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CB6/DOT Presentation Impressions

January 21, 2011

Last night’s CB6 meeting was largely civil, and much credit should be given to Ryan Russo and other representatives from the DOT for their grace under pressure and to the members of the community board for keeping the tone in check and allowing a broad range of questions from all sides without preference or prejudice.  The City Council’s Transportation Committee could learn a thing or two from CB6.

There were probably around 200 people in attendance and by my estimates 75% to 80% were supporters of the traffic calming project.  Much like at the October rally, they represented a larger cross section of the neighborhood, from people with kids to seniors.  Maybe the biggest surprise of the evening was the simplest: a sixty-ish woman who rose to speak and then effused glowingly about how, in her opinion, the new PPW made the neighborhood more lovely and safe.  It’s a lesson to a media all too quick to stereotype one side as “organized and well-financed bike riders.”  It’s actually the other side that fits into a much more narrow stereotype.

If I took anything away from the meeting it’s that this fight is not over.  There will be another hearing sometime in the near future at which people will be able to voice their opinions.  Ryan Russo, in perhaps his most subtle moment of pushback against NBBL, said in a response to a question about the cost of their research that perhaps the biggest was the “opportunity cost.”  Doing subsequent studies and attending meetings about a project that has already proven to be successful means that the department can not devote itself studying worthy projects in other areas.  I’m sure members of CB6 would also like to take up other matters of pressing concern.  You want to be angry at NBBL?  Don’t be angry at them for fighting this traffic calming project.  Be angry at them for tying up future ones with their incessant demands for more data, more studies, and more hearings.

There were two moments that I felt neatly illustrated the NBBL state of mind, now that the evidence for the efficacy of the traffic calming project is overwhelming.

One woman asked how average citizens could contact the DOT with their suggestions for changing the street design.  Without friends in high places, such as CM Lander or people on the community board, how could people like her have their voices heard to get this project changed? (Translation: eliminated.)  I don’t remember her exact question, since like many of the speakers last night her question was more of a statement punctuated with a question mark.  (She had a British accent, if that helps attendees remember her.)  What she was accusing the DOT of was clear: the department is closed off to outsiders.

Never mind that the DOT has made itself available at numerous open-to-the-public CB6 meetings.  Never mind that Russo said that the department is reachable through 311, online contact forms, through city council members’ offices, and more, and that they respond to any and all complaints and suggestions.  Never mind any of it.  At that moment I wanted to jump out of my seat and scream, “Lady, you’re talking to the Department of Transportation RIGHT NOW!The sheer cognitive dissonance it takes to complain that you aren’t able to talk to the DOT while you are talking to the DOT speaks volumes about the NBBLers perceived victimhood.

(On a related note, somehow I doubt this woman cared very much about leveling the playing field when Norman Steisel and Marty Markowitz skipped the line and testified beyond their allotted two minutes on her behalf at the City Council Transportation Committee hearing in December.)

The most illustrative moment came towards the end of the evening, when PPW resident and NBBLer Lois Carswell rose to ask a question, or, rather, rose to question the DOT’s bike count data.  (Read Mike Epstein’s explanation of the difference between the DOT counting methods and NBBL’s.)  After Russo presented his calm, clear description the Department’s methodology and how NBBL’s counting at Grand Army Plaza failed to include riders who exited PPW at various connecting bike lanes further south, Carswell responded that she didn’t agree with his line of reasoning.

(UPDATE: Streetsblog quotes Carswell as saying, “I disagree with your logic.”)

And that is all you need to know.  In NBBL’s world, there’s no such thing as a fact, just a line of reasoning.

Sigh.  As exhausted as we all are over writing letters, attending meetings and rallies, and remaining active, we’ll have to tap our activist reserves at least one more time.  NBBL doesn’t care about data, lies when making up their own, and is ready to keep fighting this for as long as possible.  The only way we can counter this is to keep showing up.  See you again.

  1. Chris Mcnally permalink
    January 21, 2011 11:58 am

    DOT has a good explanation for the discrepancy in cyclist counts between the amateur bike lane elimination group’s survey and the DOT’s own counts. It was also interesting that the DOT guy said he was familiar with their numbers and thanked them for sending it in to the DOT. So I guess they do know how to contact DOT.

    His explanation was very reasonable. Since Neighbors for [the elimination of] Better Bike Lanes counted cyclists where they do not need to go, Grand Army Plaza on a weekday, they missed all the cyclists who are heading to and from the Manhattan bridges and use the bike lanes on 2nd and 3rd avenue and therefore turn before GAP. DOT counted cyclists between 4th and 5th St. He also said they have counts that over 400 cyclists use that lane on 2nd and 3rd and it explains why their counts were lower.

  2. January 21, 2011 12:11 pm

    Great points, Chris, especially about NBBL’s ability to get their data to DOT.

    I’d also point out that the claim about June 9, 2009 being a rainy day has been proven false by Ben Fried over at Streetsblog. It was in the sixties with zero precipitation.

    But, for the sake of argument, say that the opponent who mentioned the weather was correct that it was raining on June 9, the day of the DOT “before” count. That means that despite a torrential downpour, 349 intrepid cyclists still biked on Prospect Park West and even did so when there was no bike lane! That takes some real guts!

    Living in NBBL’s world for a bit longer, if the DOT counted 349 cyclists on a rainy day, imagine how many people would have been on their bikes if it had been sunny!

    Applying the 50:1 standard multiplier effect, there would have been 17,450 cyclists on Prospect Park West on June 9, 2009.


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