Friday, January 21, 2011

DOT Bike Blarney

As the NY Post is reporting, there is a widening controversy over NYC DOT's evaluation of the Prospect Park bike lanes: "A battle over a Brooklyn bike lane is in high gear, with a group of well-organized residents accusing the Department of Transportation yesterday of fudging the numbers of bicycles using the lane to support the city's drive to make the pathway permanent. Norman Steisel -- a former sanitation commissioner and deputy mayor under David Dinkins -- slammed the DOT for releasing what he called misleading data overstating how many cyclists ride along the Prospect Park West path, and refuting city claims of improved safety since the lane was created last summer."

Now, we don't have any specific opinion of our own about the Brooklyn bike lane-although we have an already widely known opinion about the highhandedness of the DOT commissioner-but we do have a strong view over the way the city uses, or in this case, misuses statistics, in order to make fraudulent cases for its various ventures. Most famously this has been true over at Willets Point-so much so that it is now over a year since the traffic study for Van Wyck ramps was forced into revision when Willets Point United sliced and diced the phony data submitted by EDC's consultants. This statistical sleight-of-hand is yet to be resolved.

In the Willets Point case, city DOT did not have an active role in the fudging of the traffic data, but Commissioner Sadik-Khan did interpose herself into the controversy in an attempt to bogart NYS DOT into rubber stamping revised traffic figures that are all too likely reminiscent of the original fraudulent submission. As we said last month-when more emails were uncovered regarding the ramp delay:

"So, the SDOT, in doing its proper due diligence and questioning the data submitted by NYC EDC, is under a threat from Ms. Tricycle-someone who appears to be comfortable with the fraudulent fudged data that the EDC consultants have submitted-and has caused all of the delays in the approval process for the Willets Point/Van Wyck ramps. Unable to argue from the facts on the ground, the commissioner is issuing woof tickets.

What this all means to us, is that there is a compelling need to open up this entire review process to public scrutiny-and take it out of the unclean hands of EDC. When legitimate questions are being raised and responses are given that threaten the honest broker, you just know that the locals are trying to rig the entire game. Its past time for a little sunlight, no? The Bloomberg Bunko Squad needs to be exposed."

So Sadik-Khan is no stranger to licking the old fudgicle-and Norman Steisel calls her similar effort out in Brooklyn: "The community asked for all the underlying data, in its raw form, and instead DOT intends to present a rosy summary," Steisel said. "We are getting only what DOT wants us to see. We have a right to more."

This, we're afraid, is all too typical. Whenever EDC or one of its chosen developers does an EIS for a project, all you are able to review in the traffic sections are the summaries that the consultants present.The underlying data, and the models used to generate it are excluded, making a proper due diligence by critics nigh impossible.

In the case of the Brooklyn bike lanes, however, Steisel and the other opponents did their own field work-as did WPU's Brian Ketcham for Willets Point: "Among other things, he disputed the agency's contention that weekday cycling increased along Prospect Park West between Third and Fifth streets from an average of 349 riders in June 2009 to 1,131 in August 2010 -- shortly after the lane was installed. Steisel said his group took its own videos of bike usage for a two-week period, 12 hours each day, at Carroll Street, and "discovered bike usage was one-third to one-half of the volume the agency reported counting."

The problem here is not just one that impacts Park Slope. You have Commissioner Tricycle unilaterally installing bike lanes costing untold millions of dollars all over the city. But most communities don't have the same resources that Park Slope does, Exacerbating the problem is the fact that DOT gets to mark its own exam: "An angry audience member called out, "We disagree with your numbers and we want to know where you got your data." When asked if the lanes were permanent, Russo said, "We plan on making changes as we get feedback."

But when a review process lacks transparency, feedback is a relative thing. And let's not forget that the cost of de-installing the lanes is three times that of installation itself-a marvelous example of the Robert Moses principle in these tough economic times.

The reality is that Mike Bloomberg has elevated a cycling zealot who believes in promoting bike lanes at all costs-and without regard to impact on the city's motorists and businesses. After all, Sadik-Khan-left in charge during the Christmas blizzard failed at her basic task of calling for a snow emergency, but she did, however, make sure that all of the Manhattan bike lanes were cleared-hand shovelled while the rest of the city took it on the chin.