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.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Steisel et all are just playing the game as it has been played in the past.

    If the numbers don’t agree with your self interest, then you point out the flaws and decide since the data is somehow flawed decisions should be based on something else — like political dealmaking.

    If the numbers agree with your self interest, then they should be used because despite all data being flawed in some way, decisions must be made and must be based on something.

    How data driven were Steisel et all while heading agencies? Not very much.

    Reminds me why I often had little to do while at City Planning — the nuclear deterrance theory of policy analysts. Everyone wanted analysts, because in case the other side launched a fact, they wanted to be able to launch a fact in retaliation.

    But that would lead to mutually assured destruction, as all the facts flying around would inhibit the ability to make decisions the way all the players preferred — without facts, based on some people mattering and others not mattering. So the facts and those who produced them stayed in the silos.

    Those who ran things this way just do not get actual before and after measurements as being relevant, and are probably ticked they have to go through all this trouble.

  • mark davis

    “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.”

    LOVE IT!!!

  • Moocow

    Good point, Doug.
    I also want to know how they physically collected and reviewed the data. What medium did they record it on? How and who reviewed all that footage? I don’t believe these NIMBYs at all. What great neighbors.

  • Marty Lies

    Then there is one way to assuredly to be able to call Marty a liar: IF as he assets – cycling advocates were out riding up and down the path that day and tipped off by DOT, then let’s get NBBL to pass out a copy of their tape and review it with Marcia Kramer. If there is no evidence of the same cyclists riding back and forth he is a LIAR (and let’s face it, we all know he is lying already) then Marcia should call him out on air and question why he was using her broadcast to state false information.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    all the facts flying around would inhibit the ability to make decisions the way all the players preferred — without facts, based on some people mattering and others not mattering.

    Deep, Larry. I think you hit on the fundamental point of all of this:

    For the NBBL’ers, the bike lane appeared on PPW as a sudden, tangible manifestation of their weakening influence and waning potency. It was a stark reminder of generational change, neighborhood turnover and their own personal mortality. This fight isn’t about a bike lane. It’s about whether or not these aging millionaires, formerly powerful city officials and wives of executives still matter. hen the NBBL’ers step outside of their mansions and gaze upon the redesigned PPW, they don’t just see a bike lane. They see the grim reaper riding by on a bicycle, smiling and waving.

  • S. Alinsky

    Doug, the real surprise would be if Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes is NOT in communication with Marty’s office on matters of strategy. Because, their plan is coherent, and comes straight out of the Political Attack 101 playbook. Here’s the plan (and, judging from your piece, it’s working):

    Reframe the issue as a fight between NBBL (community based) vs DOT (giant evil bureaucracy) and use the contest over data to knock the community supporters out of the debate. The correct media and political frame is that this is actually a fight between NBBL and the majority of the community, including Lander, CB 6, Park Slope Neighbors etc who support the PPW lane.

    Marty’s job is to focus attention on DOT — in this case their data. If he attacks Lander, PSN or community supporters, it focuses media on the depth of community support — which is exactly what NBBL does not want. You are completely missing the forest for the data tree here.

  • J

    Like an army without a supply line, they can’t fight very long. Without supporting data, there is nothing for them to fight with but political influence and numbers. They haven’t shown much strength in numbers, and by wasting political influence and favors here, they won’t have much political capital left after, either. This ultimately can only help the livable streets cause.

    We have data that this makes streets safer. We have data that these make people healthier. We have data that these increase accessibility. We have data that these projects reduce injuries and deaths. We have data that these projects reduce pollution. Our supply lines are long, and we will win out in the long run. Stay strong.

  • I can verify that Marty’s office and NBBL have DEFINITELY been meeting in person to strategize. I don’t recall exactly when the meeting occurred, perhaps as early as last spring. Myself and other bloggers (including streetsblog editors) were leaked information about such a meeting. I witnessed Marty’s chief of staff and others from Borough Hall enter 9 Prospect Park West on sunny afternoon, for what we had been told was a private meeting about the bike lane.

    Unfortunately we were not quite sure what was going on, so cyclists did little more than engage various less-politically-connected residents of the building in civil conversation about the bike lane. It was pleasant. If I knew then what I know now I would have barricaded the door.

    Cyclists and pedestrians need better ways of communicating and mobilizing, in order to protect the safer streets created by the city which benefit us all.

  • chuck

    Barfowitz has hit it on the head: it’s a generational thing.

    Bike lanes are Brooklyn’s gay marriage.

  • J:Lai

    We have data ???
    wow, talk about bringing a hairdryer to a gun fight . . .

  • Jabir

    Marty claimed that Park Slope Neighbors’ speed survey data must be discounted because they advocated a position on the bike lane. By his logic, we must also discount the NBBL data for the same reason.

  • Mike

    I just wish I could hold my gay wedding in the PPW bike path.

  • J

    This debate only flares up when DOT holds a meeting, so maybe there shouldn’t be any more more meetings or reports for a while. The lane is there, so it’s mainly a matter of keeping close watch on things. We can’t convince everybody, but the longer it remain in place, the more everyone gets used to it and accepts it as normal.

  • Good story Doug, but one minor correction: the October 21 PPW rally was 2010, not 2009.

  • I really hate the name “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes”–to me, that would mean they’re in support of improving existing bike lanes, by, say, extending them, protecting them, etc. These people want no such thing: they’re against bike lanes, period. To paraphrase Andrew Jackson, in their worldview, the only “better” bike lane is a dead bike lane.

  • Thanks, Peter. It will be fixed soon.

  • mike

    Data? Yes, we have the facts and data on our side, but that’s not enough.

    The NBBLers are FOILing and almost certainly suing.

    We should be doing the same.

  • archie

    I dunno, but 470 still seems like a lot of bikers! I’ll gladly deem the project a success based even on their potentially deflated numbers.

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