Honolulu Advertiser Second Opinion column by Cliff Slater

November 11, 2002







































(1) List of U.S. Transportation Centers



The BRT fiasco finally ending


There is a God in Heaven! We will shortly have a new Honolulu City Council. And, joy of joys, I find after brief research that a majority are firmly opposed to the Bus/Rapid Transit (BRT) program. The long night of the BRT fiasco may well be over.

With the BRT gone and the new Council not committed to any particular “vision” (as yet), we will have a brief window of opportunity for a sensible approach to our traffic problems. But we must act quickly before more “visions” are upon us.

(“Visions” are really a problem. It used to be that people who repeatedly experienced “visions” were put away to prevent them harming themselves. These days they either wander the streets or are elected to something.)

For those members of the new Council who may have a “vision,” but have yet to commit to it, we pose three questions:

  • What do you want to build?
  • What do you believe it will accomplish?
  • Can you name one city in the world where they have built [Question 1] and accomplished [Question 2]?

For example, say a new Council member believes we should build a heavy rail transit line and that it will relieve traffic congestion. They will find that there is not a single city where that has happened and the U.S. government data shows it clearly. If the new Council member is open-minded, they may possibly pay attention to such facts.

The trouble is that as of last Wednesday, Council members had to start thinking about re-election and that means placating voters. When you have a third of your constituents believing in a rail transit line, that poses a problem.

My thought is that were our new council members inclined to be open minded, they might convene a hearing with some of the nation’s leading transportation experts and let them discuss in public with the City Council what rail transit, ferries and the like would do for us—and what they would not.

“Transportation experts” does not mean the “transportation consultants” that swarm the country telling municipal officials what they would like to hear—for high fees.

Instead, by experts we mean those that the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) itself relies on. They are employed at institutions such as the UC Transportation Center at Berkeley, the MIT Center for Transportation or Texas A&M’s Transportation Institute. And these are just a few of many.(1)

The Council could get from the DOT a list of the best of such people and, instead of cherry picking the list, throw darts at it and invite a half-dozen or so.

The Council would glean from these discussions that rail transit (light or heavy) would do nothing for us—as has been the case elsewhere—and that ferries would be pointless. The experts could review for the Council members (and us) all the possible options to change transportation and their various effects on traffic.

Most importantly, they could review for the Council those places nationally, and internationally, that have curbed traffic congestion and how they have done it.

Having the voters see and hear, on 'Olelo, from highly credible experts the real and very disillusioning facts about traffic congestion would significantly reduce the number of voters pushing for rail. In the process, it would take these Council members off the hook.

We just cannot keep spending untold millions of dollars on transit studies especially when those studies are not really studies but merely attempts to justify City officials’ predetermined “visions.”

There is a chance such hearings could occur. After all, as has been well noted, elected officials often do the right thing—but only after they have exhausted all other possibilities. They have certainly done that.

Cliff Slater is a regular columnist whose footnoted columns are at www.lava.net/cslater