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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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