I just stumbled upon an interesting piece in the Boston Globe (from last December) talking about how the bicycle is “emerging as a new conservative front in the culture wars.”
It starts by talking about Toronto mayor Rob Ford and asks: Who elected this guy? Their response comes down to mode of transport.
The answer, in large part, comes down to transit. Ford is famously pro-car, and his strongest support came from suburbs outside downtown Toronto, where voters drive into the city during the day and return by car in the evening. One political scientist found that the strongest predictor of whether someone voted for Ford in the 2010 mayoral election was the person’s method of commuting: Car commuters were Ford voters; everyone else wasn’t. Ford repaid their loyalty by declaring on his first day as mayor that the “war on cars” was over; he abolished the vehicle registration tax and announced a plan to kill light rail in the city simply because, he said, streetcars “are just a pain in the rear end.”
The article then goes on to argue that Ford is at the forefront of a growing conservative movement using bikes as a new political lightning rod. Conservative politicians view cyclists as urbanites (statistically this is true) and therefore not part of their core voter base (statistically this is also true). And so hating on bikes has become a convenient way for them to galvanize their support base.
But beyond bikes, we’re really talking about a bigger city building issue: How do you unify a city with such divergent priorities? How do we stop this downtown versus the suburbs mentality? These are important questions and I don’t think the answer is to de-amalgamate Toronto. That’s the easy way out.
Whether we like it or not, the Toronto region functions as one contiguous economic unit and, if we want to be able to effectively compete on the global stage, we’re going to need cohesion. We need to get our house in order. It’s still early days for Toronto’s 2014 mayoral election, but I really hope the next 4 years turn out to be better than the last. I think they will.