Alex Bikes

Ottawa bike politics.

The real problem in changing transportation strategies

You do not have to look far to find research that shows that our current car-oriented investment yields a poorer quality of life with a higher burden on taxpayers. So why does nothing change?

It is too bad that I couldn’t go to the City of Ottawa Planning Summit held today put on by Councillor Peter Hume. It is an easy thing for me to like: the speakers were all able to defend our need for smart intensification with support for sustainable transportation.

There’s also a repetition from Mayor Jim Watson that this time we’ll actually hold true to the Operating Plan, Transportation Master Plan, etc. That’s great to hear! But I doubt that can be true, and here’s why.

You probably think I have it in for Councillor Stephen Blais

Actually, Councillor Blais is just fine; I disagree with him sometimes, but he’s responsive and because of him I’m more likely to spend time drinking beer on a patio. He’s an easy example of people who have been given the power to make really bad and uninformed decisions.

We were chatting on twitter about his recent announcement that the expansion of Highway 174 was accelerated. I don’t know Mr. Bus, but this is a pretty common question from anyone familiar with how road widening is unsustainable.

You’ll notice Councillor Blais’s response has nothing to do with the actual question. It seems like more of an excuse. I’ve never seen him answer this actual question.

Then there’s more concern from people about how it’ll reduce transit use, produce longer commutes in the end, etc. What’s notable is how he finishes it off. To me, this explains everything:

My initial reaction was to interpret this as “I got elected so I don’t need to defend my choices with evidence! <insert Nelson ha-ha here>”. But I think he’s right that this is how democracy operates. How disappointing!

He’s told citizens of Ward 1 they’re going to get to work faster. All research shows we’ll all get a fatter tax bill, transit will be worse, and we’ll have more unsustainable sprawl. Councillor Blais isn’t doing anything to dissuade them, so it is easy for him to get elected and support what’s in fact bad for us.

Fact-based arguments

I’m happy to have a fact-based argument that widening highways is bad, but I’ll only bother if opponents come armed to the knife fight. Too many of them turn into discussions like this.

And then nothing; Mr. Ant just leaves us hanging (despite some prodding). So I waisted several minutes of googling and never got the argument I was hoping for. He asked for evidence and then just walked away.

And the problem is…

The problem is that voters are poorly informed and end up voting for whatever helps them directly and immediately. We’ll always be limited by what the electorate thinks they want. And they’re just not that smart.

If the City does put into place plans that make sense and that they stick to, we’ll be in a good place. But either the councillors will get voted out, or they’ll be scared enough of losing their jobs they’ll back down. I know there’s exceptions, but this sufficiently true that major changes in council will be rare.


2 responses to “The real problem in changing transportation strategies

  1. Josh Audette April 26, 2012 at 8:54 pm

    “The problem is that voters are poorly informed and end up voting for whatever helps them directly and immediately. We’ll always be limited by what the electorate thinks they want. And they’re just not that smart.”

    This implies that our representatives are as ill-informed and dumb as the voters they represent. Voters don’t want to be informed; they don’t want to be smart. They want to choose a representative who will be those things so they don’t have to. That tiny percentage of citizens who want to be informed and smart themselves are those who interact more directly with their reps.

    I think you’re right to say that our representatives have the power to make really bad and uninformed decisions. I imagine there’s a small overlap in the Venn diagram of “people who have the intellect / skills to be smart and informed on a large variety of topics” vs. “people who go into politics”. Then factor in the topics our representatives are willing to put time and effort into being informed about.

    I think there’s more to this concept of many groups of small numbers of citizens caring deeply about their own, varied pet topics. If you’ve ever read Neal Stephenson’s “Cryptonomicon”, there’s a scene where Randy’s family figures out how to divvy up Grandma’s furniture according to how much each family member cares.

    I wish there were some system where citizens could directly represent their own interests in this way.

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