Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Reckless Lane Change

The law suit that's been brought against the Prospect Park bike lanes-lanes that we have no personal interest in-is still of utmost importance to all New Yorkers. The importance lies with the manner in which NYC DOT, and its ideologically driven commissioner, may be manipulating data to prove that the lanes are good for public safety. As the NY Post reports: "A scathing lawsuit filed against the city this week turns the Department of Transportation's own data against the Bloomberg administration's push for a bicycle lane along Brooklyn's Prospect Park West -- showing crashes and injuries actually increased after the two-way path was installed there last summer. The suit, filed Monday in Brooklyn Supreme Court by a group of well-heeled Park Slope residents, seeks the lanes' immediate removal. "This was a massive effort to distort the facts and force community support," said Norman Steisel, a former deputy mayor in the Dinkins administration."

We'll see how this plays out, but our first instinct is to believe the accusations because we have seen how the city agencies-across the board-from the DOE, and the DOH, all the way to our favorite, EDC, routinely cook the books in their favor to justify often misguided policies. So whether it is teacher bonuses, the evaluation of menu labeling, or the analysis of traffic from the proposed Willets Point development, we see how policy makers proffer corrupted data to make their initiatives look better.

The NY Daily News weighs in here: "New Yorkers who've long suspected that when it comes to Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan's bike lanes, somehow the numbers just don't add up, may well be right. A lawsuit filed Monday challenging the bicycle path on Prospect Park West in Brooklyn is chockfull of statistics wrested from Sadik-Khan's own agency through Freedom of Information Law requests. Comparing the numbers with those the Department of Transportation has issued publicly makes for a fascinating read. According to court papers, when DOT proposed the lane to Community Board 6 in April 2009, the department reported there had been 58 crashes on Prospect Park West and side streets from 2005-07 - proving a need for so-called traffic calming. That number was inflated; a more honest accounting wouldn't have included 12 accidents that did not occur on the thoroughfare."

What the department has done it appears, is to hide the raw data and dishonestly message what is released: "The plaintiffs allege more shenanigans: At a followup meeting six months after the bike lane was installed last June, transportation officials declared the path a rousing safety success. How? They used a three-year average culled from the second halves of 2007, 2008 and 2009 - purportedly showing a decline in the number of accidents from 29.7 to 25 in the second half of 2010. That was heavy spin - papering over a jump in accidents from 22 in late 2009 to 25 in late 2010. Why didn't DOT present the raw numbers? Because they didn't help make the case for the lane?"

As the Post also points out: "But Steisel's group ran the DOT numbers on a yearly basis and found crashes and injuries had been steadily declining -- but then slightly increased in the second half of 2010 once the lanes were installed."

What all of this underscores is that there is a need for a full and independent environmental review of all of DOT's efforts to radically alter NYC's streetscape-and if it is proven in court that Sadik-Khan consciously doctored the data then she should be jettisoned as fast as possible. New York doesn't need a policy maker who needs to make her case with fraudulent statistics.

While we're at it, though, it is now time for the city council to enter this argument-not in the microcosm of Prospect Park, but in the larger evaluation of the Sadik-Khan schemes. It should demand from the mayor all of the department's raw bike lane data from each and every installation city wide-and throw in the 42nd Street transformation for good measure. Once done, the council should hire an independent traffic expert to see how the department's numbers square with reality.

By doing this, the legislature would be laying the ground for a legislative initiative that would compel the city to conduct environmental reviews of all of these proposed changes-with the council getting the opportunity to vet the consultants' work. The city loves to mark its own exams-never a good idea for the public interest. A system of checks and balances most be instituted so that better policy making can ensue-and dishonest ideologues sent packing.