Simplified fabrication

Note:  Please see update at the bottom

Over the last ten days, I’ve helped coordinate two volunteer traffic counts on John Street.  We were counting cars, bikes and pedestrians in order to disprove wildly inaccurate information in a staff report.

The response has been overwhelming.  From friends, colleagues and strangers, I’ve received a tonne of supportive letters and ‘thank you’s.  When people see ordinary citizens getting directly involved with city-planning, it can be inspiring and it reminds us that we all have a role to play in building and shaping Toronto.

The media has also been incredibly supportive, playing their role in pressuring the city to admit the data is wrong.  In the last week, we’ve seen articles on Torontoist, OpenFile, BlogTO, and three articles in the Star (1 2 3).

Meanwhile, the response from officials has been quite dismissive.  This is rather unfortunate. There is nothing wrong with making mistakes, and it would have been appropriate to simply withdraw the data immediately, admit the error, and perhaps even thank the volunteers who brought this to attention.

Instead, we’ve been told that the data was simply a “misinterpretation”.  We’ve been told not to “quibble”.  We’ve been described, by the private consultant responsible for the report, that our volunteer actions are a “a sideshow, a circus.”

And most recently, it was been explained by the consultant that the 2% number was the result of  “simplified averaging”.

Simplified averaging?  What does that mean?  Now we’re dealing not just with fabricated data, but fabricated mathematical terms.  There are lots of ways of calculating an average.  The simplest method involves adding up a series of numbers, and dividing the sum by the quantity of numbers in the set.   It looks like this:

There is no way, that I’m aware of, to “simplify” the method.  If you try to find a definition of “simplified averaging”, you’ll find none.  It’s a meaningless term.

The whole point of an Environmental Assessment Study is to provide useful data that politicians, planners and residents can use to help inform their decisions.  But these numbers are seem completely random.

In one of the John Street reports, there is a FULL PAGE dedicated to traffic counts.  The title of the page is “Existing Conditions:  How is John Street Used?”.  The purpose of the page is to give readers an accurate look at how and when people are using the street.  Down the middle of the entire page, in six bold green circles, it says “2%” for cyclists.  2% on Saturday afternoon.  2% on Friday evening. 2% on weekday mornings.  2% on weekday evenings.  And 2% on weekdays, midday.

But when we counted morning rush hour, this is what we found:

Ladies and Gentleman, this is not a “simplified average”.  It’s a lie.  It’s unprofessional, it’s unscientific, it’s misleading, and it violates the entire premise and purpose of the report.

Fabricating mathematical terms does not fix the fabricated data.

I don’t believe that ANY method of averaging bike traffic could result in a 2 percent result.  Let’s say that the average for May-Oct is 10 percent.  That would mean that the average from November to April would have to be negative 8%, which is mathematically impossible.   The absolute lowest it can mathematically get in the winter, is ZERO.  Let’s try that.  Let’s imagine no bikes all winter.  Not a single bike – for six month.  Even then, the summer months would have to drop to 4% in order to reach a 2% average over the year.  But we counted traffic ranging from 20% to 50%.

This data needs to removed, completely, from the report.  This is not ‘quibbling’, nor is it a ‘sideshow’ nor a ‘circus’.  It’s about transparency, honesty, good government, public engagement, and having the decency to admit “we were wrong”.

Cyclists are tired of being left out of the city’s planning process for road reconstructions – over, and over and over again.  We use the streets and we deserve a safe space to do so. And we deserve to be counted.


This is the third part in a three-part series.  On June 22nd, we finally got this note from City staff:

“On the City’s behalf, I’d like to thank you for the effort that you have put in to supplementing our counts with new material gathered in the past weeks…..We agree it was inappropriate and incorrect to have used the 2% figure for weekday peak hours.”

This was great exercise in community engagement and democracy.  I want to thank the volunteers who made it happen:

Andie Garcia, Baye Hunter, Ben Sulky, Dan Godin, Herb van den Dool, Jane Farrow, Josh Matlow, Stephen Cooper,Steve Barnes, Lynda Young, Miro Wagner, Ross K and Stephen Cooper.

I also want to thank Stephen Schijns, Manager of Infrastructure Planning at the City, for being very responsive and working with us to resolve the situation.

Tally Ho!



9 responses to “Simplified fabrication

  1. great work Dave – thanks for the effort and keeping on this issue.

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  7. Click to access 2011-06-30_cycling.pdf

    The city’s response uses 21 pages to show their work. They admit the 2% figure was wrongly used to describe rush hour. Apparently it was originally calculated based on two consultant-led counts in early May: One Saturday and one Friday with a Blue Jays game.

    The city’s counts confirm Dave’s team: over 125 cyclists/hr in peak period

    • That’s a weo-tlhought-lut answer to a challenging question

    • First let me admit that I am Becky’s husband. Becky wrote a book of poetry to honour her father, Shrapnel:Tales of a Soldier Dad. This book takes his wartime memories and puts them into poetic form. It also has poems that relate to growing up with a father for a veteran. To see more information about this visit the Craigleigh Press website. The book is now out of print, but if enough interest is shown we may do another print run soon.

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