Preying on Fears Rather than Relying on Facts - TribPapers

Preying on Fears Rather than Relying on Facts

Photo by Fidel Fernando.

Weaverville – My wife, who makes drapes for a living, wants to go on vacation. At the same time, she has a client in Florida that wants some drapes. This client, told my wife we could stay at her house in Florida if my wife would measure for the drape installation. However, my wife doesn’t want to drive that far. Easy, I said, “let’s fly. It’s cheaper and faster.” Nope, she’s afraid of flying, even when statistics say we have a better chance of getting in an accident or killed while driving than if we fly. That’s an example of relying more on fear rather than the facts. 

Something similar happened at the April town council meeting. Weaverville Councilwoman Catherine Cordell made her best “fear over fact” pitch reminiscent of John Lennon’s Imagine song. Her cause? Changing the traffic pattern around Lake Louise to a one-way street. 

Her plea came during the segment of the meeting in which the council was discussing the topic and after several street residents made it clear they were not interested in the change to their road. One of those residents was Thomas Veasy, a former candidate for the board in the previous two elections. Veasy was forceful in his opposition to the proposed traffic pattern change and tried, on several other occasions after public comment and during the discussion, to continue his vocal opposition. Some of his attempts were successful, but Mayor Patrick Fitzsimmons finally told him, in kinder terms, the council had heard enough from him on the matter. 

So when Councilwoman Cordell did get to speak, it was with a distinct tone in her voice directed toward Veasy. “What I’d like to say is, Thomas,…we didn’t come up with this idea. We have been presented this idea by people who go to the lake and walk around the lake and feel like they are putting people’s lives in danger when they drive around the lake. And so the reason it’s on the agenda, in my opinion, and I can’t speak for everybody, it’s because we have heard it for the last five or six years. Somebody comes to us every year and says we should think about that. And so because we’ve been asked to think about it, I think we decided we should at least put it on the agenda, and we should listen to the goods and “bads” and what everybody else has to say about it.”

During the discussion, it was determined people’s “feelings of danger” were not empirically backed up by the facts. Especially when historic traffic actualities were revealed in the debate. Weaverville Police Chief Ron Davis presented the fact there had been only five motor vehicle accidents in the last ten years and that none of those had been pedestrians. In fact, no reported injuries to pedestrians have been reported in the previous 10 years, Davis told the board. 

Also, Weaverville Public Works Director Dale Pennell talked about the detrimental effects either a one-way road or speed bumps would have on his department trucks which use the road more than 100 times a day. 

Added to the fact that changing the road could hinder emergency vehicles’ response times or to more accidents with people not used to the new traffic patterns, it seems best to go with the old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” 

Davis summed it up pretty well when he said, “We don’t have any statistics that would suggest the roadway, although it might feel unsafe … is unsafe.” 

However, Cordell was on a no holds barred crusade, frequently interrupting Pennell during a response to the board where he interjected that there were no speed bumps in Weaverville, to which she piped out, “There needs to be some.”

That’s when she pulled out her best invocation of late singer John Lennon asking the council, “If we all knew there was going to be a kid who died every year and we don’t know which kid that’s going to be. It could be your grandchild, your child, my niece, your grand kid. Let’s just say, let’s pretend (imagine if you will) there’s going to be one child. I’m asking you, as a team, what can we do to solve this? What can we do to where this child is not killed…I think it’s better to have a slowed down response time than dead kids in the road.”

The hyperbole in Cordell’s plea was apparent, and it makes one wonder if she perhaps made a campaign promise about changing the traffic pattern at the lake. An undisclosed promise that she now is trying to keep. Cordell should not prey on people’s fears, but rather, she should start from the fact that there’s no problem as of yet or in the last decade. In contrast, there IS an empirical problem with supplying water outside the town to developers. The council’s time might be better used to solve that real problem rather than create a solution to a, perhaps, foreseeable yet not realized problem. Speculative solutions to non-existent problems will usher in uncertain outcomes nonetheless.

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