Much of Cascade’s success over the past decade comes from our firm belief in following facts, data and studies — letting them guide our work. Gone were the histrionics and hyperbole that typified some well-meaning advocates of the past — and with our evolution came more access, greater credibility and measurable progress toward developing bicycle-friendly communities. Where we flounder is when we come face to face with opponents for whom the facts mean nothing or just don’t matter, and it’s not just us left scratching our heads.
It seems many of us are coming to a similar conclusion regarding recent battles over what should be non-controversial roadway safety projects. Erica Barnett and Josh Cohen at Publicola and Tom Fucoloro at Seattle Bike Blog all note how the debate has wrongly centered on a “cars vs. bikes” meme — not that that has kept the so-called mainstream media from continuing to portray it as such — and that opponents generally have the facts wrong. Michael Snyder at Seattle Likes Bikes goes so far as to suggest that we’re winning battles but losing the war.
“At every turn, we lead in with the very strong problem statements. We engage drivers by talking about their inability to make left hand turns and how often they already block a lane of traffic making those turns…”
While I don’t agree completely with his criticism of a fact-based approach to explaining the need, purpose, and benefits of these projects, it’s clear that the framing (in combination with the MSM’s desire to keep the issue focused on the false trade-off) isn’t working. We’re not mobilizing enough of the pro-community base, nor are we changing the minds of enough of the project opponents.
To better understand the public mood and how we should frame the debate, Cascade Bicycle Club contributed to a phone poll of likely Seattle voters earlier this month. The results showed broad support for the kinds of projects that have garnered so much attention and drawn so much withering fire.
“City projects that improve transit efficiency, or make it safer and easier to walk or bicycle, like bus-lanes, pedestrian refuge islands, and bicycle lanes, sometimes require changes in travel lanes or parking on Seattle streets. In general, do you support changes in the configuration of Seattle’s streets that make mass transit, walking and bicycling safer and easier?”
While the poll clearly demonstrates ideological alignment the question remains, what separates the hypothetical support from the actual support for these projects that can be fairly characterized as win-win? Brilliant suggestions are welcome and encouraged. Please feel free to comment below.
Until we come up with a better approach, continue sending your emails to SDOT and continue sending your letters to the Seattle Times – and we’ll continue to put our research, resources and muscle behind safer, more equitable transportation in Seattle and throughout the region.