Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Ashland BRT and the Performance Culture of Opposition

There is a very defined and well understood culture of opposition. If you look at the recent community presentation for submitting comments to the Ashland BRT, and the stark dis-settlement of the opposition to the BRT by the format of that meeting then you can see what I mean. (See this article )They came to the meeting prepared to "raise a ruckus." That I can even describe their tactic with that colloquialism illustrates what I mean by culture of opposition. When instead of a traditional town hall format they expected, they were presented with a tables and placards open ended presentation of the plan with presenters ready to answer questions, they were dumb-founded.

Suddenly they were floundering. There was no platform for them to perform upon. There were no microphones attached to a sound amplification system at the ready for their performance. And especially vexing effect of this loss was that even were there television cameras at the ready, their performance depended upon the missing amplified stage.

In ones imagination it is easy to walk through the way they imagined it would play out. They would arrive at the event with at least five or six of them ready to play a set-piece role. When their turn to speak came, with their first speaker, an electric buzz of expectation would grip the room as their forces would draw the focus to the moment with shushes of those around each of the six, with shushed whispers of "listen to this" to those around, and a reverent payment of attention to the first of their speakers.

Their speaker would then begin, and like a preacher in a church would rouse their forces to righteous anger. An anger that would elicit confirming responses from the rest of them. Anger over a list of offensives that would rain on the entire community should the proposed changes come to pass. And when the first speaker was done the other five would await their turn to repeat the same performance over again. Each of them would be competing against the others of their group for the grand prize to be awarded to the winner; the prize of appearing on the evening news.

This is a performance much more difficult for the people supporting the changes to mount. Especially if the supporting side is organized solely by a government entity which by definition is not allowed righteous anger. And without righteous anger media are left bereft of attention grabbing drama for their audiences. Indeed the media are dependent upon the calm rational proponents to provide the unemotional background that will so highlight the righteous anger foregrounded by the opposition.

And you know quite well that the CTA knew very well what it was they were doing when they denied the opposition this opportunity of media attention. That fact, that the CTA knew what it was doing and knew to do it, was what first began to tell me that the fix was in. In this case a good fix of a dense urban environment that needs a denser transit in the form in this case of BRT. But a fix too in the sense that the mayor, not someone I particularly support, was likely going to stand behind this project to the end. A mayor who knows that he runs the aldermanic show and can allow individual alderman their luxury of appearing to be independent of the mayor and oppose the BRT. A mayor who knows that he may very well gain as many CTA rider votes as he loses from Ashland car drivers and business owners. Votes that he can well afford to lose anyway.

Add to that the fact that, as I have only learned in the last few months, that his hand picked head for the CDOT (Chicago Dept. of Trans.), Gabe Klein (recently having moved on) was picked because of his success in setting up bicycle sharing in DC. It begins to suggest that Rahm has bought into the urbanist ideological agenda of mass transit over individual transit in the densest parts of the city.

All this strongly suggests to me that the Ashland BRT is most definitely going to happen.

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