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TILT! Project Connect’s gerrymandering and data fiddling ignite public skepticism, pushback

30 November 2013
"Don't believe your lying eyes." At Nov. 26th "Community Conversation", Project Connect study director Kyle Keahey shows bar chart indicating overwhelming public support for "Lamar" sector, yet proceeded to justify study team's selection of "ERC" and "Highland". Photo: Julie Montgomery.

“Don’t believe your lying eyes.” At Nov. 26th “Community Conversation”, Project Connect study director Kyle Keahey showed bar chart indicating overwhelming public support for “Lamar” sector, yet proceeded to justify study team’s selection of “ERC” and “Highland”. Photo: Julie Montgomery.

Suddenly, the leadership of Project Connect’s urban rail study have scheduled, out of the blue, a “Public Data Dig”. On Tuesday, Dec. 3rd, from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm in the Capital Metro boardroom, the agency promises to provide “an interactive review of the approach, process, methodology, data, and evaluation results.”

And it’s not for the faint-hearted or the techno-wimpish: “WARNING: this will not be a layman’s discussion; this is an in-depth data-dig and technical review.” It’s hard to tell whether that’s a warning to intimidate the public and scare off the masses, or an effort to impress potential attendees with the daunting and immutable rectitude of Project Connect’s study efforts and final product.

But why have the study team suddenly decided to start publicly “digging into the data” now, setting a date 2.5 weeks after they made their decision (Nov. 15th) about where they wanted to put urban rail? Why didn’t they open these kinds of critical assumptions and methodological decisions to public discussion months ago?

Maybe they sense the mounting community outrage and anger at being treated like yokels by a flim-flam artist? And perhaps they’re starting to realize how seriously their credibility (and that of public officialdom generally) are being impugned by the barrage of savvy, insightful critical scrutiny of their shenanigans that has emerged, bolstering that community pushback.

That scrutiny has materialized in a veritable barrage of technically competent and even wonkish analyses that have been dissecting all the basic pillars of Project Connect’s wobbly “approach, process, methodology, data, and evaluation results”. From apparent gerrymandering of the study sectors (“sub-corridors”) to cherry-picking of data to peculiar fiddling of calculations, the agency’s procedures have deepened skepticism. For example, here’s a selection of community-generated analyses:

Project Connect’s “corridor” study — without corridors!
https://austinrailnow.wordpress.com/2013/11/11/project-connects-corridor-study-without-corridors/

Surprise! Mayor and Project Connect select same routes they wanted in the first place
https://austinrailnow.wordpress.com/2013/11/17/surprise-mayor-and-project-connect-select-same-routes-they-wanted-in-the-first-place/

A little oddity in Project Connect Evaluation Criteria
http://austinonyourfeet.wordpress.com/2013/11/21/a-little-oddity-in-project-connect-evaluation-criteria/

Project Connect’s Sub-Corridor Recommendation
http://jacedeloney.wordpress.com/2013/11/20/project-connects-sub-corridor-recommendation/

Highland Score
http://keepaustinwonky.wordpress.com/2013/11/25/highland-score/

A quick thought for tonight’s exercise
http://m1ek.dahmus.org/?p=914

Project Connect Reality Check: “Lamar” vs. “Highland” sector ridership comparison FAILS
https://austinrailnow.wordpress.com/2013/11/24/project-connect-reality-check-lamar-vs-highland-sector-ridership-comparison-fails/

“Highland” sector favored by Project Connect — but where’s the travel demand?
https://austinrailnow.wordpress.com/2013/11/19/highland-sector-favored-by-project-connect-but-wheres-the-travel-demand/

Lying with Maps
http://yarak.org/2013/11/lying-with-maps/

Welcome to Project Dis-connect!
http://www.icontact-archive.com/gV8wd5ityKfvqoWQQdiDT8IG1WNL1sIh?w=3

Huge problems cited with Project Connect’s urban rail study data
https://austinrailnow.wordpress.com/2013/11/03/huge-problems-cited-with-project-connects-urban-rail-study-data/

Another Rail Petition worth signing
http://highlandneighborhood.com/another-rail-petition-worth-signing/

Austin Rail Now encourages everyone interested in this crucial study and the need for urban rail (electric light rail transit) in Austin to attend this crucial event on Dec. 3rd. Project Connect’s announcement assures “We really want to take the time to answer all of your detailed questions….”

That sounds a bit like they’re approaching this as an exercise in explaining the complexities of their arcane brilliance to us benighted peons. After all, that’s pretty much the way they’ve conducted their so-called “public participation” process. Despite all their assurances of “transparency”, they’ve conducted this study with about the transparency of peat moss, keeping their most critical deliberations virtually locked within a reinforced bunker.

Let’s hope community participants at Tuesday’s meeting will be able to drill somewhat into that bunker.

Even more importantly, Project Connect’s urban rail program needs to be put on Pause. It took the wrong track back there, and has not only some explaining to do, but some reversing as well.

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