23 February 2015

Do we need an anti-pedestrian lobby?

So the anti-20mph march on Saturday was pretty much a damp squib. It was a lovely crisp sunny morning and about 40 people turned up. 

I'm ever so slightly disappointed. 

I can't help thinking that it might be helpful to have an organised residents group that actually opposed policies that aim to make our streets more attractive to pedestrians, cyclists and public transport.

Currently the SNP, Labour and the Greens all support the 20mph roll out, and the Conservatives have mostly sensible things to say about transport.  

So, one of the reasons for the 'massive backlash' against the 20mph campaign is that when it was being planned and consulted on, no one lobbied against it or wrote to the newspapers in dismay, so most people just ignored it. 

Edinburgh's 20mph is just one part of a longstanding bundle of policies, wrapped up in the Local Transport Strategy, Active Travel Plan etc that's been chuntering through the system for years.  Councillors from all parties have been involved, and many users have been consulted, and that's why there is a fairly strong cross-party consensus

But while there are lobby groups pushing for more support to active travel, there are relatively few that will actively oppose it.  So we never really debate these issues - we just get opposing soundbites in the local paper.  

If we had a group willing to say that they didn't care about air pollution, or KSI rates, and actively wanted to reduce the number of cyclists on the roads, then we could actually have a robust debate about why we think more cyclists, less pollution and lower KSI rates is better.  

A hugely frustrating aspect of the current debate is that the anti-20mph folk just keep repeating the same opinions, with their fingers in their ears.  So they keep demanding 'facts'  and refusing to look at them. If there was actually a lobby against these things, they'd have to go to all the same meetings that we do, read all the reports, and respond to all the consultations.   I'm not saying they'd change their minds, but it would blow a huge hole in their 'we weren't asked' and 'nobody consulted me or my mum' repertoire. 

They'd have to answer tough questions from reporters when asthma  rates went up, childhood obesity increased further or respond to the grief of parents and loved ones widowed too soon.  They'd have to face the reality of their policies.

I'd like to see that.

1 comment:

Stephan Matthiesen said...

Such attitudes don't work that way. It's the same with climate skeptics, astrology, homeopathy, anti vaccination and any number of claims not supported by rational evidence. They survive exactly because proponents don't organise into lobby groups that engage in debate.

All these groups can only operate by getting their opinion out wherever they can and then retreat before they are seriously challenged, and then confirm each other in the comment sections and facebook groups where critics are absent.

This hit-and-run strategy can successfully influence the audience, as most people will not really have the time to look at claims in detail. So the availability heuristics kick in: claims that you hear repeated a lot surely must be right ("no smoke without fire")?

You can also observe the Gish gallop: State as many claims as possible as quickly as possible, without giving sources. The critics will have to research the evidence, very time-consuming, and they will never catch up so that there will always be claims the haven't been disproved (yet).

"20mph increases accidents" - so you go to the original numbers and see that the Will Rogers phenomenon explains the apparent increase. Never mind, "20mph also increases pollution" - so you wade through technical papers on pollution ...

Yes, it would be great to have a systematically organised anti-pedestrian lobby that engages in a clear debate, states their assumptions and presents their arguments. Just like it would be great to have an climate skeptics lobby, an astrology lobby, an anti-vaccination movement that actually engaged in debates and not just shout out their opinion and then retreat.