The flurry of facts, figures and studies surrounding the benefits of change are no match for a compelling narrative.
By Jason Allen
Published September 11, 2012
Andrew Dreschel wrote a column in The Spectator yesterday that is sure to cause some hand-wringing among the downtown renewal set.
In it, he accuses Councillors Jason Farr and Brian McHattie of recklessness in their motion to create an implementation team for two-way streets in Wards 1 and 2.
To their credit, what McHattie and Farr seem to have done is galvanize a vocal group of downtown renewal enthusiasts and breathe new life into the two-way street debate.
What they seem not to have done particularly well, however, is play the political game.
Dreschel may be right when he says that the recent online surge in support for two-way streets appears to have gotten the better of them, prompting an apparently unexpected motion to be sprung on a council that likes nothing so little as surprises.
This would be unusual from a seasoned politician like McHattie, who has a track record of shepherding difficult motions through council - e.g. the no-truck status and the bike lanes on Dundurn, and a variety of 'car-unfriendly' pedestrian crossings.
My questions are: did McHattie and Farr know what support they would have before they walked into council? Had they done their pre-work inquiring as to their colleagues' views before introducing the motion? Did they know (as a result of these conversations) what the objections would be, and have facts and arguments and compelling narratives lined up to sway Council's view?
If so - and I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt - the process broke down somewhere and we'll probably never quite know where. If not, it raises the question: knowing that there would be tremendous opposition to this from suburban councillors, would the outcome have been different had the political game been played more adroitly?
If Dreschel is correct, and McHattie and Farr did fall sway to the (relatively) small surge of support for two-way streets downtown, they made a mistake that seems to be common on RTH, Twitter, and other online hangouts for downtown renewal enthusiasts: thinking that because our arguments just make so much logical sense, the strength of our rhetoric will sway a largely suburban electorate.
It would appear that the two-way streets issue has been let down by the same process that has failed to make a case for broad action on climate change. The flurry of facts, figures and studies surrounding the benefits of change are no match for a compelling narrative.
In this case, the narrative we are up against is a Lovecraftian tale of "gridlock", late day-care pick-ups and road rage. Story beats statistics, every time.
The reality is that even though this issue affects those of us living downtown in great disproportion to those who voted against it - suburban councillors largely don't care. People who live in the suburbs and exurbs love - love - one-way streets and their ability to move quickly through a downtown core that has no relevance or attraction to them.
Those of us who support two-way streets need to start telling a convincing story about what life will be like once the downtown returns to a liveable, walkable state.
Not necessarily what life will be like for downtown residents - that's obvious - but what it will be like for those living in Dundas and Waterdown, and why it will be better for them too.
It's true that nobody in Ancaster or Flamborough has one way streets, and it's true that one-ways impact downtown residents disproportionately, and that's just not fair.
But unless we tell a compelling story as to why two-ways will benefit those residents to a greater extent than the inconvenience of their lengthened commute, they will vote us down every time. Unless we sell them on the "What's In It For Me", it is simply never going to happen.
This is the realpolitik of the situation, and there is no avoiding it.
So who has a story they would like to tell?