The Daily News Editorial Board — Still Part of the Problem

I’ve been trying to put my finger on why this morning’s Daily News editorial about slower speed limits got under my skin so much. The core message is fine — New York does need to measure the impact of new street safety policies. But it’s obscured by a thick layer of ignorance.

Start with all the clumsy signifiers that come straight out of a Tea Party manifesto. To the Daily News, the New York City advocates, policy experts, and civil servants trying to prevent traffic injuries and deaths by reducing the incidence of speeding are “theorists” looking to impose a “social engineering project.” (Clearly, we’re all getting marching orders from the UN.)

“Show us the numbers,” goes the subhead, by which they mean “detailed, street-by-street, regularly refreshed data documenting the impact of this rejiggering on the push to save New Yorkers’ lives.”

The city absolutely must track progress. The thing is, there’s already “detailed, street-by-street, regularly refreshed data” on traffic crashes. After years of pestering from Streetsblog, Transportation Alternatives, and open data advocates, the NYPD started publishing a citywide feed this May. NYPD’s street safety feeds would be a lot better if the department released geo-tagged summons data as well, so people can see if traffic tickets are being issued where enforcement is really needed, but that’s not what the Daily News is looking for.

Here’s where the editorial board finally tips its hand:

By objectively tracking the experiment in motion, Trottenberg has a precious chance to undo the cynicism bred by her predecessor, Janette Sadik-Khan, who infamously cherry-picked information to justify new bike lanes, pedestrian plazas and more.

This is rich. For several years the Daily News editorial board has been impervious to data on street safety. No matter how many before-and-after studies piled up showing fewer injuries and better economic performance after streets were redesigned, the Daily News didn’t acknowledge the evidence.

The pattern veered way outside the bounds of healthy skepticism and into outright denial of the truth. The editorial board bought into a cynical lawsuit full of cherry-picked numbers filed by a few privileged people who didn’t like the bike lane on their block. They got the facts so wrong, and their misinformation got so bad, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the city would have safer streets today if not for the Daily News.

With some fresh faces on the editorial board this year, I was expecting better. And the Daily News did deliver a great piece on speed cameras in May. Still, the editorial page continues to print birther-style denials.

If the Daily News can’t correctly assess the effects of relatively simple changes to individual streets, why should New Yorkers trust it to evaluate an overlapping set of street safety policies applied on a citywide scale?

The paper has a credibility problem on traffic safety. After years of ineptitude evaluating street redesigns, the burden of proof is on the writers at the Daily News to show they can interpret the numbers in good faith.