This Is Getting Delicious – Eating Your Own Words

Background Reading

Summary


TakeAways

LAB evidently made a ‘boo-boo’. Or more accurately a data wonk they hired did. StreetsBlog described the problem this way:

In 2012, the city of Chicago, the Active Transportation Alliance, and hundred of residents made a major effort to ensure the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 would create a bike network with convenient access for all Chicagoans, regardless of who they are or where they live.

The Chicago Department of Transportation held eight public meetings, all over the city, to collect input for the 645-mile planned network. Nine community advisory groups, most of them led by African-American or Latino residents, were established to help make sure the network would be useful and equitable.

Last week, the League of American Bicyclists released the study “Equity of Access to Bicycle Infrastructure” by Rachel Prelog, a Colorado-based urban planning grad student. The report establishes a “Bike Equity Index” method of using Census data to explore how well a bike network provides access to underserved communities, including neighborhoods of color. Prelog uses Chicago as the case study.

The report suggests that the effort to plan a Chicago bike network with equal benefit for people of all races and ethnicities was a failure. Prelog applies her method to a map she describes as Chicago’s “planned network.” Her analysis finds that African Americans would “account for a large proportion of the residents who would not benefit from the expanded system.”

Worse, Prelog writes, “The full build bicycle network… would do little to improve access for Chicago’s Hispanic/Latino community.” She states that the network would only provide one percent more of Chicago’s Latino population with quarter-mile access to bicycle paths and lanes.

However, Prelog’s “planned network” map is not actually a map of Chicago’s planned network. “[It doesn’t] reflect the proposed routes as identified in the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020,” said CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey. He added that the department wasn’t notified about the report before it was published.

Instead, Prelog’s map is based on existing bikeways and “recommended routes” shown on the city’s Chicago Bike Map, distributed for free at events and shops. The recommended routes aren’t proposed locations for bike lanes or paths, but simply lower-traffic streets that are suitable for cycling. Many of these routes don’t appear on the 2020 Plan map, and many of the 2020 Plan routes don’t appear on the Chicago Bike Map.

Because Prelog’s analysis uses the wrong map, her claim that the planned network would be inequitable is based on bad data. That’s harmful for a couple of reasons. It does a disservice to the CDOT and Active Trans staffers, and hundreds of residents, who tried to ensure that the 2020 Plan provides good access for all Chicagoans.

Moreover, it undermines support for building the network. Why would anyone, especially African-American and Latino residents, want to get behind a plan that has been statistically proven to shortchange communities of color?

The League didn’t provide a comment on the map problem before I published a post about it last Thursday. The next day, spokeswoman Elizabeth Murphy sent a statement, which she said would be the only comment the group would make on the issue.

“The report has been updated to reflect that the data being presented in the Chicago case study was pulled from the city’s public data portal in January and May of 2015,” she wrote. “As such, the conclusions made are reflective of that data only.”

Essentially, the League is acknowledging that the “planned network” maps in the study are currently wrong, but a few disclaimers been added to the report to say the maps reflect “the data available at the time of this report.” But that still isn’t true.

Before I wrote Thursday’s post, I emailed Prelog to let her know that her “planned network” map shows Chicago’s recommended routes, not the planned network. “It may be true that [the city’s] data has not been updated to reflect changes to how they want to classify their proposed lanes.”

However, that wasn’t the problem. The bike routes in the city’s data portal are labeled “existing” or “recommended.” Prelogue apparently mistook the recommended route network for the city’s proposed bike lane and path network. That’s a completely understandable error.

However, at no point in time did the city’s data portal classify the recommended routes shown on Prelog’s map as the “planned network.” That’s why the updated report still doesn’t show the planned network “according to the data available at the time.”

“This case study was created to serve as an example of the power of these mapping tools, not an exhaustive analysis or rebuke of Chicago’s planned bike network,” Murphy concluded. “The report was created to facilitate a larger discussion about bicycle equity and serve as a resource for others to investigate their own understanding of what equitable infrastructure means. To look at it this report in any other way is to cast off integral context and the larger point of the report.”

Murphy is suggesting that the fact that the report still contains faulty Chicago maps, and statements about the 2020 Plan that may not be true, is irrelevant to the greater purpose of the study. As a reporter who witnessed the some of the work done by hundreds of Chicagoans to ensure that the bike plan is equitable, I disagree.

It’s unfortunate that the League is digging in its heels on this issue, because Prelog’s model of analyzing bike equity seems to be a valuable one. But the way the organization is handling the map problem makes their report less credible, and it’s already hurting the study’s reputation.

For example, the national advocacy group People for Bikes ran a favorable blog post about the report last Wednesday. But in the wake of Thursday’s Streetsblog article, PFB removed their discussion of Perlog’s Chicago findings, with a note that the case study “is apparently built on inaccurate data.”

It’s puzzling why the League won’t simply acknowledge that Prelog made an honest mistake and ask her to plug an accurate map of the 2020 Plan network into the Bike Equity Index model. Then we could actually get some useful insight into whether Chicago’s bike plan is equitable.

Wouldn’t that be more in line with the League’s equity goals than their current strategy of refusing to admit the report needs to be overhauled?

I was surprised that the StreetsBlog crowd decided to bring in the PeopleForBikes writers to help bolster their case against LAB. But I also suspect that the LAB group gets a great deal of flak from the Young Turks who dislike the Old Guard. Otherwise airing this sort of dirty laundry seems out of keeping with the Urban Cycling Community which is generally loathe to express interest in anything that does not reflect well on their ideas.

What is important here is that the report was retracted or otherwise corrected. Here is the followup from the good folks at StreetsBlog:

Earlier this month, the League of American Bicyclists released a report with a method for exploring how well bike networks provide access to underserved communities. Using Chicago as a case study, the report found that our city’s “planned network” would provide African-American and Latino neighborhoods with less than their fair share of access to bike lanes and paths.

However, the map that the report analyzed was not actually a map of Chicago’s planned bike network. After Streetsblog Chicago ran two posts drawing attention to the problem, the League has finally overhauled the report using the correct data. As a result, the study now finds Chicago’s Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 would significantly improve access for communities of color.

The report, “Equity of Access to Bicycle Infrastructure,” was written by Rachel Prelog, a Colorado-based urban planning grad student. Using data from the city of Chicago’s geographic information system portal, Prelog analyzed what she thought was the network of proposed streets for new bikeways.

Although the 2020 Plan was created after an extensive public input process, with the goal of creating a network that serves all Chicagoans equitably, Prelog’s original report suggested that the effort was a failure. She wrote that African Americans would “account for a large proportion of the residents who would not benefit from the expanded system.”

Worse, she wrote, “The full build bicycle network… would do little to improve access for Chicago’s Hispanic/Latino community.” She stated that the network would only provide one percent more of Chicago’s Latino population with quarter-mile access to bicycle paths and lanes.

However, the “planned network” map that Prelog analyzed was actually based on “recommended routes” shown on the city’s Chicago Bike Map, distributed for free at events and shops. Many of these routes don’t appear on the 2020 Plan map, and many of the 2020 Plan routes don’t appear on the Chicago Bike Map.

Soon after the study came out, I posted about the map problem, and called for the League to overhaul the report with the correct data. In response, they simply added a few disclaimers to the document to say the maps reflected “the data available at the time of this report.” However, at no point in time did the city’s database classify the recommended routes shown on Prelog’s map as the “planned network.”

In a follow-up post, I argued that the still-flawed LAB study was harmful because it would undermine support for building Chicago’s bike network, even though its claim that the plan would underserve communities of color was based on bad data. “It’s puzzling why the League won’t simply acknowledge that Prelog made an honest mistake and ask her to plug an accurate map of the 2020 Plan network into the Bike Equity Index model,” I wrote. “Wouldn’t that be more in line with the League’s equity goals than their current strategy of refusing to admit the report needs to be overhauled?”

Thankfully, the League changed their approach. This time, they reached out to the Chicago Department of Transportation to ask for the correct shapefiles for the 2020 Plan network. A statement about the report update on the League’s website notes, “The case study on Chicago now reflects the most up-to-date data related to bicycle infrastructure plans in the city.” The LAB still hasn’t acknowledged that their original report was wrong, but that’s a trivial issue.

Notice the scolding these pompous asses have given to LAB.

Look What The Cat Dragged In

So now that we know that StreetsBlog has also taken the Mayor’s Office to task for its misrepresentation of the facts, it seems a bit odd to find in my mailbox an article from the folks at PeopleForBikes that replicates this falsehood. See where I am going with all of this? Here is part of what that article had to say:

Compared to 100 miles of almost anything else a city can build, 100 miles of buffered and protected bike lanes costs practically nothing to install.

But when you look beyond the budget line items and start to consider what it means to transfer access to part of a city’s most valuable asset — physical space — a few stripes painted onto previously car-dominated streets can represent a massive investment.

When it’s wide and comfortable, a buffered bike lane is a big improvement over a conventional bike lane that also opens the door to further change in the future: adding the physical protection, such as curbs or posts or parked cars, that is required to make biking relevant to a much larger share of the population.

If you were to think about the 103 miles of buffered and protected bike lanes Chicago has installed since 2011 as real estate with an average price of $80 per square foot, it’d come out to something like a $300 million investment in an efficient, healthy, equitable transportation system based on the land alone.

Of course, that’s an “investment” that has cost taxpayers almost nothing while significantly improving transportation options on Chicago’s streets.

Last week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel celebrated installing those 100 miles of better bike lanes.

“Investing in bike lanes is essential to growing Chicago’s economy and improving our quality of life,” Emanuel said Friday, Streetsblog Chicago reported. “We have made tremendous progress toward expanding our bicycle network for all Chicagoans, and we will continue to work towards making Chicago the most bike-friendly city in America.”

Proving That They Are Not First-Rate Frauds

So here is what has to happen if these holier-than-thou types are going to prove that they can eat crow as well as smear other peoples faces in it:

  • The guys at StreetsBlog are going to need to contact PeopleForBikes and get  the writer to retract his obviously false report, since the data being propagated is incorrect.
  • They probably have put in a word or two to CDOT but I would love to learn that they were as pompous with them as they were with LAB.

Data is a bit like personal experience. It changes over time. Having a group like StreetsBlog try and force you to accept their findings is probably something that would normally be met with a bit of resistance. And certainly the CDOT folks are probably already seething at the idea of being exposed as well, not being entirely factual.

At any rate this could get juicier yet, as one after another of the news outlets picks up the press released and other articles about the Mayor’s accomplishments and finds out the the guys from StreetsBlog don’t like the conclusions.

But it is really nice to see that once in a while this Urban Cycling Community has a chance to put their arrogance with one another on display. Proof once again that ‘the sun doth not shine from their anal orifices‘.