The brilliant Ron Benn, Bulldog columnist and commenter, puts an interesting perspective on the pressure group report purchased by Kitchissippi Councillor Jeff Leiper and authored by Bike Ottawa.
First, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the document. The level of detail of the process they followed is relatively comprehensive.
The level of effort that went into it exceeds the $3,700 fee paid. To be clear, I am not saying that the value exceeds $3,700, only that the level of effort going into it, if prepared by a “for profit” organization, would have been more than $3,700.
On to the actual merits of the discussion and conclusion. The key element to the entire report is the concept of perceived safety. It forms the basis of all of their analyses and findings. The problem is that the entire document is hinged on two imprecise measures – perception which is an individual “emotion”, and safety, which does not have a generally accepted definition.
What I perceive to be dangerous, my then teenage son considered to be fun and worth doing, over and over and over again. He is still alive and in one piece. Given the outcome, was he right, or just lucky? My perception is that what he was doing was not safe, and that ultimately he was just lucky. His perception is that the stunts (none of which involved breaking the law) were safe to perform, and that he matured into his 20s intact is all the proof required. Imprecise measures increase the probability of being wrong exponentially, not by mere addition. To illustrate, 5 squared = 25, while 5+5 = 10. To the bicycle lobby, please don’t focus on the variable, as 1, 2, 5, 10, 100 will give you significantly different results. The example, as I said, is illustrative only.
The reason I raise this is that a special interest group would have us believe that if we just spend tens of millions of dollars on improving the bicycle friendly infrastructure to their standards, the number of users will increase from about one-third to about two-thirds (figure 1-3). Mystical, magical thinking, as it requires that we accept that the about one-third of “interested, but waiting for better facilities” group is homogeneous in its perception of “better facilities”, and that those “better facilities” equates to a level of safety they perceive as acceptable, and in its honesty in how they self-evaluate (did they say they were on the fence because they didn’t want to sound like they were against bicycling as form of regular transportation?). Both assumptions bear a high risk of being wrong. Back to the exponential nature of errors.
To conclude, what is being proposed is high-cost infrastructure (re)development, where the costs have to be incurred before the results of that expenditure will be known. Put another way, build it and see if enough of them will come is an interesting premise for a Kevin Costner movie, but for a financially constrained municipality that lacks the funds to maintain its existing infrastructure … well, thank you, but pass.
A Field of Dreams: Cycling infrastructure should not be treated like a movie myth.
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