Monday, June 26, 2006


Fool the people into transit debt

Time to empty out your wallets, folks, they're coming around collecting for a new transit system.

From an essay reprinted periodically by the American Institute for Economic Research:
Stand Still, Little Lambs, To Be Shorn !

Among the readers of this publication are a large and probably representative sample of America's "forgotten men and women." They are "forgotten" in the sense of the 19th-century social philosopher William Graham Sumner's name for the "quiet, virtuous, domestic citizen, who pays his debts and his taxes." These citizens are forgotten, that is, except when their votes are sought by those who would become the Nation's political leaders.

From one point of view, however, the virtuous citizen who pays his taxes never is forgotten. The citizen's task is the never-ending one of providing the funds for all public projects ranging from the necessary to the sometimes worse than useless...
The essay is on inflation and the gold standard, but we can adopt its opening premise as a warning, because once again, we are being asked to stand still and just pay for a massive, expensive public project.

Fooling the People

Does anyone trust that the proposed transit plan for Honolulu will cost anything near the $3 billion figure that's now appearing in headlines? If so, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I'd like to sell, and Hawaii may be the place that might buy it.

We live in an age where leadership is conducted not through statesmanship or strength of character, but by the promulgation of an endless stream of lies, half-truths, smoke and mirrors. Public opinion is swayed by public relations campaigns.

“You can fool some of the people all the time, and those are the ones you want to concentrate on.”
-- Robert Strauss to George W. Bush, Gridiron Club, March 2001
Press secretaries manage the news, and their words are dutifully transcribed by a compliant, and often complicit, corporate-dominated press. Politicians and yes, often the press, are beholden to corporations rather than to the people.

I'm not talking about the promoters of a war in a distant land, but of Hawaii, a chain of sacred islands in the Pacific Ocean that could shortly sink under the weight of concrete and asphalt as it is being exploited for the profit of everyone but those who live here.

So how are we being fooled? The headline of Crystal Kua's June 23 article in the Star-Bulletin (Rail line renderings ring alarm bells) was very appropriate. Notice that there are no shadows under the rail structures. Even the undersides are bright and sunny (good trick!). The Advertiser pictures are the same: the parked cars have shadows, but miraculously, the ugly structures do not.

Check out this picture from today's Star-Bulletin. The artist knows about shadows, because he gave the two people their own shadows. But the station and tracks seem supernatural because they cast no shadows at all. That's a deception.

Here's another--cars and telephone poles cast shadows, but not the structure, and the underside is bright and cheery.

These are not honest "pictures," of couse, they are artist renderings. They've been photoshopped to convince you of the beauty and elegance of the mass transit system you're being asked to pay for. They are, in short, lies. The tracks and stations, when built, will be different. For one thing, stairs or escalators leading up to the stations have to be fully covered or people will slip and slide in the rain. Station platforms will have to be fully roofed or passengers will not ride the trains--commuting from home to the office is not supposed to lead to skin cancer. In other words, the current drawings are pure fiction. Fantasy might be a better description.

"There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says,
fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again."
—President George W. Bush, Nashville, Tenn., Sept. 17, 2002

Artists renderings are propaganda designed to sell a project to the public. They are drawn to deceive. Beware of views that are distant or too clean, lack shadows or realistic depiction of the blight that overhead rail structures can become.

Yes, we who let ourselves be talked into a failing but expensive Convention Center and now a risky and faltering Kakaako medical school (where is that research money we were promised would pay for it all?) are about to be shorn again, if we let them do it to us.

Well then, who benefits??

Of course, developers, architects and engineers, construction companies and many others (often Mainland-owned) will benefit from rail transit. The value of their developments will go up. It will be easier to sell tracts in Central Oahu if developers promise a rail transit system and relief from the horror of rush-hour traffic into and out of central Honolulu.

Trouble is, they are selling lies. By the very act of constructing tens of thousands of new homes, developers doom all of us to ever-increasing traffic and longer commutes as well. We'll also end up paying, through our taxes, for the water, sewage, road and energy costs of transit-driven development.

When Kalanianaole Highway was widened property values in East Hawaii went up, followed of course by development. The same will happen in Ewa as soon as transit plans are approved. Each new home comes with one or more new cars. Those cars, of course, will be used, they're not parked for display purposes.

Think about it--our tax money is being taken for a project to benefit primarily the folks who are making life on Oahu increasingly miserable for the rest of us!

Construction is not a sustainable industry for an island. Materials for rail transit will be imported, of course, but predictably so will cheap labor. Money will flow out of the state, just as tourism money does.

No reduction in traffic due to rail ridership

But what about the folks who work in town who will give up their cars to ride the train? As soon as they do so, a parking space becomes available. In no time it will be snatched up by someone else. Of course it will, because parking spaces are a premium commodity in Honolulu. So net reduction in traffic: zero.

Net effect of transit can be bad for Oahu residents

I'm lucky enough to live near town. I would say that those stuck in an hour-long commmute each way to get to or from work are actually suffering at this point, because life is not supposed to be like that. Adding more houses in Ewa will certainly overwhelm any benefits of mass transit. Our state and county governments seem to be in cahoots with greedy and of course uncaring developers. What about sensible urban planning and preservation of our quality of life?

Worse, we'll be paying for the cost of the system even if it doesn't reduce traffic and whether or not people ride it. Rail is not like bus transit--getting rid of buses or re-routing them is easy. One could, conceivably, sell all the buses to some third-world country and be quickly relieved of the expense. Tearing down Mufi's Folly would not be easy, nor is there likely to be federal money available to pay the cost. Rather than tear it down, the city will continue to dip into our wallets for maintenance costs.

The end of the Myrtle Avenue El

New York City did tear down its overhead rail structures.

The Bridge-Jay Street station of the elevated BMT Myrtle Avenue line was closed on October 4, 1969. I watched from a classroom at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn that overlooked the station, and revisited the area later after the station and tracks had been torn down.

I remember clearly the joy and jubilation as the neighborhood was reborn. Sunshine and vitality returned to the newly liberated streets, along with blessed quiet and dignity. Shop owners repainted their signs and new businesses moved in.

Apartments above the shops put out window boxes. Yes--for the first time in more than 80 years, plants would grow in window boxes! It was great when the El came down.

And we want to put one up.

Underneath an elevated structure it can be noisy, dark and unfriendly to nearby businesses. Neighborhoods can be ruined. Near the stations litter flies everywhere. It's not quiet-there may be bells, loudspeaker announcements, and whatever screeches the trains make. Maybe we'll need announcements in English and Japanese.

The Tokyo Monorail was built to run mostly over water because even with modern support technology overhead rail structures and stations can become a blight. Its stations are in industrial rather than residential areas.

What Oahu can expect

The citizen's task is the never-ending one of providing the funds for all public projects ranging from the necessary to the sometimes worse than useless...
A transit system that brings people to work who could not afford to ride in cars increases productivity of labor. This seems to be undisputed, and it is what keeps giant cities like New York, London and Tokyo going and growing. But do we want Honolulu to grow without limit? If rail transit increases development, then it deteriorates quality of life for all of us.

Not only will traffic increase on highways and streets that feed them but the infrastructure must eventually give out. Rail transit-driven development will strain water and sewer lines and require more electricity to feed all of this.

In the end, will we be better or worse off?


Transit benefits people who don't have cars. Many people don't have cars for financial reasons. With viable transit, many other people would joyfully get rid of their cars (for financial, ethical, and other important reasons). Liberals should support transit.

Yes, I think most people would support a viable transit alternative. I would. I agree with your comment completely.

Just as background, I do ride the bus as well as use my car, I commuted to school from high school through college in New York City, lived in Tokyo, and as a visitor, like many people, rode rail transportation in many other cities. Of course, I'm not a transit expert because of this. I think it helps, though, to have had a variety of experiences and some exposure to the planning process.

Portland stands out for me as a city which did its urban planning and transit planning in an integrated manner, and as a result has an excellent transit system. Read about it here: .

You are absolutely right about Portland! Thanks for pointing that out.

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