Snap your finger, Bill — feedback

Bruce Wark, writing from an HRM neighborhood where the ban on overnight parking is not enforced, critiques my critique of the ban:

[Y]ou use “reasonable accommodation” as though you have proved it. It is as though you are saying that your assertion in the first paragraph is sufficient to support what you’re saying in the second. The rules of logic say that he who asserts must prove. Furthermore, your assertion that “traffic tsar” Ken Reashor “evinces no interest in reasonable accommodation” is a neat, but logically unconvincing way of first, labelling Reashor as a Russian dictator, then glossing over necessary proof by using the verb “evinces.” Where has Reashor evinced this lack of interest? What did he actually say and to whom? Did you talk to him yourself?

You acknowledge that “some car owners will neglect to remove their car during snowstorms.” Why is this not a problem? You go on to assert that “Reashor finds it convenient to punish the entire city.” But that begs the following question: If the parking ban is limited to periods when snow is actually being cleared, what incentive would car owners have to make alternate arrangements? Is it not possible that risking two or three $50 tickets would be cheaper than paying for four months of off-street parking? It’s not necessary for me to argue that car owners are necessarily irresponsible, only that they may be unrealistically optimistic about the number of snow storms in an unpredictable climate. Besides, if the snow does start to fall overnight, where are car owners supposed to move their vehicles if they haven’t already made alternative arrangements? We all know from experience that snow can fall unexpectedly overnight. So why is public safety necessarily a “specious claim” and what proof do you have for your assertion that “the real goal is bureaucratic convenience?”

Reashor is a “tzar” in the metaphorical sense that provincial legislation imunizes him from oversight by the council elected to run HRM. “Tzar” is a common, if irreverent, journalistic locution for unelected officials who exercise power without oversight. Reashor evinced no interest in a reasonable accommodation of the public’s desire for on-street parking on snow-free nights in the brief declaration he issued imposing the ban — a declaration I linked to in the original post. His declaration omits any reference the inconvenience it will cause the majority of law abiding citizens who do remove their cars from the streets during snow storms. It merely advances — without the proof Wark demands of me — a claim of public safety I find specious.

Claims of public safety trip lightly off the tongues of law enforcement and regulatory officials. The US Transportation Safety Board claims public safety requires the Halifax Seaport Market to keep its glorious harbor-facing doors closed at all times, and to surrender one-quarter of its floorspace whenever a cruise ship is in port. Toronto Police claim public safety required the use of massive force against protesters at last year’s G-20. The Canadian Air Transport Safety Authority claims public safety precludes citizens carrying standard tubes of toothpaste onto commercial airliners. The security zealots at the Nova Scotia Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal claim public safety demands I show photo ID before entering the Joe Howe Building. Stephen Harper thinks public safety demands throwing dope smokers in jail.

These claims have proliferated in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Invocation of “public safety” does not facilitate debate; It trumps debate, and it is rarely buttressed by any persuasive argument.

I do agree with Wark on one point: it is a problem when car owners fail to remove their cars from the streets during snow emergencies. Not a public safety calamity, but a problem. It makes snow plowing more difficult and less effective. Reashor has an interest in deterring this behaviour. My objection to his method is that it is disproportionate to the problem. It targets scores of innocent car owners for every miscreant; it makes no distinction between nights when snow plowing takes place and the far greater number of nights when it does not. Such a massive overreaction, IMHO, constitutes prima facie evidence of a lack of interest in reasonable accommodation.

If $50 fines are insufficient deterrent, and they may be, why not increase the fine, but apply it only to the scofflaws? Why not carry out frequent towing blitzes during and immediately after storms, and charge those towed for the full cost plus a punitive surcharge?

This touches on another aspect of the blanket ban. Fining the innocent generates windfall revenue for HRM, which may be why some city officials, and councillors from neighborhoods where it is not enforced, are happy to have a traffic tzar to blame for the system.