Last night we attended an information session in our neighbourhood about a proposed transitway project that would run from here to downtown. We got there early, and just as well. The hall was already full, and the lineup to get in was short.
There were lots of display boards with maps, which I'm a big fan of. I love maps. Lots of display boards with Q&A from previous sessions, and other information. There were several places to provide feedback via sticky notes. The room was full of people milling around reading the displays and talking to each other. Lots of city staff, including our city councillor (used to be alderman) were on hand to answer questions, and what I saw were polite and cheerful people receiving questions that ranged from polite to mildly upset. I gather that changed after we left.
Some of the comments revolved around parking, fearing that someone from outside the neighbourhood would park in front of their house, or in the local shopping mall parking lot. Fearing that transit would bring in the homeless. Fearing that Transit Oriented Development would happen. Fearing that a lane a few inches narrower, but still within the safety standards, would be beyond the abilities of other drivers to handle. (Not them, oh no!) Fearing that not only was there insufficient ridership, there never ever would be sufficient ridership. Fearing vast parking lots that would attract crime. Fearing that running buses on an expanded 14th street would crush the gas pipelines underneath.
Fear, fear, fear. When did we become so afraid?
There's an important place for community feedback. Our taxes pay for the projects, and we should have some input on it. There is approval, constructive feedback, and essentially 3 kinds of disagreement, of which only two are legitimate. I call them rational, ignorant, and stupid.
The first, rational, presents whatever facts can be marshalled against the proposal, or in favour of alternative proposals. Actual real true facts, instead of made up 'facts' that are actually uninformed opinion. If you have the facts on your side, you don't need to yell.
The second, ignorance, isn't an insult. It's people that might be against a project because they don't understand it, or don't realize there was a need, or don't realize their concern has been addressed in the design, or that things have changed since they first heard of it. They have questions because they don't know yet, or the informational materials aren't clear. Even though there may have been many opportunities to learn about the project, there could be any number of reasons why they haven't taken advantage. But that you personally weren't consulted isn't a reason to oppose the project. People in this boat might be upset but mostly recognize that yelling is counterproductive. The end result could range from, oh ok, to holy crap that's where my house is.
The third, stupidity, is opposition for the sake of opposing, or a willful failure to understand the facts, or worst of all, because they won't get anything out of it or a group they don't like will get something. The guy that says that we don't need the transitway because area residents will take their Mercedes downtown, not a bus, fall into this category. When you don't have the facts on your side, but feel emotionally driven for some reason, you end up yelling.
Let me just say that several of the neighbourhoods near the transitway are some of the most affluent in the city, and that most could be described as well off. I've lived here 30 + years and can categorically say that Mercedes are not thick on the roads here. The existing buses and LRT are well used.
Somewhere along the line we seem to have lost community spirit. The idea we were all in this together has gone away. That your personal issues didn't matter as much as what was good for the overall community. There was a balance between the needs and desires of an individual, and the overall community, and there was a recognition that the balance might be difficult.
But too many people now feel their personal issues come first, every time, ahead of the community at large, and every other person individually. Their objections show no sense of community. They don't object to the cell tower because it's ugly, and disguising it would mollify them. No, they object to it as a thing, even as they use it to tweet their outrage. How dare I have to look at a cell tower! A temporary inconvenience during construction is enough for them to say that it shouldn't be done at all.
Someone at a previous office once asked how my weekend was, and I told them I'd had a great bike ride out south and west of the city. Pedal bike, not motor bike. Well, holy doodle. She exploded. That's where she lived. Us bikers were Satan incarnate. We had no place on the roads. The roads were for cars because the roads were paid for with gas taxes, (which were much too high), so only cars should be on them. We slowed down the traffic, and throwing stuff at us or trying to run us off the road was good sport. Upon being asked, she said that farm or construction vehicles shouldn't be using the roads either during daylight hours. No matter it was safer for all concerned for slower vehicles to be on the road in daylight. Motorcycles were a menace because they went too fast, but speed limits were a plot against nature. And road construction, she took that hard. Being detoured, or told to wait while they repaired a road was a personal assault. You only think I'm overstating the case. No. This was all blurted out with deadly seriousness as we waited for the coffee to finish brewing.
I found out later through media reports, that things got heated at the transitway meeting. Swearing. Pushing, shoving. It was reported there was a death threat. I don't know of this personally. It seems that future in-person information sessions for the transitway have been cancelled. The people in other neighbourhoods will have to make do with on-line feedback due to the stupidity and thoughtlessness of a few people.
It was as you'd expect it to be when we were there. But there was a long line up to get in, and there was a group against the project inciting the crowd. I heard a number of untruths as we were walking out. Several tweets mentioned these people were less than polite. This is shameful. I don't understand what they think they're going to accomplish.
Somewhere along the line it became acceptable for a small, but vocal minority to use any and all tactics to stall or permanently block a project they don't like, no matter the benefit to many other people. The USA has that disease really bad, and I fear it's just getting started here.
I think the root of it is fear of the other, and fear of change. People that are different, and a trivially small difference is enough. Most Canadians seem to be welcoming the Syrian refugees, but I've heard some hateful things. Somehow, they are simultaneously terrorists coming here to blow us all up, while taking all the money in benefits away from decent honest Canadians while not working, and yet stealing jobs from those same decent honest Canadians. They don't even realize how stupid they sound. Our next door neighbours are immigrants, and it's all worked out perfectly fine.
Fear of change is understandable, but it's even worse than the "screw you Jack, I've got mine." It's, "I've got mine, and I want to fix it so that I don't have to share, and you don't even have a chance of getting some for yourself." It doesn't matter if the subject at hand is a ring road, a transitway, an LRT extension, power lines, pipelines, food banks, homeless shelters, or it could be almost anything. Some of the objections are valid, and some are completely a waste of time, and I feel for the people on the receiving end.
I hope the police can identify the people that disrupted last night's meeting, and they are charged. City staff shouldn't have to put up with that kind of abuse.