Love People and Use Things

By Brent Woodcox

The title for this post comes from a recent talk I heard given by American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks. He said that the formula for happiness can be summarized as thus: "Love people and use things." It's when we get those things backwards, when we use people and love things, that we seal ourselves off from the potential for happiness. Unfortunately, it seems that in recent weeks certain Raleigh City Councilors are trying to use people to get the things they want and it is restricting the potential for happiness for people in our city.

Take, for instance, the current controversy that Raleigh District B City Councilor David Cox is trying to stir up regarding a scheduled road widening project on Falls of the Neuse just north of 540. At June meeting of Raleigh's Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Commission, Councilor Cox tried to suggest that a project involving bicycle and pedestrian facilities on Atlantic Avenue could be substituted for the road widening project to the north and funded by the same state money. When he was corrected by Transportation Planning Manager Eric Lamb who informed him that the two projects could not be swapped given the existing state funding process, he refused and talked over him saying it was only a matter of "politics." The reality is that it is a matter of state law. Something that Councilor Cox has no power to change. See the exchange at the video embedded below. 

This later led to Mayor Nancy McFarlane publicly calling out Councilor Cox at the July 3 city council meeting and telling him to "stop misleading the public" on the Falls of Neuse project. The mayor is not often so openly confrontational with other council members in a public setting so it is clear that she felt this case of manipulation of the issue by Councilor Cox was particularly egregious.

It's also worth remembering here that Councilor Cox and Raleigh District E City Councilor Stef Mendell earlier this year shot down two bicycle lane projects on streets in their districts in favor of preserving parking spaces for cars on both sides of the street. So if there is suddenly an interest in supporting bicycle and pedestrian facilities, these people are relatively recent converts to the cause.

And is Councilor Cox's approach really to favor support for expanded public transit, bicycle and pedestrian improvements on Falls of Neuse to solve any congestion issues affecting that area? No, as it turns out he doesn't actually oppose widening roads, he just opposes widening roads that are in his backyard. Roads that are in other people's backyards are perfectly fine for widening projects according to him. 

Councilor Cox has a severe credibility problem when it comes to preferring transit, bike and pedestrian projects as an alternative to widening roads. He is trying to paint himself as a friend to bike and ped advocates, but in reality, he's just up to his usual NIMBY tactics of preventing things from affecting his neighborhood that he is perfectly content to foist onto others.

What about Councilor Stef Mendell? It seems that despite her opposition to bike lanes on Glen Eden Drive because they might force people to park across the street from their homes or cause inconveniences for the gardeners and lawn care service providers that people who live on that road hire, she too now has become a sudden transit, bicycle and pedestrian advocate as a way to fight growing traffic flow problems in Raleigh.

When pointed out to her that high density transportation patterns are fundamentally inconsistent with low density residential patterns and that her actions to fight any additional density in housing in the city necessitates the very thing she says she opposes, she is without an answer.

Again, these folks have a severe credibility problem when it comes to supporting the types of changes in our city that will allow it become more walkable, bikeable and friendly to public transit.

No different than how they want to use people with disabilities to justify a crack down on sidewalk dining even though it has been repeatedly confirmed by city staff that city government buildings are not living up to 2018 standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act. If these people truly want to help people with disabilities, then it seems like they might show a little more interest in getting their own house in order. 

In this case, Councilor Cox and Councilor Mendell want to use advocates of increased transit access and people who support adding bicycle and pedestrian facilities onto our streets to block road projects that they oppose. They have shown absolutely no inclination to actually support these measures when NIMBY neighbors speak out against bike lanes though.

Love people and use things. Unfortunately, the opposite approach is true of some current Raleigh city leaders. They're trying to use people to get the things they want.

The least we can expect from our city leaders is honesty, integrity, and forthrightness when it comes to advocating for public policy. They should not be manipulative and conceal their true motives for supporting or opposing ideas. 

If these councilors can't provide that leadership to Raleigh, they should step aside in favor of those who can.

Brent Woodcox