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Urban Compass Calgary

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Voices of support for Calgary's Bus Rapid Transit are speaking out

New group models itself after successful cycle-track campaign

Olympic gold medalist Christine Nesbitt is one of many Calgarians taking part in a new campaign supporting the SW BRT.

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Olympic gold medalist Christine Nesbitt is one of many Calgarians taking part in a new campaign supporting the SW BRT.

After half a year of toxic discourse over bus rapid transit (BRT) in southwest Calgary, it’s refreshing to see a new campaign start to change the tone.

It’s a welcome approach. And it’s succeeded before.

Rather than inserting itself into the shouting match, the Calgarians for BRT campaign is taking a different tack.

“We’re trying to re-elevate the conversation back to why this is not only good for the southwest, but for Calgary in general,” says co-founder Charlene Wilcock.

The concept is simple.

Identify people who support the project, photograph them holding a sign that says “we support SW BRT,” and spread those images far and wide on social media—along with a line or two about why they support the project.

Sound familiar? It’s what media-savvy supporters of the cycle tracks did two years ago with the Calgarians for Cycle Tracks campaign.

Making the noisiest argument is not everything, as that campaign demonstrated. Quieter expressions of support can be just as powerful, if not more so.

“It visually showed the support for the project,” says Wilcock, adding that Calgarians for BRT is intentionally modelled on that previous campaign.

Those cycle track images framed the issue in an entirely different way. They portrayed regular people—parents, students, businesspeople, gay, straight, young, old—smiling and expressing support for biking safely downtown.

It’s hard to argue that all businesses oppose a project when you have images popping up of business owners holding signs that say “we support the cycle track network.”

Such an effort was long overdue for the southwest BRT. A group militantly opposed to the project, Ready to Engage, has spent the last six months firing shotgun sprays of mixed messages in an effort to bring down the project however it can.

With its antagonistic tactics, the group claims to speak on behalf of southwest residents. The truth is that many regard it as an embarrassment.

By contrast, Calgarians for BRT has a positive message. The group is neatly sidestepping personal mudslinging and endless debates on minutiae. It’s meant to be a display of broad support.

The group is bringing focus back to where it should be: how better transit benefits a wide cross-section of Calgarians.

Quality transit connects people to jobs and services. It gives more people—particularly those with low incomes—more opportunities. It makes it easier for students to get to their schools.

In a nutshell, it makes the city better.

Yet the southwest BRT may be in for a rough go. One of the councillors who was originally supportive of the plan, Diane Colley-Urquhart, has balked after enduring fierce criticism from Ready to Engage (there’s an election next year, remember).

The project goes before city council’s transportation committee again July 20.

With so much negative noise swirling about, it’s good to hear new voices speaking in favour of BRT. Hopefully councillors are listening.

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