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Physician, Heal Thyself

March 22, 2011

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?


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.

  1. Evan O'Neil permalink
    March 22, 2011 9:23 am

    Agreed. What I heard that night when she said, “You’re going to get tired,” was classic projection. Anger is a difficult emotion to sustain.

  2. Brooklyn Spoke Fan permalink
    March 22, 2011 10:17 am

    I believe Hainline said, “We are going to get tired.” Not “you” but “we.”

    My reaction to that was: Speak for yourself, Louise. Maybe you are going to grow tired of this fight but I’m not.

    I will happily engage in the fight to make New York City streets safer and more sustainable for many years to come. And when I start to grow tired of this fight I will make sure that there is a new, younger, more energetic batch of activists and advocates right behind me ready to pick up where I left off.

    My wife and I bike around Brooklyn almost every day, often with our two young children in tow. Safe biking facilities like the protected lane on PPW are essential to the convenience and function of our daily lives. They are also a matter of life-and-death to us.

    Maybe that sounds overwrought, dramatic and “silly” to Mrs. Hainline. But pretty much every time my wife gets on her bike and heads off to her evening job I tell her to be careful out there. Don’t ride too fast. Watch out for car doors. Assume you’re completely invisible to drivers.

    When I see my wife ride off on her bike I often think about what I saw on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope on the hot, sunny morning of June 9, 2005. It was Elizabeth Padilla’s dead body under a blue tarp, her bike still tangled up in her legs, bright red blood staining the asphalt around her head. I remember standing there thinking the odds were pretty good that I knew this poor woman under the tarp, that she could easily be a friend or colleague of mine. Padilla was knocked off her bike by a careless truck driver who opened a door into her path. She fell into the path of an oncoming truck which ran over her head. Elizabeth was a pro bono lawyer and legal services coordinator for the Brooklyn Bar Association in Brooklyn Heights. Unlike Hainline’s high-powered corporate attorney Jim Walden, Elizabeth actually worked for poor and defenseless New Yorkers who could not afford access to legal services. Unlike Jim Walden, Elizabeth wasn’t angling for a political appointment or currying favor with the wealthy and powerful. I’m not sure they would have prevented a thoughtless truck driver from opening his door into the path of a cyclist, but it’s worth noting that there were no bike signs, bike lanes or sharrow markings on that end of Fifth Avenue back then.

    So, I don’t really know what Hainline thinks this fight is about or what motivates her. But I think about Elizabeth Padilla and my own friends and family who bike and walk and drive around Brooklyn every day, and I know that I am not going to grow tired of fighting for safer streets in my neighborhood. I look at the profound cynicism of people who call themselves Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes as they engage in high-powered legal, media and political battle to get rid of the neighborhood’s best bike lane and I am happy to have opponents like these.

    Even if NBBL’s law suit is successful or Mayor Weiner or De Blasio comes and rips out the [expletive] PPW bike lane in 2014, I won’t stop fighting for safer streets. I won’t grow tired. I’ll still just be getting started, Louise.

  3. Evan O'Neil permalink
    March 22, 2011 2:57 pm

    Looking back, I think Brooklyn Spoke Fan is correct that you (and then I) misquoted Hainline.

    Hainline said something more like, “We are going to get tired,” her subtext was, “You, the bike advocates, will get tired,” while her subconscious was really saying, “I will get tired.”

    No sign of fatigue here.

  4. Jym Dyer permalink
    March 22, 2011 3:01 pm

    =v= Hainline is liberal?

  5. March 22, 2011 3:18 pm

    Here’s the full quote, as reported by NY Magazine:

    “We can’t keep this up,” she said. “We’re going to get tired. You’re going to get tired. We need to take a deep breath.”

    My point stands. She can tell us that she will get tired or that members of her group may get tired, but I do believe it’s arrogant to look at a group of people who know the facts and want her to drop her lawsuit and ask them to take a deep breath, even if she’s including herself among the “we.”

  6. March 23, 2011 9:06 am

    It’s just so patronizing to say “we” in this context.

    I find that I actually pity this woman. Based on her behavior, her life seems really sad.

  7. Byron permalink
    March 24, 2011 9:23 am

    Hainline, do you know what would make everyone a lot less tired? Dropping this baseless suit.

  8. March 25, 2011 10:00 pm

    If Hianline thinks I’m going to get tired of this fight, she should google on “honey badger”.

    Also, speaking of confirmation bias, or maybe just plain lying, remember when Markowitz said this, in regards to PPW?

    “I’ve lived on Prospect Park West for eight years! My windows faced it, and I rarely saw speeding. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, but I rarely saw it. “


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