Post by Steven Dale
The 1950’s Looney Toons animated short Rabbit Fire is perhaps one of the best-known of all Bugs Bunny cartoons. It’s an influential piece of work that’s invited all kinds of scholarly conversation.
In it, the confused and generally helpless Elmer Fudd is hunting for rabbits. Self-servingly, Bugs Bunny convinces him that it’s not actually rabbit-hunting season. Bugs claims it’s duck-hunting season instead. This – quite understandably – raises the ire of Bugs’ long-time nemesis Daffy Duck (who appears out of nowhere).
The two engage in an almost never-ending argument over whether it’s Duck Season! or Rabbit Season! With no objective outside way to resolve the debate, Elmer becomes increasingly impatient and angry and lashes out, firing indiscriminately at both Bugs and Daffy.
The genius of the work is that there is no single authority to answer the question. Surely in the rational world outside of cartoons, a park ranger could answer the question very easily. Yet the film’s creators wisely leave all semblance of authority out of the debate as it increases the drama and prevents any side from having objectivity on their side (you’ll see where I’m going with this below).
I can’t help but imagine the LRT vs. BRT debate in much the same way.
Like the Duck Season! Rabbit Season! debate, both sides claim a position (LRT is the best! No, BRT is the best!) that is impossible to prove. The two sides are virtually equivalent, both with a performance-cost package relatively similar to each other. There are plusses and minuses to each, but both are reasonable facsimiles of each other.
Conveniently, authority is left out of the conversation and when such authority is brought in, it is typically just as partisan (see the National Bus Rapid Transit Institute and Light Rail Now! for two such groups) Like in the cartoon, it’s a great way to increase the drama, humor and entertainment value of the situation, but really only causes confusion, anger and frustration.
Unfortunately, in this debate, the public is cast as the exhausted and impatient hunter, Elmer Fudd. We’re mere observers in a debate that has no judge, no jury and no solution. We’re powerless onlookers whose opinion switches every moment we hear a new talking point. All we really know is that someone’s face is going to get blown off and – like in the cartoon – it’s likely to be our own.
One thing we’ve tried to do with The Gondola Project is get above the knee-jerk, reactionary mode-choice debate. LRT’s great when implemented in the right way, poor when implemented the wrong way. Ditto for BRT. Same for Urban Gondolas and CPT. Again, it’s about multi-modality and options. We believe transit planning isn’t a zero-sum game. It’s about match the right tool to the right task at the right price. Sadly, this is a position other transit advocates don’t seem to share.
Hopefully sometime in the near future, LRT and BRT will find a way to elevate their feud to something a little more than cartoon-level antics. Until then, it’s likely to be a never-ending farce resulting only in people getting hurt.
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