Policy

Public Policy and The Middle Ground Fallacy

By Ryan McGreal
Published April 29, 2010

This blog post comes out of the commentary on last week's article, Why I'm Not That Exercised About Earth Day, which considered what is the "best" policy solution to a more-or-less binary issue - in this case the push for a continuous network of bike lanes - in which public opinion is sharply divided.

After one commenter suggested that the solution is to avoid both extremes, an interesting discussion followed around whether both sides of the issue constitute "polar extremes" and whether the solution is to find some kind of "common ground".

Now, I strongly support the search for common ground, especially among groups with orthogonal or even opposing agendas; but I've always understood "common ground" to mean specific policy areas on which distinct groups can agree.

A great example in Hamilton is the light rail plan, which enjoys the strong support of environmentalists, urbanists, BIAs, professional associations, the Chamber of Commerce, and politicians from across the political spectrum.

The important point is that all of these groups support light rail and want to see it built. Some support it because it reduces air pollution; others support it because it encourages intensification; still others support it because it catalyzes new private investment. Their reasons might be different but light rail has broad enough appeal that it can serve many interests simultaneously.

But is it possible to find common ground between people who support a policy and people who oppose that policy without persuading some people to change their minds?

Middle Ground Fallacy

The middle ground fallacy, also known as the appeal to moderation, is an argumentative fallacy that naively assumes the 'right answer' between two opposing positions is a moderate middle ground.

It's an appealing fallacy because the middle ground often is the correct position, once you have canceled out the extremes of opposing ideologies. However, it is not necessarily so, and there are many cases in which the middle ground is clearly wrong.

The key to understanding the distinction is to understand the opposing positions to which the middle ground presents itself as an alternative.

As one commenter pointed out yesterday, if one position is correct and and the other position is incorrect, the 'right answer' is not somewhere in the middle. The right answer is still the correct one.

Bike Lanes and the Middle Ground

The middle ground fallacy applies to the bike lane debate, in the strict sense that the factual evidence abundantly supports one position and abundantly rejects the other.

The question of what happens when a city builds a network of bike lanes is a question that can be answered reliably and objectively through the use of reasoning from evidence, and so it makes sense to apply the principles of reasoning in assessing attempts to answer the question.

Set aside for a moment the question of whether and how to accommodate people who are unable or unwilling to reason, an important question to which I will return shortly.

In the context of a debate in which all sides have applied some kind of reasoning to defend their positions, it is entirely legitimate to subject the various arguments to basic logical tests to determine whether they make use of empirically valid premises and logical reasoning.

It matters if one side is objectively correct and the other side is objectively incorrect, in the sense of either believing facts that are incorrect or drawing conclusions that rely on fallacies of reasoning.

The Overton Window of Political Possibilities

This is true even when dealing with a public composed of people with varying levels of informedness and willingness or capacity to reason. I would argue that it matters especially in such cases.

An approach to policy based on finding "balance" between opposing positions is dangerous because it exposes the political process to systematic abuse by interested parties who can deliberately move one fringe farther into the extreme to 'drag' the middle closer to their side.

The Overton Window is a concept developed by the late Josef P. Overton, who was vice president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a conservative think tank.

The premise is that you can array all the possible policy actions on a given issue in a line ordered from accepted policy all the way to unthinkable.

[ Policy - Popular - Sensible - Acceptable ] - Radical - Unthinkable

The "window" is the subset of possible policies that are regarded as publicly acceptable to consider. Overton argued that you can "move" that window by aggressively promoting extreme, unthinkable policies in such a way as to make the 'merely' radical policies start to seem acceptable by comparison.

Since commonly held ideas, attitudes and presumptions frame what is politically possible and create the "window," a change in the opinions held by politicians and the people in general will shift it. Move the window of what is politically possible and those policies previously impractical can become the next great popular and legislative rage.

Further, the width of the window is relatively inflexible, so that:

policies that were once acceptable become politically infeasible as the window shifts away from them.

Overton Window in Action: US Health Care Debate

Consider, as an example of what I mean, the American health care reform debate. Twenty years ago, the Democrats wanted roughly what every other industrialized country on earth takes for granted: universal, comprehensive health coverage with a single payer for all or most medically necessary expenses.

The Republicans responded by complaining that the Democrats' health care plan didn't include enough market incentives and personal responsibility, so the plan that was eventually adopted ended up being an awkward combination of what the Democrats wanted and what the Republicans could live with.

That system limped along for another decade or so until the middle of the past decade, at which point its glaring failures and contradictions once again threatened to break the system down completely.

So the Democrats came at health care reform again, this time starting with a baseline plan that already incorporated what the Republicans had insisted - market incentives, personal responsibility and so on.

The Republicans responded by demanding a whole new laundry list of concessions designed to drag the plan farther and farther to the right.

The Democrats, eager to seem moderate, dutifully incorporated the change requests that weren't actually lunatic in an desperate effort to get something - anything - passed, but the Republicans receded to the right faster than the Democrats could track them.

The Window Moves

By the time the final health bill was passed, universal single payer health care - the actual policy of every other industrialized country - had been rendered "unthinkable" in the US due to the aggressive Republican efforts to drag the window to the right.

The final policy was more right-wing in design and scope and more toothless in its ability to incentivize universal coverage than even the Republicans had wanted when the process began - and the Republicans still reacted by calling it tyrannical and socialist and inciting the public to rise up and fight it.

(One predictable consequence of the full-spectrum hate campaign was a string of vandalism and death threats against Democrats associated with the plan.)

If the Democrats were not trying to find a fallacious middle ground between their original starting position and the moving target that was the Republican line on health care, they would not have been susceptible to the Republicans moving the Overton Window.

The legislation would have had a chance of actually being based on a sound understanding of how health care works rather than the political fustercluck it turned out to be.

Standing on Principle

A health care plan that tries to find a middle ground between a policy designed from evidence to provide universal coverage and a policy designed to prevent universal coverage cannot help but fail to achieve universal coverage.

Similarly, a bike lane proposal that tries to combine the evidence-based position that a continuous network of bike lanes fosters more and safer cycling with the irrational position that a continuous network of bike lanes is somehow dangerous or unfair to drivers cannot help but fail to achieve the goal of increasing the rate and safety of cycling.

A badly designed, discontinuous bike lane network is worse than no network at all, because you end up with the situation in Ancaster in which Councillor Lloyd Ferguson sees a bike lane running along a short stretch of Golf Links Road and stopping arbitrarily before the highway on-ramp, notices that no one uses it, and concludes that bike lanes are a waste of money.

The only truly successful long-term strategy is a strategy that stands on principle, argues from clear evidence and relentlessly chips away at irrational and misinformed arguments against following the correct course.

My experience discussing and debating policy issues in Hamilton is that most people, when given a chance, are basically reasonable and will eventually come to accept a reasonable conclusion from the evidence.

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 mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted April 29, 2010 at 12:27:33

Thank you for such a good essay on this topic Ryan. I commented on this a while back having some of the same observations, but didn't know this theory was established and called the Overton Window. Thanks for the education!

Comment edited by mikeonthemountain on 2010-04-29 11:28:30

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted April 29, 2010 at 13:26:43

The biggest problem is that people shriek about all the "problems" that the radical new approach will cause, despite not having a clue about what the new approach truly entails. Once the new approach is enacted, they scream for a short period of time, then move on as if they always supported it once they realize that the world has not come to a crashing halt.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted April 29, 2010 at 16:21:46

Interesting essay, as usual, Ryan. However I find it intriguing that the model of public policy development you've presented makes almost no mention of the medium in which social/public policy is developed: human interaction.

Even if I were a person who honestly believed that objective truths existed and were knowable (yes, up is up, grass is green, and gravity makes me fall down go boom, but they are all concepts negotiated and reinforced through social interaction), I'd be foolish to believe that everyone can and will naturally arrive at those beliefs, towed along by reason.

Being "correct" on issues of fact is one thing, as social consensus drives factuality, but determining the "correct" route in the realm of public policy is not simply a factual issue, but a collective action one--as a matter of using shared resources to achieve shared goals, individuals still need to be towed to the "correct" answer, and the rationality they use to arrive there varies and is exploited by different actors in the polis.

I'm not sure if you are operating from an assumption that people only use purposive/means-end rationality to make decisions, but either way, I recommend to you the work of Jurgen Habermas as an excellent resource on the topic of rationality, especially within the public sphere. In the first volume of A Theory of Communicative Action, Habermas outlines the various forms of rationality available to humans, (instrumental; value-based; affectual), and then begins to present his theory of Communicative Rationality, which I believe to be the most relevant when speaking of public policy issues.

The goal of Communicative Rationality is indeed to find consensus, much as you desire, but it is firmly rooted in social interaction and communication, not an instrumentalist approach to an objective "what is best." Fear not, it's not a relativistic concept, but it's not the same thing as what you suggest. Without boring you with too much detail, I guess the distilled message is that communicative rationality is not about object ends--the validity of people's speech acts (their claims to truth) are the ones that are actually evaluated intersubjectively, and are the path at which two or more individuals can achieve consensus.

What you seem to be advocating for is some form of technocracy where decisions are made by experts faced with hard facts, and able to form rational decisions based on a fair assessment of the facts. That's fine, but it's not liberal democracy. Democracy's messy, complex and plagued by conflicting groups of interests--and we negotiate solutions and facts as a differentiated social group. Your reasons for advocating one solution over another lie in a means-ends analysis based on efficiency ("Bike lanes won't work the best unless they're done this way,") yet you disregard the reasons provided by others for not agreeing with that model as irrational, instead of appreciating the different justification/form of rationality they use to get there ("It's too expensive", "It's bad for drivers", or the less likely, "it's immoral!").

So while the appeal to moderation may be a logical fallacy, it is an essential part of the social incrementalism that gets large groups of individuals to agree to change anything at all.

Comment edited by Borrelli on 2010-04-29 15:22:10

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 29, 2010 at 16:38:40

Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Borelli - it's insightful as usual, and provides plenty to think about.

In the interest of keeping my reply brief, I'll just touch on a couple of points.

Even if I were a person who honestly believed that objective truths existed and were knowable

I should stop here and come out as a moral universalist so you know where I'm coming from. I do believe that objective truths exist, that it is possible for humans to become progressively less wrong over time by systematically eliminating empirically false beliefs and logically incongruous conclusions, and that moral and political decisions can and should be based on rationality rather than irrationality.

I grant that humans are irrational by nature (albeit predictably so), but also believe that it is both possible and ethically necessary for humans to study the ways in which our own cognitive processes betray us so that we can start to take our irrationality into account when making decisions.

That's the foundation on which all empirical science is based, and it works.

What you seem to be advocating for is some form of technocracy where decisions are made by experts faced with hard facts, and able to form rational decisions based on a fair assessment of the facts. That's fine, but it's not liberal democracy.

I'm not saying a privileged class of technocrats should make our decisions for us. I'm saying I personally believe the best contribution I can make to the public discourse in a liberal democracy is to help promote the idea that the policy decisions we make should be based as much as possible on objective reasoning from evidence rather than irrational or untested assumptions.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2010-04-30 07:18:52

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By thompsmr (registered) | Posted April 29, 2010 at 16:53:41

The only truly successful long-term strategy is a strategy that stands on principle, argues from clear evidence and >relentlessly chips away at irrational and misinformed arguments against following the correct course

Very true. A group's ability to declare their ideas a "rational" and their opponents as "irrational" and "misinformed" is the best way to successfully not win at politics.

Real world elections (not internet-blog fights) are won by the ability to speak to people's values and morals.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 29, 2010 at 19:20:22

Being "correct" on issues of fact is one thing, as social consensus drives factuality, but determining the "correct" route in the realm of public policy is not simply a factual issue, but a collective action one.

This is a very valid point and one that holds true quite often in life. However, I do think there is more room for 'factual, evidence-based' decision making among our leaders.

For example, if everyone agrees that the principal purpose of downtown streets is to be a gathering place of people, commerce, culture, food, fun and transportation and that freeways have a main purpose strictly related to moving people and goods in an efficient manner, then we should be able to hold up the following two photos and see very factually and very clearly that one downtown street is functioning as it is intended to and the other one isn't:

http://www.picturespan.com/wp-content/pl...

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_ahuvxRitU74/Si...

I realize not all issues are so clear cut, but ones like this are no brainers and no citizen worth their salt should continue to vote in representatives who are not only satisfied, but actually fighting to maintain the status quo, even if it means boarded up stores, unsafe streets, low property values and low livability thereby lowering the quality of life and image of the entire city.

Of course, this then leads to perhaps the bigger problem in the equation - who is educating the public?
You can bet your life savings that the mainstream media in Hamilton will never show those two photos on the front page and ask "which city looks more prosperous, fun, vibrant, economically sound etc....?"

And that is the real problem. And we continue....spinning our wheels, despite the massive fact-based evidence all around us.

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By thompsmr (registered) | Posted April 30, 2010 at 09:09:04

Could it be that all this massive amount of "fact-based evidence" still requires a moral framing? That yes, you can post away sites/forums and get the virtual masses behind you, that's great. Could it also be that the minds of the voters arent always keen to "objective reasoning from evidence" and even the readers/editors of this site can often act on "irrational or untested assumptions" too?

Here's how George Lakoff described the collapse of the progressive movement over the last two decades:

"You will think that all you need to do is give people the facts and the figures and they will reach the right conclusion. You will think that all you need to do is point out where their interests lie, and they will act politically to maximize them.

you will believe that if you ask people what their interests are, they will be aware of them and will tell you, and will vote on it. You will not have any need to appeal to emotion--indeed, to do so would be wrong. You will not have to speak of values; facts and figures will suffice. You will not have to change people's brains; their reason should be enough.

You will not have to frame the facts; they will speak for themselves. You just have to get the facts to them...Your opponents are not bad people; they just need to see the light. Those who won't vote your way are mostly just ignorant; they need to be told the facts"

Comment edited by thompsmr on 2010-04-30 08:25:38

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 30, 2010 at 10:33:29

Here's my "moral framing" for a bike lane network:

A bike lane network is a matter of freedom to choose how to travel, better health for everyone and less wasteful government spending.

  1. It provides a more balanced transportation system and gives more choice for everyone.

  2. It makes cycling safer and encourages more people to ride - people who would like to ride but are currently afraid of traffic.

  3. It improves air quality for everyone by taking some cars off the road.

  4. It improves public health by encouraging people to be more active.

  5. It reduces the number of casualties by reducing the number of dangerous, heavy vehicles on the road.

  6. It cuts down on wear and tear on the roads, which saves taxpayers money in road maintenance.

  7. It's a true Public Good that provides more in public benefits (benefits that accrue to society as a whole) than it costs to implement.

How am I doing so far?

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted April 30, 2010 at 10:34:22

Lakoff's work is essential reading for progressives, I think. Good call bringing that up, Thompsmr. It's political social psychology that finds that citizens do not act in exclusively rational ways (quite the opposite, actually--see the many, many studies on why working class folks vote conservative, most written in the 1960s).

The message I take away from that is that you concentrate on a politics of pragmatism, even if it sacrifices principles from time to time. And you don't need to sell out 100%, but unfortunately politics is not a sport where you can easily retain your purity of belief.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 30, 2010 at 10:38:18

The message I take away from that is that you concentrate on a politics of pragmatism

That's not the message I get from Lakoff at all. In fact, he seems to be arguing the very opposite - that the progressive tendency to try and find a middle ground simply cedes the power to frame over to conservatives.

Instead, he advocates a full-spectrum campaign to counter-frame the issues in terms of progressive values and wrest control of the issues away from the conservative frame.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted April 30, 2010 at 12:54:14

You're right in how you characterize Lakoff there, Ryan, but that's only part of the story. I highly suggest reading a piece Lakoff wrote earlier this year called, 'Why "Rational Reason" Doesn't Work in Contemporary Politics'.

http://blog.buzzflash.com/contributors/3...

I'll point you to the end of the article, because I really do think that, all calls for the defense of liberal principles aside, he is suggesting a different way to operationalize those principles.

"Indeed, one of the major findings of real reason is that negating a frame activates that frame in the brain and reinforces it — like Nixon saying that he was not a crook. Dan Pfeiffer, writing on the White House blog, posted an article called “Still not a ‘Government Takeover’,” which activates the conservative idea of a government takeover and hence reinforces the idea. Every time a liberal goes over a conservative proposal giving evidence negating conservative ideas one by one, he or she is activating the conservative ideas in the brains of his audience. The proper response is to start with your own ideas, framed to fit what you really believe. Facts matter. But they have to be framed properly and their moral significance must be made manifest. That is what we learn from real reason."

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 30, 2010 at 14:01:15

Good point, Borelli, and my previous comment didn't touch on the issue of negating frames. We saw what might be THE archetypal example of this phenomenon during the Iraq War fustercluck. The more evidence that came out demonstrating that Iraq didn't actually have WMD and Saddam wasn't actually associated with al Qaeda, the more strongly conservatives came to believe these two lies.

I also find myself wondering if some of this has to do not with the challenge to a given frame per se but to some basic differences in cognition between liberals/progressives and conservatives. There's a fair bit of evidence that liberals are inherently more open to the possibility that they might be wrong - and hence more willing to change their minds in the face of contradictory evidence - than conservatives.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 30, 2010 at 15:52:50

I should also point out that I'm not persuaded by Lakoff's political application of his cognitive linguistic theory. One thing that has always bothered me is that a lot of what he says progressives should talk about sounds almost exactly like bullshit.

When he tries to rename "raising taxes" as "raising revenue" or "activist judges" as "freedom judges", it doesn't feel any different to me than renaming "killing innocent bystanders" as "collateral damage" or renaming "french fries" as "freedom fries". How is Lakoff's framing any different from what we usually call "spin" or "marketing" or even "propaganda"?

I'm not suggesting that mental frames don't exist, but it seems to me that what Lakoff proposes amounts to reshaping an iceberg by chipping away at the bit that sticks out of the water. The language we use to shape our thoughts is a function of the frames embedded in our minds, not the other way around.

Changing our frames is not just a matter of changing the words we use to form our thoughts and then rinsing and repeating. That strikes me as naively Sapir-Whorfian. If it were so, euphemisms wouldn't gradually take on the negative connotations of the dysphemisms they're invoked to replace.

Surely the opportunity to replace one mental frame with a new frame is greatest when the contradictions between the existing frame and reality are at their greatest!

For a recent example, the reason Obama had a chance to take on the Republican full-spectrum media barrage - and he did take it on, blow by blow and claim by claim - was that by the end of the second Bush term, it was impossible for all but the most blinkered ideologues not to notice the breakdown between what the Republicans were saying and what was going on.

Yet this suggests the success of Obama's challenge to the Republican frame had less to do with imposing a competing frame and more to do with old-fashioned facts and evidence.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted April 30, 2010 at 16:23:17

The language we use to shape our thoughts is a function of the frames embedded in our minds, not the other way around.

Actually it's both, which makes the bullshit all the more dangerous. I'm not a big one for having favourite quotes or inspirational sayings, but I carried this one around in my wallet before it was stolen:

"Language becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts." - George Orwell

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 30, 2010 at 16:37:58

However I find it intriguing that the model of public policy development you've presented makes almost no mention of the medium in which social/public policy is developed: human interaction. So while the appeal to moderation may be a logical fallacy, it is an essential part of the social incrementalism that gets large groups of individuals to agree to change anything at all. - Borelli

Well said Borelli, that's all I've been trying to say. While it isn't a huge concern of mine I am somewhat reassured that others do not believe I am crazy for thinking this.

There ARE good and bad decisions, right and wrong decisions but all that goes out the window when you bring the human part into the equation. IF you are seeking to achieve buy-in, consensus, "middle ground" or whatever you wish to call it, you can't argue points from the position of "I'm right and you're wrong" it just creates noise. The Republicans knew this fact and used it in the Health care debate. For a year Obama tried his best to get them to come to the table and provide input, to develop a consensus, but they just took the "We're right, you're wrong" approach and began lying and spinning data to "prove" it, knowing full well it would drag the debate on and on, solving nothing and hoping the bad press (which they manage to control the delivery of) would kill the idea. It was the only strategy they could really muster and it was working but unfortunately for them Obama woke up soon enough and realised he had to simply force his policy through if it was going to happen. So yes they got their healthcare reform but ~50% of voters got zero representation in that bill because their representatives refused to cooperate… and even though I don't support Republican ideals there is still something fundamentally wrong with that in a system that calls itself a democracy. Compromise and "middle ground" may be a "fallacy" but they are critical components of a democratic system. Lest we all simply want to be told what to do by those that claim to know what is right for us?

Not to take full credit for this discussion topic, although I am the one getting labeled with the "moral relativist" moniker lately : ) but I'm glad this discussion has been started it is a good one, and I believe an important one… I hope to contribute to it more when I have a bit more time.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted April 30, 2010 at 17:16:51

We believe that we live in a democratic soiety, meaning that our elected representatives, represent the needs of the people. It is articulated that we can just vote out a person or party and that change will occur.

But what if the problems lies in the structure and that just voting out a person or party may not change things, the status quo continues.

Let us look at the recent oil rig exploding and the oil that has now approached the land. Lots of finger pointing going on, yet to me, I wonder about all this. Why has there not be a push toward a more cleaner sustainable system, why does mother nature always have to be under attack and threatened. Aborignal and indigieious communiteis lived within their means and with nature. Are we not killing ourselves. I think we have lots to learn from these old ways

Change must come but we need vision and leadership, maybe that will come under a different package, than what we currently have.

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By human (anonymous) | Posted May 01, 2010 at 15:10:29

kiely >> "all that goes out the window when you bring the human part into the equation"

Sounds pretty arrogant, like you don't trust people to be able to figure out right from wrong. I'd rather fight for the truth than cave in to a small, loudmouthed rump that refuses to be honest in the name of "compromise".

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted May 02, 2010 at 01:03:05

People know right for wrong, where the problem lies is how to activate he power of the people. Too many think that they can never be affected thus they close their eyes.

To create a movement, then everyone needs to understand the extreme, what would happen if they lost their jobs.

Too many live in fear and will not fight for others thinking it could never happen to them. They live in false security.

What happens to the poor, will; soon the others will learn the wrath, but they will not be ready.

Karma is coming.

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By frank (registered) | Posted May 03, 2010 at 12:45:49

There's a HUGE problem when you try to associate logic with sociology: human beings don't necessarily act as a result of logic (in fact I find they rarely do) and that's been proven over and over again; if that were the case, there would be no such things as addictions and many other social problems we currently face. That's the reason for seeking some sort of middle ground...provided both arguments are correct of course.

Consider this:

If the argument from one side is to implement a full cycling network in order to improve means of transit, access to other modes of transport, safety etc. and the other sides simply says no because it's not going to work then compromise is hardly possible because the second argument has no factual basis (the facts actually demonstrate the opposite)...

However if the first argument remained the same but the other party had serious concerns as to the safety aspect (for argument's sake)- concern for the cyclist as well as the motorist even if the basis is purely upon human perception it's quite easy to address the concerns and eliminate the argument by doing something that increases the perception of safety (widening the bike lanes let's say) thereby finding a "middle ground".

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By frank (registered) | Posted May 03, 2010 at 12:48:45

grassroots wrote: "people know right from wrong"

I take issue with that... I know people who don't know what's right, especially when it comes to building cycling network! Also assuming that because people KNOW what's right they want to DO what's right isn't borne out in society. People know the right thing to do prior to making a lane change is to use their signal however I rarely see it happen! That's one example and there are many more!

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By Donald J. Lester (anonymous) | Posted May 03, 2010 at 23:34:37

Ryan, "Bike Lanes and the Middle Ground" Haven checked out the use of bike lanes and the cost to maintain such; I would say bike lanes are an extreme politically correct venture.I have noted that such are hardly used; therefore I question how they can be included as a worth inclusion with regards to policy. What is worth noting, though cycle clubs advocated for such, they rarely use them. Rather they chose to traverse in back country narrow roads four to five abreast, testing their weight and size against the weight of trucks, cars; while such roads are narrow and hilly they do not provide very good visibility at many times of the day, or evening, they seem, at times to be waiting for an accident to occur.

Considering that these bike lanes have been created, why don't they use them? In particular when there 50 or more are streaming through narrow and hilly country roads. Perhaps by using those bike lanes they would provide an example to children, that this is where they should be riding. They certainly are not being examples to children riding in the manner they have been on back country roads.

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By frank (registered) | Posted May 04, 2010 at 09:34:59

Donald your first question has been answered ad nauseum on other threads here but for your sake I'll respond briefly here: Bike lanes that are not continuous don't get used because they don't go from anywhere to anywhere...that'd be why they're not heavily traveled. If you research cities that have complete cycling networks you'll find that they're heavily used.

IF you're genuinely concerned about riders in the country and not throwing up some insane argument to cloud the waters of what could otherwise be a coherent debate then perhaps you could do a little bit of research in the drivers handbook regarding cycling-you'll find that they have just as much right to be on any road as a vehicle does and can take up a full lane if they so desire. At the same time take a look at the reasons cyclists use country roads (less vehicular traffic means a more leisurely ride). Finally if you take a gander at the speed limits on those roads you will find that they are nearly all set at 50 and that means when you're flying along at 80 because it's "empty" and you come upon a cyclist all of a sudden, if you hit them it's hardly an accident... I've driven many country roads, heck I grew up in the country and have absolutely no complaints about cyclists on back roads. I also don't recall hearing of any accidents on country roads involving cyclists yet there are an insane amount of them in built-up urban areas... Hence the need for bike lanes.

Get it yet?

Comment edited by frank on 2010-05-04 08:36:06

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 04, 2010 at 09:49:06

I'd love to go to a meeting about a proposed road - say, to a new subdivision being planned - and object to the road on the grounds that drivers almost never stop at stop signs and frequently change lanes without signaling, and that a certain road that isn't connected to any other roads has no cars on it.

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By Donald J. Lester (anonymous) | Posted May 04, 2010 at 10:35:22

Frank, your comments reminds me of those Auto mobile drivers is the 60'S labeled road hogs...If I remember the law cyclists are to ride single lane but if the were at least riding in pairs, but 5 to 6 abreast, while the rider on the inside is wobbling across the yellow line...I think "some cyclists" are fulfilling the old definition of "road hogs"

I am going to start carrying my camera...

Get it yet?

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By Donald J. Lester (anonymous) | Posted May 04, 2010 at 10:59:35

"you'll find that they have just as much right to be on any road as a vehicle does and can take up a full lane if they so desire." ONE cycle may take up one lane if they chose.
To add to reality, It's time that cyclist have insurance including having a license plate so the cyclist can be identified and reported for failing to observe traffic signs, like STOP signs, and having proper lights and reflectors...etc..etc..Just so you know, I used to cycle through Hamilton to Bantford and Cambridge...it's not that I don't think that there should not be cyclists on the road...At the same time I have noted some real stupid stunts and only by shear luck no one was hit. But as it has been demonstrated the fault is always anyone else except the cyclist...unnecessary death is always a tragedy....

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted May 04, 2010 at 12:06:54

Donald,

You suggested that these cyclists that travel in large packs on country roads should set themselves up as an example to children and use bike lanes.

How many bike lanes are out in the country?

Also, what's the difference between one cyclist taking up the lane and thirty cyclists taking up the lane? What if it was a convoy of farming equipment? Drive behind them until it's safe to pass, then do so.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted May 04, 2010 at 14:12:23

Sounds pretty arrogant - Human

It is arrogant to think people often don't agree?

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted May 04, 2010 at 14:17:35

what if the problems lies in the structure and that just voting out a person or party may not change things, the status quo continues. - grassroots

"What if.." grassroots?

When more people can't be bothered to vote than do vote there is a structural issue. But having said that, I also believe the system is working the way it was designed to work... if you catch my drift ; )

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted May 04, 2010 at 14:53:04

I'd love to go to a meeting about a proposed road - say, to a new subdivision being planned - and object to the road on the grounds that drivers almost never stop at stop signs and frequently change lanes without signaling, and that a certain road that isn't connected to any other roads has no cars on it. - Ryan

That made me laugh Ryan… good one.

The only truly successful long-term strategy is a strategy that stands on principle, argues from clear evidence and relentlessly chips away at irrational and misinformed arguments against following the correct course. - Ryan

I see your point here Ryan and I certainly do not want to speak against people with ideals speaking out for their ideals, that is essential. But sometimes when things are moving in the wrong direction (i.e., socially destructive activities are increasing) or are stagnant (i.e., nothing is happening at all) you want to achieve any movement in a more positive direction, it doesn't have to be a complete shift to the ideas/ideals of one side. It can be a compromise or "middle ground" decision that shifts the momentum back towards a positive social impact and once that movement begins hopefully inertia takes over and bigger and better ideas can be implemented. A good example is the bike lanes… spray on ones are not ideal, dedicated ones would be better but if we do the easy/cheap spray on lanes and they have a positive impact than hopefully dedicated ones can be implemented in the future. This "compromise" begins to shift the city from car-centric to at least bike friendly (or maybe just neutral???).

It doesn't have to be winner take all and sometimes you have to pick your battles to win the war. Bike lanes may not be the best example here, but many grander societal change initiatives took decades and centuries of small victories before the original goal was achieved. I would say more positive changes have occurred that way than the drastic (and often bloody) swings in a society's morals, politics, behaviour, etc...

But that doesn't take anything away from what you say above, behind it all you need people doing exactly what you said, I will not deny that.

Comment edited by Kiely on 2010-05-04 13:53:31

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted May 04, 2010 at 17:19:02

Kiely: Yes I do catch your drift.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 04, 2010 at 22:33:08

Kiely, the thing is that the broad issue around bike lanes is already more or less settled. According to all the surveys I've seen, most people already agree that we need to encourage more cycling and that we need to build a network of bike lanes to facilitate this. The City's official policy, approved by Council after years of development, public consultation and discussion, is to build a continuous cycling network across the city.

The remaining opposition is mainly narrow, fear-based and ignorant NIMBYism - a few business owners paranoid about lost parking and a few residents with a visceral dislike of cycling. The only thing that will change their minds - particularly the business owners - is to witness firsthand how a functioning bike lane network actually works.

The worst thing we can do now is start ceding the individual pieces of this plan to the parochial opposition of a vocal minority. A master plan is only as good as its implementation details - and in Hamilton we're notorious for developing and committing to progressive plans, only to override them in specific decisions where they might make a difference.

Similarly, a network is either continuous or discontinuous, and a bike network riddled with discontinuities will absolutely fail to achieve the positive network effects that will let people feel comfortable choosing to cycle.

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By frank (registered) | Posted May 05, 2010 at 08:31:39

Ryan, you're using numbers versus what people see. You can convince a logical person of a thing by giving them statistics and empirical evidence but the majority of people operate based on emotional decisions hence the success of point of sale merchandising etc. Those types of people want to see something tangible in their own backyard before they take a step. They don't operate in good faith or even faith at all.

You mention ceding individual pieces of the plan... It's much easier to overcome opposition if the bike lanes are as simple to do as possible. I have no doubt that as cycling increases there will still be some fools who insist there aren't enough people cycling to mandate bike lanes however by that time their numbers will be decreasing. It's at that point, as Keily said, that momentum tends to take over.

Comment edited by frank on 2010-05-05 07:35:43

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By Donald J. Lester (anonymous) | Posted May 12, 2010 at 11:45:58

Brandon said,

"what's the difference between one cyclist taking up the lane and thirty cyclists taking up the lane? What if it was a convoy of farming equipment?"

There is a huge difference, moreover it's very rare that you will see, "a convoy of farming equipment" most farmers are well aware of traffic issues and rarely will you see a convoy a convoy of farming equipment without a space of a 1/2 mile between them. Secondly there is some logistics to accommodating such considering; without such you may not be having your breakfast.

Frank said,"At the same time take a look at the reasons cyclists use country roads (less vehicular traffic means a more leisurely ride). The optimum word is "leisurely" with 4 to 5 cyclists abreast socializing, wandering across the center lane and many times not paying attention to oncoming traffic.

What I am suggesting is cycling in single line and if and when you want to spend time socializing find a good spot and get off the road. At the present tome many of these clubs that are socializing as they do while cycling is paramount to driving while using cell phones and may be more dangerous.

It won't be long before I have a series of pictures demonstrating cyclists failing to stop at stop signs, filing to use left turn signals, and on and on...

More importantly I though that this was a board to discuss these issues but from what I see it rather where if your agenda is questioned you simply vote out those who are not necessarily in opposition but who demonstrated cracks in the ongoing debate.

Cycling it not going to take over the world but the facts are there is a place and or the should be a place for such but it all must be accomplished in a realistic safe manner that compliments all other modes of transportation. If you are too narrow minded to see that...when and if cycling increases and maybe tomorrow a price will be paid. Have a good day.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted May 12, 2010 at 14:58:24

Cycling it not going to take over the world but the facts are there is a place and or the should be a place for such but it all must be accomplished in a realistic safe manner that compliments all other modes of transportation.

Yeah, people who oppose cycling always say "there should be a place" for cycling - and when pushed on that place, every single real place where cyclists ride bikes isn't it.

The "place" for cycling is between where cyclists are and where cyclists want to go.

If you're so narrow minded to see that cyclists also have a right to the road (see, we don't want the whole thing, just a safe slice of it - it's drivers who want the whole thing to themselves) that you issue veiled threats to cyclists "if cycling increases", you probably shouldn't be allowed to have a drivers licence at all.

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By Donald J. Lester (anonymous) | Posted May 12, 2010 at 18:54:52

z jones said,

"If you're so narrow minded to see that cyclists also have a right to the road (see, we don't want the whole thing, just a safe slice of it - it's drivers who want the whole thing to themselves) that you issue veiled threats to cyclists "if cycling increases", you probably shouldn't be allowed to have a drivers license at all.

That's exactly what I am saying, "just a safe slice of it" but I do have a license been driving for over 45 years never hit a cyclist, neither have I been involved or caused a major accident in this or any other province or country. Having said that I have paid my share of road taxes including taxes that are involved with trucks and autos.

To add to a previous statement I have also done my share of cycling..interesting you make interpretations that,"you, meaning me, issue veiled threats to cyclists which is not the facts...but rather safety for all who use our roads and for that we all need to understand that there is a code to which all adhere to, in order to prevent kayos on our roads and streets.

I find it interesting how interpretations,

"Yeah, people who oppose cycling always say "there should be a place" for cycling - and when pushed on that place, every single real place where cyclists ride bikes isn't it."

are generated to suit the writer but the facts are nothing of the sort was stated or implied. Perhaps taking a look at how Kitchener/ Waterloo manages to incorporate the use of the horse and buggy, in the Mennonite community might be helpful. True enough issues arose but discussions and common sense prevailed with common standards under the highway traffic act were satisfied to accommodate all that included cyclists. Most who have driven in that area do well to accommodate each other without the attitude of"you probably shouldn't be allowed to have a drivers license at all" or perhaps the question that should be examined is, do you have a cyclist plated, license with insurance? Just a thought....have great Day!


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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted May 13, 2010 at 12:06:21

z jones >> we don't want the whole thing, just a safe slice of it - it's drivers who want the whole thing to themselves

Those who believe in bike lanes are admitting that bikes do not belong on the road with cars. This being the case, the city should do everything in their power to keep cyclists as far away from cars. Since we know that cars and trucks need to access businesses, this would mean that bike lanes could not exist near busy roads.

The best idea is to create bike lanes on side streets, far away from people who need to get from A to B in a time sensitive manner. By creating bike lanes that use out of the way streets, cyclists will end up getting more exercise, while not interfering with people who work.

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By Donald J. Lester (anonymous) | Posted May 13, 2010 at 18:27:32

Ryan McGreal said,
"I strongly support the search for common ground, especially among groups with orthogonal or even opposing agendas; but I've always understood "common ground" to mean specific policy areas on which distinct groups can agree."

What is apparent here is there seems to little interest in developing a "common ground"
anything that is suggested to develop some framework for common ground is negated. Therefore there seems little point in following this post. From my view it seems as though those that claim to an authority "the cyclists" everything must be all their way..and to hell with common ground-

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By z jones (registered) | Posted May 13, 2010 at 19:34:04

@Donald, your concern trolling doesn't fool anyone. :P

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted May 14, 2010 at 09:58:23

Ryan did his best to place this discussion in a different context and we still end up arguing about bike lanes???

And sprayed on ones at that.

You could spray a bike lane on every road in town for all I care and I don't even bike, (embarrassing to admit, but I'm just not that good at it). It really is surprising to me that there could be this much vitriol about bike lanes, but they certainly seem to get some people all incensed.

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By Donald J. Lester (anonymous) | Posted May 14, 2010 at 10:10:09

The logic seem to have cycled out,Mr.z jones. When rational debate fails the response is to make some illusion in an attempt to character assassinate. Such behavior could be considered liable and perhaps you should read, "discussion guidelines"

Moreover I always though that Raisethehammer stood for issues for debate but it seems that some have adopted the political mantra. That is, if you unable to defend your position and have exhausted your ability to deliberate to further add momentum to your position, you chose to become defensive, followed by innuendos and liable statements.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted May 14, 2010 at 10:39:42

No Donald, the "logic" is that you have an irrational hatred of cyclists that you cloak in a lot of ten dollar words. Your "logic" consists of moaning about cyclists that don't follow the law (guess what, bike lanes encourage cyclists to follow the law) and that ride on streets you don't think they have any business riding on (guess what, you don't get to decide where someone else feels they need to go) and outrage that you're stuck behind some cyclist or god forbid several cyclists riding together and why can't they just go ride on a track somewhere.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted May 14, 2010 at 14:09:01

It can be a compromise or "middle ground" decision that shifts the momentum back towards a positive social impact and once that movement begins hopefully inertia takes over and bigger and better ideas can be implemented.

Guess what, Kiely? You're not actually talking about 'middle ground' here, you're talking about incrementalism, which is something I think most of us can buy into, and in fact has been the city's approach to the creation of bike lanes to date. Of course, as we can see, even the incremental introduction of bike lanes will never please the Donald J. Lesters and A Smiths of this world. This doesn't mean that the correct position is halfway between a continuous bike lane network and the big ol' goose egg that DJL and AS would like to see, it just means that we keep plugging away as you suggest, until we've won over the timid yet rational.

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By Donald J. Lester (anonymous) | Posted May 14, 2010 at 21:21:30

What I am trying to avoid seeing is:
Quebec truck crash kills 3 cyclists, injures 3

Read more:
http://www.cbc.ca/canada/montreal/story/2010/05/14/quebec-cycling-accident.html?ref=rss#ixzz0nxMTjOMf


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By highwater (registered) | Posted May 14, 2010 at 23:22:28

Then you should adore bike lanes because they reduce the number of accidents. Instead, you oppose bike lanes out of spite, condemning more cyclists to the type of accident you cite.

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By Donald J. Lester (anonymous) | Posted May 15, 2010 at 10:31:50

I have no issues with bike lanes what so ever..The only issue I have is:

"they chose to traverse in back country narrow roads four to five abreast, testing their weight and size against the weight of trucks, cars; while such roads are narrow and hilly they do not provide very good visibility at many times of the day, or evening, they seem, at times to be waiting for an accident to occur."

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By highwater (registered) | Posted May 15, 2010 at 13:23:50

Let's try the whole quote shall we?:

I would say bike lanes are an extreme politically correct venture.I have noted that such are hardly used; therefore I question how they can be included as a worth inclusion with regards to policy. What is worth noting, though cycle clubs advocated for such, they rarely use them. Rather they chose to traverse in back country narrow roads four to five abreast, testing their weight and size against the weight of trucks, cars; while such roads are narrow and hilly they do not provide very good visibility at many times of the day, or evening, they seem, at times to be waiting for an accident to occur.

If that's not issues with bike lanes, I don't know what is.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted May 15, 2010 at 14:12:56

Accidents, like the one in Quebec, prove that cyclists should not be allowed on busy roads, it's just not safe. It would be much better to create a cycling park, where people can relive their childhood, without also having to risk their lives.

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By Donald J. Lester (anonymous) | Posted May 15, 2010 at 16:25:30

"issues with bike lanes" in them selves I truly have no issue, what is the issue is building bike lanes that are not utilized...Perhaps what should be done is that counters should be place on the present bike lanes to calculate the amount of use. As a tax payer I have no issue with creating bike lanes that meet community needs; but I am opposed to creating such to accommodate one or two cyclists per day. I do agree that bike lanes in the downtown should be a priority based on realistic usage. Neither am I opposed to bikes on back road but the roads need to designated as bike routs with proper road width to accommodate safe cycling including other traffic. I also agree that as demand increases that when roads are repaved or updated serious consideration based on all traffic roads should be designed accordingly.

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