Thursday, February 22, 2007


Is our city government competent to make transit decisions?

After reading this article in today's Star-Bulletin and this in the Advertiser on the new plan to route transit through Salt Lake, I was struck by a strong mental image--of a snake. Both articles have maps. My image was of a big green snake writhing and flopping around on the map, with its head, its tail, and its body in different places, changing even as I watched. The snake paused only to snack on our tax money every few seconds. I wish I could draw it for you.

What kind of a decision making process are these people using, if any?

When there are complex choices to be made, and particularly when they involve the huge and potentially ruinous expenses, decisions ought not to change from day to day according to pressure exerted by developers, communities, firms interested in contracts, or representatives of think tanks. Decisions should be informed by studies, measurements, and also knowledge of what works and doesn't work in other places, but these things need to be weighed according to the reality on the ground in Honolulu to arrive at what will work best for our people. Remember: the developers will not be riding the trains, we will. They'll be out in their new yachts or riding in golf carts.

Great forces are blowing like strong wind on the City Council, and they are swaying like bamboo. That's not the best way to arrive at a decision.

There are various methodologies they could use. For example, there is the matrix method, where options are listed on the rows of a table and options at the top of columns. Then weights are assigned according to relative importance. This is not rocket science. When the decisions become complex, there are ways to evaluate them. Here's some elementary discussion. There are textbooks, consultants to assist, and lots of other ways to arrive at a well-reasoned decision.

Sitting in a conference room taking 1-minute testimony is not the best way to lay out train tracks.

If an organized methodology is used, it becomes possible to show the citizens how the ultimate decision is arrived at. You've got something on paper to discuss and to vote on. If the decision is called into question later on, the methodology demonstrates that the decision was the best possible at the time it was made.

Ian Lind's post this morning deals with the ethics of planned City Council trips to Europe to inspect transit in different cities. If carried out ethically, I'm all for our city councilpeople learning as much as they can about transit. But they need to apply this knowledge in a systematic way when they return. I'd hate to have them vote for "Paris" or "Seattle" just because they liked what they saw (or because they were better treated or better fed) in one place or another.

Using a proper methodology to arrive at a decision will be more likely to serve the people rather than favor one special interest or another. It would be a demonstration of wisdom rather than favoritism.

It's awful to watch that snake flop around on the map. Tomorrow there could be a different route. Next month it could all change again. The snake could stretch to UH. Or it might shrink!

This is not good government at work, it's pretty ugly. I hope they can do better, and soon.



Many share your frustration. Had the city approached solving the congestion problem from an engineering perspective, we would not be discussing rail in the first place.

Rail in Honolulu was a political move from day 1. Why it continues to be a political move to this day is no surprise.

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