11
Oct

2011

Burnaby Mountain vs. No Gondola

Post by Steven Dale

(Voluntary Disclosure: This past summer I was retained by Translink – at their behest – to meet with stakeholders in Vancouver associated with the Burnaby Mountain Gondola proposal; tour the proposed route of the gondola; and give a presentation to select staff of Translink and CH2M Hill on best practices in Cable Propelled Transit systems. The opinions expressed below are my own professional opinion and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Translink, CH2M Hill nor either of their staffs.)

No Gondola actively opposes the Burnaby Mountain Gondola.

During a Weekly Roundup post last week we linked to the No Gondola site and stated that the site had “cherry-picked” certain stats from Translink’s Phase II Public Consultation Report regarding the Burnaby Mountain Gondola.

As No Gondola is fiercely against the Burnaby Mountain Gondola, the term “cherry-picking” was not well-received and resulted in one of the more ugly debates to appear on The Gondola Project. This wasn’t an entirely unfamiliar incident as something similar occurred during another Weekly Roundup from earlier in the summer.

So let’s avoid the term “cherry-picking” and highlight the selective reading of Translink’s report that No Gondola is engaging in:

No Gondola (as well as commenters on this site) have consistently stated that “75% strongly disagree with proposed gondola.”

Fine. But who are those 75%?

As Translink’s report states explicitly, those are 75% of the 561 “self-selected” individuals who participated in Translink’s public consultation process. The “self-selected” adjective is copiously absent from No Gondola’s commentary.

In other words, this sample is hardly representative of the population as a whole.

If you went into an Apple store and asked everyone in there if they liked PCs, I suspect you’d find around 75% of respondents would say PCs are garbage. Maybe more.

Bias and self-selection within any kind of study pretty much invalidates the results of said survey. We saw this previously in the Neumann & Bondada studies (here and here) where planners with no knowledge of Cable Propelled Transit solutions ranked them lower in efficacy than those planners with Cable Propelled Transit understanding.

Nevertheless, No Gondola has chosen to use this questionable statistic as evidence that “the citizens of B.C. do not support spending $120+ million on a gondola on Burnaby Mountain.”

Suddenly it’s not just Burnaby Mountain/Forest Grove residents that object to the project. It’s not even just the residents of Vancouver. It’s the entire population of British Columbia.

How can they make that statement? Easy: They can’t.

This kind of weak reasoning and purposeful manipulation of statistics is unconscionable and has no place in community advocacy. By engaging in these kinds of techniques and tactics, the No Gondola group have unequivocally stated their willingness to lie and manipulate facts to get people on their side.

As justification for their willful manipulation of facts, commenter Eric states that “Translink is far from a paragon of honesty and virtue when it comes to communication with the community.”

Whether accurate or not, I think it important to remember what our mothers always told us: Two wrongs don’t make a right. It may be a a cliché; it may be trite; and it may be naive – but it’s also a good rule to live by.

If you can’t get people on your side with the truth, then maybe (repeat: maybe) your side doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on to begin with.

If we (CUP Projects) engaged in that kind of commentary, we’d be out of business next week.

Honesty is important – especially when it comes to winning the hearts and minds of people. As we’ve stated on this site previously, we feel that public engagement is a commitment to compromise, not an act of war.

In the end, we’re no fans of the public consultation process Translink has engaged in with this project and question what we feel is an inflated cost for the system. Do these two things invalidate the gondola? Maybe. But that’s not for us to say.

We can comment from afar but that’s about as far as it goes.

On paper, the concept is sound and makes a lot of sense – and in the end, the route alignment proposed is the most logical of the options available. Unfortunately that route alignment is what makes this system so controversial.

We certainly sympathize with Forest Grove residents and even agree with many of their complaints (see our perspective on NOMBYism here) – but I object strongly with the means they’re using to get their way.

It’s manipulative and dishonest, and highly unlikely to win them the support they expect.



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Comments

  1. I've been reading Proofiness - The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception by Charles Seife, which I recommend to anyone (as it helps in the understanding of spotting BS). The book leaves me in no doubt that indeed a bit of "cherry-picking" was going on, and "cherry-picking" is the exact right word for No Gondola's claim of 75% non-support. I too don't think partisan arguing from the trenches makes for the best of reading and the Gondola Project is all the better for not having too much of it, and I also think that your editorial policy in regards to Nimbyism, or Nombyism is fair and balanced, and even when listening to legitimate claims about loss of privacy etc, it is not unreasonable to point out that some of those fears are unfounded or overstated. The Pilatus Bahn is a good example of a gondola in an urban setting. The Cairns Skyrail is a good example of the low impact gondolas could have on a forest, and is relevant to the route chosen on Burnaby Mountain, and showing the Colombian and Venezuelan examples of augmenting a metro system with urban gondolas is also of direct relevance here. Fairness, a lack of cherry-picking data, good examples of the appropriate use of the technology, and an acceptance that aerial gondolas aren't the right solution for every problem make for a credible, consistent case that the website presents. Giving short shrift to the cherry-pickers is probably a good idea. When they make the same arguments over and over again, not listening to anyone, then moderating them seems like an appropriate editorial policy.