The Spaghetti-on-the-Wall Strategy

Cross-posted from Brooklyn Spoke

I’m not one for conspiracy theories.  9/11 was not an inside job, Oswald acted alone, the Moon landing was real, and Elvis is still dead.

When it comes to all of the bike lane hate that seems to be spewing forth from various corners of this city, and Brooklyn in particular, I feel the same way.  Norman Steisel probably has a better chance of getting calls to Marty Markowitz returned than you or I, but I wouldn’t begin to suggest that Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes is in communication with Marty’s office on matters of strategy.  If they were, I think their war plan would at least appear to be coherent.

To wit, see if you can follow this logic:

  • There are two sets of data: the DOT’s and NBBL’s.
  • On the same day the DOT counted 863 cyclists using the Prospect Park West bike lane, Neighbors For Better Bike Lanes collected video surveillance showing only 470 bikes, a difference of about 54%.
  • Such a huge discrepancy is beyond the realm of statistical variation.
  • Therefore, the DOT is making up bike counts out of thin air.
  • If the DOT makes up bike count numbers, then none of their data can be trusted.
  • The NBBL data can be trusted.

This is somewhat reasonable, especially if you’re inclined to not trust the DOT.  But just when it seems like it all makes sense, along comes Marty Markowitz with his own logic:

  • There are two sets of data: the DOT’s and NBBL’s.
  • Marty Markowitz claims that on the day DOT did their bike counts, the department tipped off cycling advocates, resulting in a 54% difference between their count and NBBL’s.
  • Such a huge discrepancy can only be explained by cycling advocates who flooded the bike lane with extra trips beyond what one would find on a typical weekday.
  • Therefore, the DOT is inflating bike counts by tipping off cyclists.
  • If the DOT tips off cyclists, none of their data can be trusted.
  • The NBBL data can be trusted.

Marty, you’re messing things up for NBBL!  Either the DOT inflated their numbers by counting imaginary cyclists who were not present or they tipped off real cyclists to ride the lane in big numbers.  Your head might explode if you start thinking of ways in which both statements can be true.

In the first case, the difference has already been explained by Ryan Russo at the DOT.  According to the Park Slope Patch, Russo’s explanation was that “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes had monitored a different section of Prospect Park West, a section with less bike traffic.” I’m a bigger fan of Occam’s Razor than I am of conspiracy theories, and this explanation is as simple as it is true.

Marty’s claim in the second case makes things really complicated for Norman Steisel, Iris Weinshall, Louise Hainline, Lois Carswell and the other NBBLers.  If they claim that their numbers can be trusted over the DOT’s, how can they explain that on a day when the bike lane was teeming with riders, NBBL failed to count 393 cyclists?  Either their collection methods didn’t work, which I’m guessing they will not admit, or 54% of the participants in this vast bike-wing conspiracy stopped riding before reaching President Street. This failure to ride the length of the bike lane seems especially curious since Grand Army Plaza was the gathering point for cyclists and advocates for safe streets at the October 21, 2010 rally.

There is no conspiracy, just abject paranoia coming from Marty Markowitz.  We’ve now reached the latest–and hopefully last–phase of anti-bike-lane strategy: throwing claim after claim against the wall and seeing what sticks.  I don’t even know if you can call that a strategy, much less a conspiracy.