The trickle down effect of proportional representation may surprise you!

How a society organizes itself affects the outcomes found in that society and even the way people think in that society. In a nation with a two-party system, political issues move forward only when a clear majority supports a measurement. And with this our day-to-day political reality, we may start looking at everything through these clear one majority/one minority glasses only. When you are in support of more bicycle lanes, you may find yourself opposed by many other people who consider it rather a non-issue. The majority in a society of whichever party may consider it normal that you can walk to your car, and that with your car you can get wherever you need to go. Nationally, the two parties do not need to have a strong and clear stand on bicycling — other than a benevolent attitude — because they know the group of bicyclists are not that important in both parties' quest to obtain the majority.

Now, imagine a three party system, and two of them are like the ones we have. To distinguish themselves from the other parties, the third party will look for people who cannot get on board with either one of the two big parties, and start representing these voters. The third party may not become a big party itself, but as soon as neither of the two other parties can obtain the majority, the most important wishes of the people represented by the third party will become important in a coalition. Not every government will have this third party as part of a coalition, but every now and then the important but non-majority issues will be addressed. Wouldn't you say that this explains why nations with multiple parties have more (and better) bicycle lanes!

The local situation throughout the United States is actually not one of two parties vying for your vote. Rather, we find a nation where the parties adjust themselves fully to the local wishes, as long as that makes a party win the districts. The local result is almost always a council or board of a single color, despite the fact that local representatives are supposedly 'independent.' Locally, we have a single party system not that different in structure from what the former East-block used to have. But, of course, it is not that bad here as with these fully repressive systems, because we have very verbal citizens capable of making our representatives hear us when we really really have to. Yet, the single-party nature at the local level does explain some of the Kafkaesque situations we find — just think of bicycle issues or transit. In a single-party system, even the most verbal voters cannot keep control on all the tabs and issues that 'their representatives' should deal with effectively.

When elections are based on just winners (and therefore on everyone else voting for losers) — and not on voter equality with direct representation for all — certain issues will automatically remain unaddressed. Certain segments of the population will find themselves and their desires on the side of losing out all of the time. Instead of being able to get representation, and having the most important remaining needs addressed fairly by their representatives, a political layer is created that represents the population and their varied needs only partially. Only when certain needs affect a large enough segment of the population that includes the center of the political scale — a group therefore large enough to affect the political outcome at the 50% level — only then will the specific needs be addressed at the most satisfactorily level. As far as bicycle lanes are concerned in our current political system, only when an at times annoying critical mass gets in the way of politics as usual will the city spend money on bike lanes. Most likely, after all the hooting and shouting, the bike lanes will unfortunately still not look like the bike lanes in the picture above — because that would be too expensive. And with painted bike lanes, but not safely-separated bike lanes, bicyclists will still be involved in more accidents than in the city with the mature and well-designed built-environment for all.


Read about the change from limited city-wide elections to district elections in San Francisco at a time the Green Party came within range of getting several seats.

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