Your View: Bikeshare’s fuzzy math

Your View: Bikeshare’s fuzzy math
(Derrick Perkins)

By Ayne Furman, Alexandria (File photo)

To the editor:
When we were surprised by the Capital Bikeshare station on South Royal Street and asked the city why proper outreach and permitting was not followed, it came to my attention what a poor job that some members of staff do disseminating data and information to city council, committees and commissions. This means that these entities are not making decisions affecting our neighborhoods and businesses based on comprehensive facts and knowledge of the situations being presented.

These examples pertain to Capital Bikeshare, but this is not about the merits of the program. Rather, this is how city staff appears to be presenting less than accurate statistics. While these examples are minor, they should exemplify that the larger problem is staff presenting misinformation.

In several memos, staff from the city department of transportation and environmental services stated: “Capital Bikeshare has been very popular with residents and visitors to Alexandria, with over 105,000 trips departing from Alexandria stations since the program began, and 17,600 members in Alexandria.”

This is a misleading statement and statistically worthless metrics. These are cumulative numbers over the life of the program. The life of the program is not an analytical measurement.

The 17,600 statistic comes from when Alexandria installed the first Bikeshare station until the present. This means members may have been counted multiple times. I have to say I was surprised that no one on city council said, “Wow, that means over 10 percent of our city’s population are members, that does not make sense.”

And of the 17,600 “members,” 14,044 are one-day members. A more relevant number would have been the number of current members, or a graph showing current members over time.

Transportation staff often refers to an online survey when discussing how they gathered community input about bicycling and pedestrian activities. This survey was not sent out on the city’s general email list, but only to a list of residents they thought would be interested.

The survey was conducted by Toole Design, which admitted the results were not statistically meaningful. Only 540 people responded, with very little response from residents of the West End. Over 85 percent of the respondents claimed to be white, 99.2 percent spoke English and 71.4 percent reported having a household income in ex- cess of $100,000.

Meaningless bar and pie graphs have been produced for the public and for other city commissions from the survey results without a note that the survey lacked adequate representation from lower income, minority, disabled and diverse geographic areas of the city.

And city staff continues to cite this as a prime reason for its decisions about bike stations and bike lanes while refusing to talk to the relevant civic associations in the affected neighborhoods.

Assuming city staff genuinely wants the best outcomes for Alexandria and its residents, it’s critical that all departments that create and disseminate data ensure that the information is reliable, valid and, most of all, accurately reflect the topic under discussion. Capital BikeShare should be the starting point for doing so.