Wednesday, May 16, 2018

MTA's bicycle count: A Document Dump for the digital age

A definition of "document dump" from Wikipedia:

A document dump is the act of responding to an adversary's request for information by presenting the adversary with a large quantity of data that is transferred in a manner that indicates unfriendliness, hostility, or a legal conflict between the transmitter and the receiver of the information. The shipment of dumped documents is unsorted, or contains a large quantity of information that is extraneous to the issue under inquiry, or is presented in an untimely manner, or some combination of these three characteristics...It is often seen as characteristic behavior of an entity that is engaging in an ongoing pattern of activities intended to cover up unethical or criminal conduct.

I suppose you can call me "an adversary" of the SFMTA, since I've been a critic of that increasingly bloated agency ever since the city began implementing the 500-page Bicycle Plan on city streets without doing any environmental review, which was clearly illegal under the state's most important environmental law. 

Can't call that behavior a crime, but city officials, including the city attorney's office, lied shamelessly about that during our 2005 appeal before the Board of Supervisors.

The MTA's data dump that now replaces its annual bicycle count report was not directed at me personally. Instead, its purpose is to obfuscate for the public in general the reality of how many people are riding bikes in the city. Are the numbers growing or shrinking? 

The last traditional report I have that clearly shows that is the San Francisco Bicycle Count Report 2015 (I have hard copies of earlier reports going back to 2007, but you will try in vain to find links to those documents on the MTA's website). The count in that report (buried on page 9)---by actual people at the same locations as the previous year---showed a 7% decrease in bike commuters:

For example, the September 14 – 20, 2015 manual counts (taken for only two hours from 4:30-6:30 p.m., not capturing the full evening commute) report a seven percent decrease from the September 2014 manual counts. While the 15 automated counters also reported a similar decrease in this September 14-20 timeframe, automated counts for all of September weekdays showed a two percent increase from September 2014 to September 2015 (~234,000 to ~239,000). This shows the ability of automated counters to collect more robust data that eliminate problems with only sampling for a limited amount of time on a limited number of days.

That sets us up for one of those "improvements" that the MTA likes to call every change it makes to city streets. Here, that means the city will rely more on sensors embedded in city streets to make the count, not the lying eyes of actual people, which it calls the "manual count" as opposed to the electronic count.

How reliable is that electronic count and how easy is it to game those sensors by unprincipled cyclists? We may never know.

Instead of a discrete count report like the one in 2015 with those embarrassing numbers, we will apparently get this data dump puffed up with self-congratulatory happy-talk and bullshit.

In short, we'll never really know how many people are riding bikes in the city. That means the city will continue its anti-car redesign of city streets on behalf of the Bicycle Coalition and a small minority of cyclists, making it harder and more expensive to drive those wicked motor vehicles here in Progressive Land---and aggravating traffic congestion in an already congested city. 

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Kevin Drum

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Spike Lee and Agent Orange

In today's NY Times:

“It cannot be just a history lesson,” Mr. Lee said. “It has to be contemporary. So that was the hip thing that we did. Otherwise it’s a period piece. We had to connect David Duke to Agent Orange today.” 

This is the name Mr. Lee uses to refer to President Trump, whom he did not mention by name during our conversation. Mr. Lee happily credits the musician Busta Rhymes for the nickname Agent Orange, a toxic defoliant used by the American military during the Vietnam War: “Shoutout to Busta,” he said, laughing...

The intensity with which Mr. Lee spoke about Mr. Trump and Charlottesville finds a corollary in a section of “BlacKkKlansman” that incorporates some of the rally’s most agonizing images. These include the death of Heather D. Heyer, who had been part of an anti-racism counterprotest.

“I called up Heather’s mother, Susan Bro,” Mr. Lee said. “I was not going to put that in unless she gave me her blessing.” He gave her his sympathies and then said, “‘Mrs. Bro, I want to end ‘BlacKkKlansman’ with the murder of your daughter,’” Mr. Lee said after a silence, she told him: “Spike, put it in.” The film, he continued, opens in August, a year after Charlottesville. “That’s what this film is about,” he said. “It’s about today. Are we going to go forward or backward?”

donald trump fired
Agent Orange

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