Bike Report Is An Unnecessary Ottawa Gamble: Benn

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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.

Benn

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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21 thoughts on “Bike Report Is An Unnecessary Ottawa Gamble: Benn

  1. Ron,
    I said it yesterday, this is not a report. It’s a commercial that uses pseudo psychology to come up with LTS and then makes the assumption that if you build it they will come.

    But, it was full of pretty pictures.
    skoal,
    Chaz

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    1. merrill, I think the bicycle group’s report was more comprehensive than OC Transpo’s. Of course, since the open, transparent and accountable administration of Mayor Watson hasn’t shared OC Transpo’s report with the public, we will never know (if it exists).

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  2. Merrill. Good point. I am an avid cyclist and spoke with one of the self-appointed leaders of the Ottawa bicycling community a number of years ago. I remember he didn’t want to share ideas and wasn’t interested in hearing what I had to say (we met at his invitation), rather it felt more like he was trying to convert me into his cult. My overall feeling coming out of the meeting was he didn’t subscribe to applying simple logic to achieve his final goal. He was definitely sticking to his guns. Our half-hour conversation was exasperating (for both of us, probably) and needless to say we never met again.

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    1. sisco, I recall a sage statement, which resonates with your observations with the avid cyclist. The statement was something to the effect of “Please tell what evidence I might be able to present that you might be prepared to accept. If the answer is nothing, then let’s just shake hands and go our separate ways.”

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  3. By the way, Ron, I did notice one thing you commented on earlier on. The report written for Kitchissippi Councillor Jeff Leiper’s benefit was a bargain at just more than $3,700.

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  4. Maybe Councillor Leiper should commission them to do more reports, unrelated to cycling, since it was such a bargain, and it was released.

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    1. David:

      Take a peek at Steve’s comment above and you might not think so.

      He works from the viewpoint that biking is truth, then builds arguments to support it.

      Not a bad idea to go the other way around.

      cheers

      kgray

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  5. The comments here sound like a bit of populist anti-academic anti-elitism.

    Perceived safety acts a major barrier to increasing cycling (Pucher & Dikstra, 2000). While the actual risk of cycling is relatively high, the perceived risk is the important criterion in terms of behavioural response (Parkin et. al, 2007). Perceived safety is central to successful cycling design (Parkin & Koorey, 2014).

    So the experts have opined that perceived safety is important, yet this is the big issue with this report?

    Note: I am neither a member of the group that produced the report, nor involved with with producing the report.

    * Pucher, J. and Dijkstra, L. (2000). Making walking and cycling safer: lessons from
    Europe. Transportation Quarterly, 54(3), pp.25-50.

    * Parkin, J., Wardman, M. and Page, M. (2007).Models of perceived cycling risk and route
    acceptability. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 39, pp.364-371.

    * Parkin, J. and Koorey, G. (2012) Network planning and infrastructure design. In: Parkin, J.,
    ed. (2012) Cycling and Sustainability. Bingley: Emerald Books, pp. 131-160.

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    1. Steve:

      You truly can’t see past your biases if you think that Ron Benn is anti-academic and anti-elite.

      That’s really no way to talk about Ron because if you ever looked at his background you’d say otherwise.

      And if you looked at some of the research you’ve pointed to in the past … well … pretty pronounced biases.

      Steve … I think you should really think hard about the way you characterize people.

      Ron is an important part of The Bulldog and undeserving of your rather uneducated, knee-jerk reaction.

      Wake up.

      cheers

      kgray

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        1. Steve:

          What a load of horse-doodle.

          I’ve never seen such a blinker-wearing, one-centered commenter in my life.

          Your lack of ability to discuss something is astounding.

          I’m right, you’re wrong … everything is black and white.

          You’re not worth wasting my time. Lot’s of people disagree and they can have a discussion … including myself.

          It is more fruitful hammering my head against a wall than trying to have a discussion with you.

          Has anyone every told you this before? Right or wrong you just plow forward with questionable references.

          cheers

          kgray

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          1. Ken, this kind of put-down is truly off-putting, enough — if I ever see this again — to quit reading the Bulldog. You should apologize.
            “Steve” was wise to ignore your comment and instead respond, rationally, to the substantive replies made by Ron Benn.
            Shame on you, Ken.

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            1. EajD:

              Having a discussion with Steve is just time taken off your life.

              It achieves nothing and alienates readers. I would rather attend a convention of people who drag their nails across a chalkboard — rather like you actually.

              Truly I’ve been patronized by much better people than Steve.

              Truly EajD, you should spend your Sundays in church rather than your once-a-week negativity fest.

              Shame on you, EajD.

              cheers

              kgray

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    2. Steve:

      So I take from you’re first line that you are anti-populist, an academic and part of an elite.

      You know, there’s nothing quite so endearing as an elite and someone who thinks they are part of it.

      cheers

      kgray

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    3. Steve, my thoughts on the issue were pointed in the direction of the probability of a successful outcome of spending larges sums to create enhanced bicycle infrastructure. As I noted, the report is well-written, but like many reports it has its limitations, and those limitations are the underlying assumptions.

      I do not dispute the concept of the perception of safety being a critical factor. I have looked at various cycling routes between my home and my office, trying to figure out which route has the lowest risk of interaction with large vehicles moving at speed. I was trying to find a route that met my perception of safety. I have yet to find such a route.

      At issue are the assumptions that if we build additional cycling infrastructure, the number of cyclists will increase two-fold, thus justifying the expenditures. Social scientists need to recognize that the imprecision of the measure has a significant effect on the quality of the data, and far more importantly, that the precision of the data is limited to the least precise measure. Unfortunately, not enough people understand that concept, and as a consequence place far too much reliance on the illusion of accuracy.

      The perception of safety is personal, and therefore extremely difficult to measure. What I perceive to be safe enough to use as a cycling route may not be the same as what you perceive. So, after spending tens of millions of dollars in upgrading cycling infrastructure, we might find out, due to the softness of the measures, that not all of the roughly one-third of the people in the survey who self-identified as “possible” are actually prepared to consider cycling for commuting purposes.

      The second element is the softness in the measure of the same group of “possibles”. How many of the survey participants who self-identified as part of the “possible” group did so because they did not want to be perceived (even in the privacy of their own minds) as anti-cycling? I don’t know, you don’t know, no one really knows and that is why the measure is soft, and thus imprecise.

      The probability of incurring the cost of the enhanced infrastructure is high, and with the track record of municipal spending, there is a high probability that it will cost more than the budget (Exhibit 1: LRT Phase I – with its iron-clad fixed-cost contract). In contrast, the probability of the conversion of all of the “possibles” into “actuals” is very low. Given the mismatch of probabilities (high on the cost side, low on the benefit side) led me to my conclusion that there is a high risk of this type of project achieving its MEASURABLE goals.

      Finally, as I have pointed out in other posts, elected officials have a difficult time setting priorities. In this instance, we have a mayor and a transportation committee chair who have acknowledged that the city (during their terms in office I might point out) has failed to maintain its existing transportation infrastructure. My preference is to put more dollars towards repairing what we already have, rather than spending those same funds creating infrastructure that history tells us (and the report points out) will not be properly maintained.

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      1. Excellent Ron:

        And how do we justify spending millions on bike infrastructure when the lanes are only open to the average cyclist less than one-third of the year.

        Not everyone rides in the winter, on high-heat days, on very windy days or in the rain.

        cheers

        kgray

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      2. Thanks for the excellent well thought out response Ron,

        I agree that the 200% assumption is an issue. On the other hand, I don’t see an issue of justifying the expenditure on infrastructure that improves both perceived an actual safety. We have clear scientific evidence on what infrastructure does and does not improve safety (hint: no evidence that sharrows help).

        As for the incurred cost of enhanced infrastructure, we know that some of the safest infrastructure is actually cost-saving, as it is cheaper than replacing road bed.

        When it comes to spending money on infrastructure, I would only look to the brand new hospital link road as ways that transportation money could have been better spent.

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        1. Steve:

          You must be confused.

          In your comment before, Ron was a populist, anti-academic, anti-elite person.

          A tad inconsistent there, Steve.

          cheers

          kgray

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      3. Measuring with accuracy the perception of anything is pseudo- science. Just look at the measurements of perception about who was going to be the Republican Presidential candidate followed by perceptions of who would be elected president. I perceive that all those who try to measure perception are perverse.

        If you are going to base a decision on what you think someone might-maybe do if a certain situation arises then you might-maybe put your pay cheque on number 17 because number 17 hasn’t come up in the last 20 spins. You perceive your odds of it coming up are getting better, they ain’t.

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