Physician, Heal Thyself
In the bike lane story in New York Magazine this week, writer Matthew Shaer describes the scene as NBBL president Louise Hainline reviews surveillance footage of the Prospect Park West bike lane on her computer. Hainline, he writes, “often sits in her office listening to her Pandora stations and counting the number of cyclists passing by with a handheld clicker.”
After reading the piece this morning, I pictured her alone, late at night, clicking away, and I started to feel sorry for her. If the bike lane counts are as low as she claims, especially during the dead of winter, this must be a very boring but obsessive task. Is this any way to spend a life? But after re-reading the story — yes, I’m aware that he of epic blog posts on the very subject of the Prospect Park West bike lane just admitted to reading an article on bike lanes twice after asking “Is this any way to spend a life?” — I stopped feeling bad.
Hainline comes across as someone who is filled with an utter disdain for the people who oppose her. (Read: most of her community.) In fact, Hainline seems to me to be the very embodiment of the kind of all-knowing liberal elite that she probably thinks we radical bike lobbyists are: the savior of a people who may not necessarily be “ignorant,” but who are filled with such “holy” zealotry that they’re willing to believe fudged information so long as it confirms their belief system. Who else would walk into a community board meeting and say to hundreds of bike lane supporters, “You’re going to get tired. We need to take a deep breath,” as if this entire brouhaha, and the lawsuit to boot, would simply vanish if everyone just listened to the small group of truth-seekers that is Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes?
CONFIRMING CONFIRMATION BIAS
Shaer quotes Hainline on the subject of bikers’ trust of the DOT’s data. She gives us this piece of Psychology 101:
“I do know, being a psychologist, that there’s this very strong phenomenon called confirmation bias,” she says. “When we hear story evidence, anecdotes, or even data, what we tend to remember—and this is an unfortunate human trait—is the stuff we already believe anyway.”
If a more ironic statement has been uttered since the “bike lane war” began, I’d like to see it. If you are actively scanning video that your own organization shot in order to make the case that the bike lane is not being used in great numbers, you might be exhibiting confirmation bias. If, out of “hundreds of hours of footage,” you release just 17 seconds showing an ambulance taking a shortcut down an empty bike lane, and then give that clip to a journalist as proof that the bike lane is dangerous, you might be exhibiting confirmation bias. If you claim an ability to distinguish bike commuters from “recreational users,” but you yourself do not commute nor recreate regularly on a bike, you might be exhibiting a confirmation bias. If you rely on self-reported, anecdotal accounts of accidents gathered by people sympathetic to your cause, you might be exhibiting a confirmation bias. (Please see the debut of my Jeff Foxworthy-by-way-of-Noah-Baumbach stand-up act at the next bike lane open mic night at the Tea Lounge. Check your Linewaiters’ Gazette for more information.)
Hainline may be portrayed as the cool, rational “career academic” at odds with kooky neighborhood radicals and zealots, but her quote seems like a classic case of psychological projection.