I was dismayed to read a letter to the editor in the Spectator today that contained blatant factual inaccuracies.
"They say light rail transit will free our city of much of the automobile traffic," wrote J. Alan Rea, "when we all know that rail cannot climb the escarpment to service the areas where most people live."
In just a single sentence, the writer manages to pack in a straw man argument and two false statements:
In case you forgot, this is just one sentence!
I can overlook the strawman argument - that's just par for the course, although I wish it weren't. And the error regarding population density, well, you have to do some basic arithmetic to fact-check that, and besides, you can always draw new lines on maps to support your argument.
But the bit about how trains can't climb the escarpment is just plain ridiculous. Anyone with even a slight awareness of Hamilton's LRT plans knows about the A-Line.
The Spectator editors have far more than just a slight awareness: they are knowledgeable about, and very supportive of, light rail transit. They know that this statement is incorrect.
So why publish this letter, then? The Spectator wants to retain "balance". They've published cogently argued letters, opinion pieces, and editorials in favour of LRT, including a recent one by RTH editor Ryan McGreal.
In return, they feel they need to devote space on the editorial pages to letters opposing LRT. I don't have a problem with that, but I do have a problem when those letters contain false statements.
LRT should be debated, I believe, on the basis of return on investment (ROI). Does investing in LRT return benefits, in terms of economic development, traffic reduction, quality of life improvement, and so on, equal to or greater than the sum invested?
That's a worthy subject of debate, but instead, valuable editorial space is spent arguing over non-issues such as whether or not trains can go up hills. That impoverishes the debate and that, in my opinion, is a disservice to readers.
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