Bike Walk KC’s Fuzzy Math and Incorrect Claims
Kansas City leaders have been considering a proposal to spend millions on a bicycle master plan for the city. The effort has sparked controversy, and advocacy group BikeWalkKC’s executive director Eric Rogers appeared on KCPT’s Ruckus last week to discuss the matter. Host Mike Shanin asked about the number of people who commute to work in Kansas City and Rogers offered, “And [biking is] on the increase. We know from the Census data that here in Kansas City biking to work, in particular, has gone up 20 percent since the 90s. And it’s actually gone up 130 percent since just 2016.”
These struck me as very large increases in such a short period of time. The last census report on biking to work was published in May 2019 and only includes data up to 2017. It indicated that only 0.6 percent of U.S. workers commute to work by bike. In Kansas City, the 2017 census data indicated that the number was 0.3 percent in the city and only 0.2 percent in the broader metro area. Where is the data that bike commuting has jumped 130 percent since 2016?
After Rogers stated those percentages, Shanin asked him what the numbers of commuters were [starts 3:39]. Rogers declined to answer, suggesting instead that viewers could do the math on their own. But they can’t from what Rogers provided; a percentage increase does not indicate the actual numbers. In fact, the high percentage increases may be a function of low actual bike commuting numbers. If two people in Kansas City biked to work in 2016, and three more joined them in 2018, that would represent a 150 percent increase—but it’s still hardly impressive.
Rogers has yet to respond to several requests for the data underlying his claim.
Incidentally, Rogers still has a blog post on BikeWalkKC that makes demonstrably false claims. In an April 1 (!) post titled, New Bike Plan Will Save Lives and Boost the Local Economy, he writes, “Economic Impact Analysis shows new bike master plan will save 36 lives every year, add $500 million to the regional economy, and create 12,000 jobs.” My colleague Kelvey Vander Hart addressed the claim about saving lives earlier this year.
But the jobs claim is just flatly wrong. The summary of findings upon which the Bike KC Master Plan claims are based states on page 6 that “this increase in economic activity leads to 12,600 additional jobs (measured in job years) over the period.” The period is 30 years, 2020 through 2050. Dividing 12,600 “job years” by 30 years gets 420 actual jobs. (Frankly even that seems high, but it’s not 12,600!)
Contorting data to justify dubious claims about job creation doesn’t help anyone. It only gives Kansas Citians even more reason to be skeptical as advocates ask taxpayers to spend hundreds of millions of dollars for something in which some neighborhoods see little value.