By Ryan McGreal
Published September 03, 2009
I need to stop reading the Spectator's letters to the editor.
I understand that the editors have a difficult job to print a representative cross-section of the various letters they receive to reflect the various opinions of Hamiltonians.
I also understand that the purpose of the letters section is to generate discussion and sell papers, so there's a tendency to lean toward more provocative arguments.
But come on. Lately I swear they've simply thrown everything else overboard in their singleminded determination to stoke the controversy over cyclists and cycling.
Last week we were treated to yet another letter by a motorist who doesn't plan to use bike lanes and concludes that obviously this means no one else will use them either, and to hell with what the actual, you know, evidence might indicate.
Worse, the writer carries on a long tradition of bike lane foes contradicting themselves, in this case by claiming: a) we shouldn't build bike lanes because no one will use them, but b) it's annoying for drivers to have to share the road with cyclists, therefore c) the police should crack down on cyclists and use the fines to help fund other municipal projects.
Take a moment to let that argument sink in.
As if that weren't bad enough, the letters page upped the ante two days later with a letter claiming we shouldn't waste money on bike lanes when cyclists can already ride on the sidewalk.
Never mind the fact that it's illegal to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk. Never mind the fact that the absolute most dangerous and disruptive place for a cyclist to ride is on the sidewalk. Why let mere facts get in the way of some good, old-fashioned anti-bicycle outrage?
Closing out this perennnial trifecta of incomprehension is today's letter, which states:
I walk my dog on a sidewalk parallel to a bicycle path. Frequently, I wander back and forth over the path as my dog leads me on his journey to the grass.
Several times I have been scared by bikes zooming up behind me with no sound.
Here's a crazy idea if you don't want cyclists "zooming up behind" you and scaring you: stop randomly wandering onto the freaking bike path. Train your dog to walk in a reasonably straight line when you're on the sidewalk and stay on the sidewalk - you know, that strip of transportation infrastructure designed specifically for pedestrians.
On a more general note, here's a crazy suggestion for the letters editors: establish a baseline standard of factuality and coherence for the letters you publish. By all means, print a wide variety of opionions - as long as those opinions are at least consistent with the available evidence.
Letters that fly right in the face of basic facts or that directly contradict themselves have no place in a mediated forum for public discussion, at least when there's no easy way for readers to flag them as irrational.
You must be logged in to comment.