Cycling as a wedge issue.

From Wikipedia

A wedge issue, when introduced, is intended to bring about such things as:

  • A debate, often vitriolic, within the opposing party, giving the public a perception of disarray.
  • The defection of supporters of the opposing party’s minority faction to the other party (or independent parties) if they lose the debate.
  • The legitimising of sentiment which, while perhaps popularly held, is usually considered inappropriate or politically incorrect; criticisms from the opposition then make it appear beholden to special interests or fringe ideology.
  • In an extreme case, a wedge issue might contribute to the actual fracture of the opposing party as another party spins off, taking voters with it.

*emphasis added

When I think of wedge issues, I’m usually considering those that appeal to people’s feelings or beliefs as opposed to (and often intentionally bypassing) reason, not to mention fairness, the law, and human rights. It can be base politics at it’s most cynical. It’s another reason why I don’t pay much attention to most politics.

After many years as an Edmonton Sun columnist failed mayoral candidate Kerry Diotte, currently running for a federal nomination, knows a wedge issue when he sees it. He likes to fan the flames of hate towards cyclists because, like abortion, same sex marriage, and almost anything associated with fundamentalist religion, it’s a “wedge issue” and can get people fired up – often in the worst possible way – with righteous anger and a sense of injustice.

It’s populist politics at it’s worst – getting people riled up and convinced they are hard done by when they are really nothing of the sort. Or taking a small problem and making it bigger, while promising to do the opposite, to get people’s votes.

And it can work. See Toronto – Rob Ford (“War on cars!”). It’s the opposite of “Revenge of the Nerds”. Something like “Bullies Fight Back”. I’m bigger than you, and that’s all there is to it. Get out of my way, because I’m more important than you.

In a recent Facebook post Diotte inferred he didn’t ride a bike because cyclists look like Pee Wee Herman, insulting cyclists, and Pee Wee Herman for that matter. I guarantee if Diotte was running against Pee Wee Herman for anything he’d get slaughtered.

I think this particular wedge issue has proven to be a failed approach. I might refer to it a a sort of tyranny of the majority, but I don’t think those people are anywhere near a majority. Too many people have kids that ride their bikes, for one thing. He should have stuck with his flawed no-to-everything conservative fiscal policy, not that I’d ever consider voting for him.

One unfortunately predictable consequence is that the antipathy Diotte foments against cyclists can tend toward righteous fervour in some and can lead to a few drivers (strawman alert) massaging the chip on their shoulder with a kind of “I don’t know or care what the law says, they bug me and we need to get rid of them” attitude. “I’m right because I’m bigger than you”. They don’t want us on the roads, they don’t want paths for us, they don’t want a dollar spent on facilities.

And it can lead to conflict and confrontation on the road. Frontier justice. Those same bad drivers (who usually think the are great drivers) other motorists have to deal with can be real bad news for cyclists.

They are stuck in traffic and see a cyclist whiz by on their bike lane and they resent the few feet of space, feeling a sense of injustice. Or they see some kid on a bike doing something stupid and dangerous. I can see where some of that might come from. Some want to be able to drive as fast as they think they safely can with no distractions or delays. Despite, I don’t know, 70%+ of the city’s land mass given over to the motor vehicle, they think the answer is more roads and parking lots.

The main problem, for drivers (not cyclists), is obvious to anyone who has stood at the side of the road waiting for a bus and watched “rush” hour traffic go by – there are too many single person vehicles on the road. All going the same direction, and each carrying the equivalent of two couches, or more, and a closet, among other things.

I’m not inferring any of these people individually are the problem, or that they are bad people. They know what the problem is. They’re looking at it through their window. Too many cars on the road. It’s the cars that are in the way.

That’s why we need to provide alternatives to people, including public transit, cycling, skateboarding, running, and walking. It’s better for them, of course. But it’s also better for drivers who will never get out of their car. I know a lot of drivers who would rather take public transit, especially the LRT, but it doesn’t go where they want (yet). I already know people who ride to work, but I know a lot who’d like to as well, if the facility to do so was there.

One more person on a bike is one less car in driver’s way.

Kerry Diotte is a nice guy I’ve been told. He’s smart enough to know better. I don’t know if that makes it better or worse. What I do know, for sure, is that cyclists can find themselves on the receiving end of a lot of vitriol, and worse, as a more or less direct consequence of something he’s said or done. I’m a big man – I can take it. But I shouldn’t have to. And neither should the kids, students, couples, grandparents, siblings, friends, etc, who only want to be able to safely go for a nice ride on their bikes.

Diotte doesn’t want people to calm down and be rational, because then they won’t vote for him. Seriously.  He’s still selling papers, only now he’s trying to get his name in there. He’s intentionally polarizing and wants to get people talking about him. I’m only doing it once here, and take comfort in the fact I have a small (but mighty) readership that largely consists of people wanting to sell me, and you, dear reader, weight loss products.

At times like this I like to remind myself of the many drivers out there that have been very courteous to me. They are the vast majority. They don’t yell the loudest, and they aren’t angry all the time, so they can become invisible. They are the norm, and the norm, by definition, doesn’t stand out.

When I first began commuting I was struck by how courteous and understanding the drivers were, as opposed to what I had expected. I really didn’t really know what I was doing, and did some dumb things. Never had a single problem with a driver – even in Winter. Maybe it was the fact I adorned my bike with strings of Christmas lights 🙂 .

I think Edmonton is a great city to ride in, and it’s gotten much better. Some of this is thanks to better facilities, but most of it has to do with Edmonton drivers. They’ve been great for me, and the bad ones are the exceptions that prove the rule.

So thanks Edmonton drivers. Sincerely. And I’m not running for anything.

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