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DOT’s PPW Data Greeted With Cheers, Paranoia at CB 6 Meeting

11:51 AM EST on January 21, 2011

The loudest applause at last night's Brooklyn CB 6 meeting on the Prospect Park West bike lane went to DOT Assistant Commissioner Ryan Russo, after he wrapped up his presentation documenting the redesign's effect on safety, bicycling rates, and traffic. The brief summary: injuries are down, cycling is up, and speeding has been tamed while travel times and traffic volumes are the same as before. The project has been a success so far and DOT will be moving ahead with further tweaks, like installing raised concrete islands in the pedestrian zones between the bike lane and the traffic lanes.

The second loudest applause went to Council Member Brad Lander, after he told the audience of about 150 that the DOT data "shows the project is working to me and that we should keep it and move forward." (In contrast, you could hear crickets chirping after Lander's colleague in the council, Steve Levin, weighed in on the redesign by saying he's concerned about the effect on snow removal. Christmas blizzard populism has its limits.)

Other than that, there weren't many occasions to audibly and directly register one's opinion at a meeting devoted mainly to audience questions about DOT's presentation. CB 6 will be holding another event to gather public feedback on the redesign, probably in March. So prepare to save the date.

When the Q&A rolled around last night, the anti-bike lane folks were easy enough to spot because their questions mainly boiled down this: They don't believe DOT. The "Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes" just don't believe that a project which has slowed down speeding traffic and shortened crossing distances for pedestrians has actually improved safety. They would rather believe that their self-reported, apples-to-oranges data collection represents the truth, and that opposition to the bike lane is actually 50 times greater than what they've been able to muster.

Some of the more high-profile bike lane opponents, including Iris Weinshall and Norman Steisel, could be spotted in the pews of the Old First Reformed Church, shaking their heads as Russo and DOT bike and pedestrian director Josh Benson explained their data. (Interesting factoid: DOT bike counts and traffic flow data are collected by outside consultants, not agency staff.)

At one point, NBBL member Lois Carswell asked why her group had counted half the number of cyclists on PPW as DOT on Tuesday, November 19. Russo explained that NBBL's camera, trained on the northern tip of the bike lane, would not have captured as many cyclists as DOT's count, which was conducted at the center of the bike lane. Much of the bike commuter traffic using PPW to access bicycle lanes on 2nd and 3rd Streets would have been recorded by DOT, but not by NBBL, Russo explained.

Note that the Post's Sally Goldenberg and CJ Sullivan completely flubbed this explanation in their piece on the CB 6 meeting today:

Assistant DOT Commissioner Ryan Russo said that his agency counters caught more riders because they were at more points along the route.

I was at the meeting, and that is not what Russo said. Hardly the only crime against journalism in a piece that might as well have been written by Steisel without intermediaries.

Carswell also wanted to know why DOT hadn't furnished NBBL with data in response to a FOIL request they filed 60 days ago. The end of the study period was December 31, Russo said, so DOT had not even finished collecting its data until 20 days ago.

Another skeptic questioned the DOT's "before" count of weekday cyclist volume on PPW, saying an internet search had revealed that the count was conducted an on unusually rainy day -- June 9, 2009 -- which would skew the recorded increase in cycling. Benson explained that as a rule, bike counts are done on sunny days, and the crews will call it quits if it starts to rain.

There's also the fact that according to the National Climatic Data Center, in nearby Bayonne, New Jersey (the nearest weather station to Brooklyn), the weather on June 9, 2009 was in the sixties with zero precipitation. UPDATE from the comments: It did rain on this day in Central Park -- mostly overnight rain with some cloudbursts in the morning.

The quote of the day, though, has to go to Carswell after Russo explained why NBBL's bike counts would be lower than DOT's: "I disagree with your logic."

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