In my previous post, I wrote about the Mayor Watson’s decision remove a safe, legal detour for bicyclists while the Harmer Bridge is being replaced. A friend on Twitter, made this observation:
He’s right. There’s no political upside to this decision. Watson has high favourability numbers. He has no real competition in the upcoming election. There’s no clear political reason for this.
I mean, maybe he’s trying to paint Kitchissippi councillor Jeff Leiper into a corner (Leiper won’t toe the mayor’s line, regularly supports sane urban development and advocates for safe streets, so you can see why Watson wouldn’t like him), but the possible votes of 118 driving advocates probably aren’t going to make or break Leiper’s re-election. These people seemed unlikely to vote for him anyway.
(And his only challenger so far is Daniel Stringer, and that’s probably not much of a challenge.)
So, no, this isn’t a political calculation. It’s pretty clear the mayor is just a big booster of driving.
But there is a political dynamic underlying all this. There are many, many times we see driving advocates and politicians from car-centric communities (the latter being a sub-set of the former) oppose any projects that benefit non-drivers in central areas.
Because Watson isn’t doing this just (or maybe at all) for the Holland residents who signed the petition. He’s signalling to his core constituency in further out suburbs that he supports their unfettered (except for traffic) driving and will do what he can to ensure the car remains supreme.
He’s saying, don’t worry drivers, you still get to drive everywhere.
Allan Hubley and Jan Harder railed against the Main Street bike lanes because they didn’t want to take away car lanes (or just increase safety) in the suburbs.
Rick Chiarelli opposed a parking-free apartment building on Rideau Street near uOttawa, because he wouldn’t want there to be a parking-free building in College Ward. College Ward wants to drive and park in their ward, so Rideau-Vanier can never be improved!
We often see suburban councillors attempt to scuttle city-building projects for the supposed benefit of their constituents (they want ample car lanes downtown for driving; they won’t pay for bike lanes because they want low taxes). These rationales are often…irrational (and not even what all their residents necessarily want), and they’re generally misanthropic, but there is a direct link.
But what we’re seeing in these other examples is something different. It’s about sacrificing certain wards and certain neighbourhoods and certain people to maintain the illusion of a driving utopia for those in the outer suburbs.
So, no, there’s no political upside to endangering children, but there’s still a lot of politics to it.