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City engineer: “You are welcome to come and check our data on bike lanes”

February 17th, 2011 · 108 Comments

I called the long-suffering guy in charge of bike lanes, Jerry Dobrovolny, earlier this week to get more information about how the bike-lane statistics are gathered, since there have been allegations by some people (and not just anonymous ones on this blog) that the engineering department is faking data.

“We do need to be able to stand by the accuracy of these numbers,” said Jerry, who has been on the front lines of this for the last two years. For those who haven’t seen him at meetings in person or watched on your laptops, he’s your classic engineering guy: quiet, doesn’t do anything without checking the numbers ten times, thoughtful. He’s been with the city forever (not a recent draftee from Cortes, as the critics might suspect) and was trusted enough by the previous NPA/Rogers administration to be the spokesperson for the city during the strike. “If somebody wants to do a check, we have data on an hourly basis and they can look at our numbers.”

He said if anyone has video or any other count they have done for a particular time period, he will get his staff to pull the data they have for that hour to see if it matches. He does request that people come in with hard evidence, not anecdotal reports, so he’s not going off on wild goose chases.

Since anyone can come in with any random hour from any time in the last several months, it would be impossible for the engineering staff to know which hour might be requested and to “adjust” the numbers to match.

(For all the conspiratorial types who are still in hot pursuit of a smoking gun, if my wording is unclear, his intent is to provide the information in whatever way it takes to ensure that anyone who wants to check the data will be able to do so in a way that makes them confident that they are seeing the numbers recorded at the time.)

 The department does regular checks on whether its counting equipment (wire and hoses on the road) is working properly. So staff will be assigned to monitor either a video camera trained on a particular counter (apparently there are several that are trained on particular spots along the bike lane) or to go out to the street for an hour and do a count, then compare it to the numbers the city is getting through those hoses and wires to make sure the equipment is working right.

“We collect the data continuously,” he said. “There’s nothing we can do to fiddle those numbers.”

I said I’d heard that some people have claimed they’ve seen city workers stamping on the counter hoses. Others at the city have told me that might be workers testing a line to see if it’s registering properly.

Jerry said he’d have to check into whether they test by stepping on the line, but he was categorical in saying that it’s crazy to suggest that workers would be sent out to jump on the lines to push the counts up. Okay, he didn’t say “crazy.” He’s far too circumspect to ever use that word. But he was adamant that that would never happen.

I know that some of you are wondering why I’m bothering with this and thinking to yourselves, “What’s next? Is she going to start trying to provide evidence for people who think the world is flat? Who think Elvis is still alive? Just give up already, these people are hopeless.”

But I am hearing this allegation steadily and, as I said, from more than just anonymous posters. So go ahead, why doesn’t some civic-minded type go out and video-tape a particular block for a couple of hours (make sure there’s some way to guarantee the time and day) and go pay the engineering department a visit to see how the numbers match up. I’ll come along to see what happens if you’re willing.

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  • Sean

    @Paul: If I read you correctly, you’re talking about these kinds of lanes, right? http://www.sydneymedia.com.au/asset/2/images/Artistimpression_separated_cycle_lane.jpg

    My comments would be:

    – you still need physical separation (such as the bollards in the picture) between the parking lane and the bike lane to prevent car incursions into the bike lane. I’m not convinced that this would be substantially cheaper to build than our bike lanes.

    – As a cyclist I’d still be very concerned about being “doored” by parked vehicles unless there was a 3-foot wide median (or other permanent barrier) to prevent doors from extending into the bike lane.

    – Hiding the bike lane behind parked cars will make cyclists less visible to motorists – this would make the lanes a lot less safe than they have to be.

    – This design increases pedestrian traffic across the bike lane and seems likely to cause more cyclist/pedestrian accidents.

    – In most places room for the Dunsmuir and Hornby bike lanes came from eliminating parking in order to preserve through lanes (and making up the lost spaces on nearby streets). I’m not convinced that it would be politically feasible to eliminate the through lane required to build these kinds of paths in the downtown core.

    With all these issues, I fail to see how these would be superior to what’s already in place. Don’t get me wrong – these kinds of lanes are still miles better than a painted lane with no separation – but I still don’t see a reason to choose them over what we’ve got.

  • craig

    No need to question the legitimacy of the bike numbers they are probably correct but certainly nothing to be jubilant about. What is missing from the Vision Vancouver approach is honesty. They dont lie about the actual data, they lie about its meaning. For example, the idea that any of these bike lanes were ever a ‘trial’ is a dishonest and inaccurate statement. If they are a trial, what are the criteria for failure? Never stated or written anywhere as far as I can tell and to me that means they probably dont exist.
    12,000 ‘trips’ in high summer and during the fireworks downtown. Well that means 6000 actual cycle round trips per 7 day WEEK. Rough numbers are 1700 ‘one way trips’ per day. Most of those would be within the 12 hours of daylight 7 am to 7 pm which is 840 minutes for 1700 bike ‘trips’. Yes you get about 1 bike every half a minute which is why they always look empty. To me, that is a failure and clearly illustrates why people are upset about $25 million in bike lunacy while the city has to cut schools, fire services and so on because it has a 24 million dollar budget DEFICIT. I wonder where that deficit came from?

  • For the umpteenth time… if you are going to bitch about honesty then you should play by your own rules. The $25 million dollars for bike infrastructure covers all of Vancouver and includes a long-range planning process component, not just the downtown bike lanes. If you truly want to save the city some money, drive less. It costs far more to provide downtown access to a car user than a bike user.

  • Craig

    Chris..
    If YOU are gonna bitch about honesty then you need to read more carefully. Others have made the mistake, but I have never stated that the 25 million was for downtown lanes alone..You jumped to that conclusion. I know full well it is a 2 year budget for biking and I never meant it any other way.

    However 25 mil for biking lunacy is still 25 mil they dont have and it is still true that the so called trial is still not a trial but a sham and therefore dishonest. ‘TRIAL’ means there is the possibility of a negative outcome built in to the design of the ‘TRIAL, before it is begun. I still havent heard what traffic level would make the so called trial be declared a failure and I still say that shows that there is no traffic level that would produce that outcome from the present city council.

  • Earle

    Has anyone looked at the concrete barrier erected on Hornby at Beach, a totally unnecessary waste of money when one realizes that this is a cul-de-sac that has so little traffic, only drivers who live in the 2 condos at the foot of the street use it….why such an expensive system of barricades when we cannot afford a few thousand dollars for the Children’s Petting Zoo in Stanley Park? Aside from that issue, there’s no reduction in pollution when vehicles are backed up on Pacific or when they are required to go two extra blocks 0ver to Howe Street rather than directly down Hornby to Beach. Bad planning for sure, but Robertson, Dobrovolny, Meggs & others will not admit that.

  • Craig:

    Your entire post was concerned with downtown bike lanes and you’ve conflated the $25m two year budget with a single year deficit if I’m not mistaken (again). My apologies for the inference, but you’ve made it easy to assume you’re only referring to one aspect of cycling infrastructure.

    As to whether something is a trial or not… I’m sure if there were catastrophic impacts from the lanes they would be removed. It would only make sense. But, using ridership numbers from the first months they have been in place strikes me as unrealistic. When we look at projects such as the Golden Ears Bridge, the metrics tend toward projecting use statistics for a decade or longer. Other roads and bridges are built to accommodate long-term growth, why wouldn’t we expect the same for bike lanes?

  • Craig

    >>
    you’ve conflated the $25m two year budget with a single year deficit if I’m not mistaken
    >>
    Oh… you mean to say the 25 million in deficit is only for ONE year? that there is likely gonna be 50 million in deficit by the time we get through the 2 year cycling budget of 25 million? ( Assuming VISION survives an election). Of course that isnt the case, since they are thankfully obliged not to run a deficit ( so far ) meaning they have to cut somewhere and bike budgets trump everything else with this bunch.

    I dont agree with the word ‘conflate’ but I agree I could have been more precise in my wording. Nonetheless, the main points still stand.

    The lanes are empty and Meggs talks as if they arent. Like most people I just hate being lied to especially when I have to pay for it.

  • Craig

    Oh and one more thing..

    >>
    ..roads..bridges..are built to accommodate long-term growth, why wouldn’t we expect the same for bike lanes?
    >>

    The reason we wouldnt ‘expect the same thing for bike lanes’ is….wait for it…..
    because it is a TRIAL not a permanent installation.. isnt it?