Honolulu Advertiser

SECOND OPINION  by Cliff Slater

March 8, 2004


Just stick to the facts, ma’am

Ms. Cheryl Soon took to these pages recently (“Criticism of BRT doesn't match reality” 3/1) to discuss the Bus/Rapid Transit (BRT) proposal.

I have not had to parse so many sentences since President Clinton left office.

Take for example, this about the BRT program, “It can be built within existing resources; no new taxes are needed.” Yes, it is true that it will take no new taxes, just old ones. Hikes in the existing property taxes will suffice to repay, with interest, the $462 million in new bonds the city plans to float for the BRT. [1]  

Or, how about “On more than one occasion, the governor acknowledged the city's intention to move forward with BRT.” Yes, that is true. However, so have I acknowledged the city’s intentions — but ‘acknowledgement’ is not approval. You have not heard the Governor, or her predecessor, approving the lane takings in the In-Town BRT program.

Then Ms. Soon says that the IOS — the first segment of BRT — will result in the “revitalization of Ala Moana Boulevard.” In fact, the IOS virtually destroys the median landscaping past the Ala Wai Bridge, narrows the lanes to 10 feet for buses that are 10 feet four inches wide, and narrows the turning lanes to nine feet. [2] This is revitalization?

Then Ms. Soon charges that, “Slater's interpretation of events is particularly wrong when it comes to the in-town BRT. The city always felt this portion needed to come first.” This one did not even need parsing; it is a bald-faced misstatement. The last draft environmental impact statement (EIS), released in March 2002, called for construction of the Regional BRT — Kapolei to Downtown — to begin construction before the In-Town BRT. [3] Only the Final EIS, issued just over a year ago, showed that the City had deferred the Regional BRT to a later time.

Or how about, “BRT still has all the advantages it had when the plan was selected in 2001 by the City Council.” Another bald-faced misrepresentation: Even in the last draft plan of March 2002, the promised time saving from Downtown to UH via the BRT  was 13 minutes and that, added to the promised time saving using the Regional BRT from Kapolei to Downtown of 25 minutes; meant a total saving of 38 minutes from Kapolei to UH. [4] However, when the City issued the Final EIS, the Downtown-UH time saving had shrunk to 1.8 minutes and they had deferred the Regional BRT to 2008. [5] “Still has all the advantages?”

And throughout Ms. Soon’s article there are inferences that the BRT will relieve traffic congestion. However, my formal comments to her on the draft EIS that “Honolulu commuters are expecting that the [BRT] will give them some measure of relief from traffic congestion,”  brought Ms. Soon’s written reply that, “It is unrealistic for commuters to except that one project on its own will alleviate traffic congestion.” [6] And when I charged that the plan was “deficient in failing to plan on reducing traffic congestion,” the reply from Ms. Soon was, “The purpose of the BRT project is not to on is own reduce traffic congestion. It is one component of a larger transportation system.” [7] She added, “Urban mobility does not necessarily mean reducing traffic congestion. It entails providing residents with several options to utilize in making a trip, be that the automobile, transit, taxis, walking, or bicycling.” [8]

It is clear from the foregoing that reduction of traffic congestion is not top of mind with the City planners and they should say so in public instead of in obscure government documents.

Space does not allow me to cover the other misleading statements in Ms. Soon’s article but I have in the footnotes. [9] From day one, the city has not been straight with the voters about the BRT program. Let us hope it is not too late for some action to halt this nonsense.

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


[1] State FEIS, Vol. 2, Appendix C, LPA Cash Flow Analysis.

[2] http://www.honolulutraffic.com/cityfeis.htm Click on Waikiki IOS and then page I-26 for a plan view of Ala Moana Blvd. changes.

[5] http://www.honolulutraffic.com/feistran.pdf     page 4-15, Table 4.3-5 shows the new times and FEIS Appendix C, fourth page from end of appendix, see “Total Regional BRT system.”

[6] http://www.oahutrans2k.com/feis/citizens.pdf    P. 268. Comment and Response #11.

[7] http://www.oahutrans2k.com/feis/citizens.pdf    p. 269. Comment and Response #12.

[8] http://www.oahutrans2k.com/feis/citizens.pdf    pp. 269-70 Comment and Response #21.

[9] Ms. Soon also says that, “[BRT] is done all around the world.” Yes, that is true. But normally the focus is on the freeways such as the Regional BRT. We have always been in favor of that. But “around the world” they do not take over existing crowded lanes for exclusive use of the BRT.

She also says, “It's time to admit that there have been no "congestion-relieving options" except BRT put on the table for over a decade.” That is not true. The State DOT is presently considering, in addition to light rail, a reversible busway from beyond the H1/H2 merge to Pier 16 downtown.

Ms. Soon also says that, “… rail projects were seen as long term, whereas BRT can be done now.” Yes, that is true if you are just talking about the IOS portion of the BRT. But the City plans for construction of the zipper lane from 2008 through 2011, which is not “now.”

She also comments that , “The record shows this segment enjoyed broad support from the affected neighborhood boards, from the Kaka'ako Improvement Association and the Waikiki Improvement Association.” At least two of the affected Neighborhood Boards, Diamond Head/Kapahulu and Ala Moana, support neither the IOS segment nor the full In-Town BRT. However, a better indicator of voter sentiment is that every council member, and every State representative and every senator representing the districts affected by both the IOS and the full In-Town BRT have voiced their clear opposition to it.

Ms. Soon also tell us that, “Early concerns by tour bus companies resulted in an agreement to share the BRT lanes with them.” This was not an agreement; it was a sop, and an ineffective one at that. Tour buses go non-stop; they cannot share these exclusive lanes and risk being stuck behind city buses.

She also says that, “The federal funds have already been appropriated by Congress and earmarked for the Honolulu BRT project. The next steps are to place it on the state Transportation Improvement Program and then submit an application to the FTA.” The fact is that no one spends City funds first before applying for federal funds without having permission from the FTA — it jeopardizes the chance of ever getting federal funds. Note that the City has still not applied for this funding when originally they were going to apply in 2000. (“[Harris] said he expects the initial environmental study to be complete within six months. “Final environmental approvals will be achieved by the end of the year so we can apply for federal funding.” http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/2000/Jan/21/localnews2.html.)