Editorial

Why I'm Not That Exercised About Earth Day

If we've learned anything from the last several decades, it's this: people respond to incentives and disincentives, not to moral suasion.

By Ryan McGreal
Published April 22, 2010

Every year, Earth Day comes around and we're all treated to a chorus of exhortations to make better personal choices: take the bus instead of driving, recycle or compost that coffee cup (or better yet, get it in a travel mug), remember to turn off the lights when you leave a room, print on both sides of the paper - you know this stuff. You've seen and heard it dozens, probably hundreds, of times already.

There's a problem with these obligatory exhortations: for all their good intentions, they just don't work.

The idea, endlessly fashionable among environmentalists, that all we need to start doing the right thing are enough positive role models and moral suasion, has arguably done more to prop up the status quo than any amount of anti-environmental FUD.

If we've learned anything from the last several decades it's this: people respond to incentives. More specifically, if you want people to do less of something, charge more for it.

In the Bag

For years we were told to re-use grocery bags, use paper instead of plastic, bring reusable cloth bags to the store, and so on. Many grocery stores even offered a 5-cent discount per bag saved.

Yet most people, most of the time, still came out of the store with a new dozen plastic bags that would maybe serve double-duty as small garbage bags before ending up in the landfill.

It took the serious threat of a grocery bag tax for the supermarket chains to turn that 5-cent discount into a 5-cent surcharge - and reusable cloth bags finally went mainstream.

There are some important lessons here:

We Need Disincentives as Well as Incentives

Despite the economic theory that they have equivalent utility, people will do more to avoid a surcharge than they will to enjoy a discount. (Hey, no one said we humans are rational.)

It's not enough just to incentivize positive activities; we also need to disincentivize harmful activities.

If, say, we want a more balanced transportation system in Hamilton, it's not enough just to widen sidewalks, add bike lanes and improve transit. We also need to make it harder for motorists to drive through the city at top speed.

As it turns out, in this case there's no way to add walking, cycling and transit facilities to our fixed-size road network without taking something away from the facilities that exist to accommodate cars - which makes them a deal-breaker for the defenders of the status quo.

We're More Adaptable Than We Think

Before the grocery bag price change came into effect, customers were apoplectic. I had several conversations with cashiers who regaled me with horror stories of irate shoppers threatening all sorts of mayhem if the store dared to go ahead with the plan.

Yet once the policy was in place, all that hostility melted away and people adjusted with minimal disruption. Instead of a revolt, people shrugged and started using cloth bags.

This is a common theme around changes to the status quo: people react with fear and loathing to the prospect of a progressive change but then accept and even embrace it once they see it in action.

Consider another example: in the months before the city of London (England) imposed a congestion toll for motorists driving into the city, city businesses were hysterical in their opposition and predicted all manner of disastrous consequences.

What actually happened was that it was suddenly possible to drive in the city again. At the same time, sidewalks became friendlier places for pedestrians, cyclists had a fighting chance on the road for once, and neighbourhood businesses started thriving in the new environment of balanced transportation. Public support for the plan swung from overwhelming opposition to overwhelming support in a matter of months.

This is really important: people who strenuously resist a good idea in principle will usually accept it in practice once they see it working.

Overstated Culture

Whereas congestion pricing in London was the result of a deliberate policy change, other price changes happen organically at the intersection of supply and demand.

Between 2000 and mid-2008, the price of oil increased from less than $20 a barrel to nearly $150 a barrel. World oil consumption grew by around two percent a year through the entire 20th century, but starting in the past decade, the rate of consumption growth slowed and then stalled in 2005 and has remained flat ever since at around 85 million barrels a day.

Yet oil consumption in many developing parts of the world is still growing, which means consumption in other parts of the world must fall to meet that flat supply.

In North America, the annual distance driven slowed, stalled, and actually went into reverse over 2007 and 2008, before the economy went into recession. At the same time, both cycling and transit use increased significantly.

In short, a rising price of oil driven by global supply constraints was able to achieve what no amount of moralizing could: it managed to shift the North American cultural obsession with driving into reverse.

If we try to exhort North Americans not to drive so much and they ignore us, it's tempting to conclude that North American car culture is simply too powerful to overcome. Yet the facts suggest otherwise: the culture seems to track the incentives and not the other way around.

For all that American politicians score rhetorical points by insisting that the American Way of Life is non-negotiable, we just witnessed firsthand what happens when that American culture comes up against the intractable reality of peak oil. What happens is that reality wins and the culture adjusts, albeit reluctantly.

This is not to suggest that car culture doesn't exist or isn't a significant incentive to drive. Rather, it suggests that the cultural imperative is just as susceptible to concrete disincentives as any other imperative.

Next Steps

One obvious conclusion is that merely stating facts isn't going to change many minds. No amount of patient explanation was going to assuage those apoplectic supermarket customers - you can have my plastic grocery bags when you pry them from my cold dead hands - until they actually experienced the bag surcharge and discovered it's not so bad.

Similarly, Ken Livingston was not going to convince Londoners to embrace the idea of congestion tolling until they saw for themselves how much better it made their city.

Those LRT opponents won't be satisfied by any amount of reasoning and factual analysis, but they might change their minds when the see how much their properties have appreciated.

Fear of the unknown is a powerful conserving agent, and the only reliable antidote is exposure that drains the scary unknown of its power. (It's no coincidence that most of Hamilton's early LRT supporters were people who had experienced LRT in other cities and seen firsthand how it transforms cities.)

But fear doesn't just stop citizens from embracing new ideas. It also stops politicians from risking their fortunes promoting those ideas.

The reason Metrolinx still doesn't have a long-term funding plan is that Queen's Park nervously backed away from the most obvious revenue stream.

Imagine the firestorm of rage and hysteria if the Province announced it was going to start charging variable tolls (by time of day) on highways and using that money to provide faster, more frequent GO Train service. It would make the harassment and abuse supermarket cashiers got over the bag policy look like a heated game of tiddlywinks by comparison.

Now imagine how much differently people would look at it six months or a year later, when you could jump on an electric GO Train leaving Hamilton that could reach Union Station in 45 minutes; when you could also drive to Toronto in 45 minutes without the daily misery of gridlock; when the GTA no longer lost billions of dollars a year in missed productivity growth.

And that's without even mentioning the environmental and public health benefits of taking tens of thousands of cars a day off the highway.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By James (registered) | Posted April 22, 2010 at 11:47:33

We have a similar scenario going on in Cambridge right now. They want to build 11 roundabouts along a congested corridor in town. So many people complain about the whole idea, but they are going ahead with it. I'm personally not sold 100% on the idea, but I find that's more so because I have no frame of reference. I've heard people who have visited England and Europe who say they're great for handling volume amounts of traffic, but as a Canadian who hasn't traveled a lot I have never seen such an idea in action.

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By michaelcumming (registered) - website | Posted April 22, 2010 at 12:58:12

I'm in complete agreement with the incentive/disincentive argument. I look forward to the day when an electric train sweeps my family along to Toronto as we peer down upon the happy retirees who are bicycling the same route using their velomobiles on a manicured system of bicycle paths. I fully expect the Golden Triangle will look like West Holland quite soon. In Holland the disincentives to driving are substantial - as you soon learn after your first 120 euro tank fill-up, or road-tax payment.

What is required is that politicians and other opinion leaders create an environment in which such obvious remedies to problems like traffic congestion (e.g. congestion charges) are possible to propose and implement - despite the predictable 'the world as we know it is coming to end' hysterical counter-reaction. This 'way of life' has been with us for a relatively short time. This dominion was not founded on the promise of unsustainable transportation policies.

Sustainable policy and design requires a political vision that doesn't crumple at the first sign of opposition. Of course some people are going to scream bloody murder when these incentive/disincentive schemes are broached. This should be a clue to politicians that they may be onto something truly innovative and responsible.

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By jonathan dalton (registered) | Posted April 22, 2010 at 12:58:56

cue schmadrian in 3....2.....1....

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By jonathan dalton (registered) | Posted April 22, 2010 at 13:11:50

Not that I don't accept the tremendous inertia of car culture, waste culture, pollution culture, and denial culture - I deal with them every day particularily in the field I work in. But it comes down to two options - make choices that are unpopular to some, or do nothing. And Hamilton goes for the no-balls prize every time.

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By AnneMariePavlov (registered) | Posted April 22, 2010 at 13:14:46

Speaking of disincentives, you should see me right now trying to figure out what bus will take me to Carmen's tonight!!! GAH!

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By michaelcumming (registered) - website | Posted April 22, 2010 at 13:31:45

Make that the 'Golden Horseshoe' [a region in southern Ontario] not the 'Golden Triangle' [where opium is produced], in my comment above...

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted April 22, 2010 at 13:57:03

I sometimes feel like I'm living in the Bermuda Triangle...

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted April 22, 2010 at 15:36:14

An aside to James: Roundabouts typify the basic difference in traffic management in the UK as opposed to North America: over there, the goal is to keep traffic moving. Here, it's to control it. (There are far, far less traffic lights and stop signs in the UK.)

There are philosophical and psychological underpinnings to this contrast...but I've already tangented enough. : )

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By jasonaallen (registered) - website | Posted April 22, 2010 at 16:15:28

NIMBYism has an evil twin sibling. It's name is "Entitlement." They are two sides of the same coin. The only way to get anything done in the face of their ongoing howling, is leadership.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 22, 2010 at 16:39:59

I fully expect the Golden Triangle will look like West Holland quite soon. - michaelcumming

Wow!!! Really??? I need more of what you got Michael... seriously, good on ya!

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By michaelcumming (registered) - website | Posted April 22, 2010 at 17:22:27

It might take awhile. Plus, West Holland might all be underwater with global warming. Building a country below sea level has its disadvantages.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted April 22, 2010 at 19:06:03

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted April 22, 2010 at 19:39:12

As far as I can tell, drivers have nothing to gain and everything to lose.

Well, as a driver, I don't like people in front of me. More bikes beside me means fewer people in front of me. That's one thing.

And of course every driver who becomes a part-time cyclist gains something.

The driver/cyclist dichotomy is enormously misleading: almost everyone I know who bikes for utility purposes (commuting, shopping) also drives a car. Me, when I'm not biking, I drive a big, hulking SUV - I don't love it as much as I love my ridiculous little red bicycle, but I do love it.

Comment edited by moylek on 2010-04-22 18:49:41

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By kevin (registered) | Posted April 22, 2010 at 23:58:48

Stop challenging my imagimation! Everythign is prefect, Rayn.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 23, 2010 at 08:06:01

And of course every driver who becomes a part-time cyclist gains something.

Amen! Almost by definition, bike lanes aren't for people who already ride bikes, since the absence of bike lanes hasn't stopped us. Bike lanes are for all the people who might choose to ride a bike instead of drive if the facilities existed and if they could see other people using them successfully.

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By jasonaallen (registered) - website | Posted April 23, 2010 at 09:37:20

Great article op-ed in the Star today about overcoming resistance to change, from a former budget chief in T.O. http://www.thestar.com/opinion/series/bu...

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By trevorlikesbikes (registered) - website | Posted April 23, 2010 at 14:56:14

It's getting more dangerous to use drive-thru's!

http://thespec.com/News/BreakingNews/art...

Good ammo for the Binbrook Tim Whoreton's battle.

Odds are 800:1 that the city will cave.

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By TB (registered) - website | Posted April 23, 2010 at 16:58:30

Roundabouts work beautifully for vehicles and bikes but are impossible to negotiate by pedestrians. Traffic lights manage both.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted April 23, 2010 at 18:30:36

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted April 24, 2010 at 09:01:24

So bike lanes are for people who aren't dedicated to cycling.

Hmmm... they'd also be for young people who are too old to legally drive on the sidewalk, but could benefit from the independence, exercise and low cost of riding to school events, part-time jobs, and community-based activities- without having to ask Mom and Dad for a drive when the only other alternative is to wait for the bus and walk home from a lonely bus stop in the dark. And then there are those young people without a parent available to chauffeur them, or without the cash for a bus pass, who could truly benefit from a program like Recycled Cycles if the city were more bike-friendly. If you confine bike trails to a few select routes and recreational trails, then it's less democratic, and is only appealing to a determined, adult few, or to those families who have purchased expensive gear and have SUV's to get their bikes to where they want to ride them.

Comment edited by Michelle Martin on 2010-04-24 08:02:21

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted April 24, 2010 at 09:30:49

I heard someone from Complete Streets interviewed on CBC's Here and Now while I was driving home from work down Highway 6, and she made many good points-- it's the same thing as Walter Furlan's 8-80 argument: that streets should be designed to be navigable by everyone, by many different means-- which includes cars, because most of us have to drive sometimes. As I've argued before, walkability = bikeability = driveability. The argument for extensive networks of bike lanes and safe sidewalks transcends politics, it's not a matter of left vs. right. It simply makes sense.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted April 24, 2010 at 11:16:23

In 1906, A. Smith wrote ...

So paved roads are for people who aren't dedicated to automobiling. And you still wonder why vote conscious aldermen are not embracing the idea. I think you already have your answer.

But I would argue that paving the roads will mean that more and more people will feel safe driving without having a mechanic on hand to hand the damage to their auto-mobiles. And ladies will come to start driving once their is less worry about dust and dishevelment. The roads are not just for the selfish horse riders and bicyclists, you know.

In other words, there are many people who will drive once the roads are suitable for autos.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted April 24, 2010 at 22:08:20

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted April 25, 2010 at 02:06:49

Kids should be able to ride on the sidewalk, just as long as they know that pedestrians always have the right of way.

And kids under 13 are allowed to, as they should be. Kids over that age should be in a bike lane, for everyone's sake. Bear in mind that sidewalks aren't only for people on foot-- they are also for people on motorized scooters or in wheelchairs, and people with canes or walkers. Once teenagers hit the teenage years, their bikes should be in a bike lane, in order to meet the needs of others who may also need to use sidewalks. It's all about balancing...

Models like those put forth by Complete Streets have been shown to work. Why do some people lump those of us who argue for a complete streets model together as some bunch of activists who are out to divorce others from their income by arguing for programs that cost tax dollars? Do they not see that more exercise and independence along with safe transportation routes for motivated young people means less health care spending and less social services spending, ultimately?

Comment edited by Michelle Martin on 2010-04-25 01:12:02

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted April 25, 2010 at 10:18:07

Converting car lanes to bike lanes helps only cyclists and hurts people who use cars.

Bike lanes make navigating near cyclists less stressful for drivers. Bike lanes encourage more bike use which means fewer cars getting in the way of those who continue to drive. It's not about eliminating cars like you want to believe. It's about accommodating everyone.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted April 25, 2010 at 10:36:15

A. Smith writes

Kids should be able to ride on the sidewalk, just as long as they know that pedestrians always have the right of way.

There's nothing more dangerous for a cyclist than cycling from a sidewalk into a cross walk - that's how a very large percentage of the accidents between cars and bikes occur.(1) This is not a good solution for children moving much above adult walking speeds.

A. Smith also writes

Moylek, converting dirt roads to paved roads helps everyone and hurts no one. Converting car lanes to bike lanes helps only cyclists and hurts people who use cars.

Well, once the roads became friendly to cars, the volume and speed of vehicle traffic (and changing technology and behaviour, of coures) drove cyclists off of the roads; so paving did hurt cyclists.

And is it so hard to acknowledge that many drivers are cyclists? And that many more can become cyclists as the infrastructure improves? It's like saying that sidewalks hurt people who use cars or buses hurt people who use cars or buildings hurt people who use cars - as if drivers never leave their cars to use sidewalks, buses, or buildings . . . or bikes.

And finally: for heaven's sake, I'm one of the few people here who post under my own full name and that full name is at the bottom of every single post I make - and that name is not moylek.

1: For example, see Risk Factors for Bicycle-Motor Vehicle Collisions at Intersections. I've seen cars hit bikes three times in the past five years; each time, the idiot cyclist was entering the road from a sidewalk.

Comment edited by moylek on 2010-04-25 09:41:40

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 25, 2010 at 12:02:01

The argument for extensive networks of bike lanes and safe sidewalks transcends politics, it's not a matter of left vs. right. It simply makes sense.

Don't bother talking about what makes sense to those who have sold their brains to the media. Everything is left vs. right to them.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted April 25, 2010 at 19:24:18

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted April 25, 2010 at 19:28:04

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted April 25, 2010 at 21:36:18

Cyclists are legally entitled to be on the road. If you don't like that, get the law changed.

The reason bike lanes are needed is that too many drivers share your view that bikes are there specifically to obstruct them and thus threaten the cyclists. Another reason is that many people who would cycle otherwise are terrified of cars and will never take the lane when they need to, thus making their ride more dangerous.

As long as drivers continue to be ignorant of the law regarding bikes bike lanes will be needed.

The problem with riding on the sidewalk is that drivers assume everything moving there is moving at a walking pace, which means that when they turn into a driveway they look in the areas that a walking pedestrian would likely be in to determine that it's clear, they don't look for a cyclist, which is why intersections are so dangerous. Same thing with rollerbladers and skateboarders.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted April 25, 2010 at 22:57:30

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By Natalie (anonymous) | Posted April 26, 2010 at 03:03:48

Allowing cyclists to share the sidewalk with pedestrians is probably the worst idea ever. http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/678257

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted April 26, 2010 at 08:11:53

Smith, you're projecting. The one with the entitlement attitude is you. You're the one that gets your panties in a knot about being inconvenienced by cyclists and thus want them off the roads. The law is already in my favour and clearly demonstrates that you are in the wrong.

Add to this that every study has shown that properly created bike lanes dramatically increase the amount of cyclists using the road (they must also be drivers, they can't simply be sitting at home waiting for bike lanes!), which dramatically lowers the fatality rate. Simply put, drivers become more exposed to cyclists and thus being able to accept them as part of traffic instead of taking your view, which puts them in the "inconvenience" bracket.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted April 26, 2010 at 17:55:38

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By zookeeper (registered) | Posted April 26, 2010 at 18:59:56

Looks like I need to come out of retirement and remind people not to feed the troll.

A Smith is not an honest debater. He is a black hole into which the time you spend debating him will never come back. Just down vote and move on.

Comment edited by zookeeper on 2010-04-26 18:07:19

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted April 26, 2010 at 20:47:50

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted April 26, 2010 at 21:38:59

Smitty, here's the problem: You're forgetting that bikes are already fully legal on the roads. You're the one with the quest to push bikes onto the sidewalks.

I already pay costs to use the roads due to the fact that I'm a licensed driver with a car. If I use my bike, I'm subsidizing your usage of the roads!

You missed the point about the number of cyclists and accident ratios: The more cyclists there are, the fewer bike accidents there are as more drivers become accustomed to their presence and begin to look for them. Bike lanes take up little space on the road but they provide a clear notice to drivers such as yourself that they are entitled to be there. You want a benefit? The more bikes there are the less cars there are, which leads to less congestion, letting you get to where you want to get with fewer delays.

Bike lanes are the future, like it or not. You can keep tilting at windmills if you like to get them onto the sidewalks, but it's a losing battle.

Drive safe!

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 27, 2010 at 16:48:38

Bike lanes are the future, like it or not. - Brandon

True.

This whole bike lane thing puzzles me. On one side you have some people who are just adamantly against them, which I don't get and on the opposite end of the spectrum you have some people who seem to believe they will deliver us from all evils : )

It is a bike lane, it is neither a harbinger of doom nor savior and hardly worth the amount of (often heated) discussion and debate I have seen here.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted April 27, 2010 at 22:08:29

...and on the opposite end of the spectrum you have some people who seem to believe they will deliver us from all evils : )

No one has come close to claiming this. If the 'debate' has gotten heated, it's likely because people are exasperated by these kind of false equivalencies, as well as the willful refusal on the part of some (not you) to accept the documented evidence of the benefits of bike lanes. It's hard to have any kind of debate, heated or otherwise, with people who are either willfully ignorant (not you), or patting themselves on the back for staking out a fictitious middle-ground (you). ; )

Comment edited by highwater on 2010-04-27 21:08:59

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 28, 2010 at 09:33:22

No one has come close to claiming this. - highwater

A little creative over statement to make my point Highwater, I'm sure the "cons" don't think bike lanes are "harbingers of doom" either (well maybe some do???).

: )

But I am not staking out a "fictitious middle ground"... I'm staking out the "who cares, just build them already, but don't tell me they're going to have a huge impact on what ails this city" ground. We've got bigger problems than a lack of bike lanes.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted April 28, 2010 at 10:05:32

I'm staking out the "who cares, just build them already, but don't tell me they're going to have a huge impact on what ails this city" ground.

Again, no one is claiming this. The only claims I have seen regarding bike lanes is that they will increase bike ridership and decrease bike/automobile accidents - both objectively good goals worth pursuing for their own sake. This 'both sides exaggerate' schtick is exactly what I meant by a fictitious middle ground. Anyway, don't mean to pick on you, you often have worthwhile contributions to the discussion, I just get a little irritated when you and certain others here go into your plague on both their houses routine. Like other forms of wankery, it feels good when you do it, but eventually you'll go blind.

: D

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 28, 2010 at 10:55:52

Like other forms of wankery, it feels good when you do it, but eventually you'll go blind - highwater

Sorry you feel that way highwater, you may feel my (at times irreverent) efforts to quell the polar extremes and find common ground is mere "wankery" but comparing my views/opinions to masturbation isn't going to change them… they have held fast in the face of tougher debate than that.

don't mean to pick on you - highwater

Don't concern yourself with that, if it creates discussion I'm okay with being the lightening rod : )

I just get a little irritated when you and certain others here go into your plague on both their houses routine. - highwater

Correction, I view the polar extremes as a plague on my house ; )

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By z jones (registered) | Posted April 28, 2010 at 11:08:28

Here's a polar extreme between opposites:

  • Right
  • Wrong

There's no common ground between a correct and an incorrect position.

There are people who think bike lanes would increase cycling, take some cars off the road, reduce injuries, increase public health etc. Those people are correct.

There are other people who think bike lanes would be useless or somehow harmful. Those people are incorrect.

Please stop saying it's 'extreme' to think the people who are right are right and the people who are wrong are wrong. All you do is validate the people who are wrong.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted April 28, 2010 at 11:27:15

...but comparing my views/opinions to masturbation isn't going to change them

I wasn't going to wade into this again, but I've got to call you on this. I wasn't criticizing your opinions or views, but rather your use of the rhetorical faux middle ground device that z jones describes so accurately. Where my comparison falls down, is that unlike masturbation, rhetorical wankery makes everyone go blind.

(I didn't downvote you BTW.)

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 28, 2010 at 12:11:43

Please stop saying it's 'extreme' to think the people who are right are right and the people who are wrong are wrong. All you do is validate the people who are wrong. - z jones

You just helped me make my point z jones. You believe this is a right vs wrong decision and you don't believe anything is in between. Which is fine if you're dealing with this in a purely academic and logical way, yes bike lanes are the clear logical "right" choice. But we're dealing with people's opinions here and all logic goes out the window.

We need to accept the reality that what is right and wrong is now subjective because people are involved. If you support bike lanes and want them you view them as a positive and "right" if you don't support them (for whatever reason) you view them as a waste of money and road space and they are a "wrong". I happen to agree with you, they are the right decision but I am not blinded by my opinion from realising others do not view them as "right" and if the numbers of people with that opinion are great enough than the logically "right" decision can be undermined to become the "wrong" decision. This is where you have to find middle ground even if it seems it doesn't exist, which I acknowledge at times it doesn't. Middle ground in this debate might involve eliminating some of the more contentious stretches of bike route that are perhaps not as vital to the overall system. This could help the pro-bike lane side by limiting the amount of debate and speeding up the process while conceding slightly to those who don't want bike lanes down quiet side streets (where they would have arguably less impact anyway).

As for there not being extreme views on this issue, I can't agree with that. I have read posts about how bike lanes will transform Hamilton into Amsterdam. Have you ever been to Amsterdam? That is a pretty extreme view on the positive effects of creating bike lanes in Hamilton and the anti-bike lane side has made equally skewed comments.

Just listening to the opposite sides of any issue insisting they are right and the other is wrong will get us nowhere. Problems, ideas, issues and people are much more abstract than that type of thinking allows for. Great ideas can be implemented poorly, poor ideas can have positive ramifications, stupid people can say the wisest things and the wisest people can say the stupidest things. It is rare when the world can be accurately viewed in a right/wrong or black/white context.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted April 28, 2010 at 13:10:12

Wait what? WHAT? Illogical people who are wrong aren't really wrong because they're illogical and you can't use logic to decide what's right and wrong when you're dealing with illogical people? Dude, your moral relativist concern trolling is making me dizzy.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 28, 2010 at 15:01:39

Wait what? WHAT? Illogical people who are wrong aren't really wrong because they're illogical and you can't use logic to decide what's right and wrong when you're dealing with illogical people? Dude, your moral relativist concern trolling is making me dizzy. - z jones

You are reading what you want not what I wrote.

I said when dealing with people's opinions you often cannot deal with logic. A person's opinion is their reality, if they think they are right they are right. You can say they're wrong all you want, you can throw studies and facts at them and often that doesn't help, many will continue to believe they are right and you are wrong. The debate over who's reality is right or wrong can either go back and forth ad nauseum or a consensus ("middle ground") can be attempted to be reached.

You can take a solution that has proven results, studies to support it, etc... You and I may say that is the right choice. The facts may back us up and the academic reality may make it the right decision but if the majority of people simply do not believe it is the right choice then it will fail, (i.e., it is perceived as wrong).

Take proportional representation for example, to me that is clearly the right decision. I can provide plenty of studies proving it is the "right" decision but the reality is to a majority of voters in the last provincial election it was the "wrong" one and was defeated.

What is "right" and "wrong" is subjective when you are discussing people's opinions. People disagree, simply saying "I'm right and you're wrong", does nothing to change that. I don't know what is "dizzying" about that concept to you?

Is calling someone a "moral relativist" the new cool put down??? You'll have to do better than that if you want to hurt my feelings : )

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 28, 2010 at 15:17:25

I wasn't going to wade into this again, but I've got to call you on this. I wasn't criticizing your opinions or views, but rather your use of the rhetorical faux middle ground device that z jones describes so accurately. Where my comparison falls down, is that unlike masturbation, rhetorical wankery makes everyone go blind. (I didn't downvote you BTW.) - highwater

It is your use of the "faux middle ground", not mine.

I do not believe middle ground to be "faux". In the context of this debate there are those that support bike lanes, those that do not and those that don't really see what the big deal is either way, such as myself. By calling the position I hold "faux" you most certainly are criticizing my opinion. Not that I mind highwater, seeking approval for my opinions on the internet is not a high priority of mine and you are more than welcome to disagree with me. If you and z jones want to continue to see the world as one of absolutes you are more than welcome to.

Comment edited by Kiely on 2010-04-28 14:17:55

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 28, 2010 at 16:22:09

Note: I fleshed out this comment and posted it as a blog entry.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2010-04-29 10:41:40

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By zookeeper (registered) | Posted April 28, 2010 at 17:33:25

^Great essay, you should front-page it.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted April 28, 2010 at 23:03:32

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted April 29, 2010 at 06:47:21

Finally a definitive troll post!

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted April 29, 2010 at 08:18:38

Some people are very attached to their stereotypes. I say that as someone very fond of a number of stereotypes of his own. But they can get in the way of understanding.

Cycling around Hamilton, I've never got the impression that my velocipedic brethren are a bunch of tree-hugging, patchouli-scented, hemp-wearing, dred-locked hippies. But one sometimes sees cyclists portrayed that way on discussion threads. That is, when they're not being portrayed as spandex-clad elitists - a mere minority on our roads, I believe.

Leaving aside the trollery, who are the cyclists in our city right now? Who do you see in your part of the city? And are you seeing any changes as cycling becomes a little more acceptable?

In the West end, most of the cyclists would appear to be undergraduates on mountain bikes; the cooler ones ride old road bikes or even brakeless fixed-wheel bikes. But I see quite a few earnest (by which I really mean styleless :) commuters on hybrids heading to the university - professors, researchers, and staff. Every few days I'll see a pack of not-quite-young-anymore men in bright lycra on mud-splattered mountain bikes heading back from the trails. And most days I see one or two serious commuters on touring bikes, bent double, seriously panniered, clad for speed.

But earlier this week at My Dog Joe in Westdale I found myself parked nose-to-nose with another Dutch city bike for the first time ever. I was on my way to the office, wearing a jacket and tie, my compatriot was a normally dressed real-estate agent running errands ... no whiff of patchouli, in other words. Around the world, normal people on bikes is becoming more normal. I'm seeing a little more of it in Hamilton now, too.

Comment edited by moylek on 2010-04-29 07:21:17

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By z jones (registered) | Posted April 29, 2010 at 08:23:39

Some people are very attached to their stereotypes. I say that as someone very fond of a number of stereotypes of his own. But they can get in the way of understanding.

"I'm like my mother, I stereotype. It's faster."

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By trevorlikesbikes (registered) - website | Posted May 05, 2010 at 08:01:38

http://thespec.com/News/Local/article/763314

And the city caves once again to the burgeoning obesity that is our society.

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