrasts Walker’s view that a system’s efficiency is critically important with that of Darrin Nordahl, who argues that the “ride experience” itself may be more important in convincing drivers to become riders.

Says Nordahl in his 2009 book, My Kind of Transit, “…the ride itself must offer an experience to passengers that they cannot get within the solitude of their cars.” Walker’s new book, Human TransitHow Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives, emphasizes other aspects of the transit experience that contribute to a system’s success.

“In most debates about proposed rapid transit lines,” he writes, “the speed of the proposed service gets more political attention than how frequently it runs, even though frequency, which determines waiting time, often matters more than speed in determining how long your trip will take.”
Best of Both Worlds?
One conclusion to be drawn from the Slate article is that Honolulu’s future rail system could very well satisfy both Nordahl and Walker. Passengers riding 30-plus feet above surface streets certainly will experience travel in ways that will be completely foreign to drivers down there on the roads. Views in every direction will be extraordinary, and it’s likely sight-seeing visitors to the islands will be heavy users during the mid-day hours between the morning and afternoon peak commuting periods.

As for convenience, Honolulu’s trains will arrive every 3 minutes during those peak hours, a frequency that will virtually eliminate a sense of “having just missed” one’s ride. Another will be along in 3 minutes or less, so the Honolulu system’s efficiency also will be extraordinary.

Rail opponents locally are counting on their late-February “hired gun” imports to create a cloud of doubt around the Honolulu project. The rest of us need to keep their views in perspective as the opinions of consultants who oppose big government spending programs unless the spending somehow supports highway travel.

For every one of their ilk who believes America would be better off without rail transit, you’ll find millions of rail commuters around the country who can’t imagine a more preposterous idea.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Does Mayoral Candidate Understand Rail's Goals? So Far, He’s Only Channeling Cliff Slater, Who Deliberately Misleads Public on Rail’s Purpose -- To Help Commuters Avoid Traffic, NOT END IT!

As noted last week, Yes2Rail is not a political blog; it’s all about the Honolulu rail project. It’s also about calling attention to the weakness of anti-rail arguments no matter who’s doing the arguing, including candidates for mayor.

Ben Cayetano appears to not understand the rail project’s goals. What he does understand and use is Cliff Slater’s anti-rail spin that we’ve highlighted and criticized repeatedly since July 12, 2010, when Civil Beat posted its interview with the anti-railer-in-chief.

Yes2Rail devoted the first few posts of 2011 to Honolulu rail’s goals, since it was obvious even then that Mr. Slater was misstating those goals as a favored tactic. From January 6, 2011:

“The significant and obvious benefit of grade-separated transit – elevated rail in Honolulu—is that it’s completely immune to traffic congestion on highways and local streets.”
That’s the Honolulu rail project’s key attribute that will restore mobility and transportation reliability to the public. Take the train and forget about traffic; ride it and arrive at your station along the route reliabily when you want to get there – as opposed to never knowing whether an accident, stall or just Oahu’s ever-increasing traffic will slow or stop your progress.

The logic of building elevated rail in our space-restricted, cramped island environment is so strong that Mr. Slater apparently knew he couldn’t succeed in fighting the project straight up. His campaign would have to attract attention by twisting facts to suggest a plausible anti-rail argument.

Slater’s Misleading Message
Ironically, Mr. Slater uses an obvious truth about traffic – that congestion increases as the population increases – but twists that truth to create an impression that rail shouldn’t be built. Here’s his exact quote from the Civil Beat interview:

“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.”
He ties the cost of building rail to the inevitable result of families having babies, and just like that, he plants the notion that rail isn’t worth the expense if traffic is going to increase. Mr. Slater simply ignores rail’s traffic-avoiding attribute, and he resists talking about rail’s true goals.

Only reluctantly did he admit before the City Council in July 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.” He doesn’t disagree, but he also doesn’t admit it unless cornered.

Cayetano Channels Slater
Though he insists it’s not the case, former governor Ben Cayetano has entered the mayoral race because of one issue – his opposition to rail. That’s what the political writers and blogs are saying, and that view is supported by Mr. Cayetano’s role as one of the Gang of Four plaintiffs who followed Mr. Slater’s lead in filing the federal lawsuit that wants to kill the project.

The Star-Advertiser’s subhead in its page-one story today (subscription) says, “If the former governor wins and refuses to fund rail transit, money and jobs may disappear.” Killing rail would have huge consequences for Honolulu and Oahu residents; ask trade union members who are counting on thousands of construction jobs, and ask west-end residents who look forward to taking the train and avoiding congestion that steals away their time each day they commute to and from town.

With stakes this high, you should expect candidates to know truth from fiction, logic from spin. Mr. Cayetano’s statements suggest he’s content to use the same spin tactic that Cliff Slater has perfected over several years.

Here’s Mr. Cayetano’s campaign website’s statement on traffic and rail: “…according to the City’s own EIS (rail) will not reduce current traffic congestion. In other words, traffic congestion in the future will be worse than today – even with rail.” It's the same message he had for the talk show host two days before his announcement.

There it is – Cliff Slater’s misleading, dumbed-down, cleverly-constructed anti-rail spin, and now it's been elevated to even greater prominence by candidate Cayetano.

We’ve banged away at Mr. Slater’s tactic for 18 months now, and others also have found flaws in the Gang’s anti-rail rhetoric. Of the seven statements in their August op-ed piece, only two were judged to be  TRUE   in Civil Beat’s Fact Check. Two were  FALSE  and three  HALF FALSE .

Coming Clean
Civil Beat says it’s now conducting a Fact Check on Mr. Cyetano’s anti-rail statements made last week when he officially announced his candidacy. We hope Civil Beat and other media don’t stop there. They also could examine the Slater/Cayetano “rail won’t reduce traffic” message, too, since it already is being used to attack the project.

It goes without saying that it would be helpful at the outset of this mayoral race if candidates would start playing straight with the public on the rail issue. By suggesting rail would be a failure if congestion is worse decades from now than it is today, Mr. Cayetano is not leading a sensible discussion on rail; he’s following Cliff Slater’s decades-long spin.

What’s missing in Mr. Cayetano’s campaign are the details about how he intends to address Oahu’s congestion problem and give commuters relief. So far he’s mentioned trolleys and buses without giving any specifics. Without the details, we don’t know what Mr. Cayetano is for – just what he’s against.

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

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Living with Elevated Rail Will Be Stretch for Some, But Grade Separation Is How To Avoid Traffic; Plus: Columnist Watch, LTE Forum End the Week

The view from Punchbowl's National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific overlook.
We continue our pro-rail postings today by repeating the most important 32 words in yesterday’s post:

“Ben Cayetano officially entered the mayoral race (Thursday) with a press conference that shed absolutely no light on what he’d build to get the job done at least as well as rail.”

The media haven’t reported any new information about Mr. Cayetano’s traffic-avoidance scheme since then, so today is Day Two in the wait for details on his plans.

That much of yesterday’s Yes2Rail post merits repetition, because without knowing exactly what Mr. Cayetano has in mind to address Oahu’s increasingly intolerable traffic congestion issues, citizens are in danger of buying the proverbial pig in a poke.

Reporters didn’t press him for his plan at Thursday's press conference, and he wasn’t offering. We’re not even sure there is a plan – maybe just his yearning for something that’s better looking and allegedly less expensive than the Honolulu elevated rail project.

This Much We Get
We understand when Mr. Cayetano describes his concerns about elevated rail’s impacts on view planes – some places greater than others, some places less. Up close, the elevated guideway certainly will be visible, including a short stretch next to Honolulu Harbor and Hawaiian Electric Company’s attractive power plant.

But compared to the H-1 viaduct above Nimitz Highway near the airport or above Waialae Avenue in Kahala, it will be slim. (Civil Beat has a Fact Check underway on Mr. Cayetano’s description of elevated rail’s impact near the harbor.)

For the “lesser extent” view, drive mauka on Ward Avenue up to Prospect Street at the foot of Punchbowl – or better yet, drive into the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl. Park your car near the memorial and walk up to the overlook.

The view’s great, and down there around the 30-foot elevation level beyond Kapiolani Boulevard and most of the high-rise buildings you see is where the elevated guideway will run. From a distance (and a lot closer than Punchbowl), elevated rail will be impossible to see nestled within a forest of high-rises. Another two dozen or more are planned for Kakaako alone in the next few years.

The project’s environmental impact statement acknowledges the visual impacts of elevated rail; all identifiable impacts are detailed in the EIS, and so are the proposed mitigations. The issue therefore becomes whether the city’s plan to build the elevated guideway as its response to the massive traffic congestion that makes commuting hell for a large segment of our growing population is worth the impacts it will cause.

Ineffectively Cheap?
One of Mr. Cayetano’s predecessors used the “Quiet but Effective” slogan to successfully win the governorship. Honolulu’s latest mayoral candidate apparently believes “effective” can be paired with “cheap.”

We’re still guessing about what Mr. Cayetano has in mind in place of the elevated rail project, but “cheaper” is one of his key considerations. Virtually all options to confront the congestion issue were evaluated years ago in the Alternatives Analysis, and elevated rail was the option selected as the most effective in doing what any project must do – give commuters an alternative to sitting in traffic. Mr. Cayetano and the rest of the Gang of Four who’ve filed a lawsuit to kill rail say the study of those alternatives was inadequate, and we’ll learn later this year what the court says.

In the meantime, it’s appropriate for citizens and reporters to inquire about the details of Mr. Cayetano’s allegedly cheaper alternative. So far he’s mentioned trolleys and buses in passing but has provided nothing more. With cost reduction one of his goals, we need to know what a allegedly cheaper system or systems would deliver in actual benefits.

All major projects impose impacts, so Mr. Cayetano’s scheme would impose them, too, and some aren’t so obvious. As noted here yesterday, at-grade trolley lines would require trenching for their entire length that would certainly encounter cultural artifacts that elevated rail mostly will avoid. And unless Mr. Cayetano intends to simply replace vehicle lanes with trolley tracks (robbing Peter to pay Paul), streets along the route would have to be widened to accommodate the tracks, with businesses and homes “taken” by the project.

Then there’s the safety record of at-grade transit. It can’t be ignored, as Mr. Cayetano’s campaign is doing so far in the race. Honolulu’s reportorial watchdogs might well study up on the incidence of accidents involving at-grade transit vehicles and pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles. The candidate has expressed interest in San Diego’s trolley system, so three days ago Yes2Rail highlighted several fatalities linked to that system in the past two years.

We’ll keep track of the number of days that go by before Mr. Cayetano discloses exactly what he has in mind to make commuting a much less stressful daily chore for scores of thousands of Oahu residents.

Editorial, LTE Forum
Today’s Star-Advertiser editorial (subcription) calls for all candidates for mayor to broaden their campaigns to encompass more than the rail issue. It concludes: “Regardless of an individual candidate’s position on rail, each needs to articulare a vision on how transportation can be developed to serve the needs of Oahu residents, one that meshes well with a concept of urban growth, density and land use.” Funny – that’s pretty much what the rail project’s goals do already, which may be why the newspaper has supported rail for years.

Today's letter to the editor is yet another reaction to Wendell Cox’s appearance in Honolulu last week on behalf of the anti-rail effort:

Transit consultant was not impartial (Star-Advertiser, 1/21)
“Cox is no impartial transportation expert, but someone who earns his income fighting rail projects and public mass transit across the country. He promotes building more highways and double-decking and widening existing freeways. Cox has been paid by the highway lobby to support his research, which is uniformly critical of passenger rail….”
Yes2Rail had much the same to say a week ago about this “hired gun.”

And since none of the Star-Advertiser’s three prominent columnists had anything good to say about the Honolulu rail project this week, our prediction is holding true in Week 3 that the trend will continue throughout 2012.

Friday, January 20, 2012

He Says He’s Not a One-Issue Mayoral Candidate, But He Wouldn’t Be in the Race if It Weren’t for Rail; Citizens Need To Know if Trolley/Bus Idea Would Be as Fast, Frequent, Reliable, Safe as Rail

That should be the minimum price for admission into this race, shouldn’t it? If a candidate decides to run for mayor primarily because of one issue and one issue alone (forget disclaimers to the contrary), he or she should be prepared to immediately discuss that issue every which way and why doing it differently is a better way – or so it seems to us.

Maybe that’s our naiveté coming through, because someone writing a political blog (which this isn’t) or who’s a political science professor at the university might see it differently. Their advice might be, “Don’t discuss the details, because the devil is in the details! Stay clear of details; they can only trip you up.”

But this is a one-issue blog – Honolulu rail – and we’re sticking to our naïve notion that if a candidate wants to kill the rail project, which has been planned and vetted for at least six years at the local and national level with a clear set of goals and designs down to the last girder and bolt, the candidate owes the electorate something more than saying it costs too much and is ugly.

Ben Cayetano officially entered the mayoral race yesterday with a press conference that shed absolutely no light on what he’d build to get the job done at least as well as rail.
We weren’t there, so we don’t know how far or even if reporters pressed him for details on his “concept of an express bus or trolley system using dedicated freeway lanes,” which is how the Star-Advertiser reporter described it (subscription required).

And that’s as far as the coverage of Mr. Cayetano’s transportation plan goes. You can search through all the available reports on websites belonging to the TV stations, Civil Beat, Pacific Business News and even HawaiiReporter, and the only reference to the candidate’s trolley/bus plan is what you’ve already read above. How can that possibly be?

Silence of the Lambs
We suspect reporters simply didn’t ask about the candidate’s plans to address the near-gridlock traffic congestion problem on Honolulu’s east-west thoroughfares. If you were living here during the heyday of Bob Sevey’s Channel 9 Newsroom, can you imagine our former colleagues – Bob Jones, Bart Fredo and Bambi Weil among them – leaving the press conference without demanding details of why the candidate’s trolley and bus "plan" would be better than the current rail project?

When the candidate said, as described in the Star-Advertiser, “he would release details next week of his plans for the city’s sewage and secondary treatment plant upgrades, road repairs and other city projects,” they would have said, “And when will you release similar details about your trolley and bus scheme?”

Local journalism isn’t what it used to be, so we’re still in the dark about the one issue that will be front-and-center throughout the next several months – giving commuters relief from intolerable traffic congestion.

Questions that Need Asking
If he wants to replace rail with its detailed set of goals, Mr. Cayetano must tell the electorate what his goals are. He favors an alternative that he says will be much less expensive than building elevated rail, so a cheaper system would seem to be a primary goal.

The only other goal we can discern is his desire to preserve view planes, which he says will be destroyed by rail’s elevated guideway. In the absence of any details, his two goals seem to be a cheaper system built at ground level.

How do those goals compare to an elevated system’s goals and attributes? Would an at-grade trolley/bus system that shares freeway lanes serve the community properly? The freeway is nowhere near the business, education, shopping and community centers that will be served along Honolulu rail’s route.

Would the system have on- and off-ramps every mile or so, or would it simply be a super-Zipper lane connecting the ends of the system, leaving commuters along the route with no way to access it?

If one or more trolley lines were built, continuous trenching would be required several feet deep throughout the route, thereby endangering the cultural artifacts and remains much more than the elevated system to which Mr. Cayetano objects.

Buses and trolleys require humans at the controls, which means greater distances between trolleys and therefore less frequent service. Rail’s trains will arrive every 3 minutes during peak periods. How would his trolley's frequency compare to rail's? If not as good, his system would be less attractive to potential riders.

As we have said repeatedly here at Yes2Rail, at-grade systems have much worse safety records than grade-separated transit because of their interaction with other surface traffic, including pedestrians. Search it out for yourself on the Internet and at our "aggregation" site beneath the Elevated vs At-Grade heading, or simply go to our post earlier this week on the San Diego trolley’s alarming fatalities. Mr. Cayetano has expressed a preference for such a system.

So far, we know next to nothing about Mr. Cayetano’s transit plan, and we’re likely to read what he thinks about sewers, water fees and potholes before he chooses to provide those devilish details. If the elephant-in-the-living room description ever applied to anything, Mr. Cayetano’s missing transit plan is the perfect fit.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Details Missing in Candidate’s Pre-Announcement Interview: ‘Something' that’s ‘Less Expensive’ ??

Former governor Ben Cayetano scheduled a late-morning press conference today to announce his candidacy for mayor. The print and broadcast media will have extensive coverage later this afternoon, and we’ll add that coverage to our post.

Mr. Cayetano previewed his announcement on the KHVH morning talk show. He discussed why he’s running (mostly because of city finances and the incumbent’s performance as mayor), but he said nothing about what kind of transit system he prefers, if any, in place of elevated rail.

As we noted yesterday, this isn’t a political blog, and we don’t take sides, but we do discuss the candidates’ views on transportation issues and specifically the Honolulu rail project, this blog’s focus.

Here are a couple excerpts from his interview; the transportation-related quotes are accurate and have been cleaned up with pauses removed. We’ll drop in commentary as appropriate:

“,,,it kinda boggles my mind that the city would propose a 5.3 billion dollar rail project that the city itself in its EIS admits will not reduce traffic congestion below current levels. In other words, in the future, with or without rail, traffic congestion will be worse.”
Close observers of Honolulu rail will recognize this as anti-railer-in-chief Cliff Slater’s key message that he’s been using in interviews and speeches for years. It’s objectionable for several reasons.

One, it’s deceptive – because it misleads audiences into believing rail isn’t worth building if it can’t reduce (eliminate?) congestion below current levels. That’s not what rail transit does anywhere in the world where it’s built; in Honolulu as elsewhere, rail will be a travel option that will restore mobility to our community (see the project’s goals).

Two, it’s doesn’t give the audience much credit for smarts. Do Messrs. Cayetano and Slater really believe their audiences will buy their line that a single component of the transportation infrastructure will reduce traffic below today's levels in 2030, 2040, 2050 and beyond? Have they forgotten that an additional 200,000 people will be living on Oahu by 2030? Do they not think the tens of thousands of new vehicles here in 2030 will add to traffic congestion?

Three, while they’re comfortable in repeatedly floating this rather specious argument, they’re much less willing to tell the public what they prefer instead of rail. Here’s as close as Mr. Cayetano got to it in his radio interview:

“…if I were elected, (I would) appeal to the Federal Transit Administration that we’re going to go into some other mode of transportation, something that’s less expensive and can do the job.”
What, exactly, is Mr. Cayetano’s “something” that would do the same (or better) job than grade-separated rail? Whatever he has in mind but hasn’t yet shared, it has to have the key attributes of the Honolulu rail project – fast, frequent, reliable and safe. That’s a good description of the project that’s been planned and thoroughly evaluated here and in Washington for the past six years.

As yesterday’s post and many others here at Yes2Rail (see dozens of posts under the Mr. Cliff Slater (and Friends) heading at our “aggregation” site), at-grade transit can’t approach elevated rail’s safety record. Mr. Cayetano’s off-hand remark to Pacific Business News about the San Diego trolley system may have a backlash attached to it. Too many pedestrians and others have died because that system is built at ground level.

Maybe the media managed to extract some specifics from Mr. Cayetano this morning. We can’t wait to find out.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Questions for the Newest Mayoral Candidate: Would His Preferred Trolley System Achieve Results Needed To Address Our Road Congestion Issues? Are Views More Important than Safety?

Another San Diego trolley crash -- a scene repeated all too often.
Oh, for Pete’s sake! The new entrant in the mayoral race wants to build a trolley!

That’s the inference from Ben Cayetano’s interview yesterday with Pacific Business News, which posted this: “Cayetano admitted a public transit system may be needed but said there are cheaper alternatives to the rail system from Kapolei to Ala Moana Center. He pointed to San Diego’s use of a trolley system with that city’s bus lines.”

Before proceeding to examine Mr. Cayetano’s trolley preference, we need to make something clear: This is not a political blog, and we don’t take sides in political races. All we do is talk transit, particularly the rationale for building Honolulu rail as planned – elevated and therefore completely removed from and unaffected by surface congestion.

But when a candidate expresses a preference for something other than what the project has become after years of alternatives analysis, we publicize that preference and comment on its deficiencies.

Ben Cayetano’s trolley wouldn’t work in meeting Oahu’s commuting crisis for all the reasons we’ve repeatedly discussed here over the past three and one-half years. It especially wouldn’t work because it would be built at ground level.

Does He Have Answers?
Mr. Cayetano’s preference for anything other than the current plan appears to be based on his overriding concern about Honolulu rail’s elevated configuration. He thinks it would ruin Honolulu: “You ruin the beauty of the city and the character of the city when you design a system that has no respect for the culture of Hawaii.”

Why he thinks a rail system 30 feet in the air disrespects Hawaii’s culture more than a forest of 350-foot-tall skyscrapers isn’t made clear in PBN’s story. More importantly, clarity about his transit intentions is missing, too, so here are a few questions reporters could ask Mr. Cayetano at his official announcement tomorrow:

* Do you believe an at-grade trolley system is capable of delivering what the city says elevated rail will give commuters – fast, frequent, reliable and safe travel through the city?
• Have you studied trolley systems, which must share space with surface traffic and people? What comparisons have you made between at-grade and elevated rail operational characteristics?
• What in your opinion are a trolley system’s attributes that would make it superior to elevated rail?
• Cities with at-grade rail systems typically experience numerous accidents each year, some of them fatal to pedestrians and vehicle occupants. Is it your view that concerns about view planes outweigh safety considerations? Put differently, is it more important to preserve views, most of which already are blocked by tall buildings, than to provide Oahu citizens with a way to travel safely and reliably through the city?

You can see where the discussion would run if Honolulu’s current crop of reporters had enough gumption to ask the tough questions. Somehow, we think it’s only a hope that’s not going to be realized. But at a minimum, reporters should be expected to brush up on the rail project’s goals before attending Mr. Cayetano’s press conference. Knowing what the goals are would inform their questions to the only candidate for mayor vowing to kill rail.

Our “aggregation” site has a section devoted to Elevated vs At-Grade, and you’re invited to read about the issues posted there, particularly the safety issue. Honolulu’s demographics tilt toward the elder end of the age scale, so safety is supremely important.

Safety in San Diego
That’s what we’re closing today’s post with – the San Diego trolley’s recent safety record as gathered by a simple Google search for “San Diego trolley accident.” We’re posting some of the headlines we found and have linked from them to the incidents' details:

Downtown San Diego Trolley Accident Kills Pedestrian – 7/15/09
Little girl dies in trolley accident – 7/27/09
Bicyclist killed in trolley crash – 11/24/09
No deaths in downtown trolley accident in San Diego – 2/4/10
Cyclist injured in crash with trolley – 9/1/10
Caltrans worker killed in San Diego Trolley Accident – 5/5/11
Man Killed by trolley in La Mesa – 7/4/11
Man killed at El Cajon trolley stop identified – 9/29/11
Dangerous San Diego Trolley (YouTube) – 11/11/11
Woman chasing dog struck by trolley – 12/8/11

Unfortunately, the headlines go on and on – not only in San Diego but in Houston, Phoenix, Denver, Salt Lake City, East Coast, West Coast and everywhere cities opted to build the “cheaper” alternative Mr. Cayetano prefers.

Most definitely, the former governor needs to be asked about safety.

This post has been added to our "aggregation" site under the Elevated vs At-Grade heading.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Anti-Railers Just Won’t Take ’Yes’ for an Answer; When Critics Start Believing Own Press Releases, They Fool Themselves about the Majority’s Views

If the top line above looks familiar, you must have read yesterday’s post. The theme continues today because it fits current events so well.

Friday’s and yesterday’s Yes2Rail posts reviewed the major indicators of what the public thinks about the Honolulu project – landslide majorities for pro-rail politicians since 2008 and similar support to authorize creation of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation.

Rail opponent Jay Fidell of Think Tech Hawaii attempted to give aid and comfort to the anti-rail minority with his column in yesterday’s Star-Advertiser (subscription) under the headline The tide may be rising on rail. The headline’s speculation isn’t supported by anything he wrote other than former Governor Ben Cayetano’s itchiness to reenter politics after nearly a decade away.

Mr. Cayetano says he’s considering running for mayor on an anti-rail plank. It’s not a platform yet as he’s had little else to say about what he wants to accomplish other than kill rail, which he’s attempting to do as a plaintiff in the Gang of Four’s federal lawsuit.

Where’s the Evidence?
Mr. Fidell’s column asks: “Do you feel it? People who were on the fence are turning against rail. The silent majority waiting in the wings seems to be more engaged now and many of them are moving to anti-rail….”
No, we don't feel it. Mr. Fidell's feeling likely reflects what he's hearing in the closed loop he's in as he talks to people with similar persuasions on the issues. (We also don't feel a rising tide of enthusiasm for the industrial-scale wind farms on the neighbor islands that Mr. Fidell backs so strongly.)

Like the visiting Wall Street Journal columnist who last week was moved around in an anti-rail bubble pumped up by the usual suspects, Mr. Fidell seems to be living in his own bubble and blind to the pro-rail majorities at the polls.

Nevertheless, we’re indebted to him for giving us a heads-up on the four mainland speakers who’ll be brought here late in February to continue the anti-rail public relations campaign. At first glance, Adrian Moore, John Charles, Randal O’Toole and Wendell Cox (again) all seem to promote a Libertarian, anti-government-spending philosophy.

We’re looking forward to their suggestions on how Oahu should address our transportation issues – from their mainland perspective, of course. Maybe it's time to create a new heading at our “aggregation” site with links to what the four speakers have said about rail over the years – and more importantly, what others have said about them. The top-down, minority-supported anti-rail campaign is about to get more intense.

Monday, January 16, 2012

No ‘Margin for Error' in Isle-Wide Elections; Rail Supporters Have Won Every Time Since 2008

Today’s letter to the editor in our LTE Forum is instructive for performing the neat trick of seeing something that isn’t there while being blind to what is. Here’s today’s letter in the morning paper (subscription):

City council should OK new vote on rail (Star-Advertiser, 1/16)
“Various factions crafted an unnecessarily ambiguous ballot on the issue of the rail project. That vote passed by only the slimmest of majorities, well with a percentage that would be called a margin for error in any opinion poll….
“More reasonable plans have been shoved aside…. Construction financing and, more importantly, operation financing is shaky.
“Our mayor and transportation director argue against a growing cry for reason by chanting ‘…but you voted for it, so let’s let it done.’
“Our City Council, except for a few voices, now is denying an opportunity for a new vote.”
Advocating yet another vote on Honolulu rail could become the last redoubt of the anti-rail minority, especially if the federal lawsuit to stop rail fails. That explains today’s letter and presumably many more asking for more votes that we’ll see this year.

Except for the anti-rail faction that is keeping the vote issue alive, there’s no reason to believe one is needed. The Federal Transit Administration continues to closely monitor the Honolulu project. In late December, it authorized the city to proceed with Final Design, a major step, and recommended strengthening of the financial plan, which the city is prepared to do.

The Gang of Four’s public relations plan to support the federal lawsuit continues to dredge up the same old issues without offering a viable alternative to rail. There’s no indication their efforts have swayed public opinion on the project.

Since the writer himself brought up opinion polls, you’d think he’d be impressed and convinced about the public’s support for rail in three scientific polls conducted in 2008, 2009 and 2011. Support in those surveys averaged about 58 percent (see our “aggregation” site under the Public Opinion heading).

Unambiguous Mandates
But forget the sampling of a few hundred citizens in the electorate. Look instead at the actual island-wide votes. Pro-rail issues and candidates have won each and every election since 2008, starting with Mayor Mufi Hannemann’s landslide victory in the general election that year. Of the 298,795 valid votes cast, Mr. Hannemann received 57.9 percent of the total, thoroughly trouncing an opponent who was critical of the rail plan.

That same year the steel-on-steel amendment was passed with 52.6 percent of the valid votes. The letter writer tries to diminish the results of that election by alluding to a “margin for error,” but that’s just smoke and mirrors. There is no margin for error in an island-wide election, and there was nothing “ambiguous” about that vote. If you favored transit, you voted for steel-on-steel rail. Rail opponents lost.

In 2010, the two prominent pro-rail candidates for mayor collected 73.4 percent of all votes cast – a clear mandate in favor of the project, since a third candidate who had vowed to “stop rail in its tracks” won only 18.5 percent.

Also overwhelmingly supported by the public in 2010 was a charter amendment to create the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation. Here’s the wording:

“Shall the revised City Charter be amended to create a semi-autonomous pubic transit authority responsible for the planning, construction, operation, maintenance, and expansion of the City’s fixed guideway transit system?”
Nearly 69 percent of the 246,736 valid votes cast said “yes!

Honolulu citizens have repeatedly supported rail-related issues and candidates on the ballot. It's just that rail opponents won’t take “yes” for an answer.

This post has been added to our "aggregation" site under two headings -- Public Opinion and LTE Forum.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Anti-Railers Import ‘Hired Gun’ To Attack Project; Long Anti-Transit History Undermines Credibility

The anti-rail minority’s game plan for 2012 already is in play, and this week’s Smart-Business Hawaii Conference was part of it. Here’s how they're executing the plan:

Bring in so-called “experts” from the mainland to blast rail, generate media coverage (like the 6-column story in today’s paper) and create doubt about the Honolulu rail project’s viability.
Wendell Cox, the second of two mainland imports this week, told the conference Thursday Honolulu rail’s cost estimate is too low and its ridership projection is too high. The Star-Advertiser story (subscription) has the city’s response, which noted the FTA has exerted “stringent oversight” and continues to show confidence in Honolulu’s project.
Thankfully, the Internet age provides context about Mr. Cox that’s too often missing in the daily media, including today’s story. His multi-decade anti-rail campaign is well documented. Here’s LightRailNow!’s 2001 assessment:
“One of the most notorious ‘hired guns’ for the roadway industry and anti-transit, anti-rail zealots is the nationally known, self-styled ‘consultant,’ Wendell Cox. Cox has established a reputation for himself both as a roadway industry publicist and, particularly, as a ‘professional expert’ opposing light rail transit (LRT) projects…. Cox and his ilk are nothing more than highly biased crusaders for roadways and road-based transportation industrial interests…who distort facts through misrepresentation and cleverly selective manipulation of data to mislead their audience….
“In the case of some of these anti-rail zealots, researchers have bird-dogged the money trail. Wendell Cox, for example, has been on the bankroll of the American Highway Users Alliance, a lobbying group founded in the 1930s by General Motors Corp. And, according to a June 1999 Texas Observer article, the Wendell Cox Consultancy has done a lot of work for private bus companies who bid on the very contracts which Cox promotes after rail projects are scuttled.”
And so on. There's tons more on Mr. Cox on the Internet; search engines will produce his background and decades-long opposition to rail transit, the leading transportation alternative to increasingly congested highway travel.

Other Imports
We’re just two weeks into the year and already anti-railers have rounded up entertainer Bette Midler, columnist John Fund and now “hired gun” Wendell Cox to slam Honolulu rail. Expect more of the same.

Remember, too, that all the issues visitors from the mainland are fond of advancing have been thoroughly vetted for years in the Alternatives Analysis and the Draft and Final Environmental Impact statements. They bring nothing to the table but their fears (in Ms. Midler's case) and years of campaigning against mass transit and big government programs.

Friday, January 13, 2012

How’s This for a Hoot? WSJ Columnist Weighs In On Rail, Says Public Apathy Keeps It Alive; Plus, Our Prediction about S-A Columnists Is Still Good

Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund with HawaiiReporter.com's Malia Zimmerman.
HawaiiReporter.com proves the point again: If you spend all your time inside a closed information loop – e.g., listening only to the likes of Slater, Prevedouros and other opponents of Honolulu rail – you’re likely to miss what’s really going on outside.

Rail opponents were on prominent display at this week’s small business conference, sponsored by one of the plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit that wants to kill the project. One of the speakers was John Fund, Wall Street Journal columnist and Fox News contributor..

Here are some of his quotes from an interview by HR's editor (YouTube has the entire encounter):
“…The Honolulu rail system…is a train from nowhere to nowhere….I don’t see commuters taking it, I really don’t. I do see a lot of construction for the next eight years, which would tie up traffic even more. I do see government has finally admitted that this will actually, traffic will be worse and more congested after the rail system is built than before, so what are you getting….? I don’t see the average Hawaiian benefiting from this.”
Mr. Fund existed inside the closed ant-rail loop spun by Cliff Slater, Panos Prevedouros, Malia Zimmerman and other rail opponents during his short stop in our city, which explains why he repeated Cliff Slater’s major misleading talking point and why reality didn’t penetrate his consciousness about what Honolulu citizens think about rail.

Let’s review the facts for Mr. Fund – not that he’s still around to care:
• Of the 296,869 votes cast on the steel-on-steel Charter amendment in 2008 (excluding blank and over votes), 52.6 percent favored the amendment, 47.4 percent opposed the question. I.E., 15,233 more Oahu voters supported an obvious pro-rail question than opposed it.
• A scientific public opinion poll conducted in 2008 for the Business Roundtable found 59-percent support for rail.
• A QMark poll in 2009 said 60 percent of the respondents either strongly or somewhat supported the project.
• Pro-rail mayoral candidates Peter Carlisle and Kirk Caldwell in the 2010 special election to fill a mayoral vacancy received 38.8 and 34.6 percent respectively of all votes cast. Anti-rail candidate Prevedouros received 18.5 percent.
• in 2010’s general election, 68.6 percent of the 246,736 valid votes cast on the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation amendment approved its creation; only 31.4 percent were opposed.
• A 2011 scientific opinion poll by QMark found 57 percent pro-rail sentiment and 40 percent opposed. (See our “aggregation” site for links to these public opinion surveys beneath the Public Opinion heading.)

According to HR’s editor, Mr. Fund believes “the only reason the (rail) project is still alive is ‘public apathy’ – too few citizens are participating in the process." To that we’d offer this rejoinder: The vote is the most basic, important and powerful way for citizens to participate in the public process. Oahu voters were and are part of the process.

Finally, here's a reasonable response to Mr. Fund: Sir, Hawaii citizens have grown weary of outside experts who fly in and tell us what’s good for us. We have repeatedly demonstrated our strong support for rail as a critical addition to our transportation infrastructure. It’s unfortunate you were encapsulated in a closed information loop during your cup of coffee here. Had you managed to escape it, you would know what we want – and we want rail!
Columnist Prediction – Week 2
Based on their writing in last week’s paper by three Star-Advertiser columnists, we boldly predicted not one of them would have anything good to say about Honolulu rail in 2012. By that we mean they’ll not allude in any way to rail’s achievable goals that would benefit commuters here – improved mobility (i.e., traffic avoidance), improved travel reliability, support for smart growth and travel equity.

We’re going to keep track of their writing throughout 2012. We’re one week into that prediction, and so far, it’s still accurate. David Shapiro didn’t mention rail on Wednesday; Cynthia Oi is on vacation this week and Richard Borreca avoided the subject today. (Mr. Borreca writes about three columns a week, and we’ll keep an eye on all of them, not just those published on Friday.)

As we noted last week, newspaper columnists love to fire away at big government projects, but in 52 weeks of opining, you’d think they’ll eventually say something that just might hint at a neutral comment about rail, let alone a positive one. It's a reasonable expectation for a troika that paid to comment on the major issues of the day.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Portland Asks What’s Boosting Transit Ridership, Wonders whether It’s a Desire To Text and Talk; Plus, LTE Forum Refutes Gang of Four’s Latest

A recent study found "curbside" bus patrons are technologically adept. Graph shows their stated intent to use a mobile device while traveling.
Yes2Rail’s LTE Forum (below) focuses on a letter to the editor that refutes the most recent Gang of Four commentary. But first, we report on the latest from a city that receives a lot of praise for its public transportation system.

TriMet, the agency that provides public transit in the Portland, OR metropolitan area, reported earlier this month on significant ridership increases in December compared to the same month in 2010. The TriMex website notes the agency’s mission and says:

“Our transportation options connect people with their community, while easing traffic congestion and reducing air pollution – making our region a better place to live.”
Note the use of “easing.” We have to wonder whether someone opposed to TriMet’s mission has ever tried to misinterpret that mission by saying Portland transit is supposed to reduce or eliminate congestion, not ease it. That’s what Cliff Slater continuously attempts to do with Honolulu rail – repeating his big fib ever chance he gets, and we’ve posted several of those chances at our “aggregation” site. Civil Beat found no merit in his accusation that the city misled the public on this point.

Mobile Freedom
TriMet is speculating on why transit ridership was up so much in December compared to a year earlier, and one possible reason is the freedom to talk and text on their mobile devices. Says TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch:

“(Transit) is a safe environment where you can be texting or be on the phone or reading a book without the stress of being behind the wheel. People just may be enjoying taking transit more these days.”
Joseph Rose, writing for OregonLive.com, links to a study by DePaul University that found the ability to text and talk while riding so-called “curbside” buses is a perk “that could revolutionize public transit ridership.” Curbside systems provide inter-city bus service in competition with traditional fleet companies like Greyhound that operate out of bus stations.

Honolulu doesn’t have this kind of transportation option, of course, but our commuters are just like those in the Midwest and East who have fallen in love with their mobile communications devices. There’s every reason to believe future patrons of Honolulu raill will be as enthusiastic as their mainland cousins about hands-free travel while on the ‘net.

The study noted, “…almost 90 percent of passengers today use a portable digital communications device at some point during their trip.” And “today” is literally present-day; think of the array of new communications options we’ll have by 2019, when Honolulu rail goes into service.

LTE Forum
Honolulu rail’s deputy chief project officer has a letter in today’s Star-Advertiser (subscription) that goes beyond disagreeing with the Gang of Four’s Sunday commentary, the focus of our post yesterday. His letter doesn’t merely dispute the Gang’s op-ed piece; it refutes it, as in “proves to be false or erroneous.”

The evidence continues to pile up that the Gang's anti-rail media campaign has been producing misleading statements, accusations and innuendo starting with the August 21st commentary, “How the city misled the public.” That’s not surprising if our presumption is correct that Cliff Slater writes most if not all of the Gang’s material. Bending facts or simply ignoring them is one of his favored tactics, as today’s letter makes clear:

Rail’s financial plan was OK’d by FTA (Star-Advertiser, 1/12)
“Once again, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit to kill the rail project have misled the public…. In fact, the Federal Transit Administration approved the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation’s latest financial plan and cleared the project for its final stages of development.
“The FTA would not have moved this project forward if the plan were not acceptable. HART is now working with the FTA to strengthen its financial plan in preparation for the full funding grant agreement.
“This is typical of the process with federally funded transit projects.
“These four plaintiffs falsely stated that the project has not received any federal funds. The project has received $120 million in federal funds and is slated to receive its share of $510 million in fiscal year 2012, as reported in the Star-Advertiser.
“U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood stated Honolulu’s project has been done ‘by the book,’ and that if we continue to work together, he has no doubt the project will move forward.
“We couldn’t agree more.”
This post has been added to our "aggregation" site under the LTE Forum heading.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Reader Responds to ‘Partisan Anti-Government Wing’ of Rail Opponents Who Fight Transit Option

It’s axiomatic that those who oppose projects and initiatives are usually more visible and vocal than the supporters. Protestors attract media coverage, and NIMBY-ism produces video that plays well on television.

The Comments section below rail stories in the Star-Advertiser supports this axiom. It attracts rail opponents like ants to a picnic or, judging from many of their anonymous comments, flies to a sewer.

Well-constructed, articulate letters supportive of Honolulu rail stand apart from anti-rail op-ed pieces and letters for both their civility and depth. A good contrast can be seen between a letter in today’s paper (see LTE Forum, below) and the Gang of Four’s (aka Cliff Slater’s) op-ed piece last Sunday (subscription required for both).

Here’s a summary of the Gang’s main points on 1/8:
• The piece disagrees with the newspaper’s coverage of the FTA’s December 30th authorization for the city to enter into Final Design. It says Congress hasn’t appropriated any of the $1.55 billion in federal funds for the Honolulu project. Call it quibbling. (Jan. 12th Update: Rail official refutes Gang's allegation.)
• The commentary says the FTA has “firmly rejected” several project financial plans. Call it not true; here’s what the FTA wrote: “Regarding the Financial Capacity Assessment, FTA notes that the financial plan HART submitted is sufficient to advance the project into final design (emphasis added). However, it must be further strengthened before FTA will consider awarding (a Full Final Grant Agreement).”
• The piece “doubts” HART can justify its several assumptions about future financial considerations. Call it standard anti-rail skepticism.
• The Gang cites other city financial obligations beyond rail and says paying for rail might exceed the city’s capabilities. Call it wishful thinking.
• Finally, the commentary once again scrambles facts in suggesting the city duped residents by promising rail would reduce traffic congestion below current levels. Call it dishonest – and we have in numerous posts. See our “aggregation” site below the Mr. Cliff Slater (and Friends) heading.

LTE Forum
It’s easy to see why the Gang’s commentary motivated the Kailua resident to write his letter to the editor that leads the pack in today’s paper. It’s a model pro-rail statement that presumably could be echoed by the majority of Oahu residents with the same opinion:

Oahu rail system is long overdue (Star-Advertiser, 1/11)
“Since the 1970s, Honolulu has needed, and tried to get, a rail transit system. The move into final design makes it appear as though we are finally on our way despite dealing with the same kind of irrationally emotional opposition we've always had to put up with. It's been coming from the same blindly partisan anti-government wing, from has-been politicians using the issue to make personal attacks and from incredibly ill-advised environmentalists, among others.
“The opposition has failed to offer any serious alternative transportation solutions and instead continues to push reliance on the expensive petroleum-addicted automobile for everyone. The opposition also doesn't seem to care at all that the project will help put people back to work.
“Still, thankfully, it does appear that the third time will be the charm for Honolulu rail transit, and future generations that the selfish opponents don't care about will have transportation options.”

The letter is a straight-forward, thoughtful assessment of the rail project and one reason it’s being built – as an alternative to continued reliance on cars and what fuels them and the congestion they cause. The writer sums up the opposition neatly from his perspective; he uses common sense and doesn’t quibble about the present or past, doesn’t misstate the truth and doesn’t obfuscate the issues.

And since the writer lives in Kailua on the opposite side of the mountain from the rail system, his pro-rail letter reflects an attitude that what benefits others along the route benefits everyone on the island. It’s called “community” – an appreciation missing in most anti-rail commentaries, along with their answer to the question, “If not rail, what?”

The letters column has two other rail-related letters – both reacting to Bette Midler's anti-rail letter printed on Sunday. One asks, "Does Bette Midler think that the high-rise monstrosities that line our coastline, and are now the view, are better than a 20-foot-high rail?" Our sentiments exactly.