Says surveys are “Garbage in/Garbage out”
In a February virtual ConnectCOS meeting, City staff shared results from a ConnectCOS survey. Several pieces of information did not add up. It made us wonder if City staff sought out certain special interest groups to participate in the survey. We anticipate these survey results will be touted as the reason bureaucrats push for future taxpayer funded transportation projects, including replacing traffic lanes with bike lanes.
PlanCOS has been years in the making, and includes some of the most activist citizens and bureaucrats in Colorado Springs. It’s a blueprint for Colorado Springs development over the next several decades. ConnectCOS is the transportation portion of PlanCOS.
From the ConnectCOS page:
ConnectCOS is a year-long study that will involve a significant technical analysis, and robust community engagement effort, to identify and prioritize short and long-term transportation projects to ensure that people who live, work and play in Colorado Springs have an opportunity to participate in the study.
Note the mention of a “robust community engagement effort.”
Those who are most enthusiastic about the changes are always eager to send in their survey responses. What about those who are busy going about their day to day lives? They aren’t as likely to jump in with an opinion, as they have little to gain and what they might lose hasn’t yet been realized.
The topic of the February virtual meeting was a discussion of the ConnectCOS survey results. Were cyclists oversampled in relation to their actual numbers?
We filed a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request of city employee emails to find out. We feared the city outreach for survey participation may have catered to these special interest groups. We have seen that before.
What we got from the CORA request was priceless. Included was a series of emails between a citizen, named Charles, and the City staff working on the ConnectCOS project. In short, Charles called the survey results “garbage” and gave the bureaucrats his unfiltered, blunt comments.
What do we know about Charles? He’s retired, and has been a Colorado Springs resident for many years. He’s a straight shooter, a nice guy, and he cares a lot about his community. The email correspondence began after city staff saw a letter to the editor in the local newspaper penned by Charles, asking citizens to respond to the ConnectCOS survey. Charles feared that many community members would not bother participating. If you’d like to read the entire email exchange it can be found here.
To be clear, City officials saw a letter to the editor, encouraging people to fill out the survey —which some might call robust community engagement— and they had a conversation about it.
For reference below, Tim Roberts is a City of Colorado Springs Traffic Planner. Travis Easton is the Public Works Director. Ted Ritschard is a project planner. This email is one of many we received in our CORA response.
Here is the email that gave us good insight into Charles and his experiences with cyclists:
Sent: Monday, September 21, 2020 9:05 AM
To: ‘Ted.Ritschard’; Roberts, Tim
Cc: Easton,Travis W.
Tim and Ted,
I’m doing a little introspection before I make any more of a public fool of myself. As Tim (Roberts) said, numbers matter. I’m trying to understand the implication of the stats and I’m trying to figure out exactly what I think and why. The biggest objection I had (and have) to the prior PlanCOS process and resulting bike lanes was my perception that bicycle enthusiasts in the city had a disproportionate voice in that process. That the mayor appeared to block any independent survey, poll or referendum to accurately measure support for bike lanes only served to confirm my annoyance. Your ConnectCOS survey will presumably be used to set policy and goals for the next twenty years. For that reason, it’s especially important to me that the ConnectCOS survey be an accurate and unbiased reflection of the city as a whole, and not unduly influenced by specific groups. If I understand correctly, Tim told me in a phone conversation last week that 300 out of 1200 responses to your survey appeared to be from bicycle enthusiasts. My response at the time was that this doesn’t surprise me. What I didn’t say at the time is that it seems to confirm my concern. As I remember it, the bicycle club that showed up in force at the Gazette’s “Battle of the Bike Lanes” town hall in 2019 was estimated to comprise a few hundred people. The fact that they all showed up wearing identical t-shirts, and that many showed up very early to take prominent seats in the audience, illustrates their monolithic organization, energy, and determination to make themselves highly and disproportionately visible. It’s a safe bet that the same group has also participated en masse in your survey. My suspicion is that this explains many of the 300 bicycle enthusiast responses that you received. While 300 out of 1200 does not represent a majority, having a unified block of 25% in an otherwise (presumably) diverse group represents a lot of power to affect policy. If this pattern applies in general to contributors to ConnectCOS, there is a lot for me to be worried about. The 2017 census tables (this is data that I have readily at hand) estimated that 0.5% of total commuters in Colorado Springs were using bicycles. To have representation by bicycle enthusiasts in your survey run at 25% is simply not representative of the city. It appears to be way out of whack. If 25% of the city population used bicycles for transportation (as opposed to recreation), one would expect to see parked bikes all over the city. Yet I seldom see more than one or two. I don’t see them in significant numbers at the grocery store, at Tinseltown, at University Village, in church parking lots, at my doctor’s office, and so on. The only credible and impartial measure of support for bike lanes that I’ve seen was the postcard campaign sent to residents in the Research Parkway area. The result of that poll was so negative that Research Parkway was returned to its state prior to the bike lane addition. To be clear, I am not unconditionally opposed to bike lanes. One that Tim is planning for Parkview has my full support because it helps calm Parkview without a dreaded midway stop sign on a steep slope. However, I am opposed to setting policy based on survey that is faulty because it didn’t reach a broad swath of the city population. Garbage in/garbage out applies. I think a survey that obtains only 1200 participants out of a population of almost 700,000 is easily manipulated, and way too small to be trustworthy. So, how do you guys interpret the 300/1200 statistic? Is there reason for me to not be concerned?
We think we should throw Charles a parade. Talk about an active and engaged citizen!
For ordinary citizens, day-to-day life is busy. Most of us aren’t sitting around dreaming up taxpayer-funded projects for the City of Colorado Springs to spend our money on. The point we often try to make at SpringsTaxpayers.com is that special interest groups ARE doing just that: sitting, dreaming, and spending, while the rest of us are just living our day-to-day lives.
Do you share Charles’ concern about the survey results touted by city project planners? Does it concern you that 25% of respondents were avid cyclists, when only .5% of Colorado Springs residents commute by bicycle? Our research agrees with that low figure.
Contact Mayor Suthers and City Council members and let them know that you have concerns about their endorsement and votes of these projects that are built off of skewed surveys that are “garbage in/garbage out”.
Mayor John Suthers Jsuthers@springsgov.com
Tom Strand Tom.email@example.com
Bill Murray Bill.firstname.lastname@example.org
Yolanda Avila Yolanda.Avila@coloradosprings.gov
Richard Skorman Richard.Skorman@coloradosprings.gov
Mike O’Malley Mike.OMalley@coloradosprings.gov
Dave Donelson Dave.Donelson@coloradosprings.gov
Nancy Henjum Nancy.Henjum@coloradosprings.gov
Randy Helms Randy.Helms@coloradosprings.gov