Living in this metropolis of coastal elites, it can sometimes feel like you inhabit a different universe than the America where paranoid skepticism of the president’s citizenship runs rampant, and giving people the option of getting around safely without a car is viewed as a U.N. plot to subjugate us all. But New Yorkers do have the Donald to remind us that birthers live among us, and we also have Steve “the Cuozz” Cuozzo to show us that insane Tea Party-style conspiracy theories about livability aren’t just for the crazies in Albemarle County, Virginia. In fact, our local data-denier gets guaranteed column inches in the New York Post.
This week the Cuozz has really been on a roll. Let’s start with Monday’s column, where Cuozzo tried to disprove DOT’s commuter bike counts by asking for data on bike parking usage in office buildings from the Real Estate Board of New York.
This is sort of like asking Grover Norquist to just give you the facts on the Affordable Care Act. REBNY was the main lobbying group working against the Bicycle Access Bill when it was moving through the City Council in 2008 and 2009. Until that bill passed, the real estate industry had been foiling attempts to legislate access for bikes to buildings for more than a decade. REBNY successfully watered down the final legislation to keep buildings from having to permit people to bring their bikes inside through their main elevators. Any building without a freight elevator is totally exempt.
So Cuozzo’s commuter cycling metric relies on office building data furnished by an interest group that fought tooth and nail to oppose commuter bike access to its office buildings.
Counting bikes parked in office buildings also doesn’t capture anyone who biked to the train on their way to work, or anyone who parked their bike on the street, or anyone who parked at a garage, or anyone who parked at a workplace that’s not a corporate office. And Cuozzo’s count requires you to believe that the managers at these buildings counted every bike that employees brought up to their offices. Wouldn’t it be more straightforward to, you know, count people biking on the street?
But lets assume for the sake of argument that Cuozzo’s data point — 278 bikes parked in the Midtown and Downtown office buildings that reported to him — represents something real. It still doesn’t tell you anything about the growth of cycling in the city.
To quote the Cuozz, “you don’t need a degree in statistics to grasp” that a single number is totally useless as a measurement of how much cycling in the city has gone up or down. Maybe last year, only 100 bikes were parked in these office buildings on a similar day of the year with similar weather, and this new number represents a huge increase. Who’s to say? Not statistics buff Steve Cuozzo. All he has is one number given to him by a group with a vested interest in making that number as low as possible. (You know Cuozzo has no qualms about lying and spinning when he says, all polling to the contrary, that the Prospect Park West bike lane is “detested.”)
Cuozzo puts his combination of wild speculation and cherrypicked information up against DOT’s screenline count, the annual tally of cyclists crossing into Manhattan below 60th Street. The fact is that the DOT screenline bike count has been in use since 1985 — before Janette Sadik-Khan, before Iris Weinshall, before Lee Sander or Lou Riccio were in charge of DOT. It provides year-over-year trends in bike usage, counting actual people riding actual bikes into the Manhattan central business district. It’s not perfect, but unlike Cuozzo’s smoke-and-mirrors, the screenline count provides real data about changes over time. And it shows that cycling into the center of the city is up substantially.
Like a lot of pundits who oppose making streets safer, Cuozzo styles himself a “real New Yorker” and enjoys pitting pedestrians against cyclists. Here’s a highlight from his anti-bike rant today, calling for NYPD to step up the intensity of its bike crackdown: “A 2-mile-a-day walker like myself despairs of seeing an officer lift a finger when a maniacal cyclist whizzes the wrong way through a crowd.”
See? The Cuozz is on a mission to protect pedestrians from maniacs. Except when the maniacs drive multi-ton vehicles and the city actually saves lives by transferring space from the maniacs to pedestrians. That’s an utter outrage to the Cuozz.
When the hundreds of thousands of people who walk on Midtown sidewalks each day got some room to breathe with the addition of DOT’s new plaza spaces in 2009, pedestrian injuries dropped 35 percent. You’d think a walker like the Cuozz could appreciate that, but instead he looks down on the “low-rent tourists,” yearning for the days when he could watch “the strangely beautiful confluence of auto lights between 47th and 42nd streets.”
As for all the injuries and trips to the hospital that those plazas have prevented — they’re as real to the Cuozz as Obama’s birth certificate is to the Donald.