Times Op/Ed on Bike-Car Relationship Reveals the Good and Bad of Thompson Fallout

11_5_09_daum.jpgShe looks like she could handle life on a bike. Join us, Meghan!
Photo: Creepyla.com

Since the Christopher Thompson verdict was announced on Monday, many cyclists have reacted with dismay to the media coverage of the assault, the trial, and the reactions of other Angelenos on message boards and call-in shows.  Cyclists were surprised at the venom shown by callers and mis-information from the host on progressive KPCC’s morning show and other radio shows were just as bad.  Surprisingly, some of the best coverage, was from the conservative John and Ken Show, the top rated radio call-in show in Los Angeles.

Today, the Los Angeles Times stepped into the fray with an op/ed by columnist Meghan Daum.  The piece is typical of the good and the bad of the coverage.  Daum seems to think that all cyclists are spandex wearing weekend warriors or communist hippies; but she also charectarizes many drivers as socially acceptable sociopaths.  Consider:

Obscene gestures, vanity plates — it’s all part of the romance of
Southern California driving. Road rage? That’s just the inflamed
passion part of that romance. But anyone who’s been paying attention to
the road lately has probably noticed a marked, even dizzying —
increase in the number of bikes on U.S. streets.

Ugh.  Stererotypes on parade.  However, our car driving friends fare even worse:

Because there’s a larger bone of contention here, which is that
cyclists make a lot of us feel like lazy slobs. Whereas drivers sit in
an air-conditioned bubble, expending only the energy required to press
the gas pedal, tap the brake and change from a ’70s classic rock radio
station to an ’80s classic rock station, cyclists are out in the actual
elements doing actual exercise. Whereas drivers are consuming calories
by eating an entire bucket of KFC over 10 blocks, cyclists are burning
calories and consuming nothing but seaweed at home. Whereas drivers’
carbon footprints grow more beast-like by the hour, cyclists create no
exhaust other than the sweet fatigue they feel as they drift off to
saintly sleep at night.

Of course, moral superiority is
insufferable, but you still shouldn’t try to run it off the road or
teach it a lesson with the family car. You might win on the street, but
in court, it’s a different story.

While I applaud the general sentiment of her story, that drivers and cyclists need to co-exist and it’s incumbent on drivers as the bigger road users to be the bigger people; I have to wonder whether painting with such broad brush strokes, "drivers are slobs" and "cyclists are insufferably smug," is the way to get the message across.

If you haven’t checked out Daum’s column yet, I would recommend you do so.  If nothing else, the comments section gives you a chance to interact with some of L.A.’s less sympathetic drivers in a forum where their two tons of body armor aren’t a factor.  I would leave my own comment, but I have to finish my seaweed before grabbing my cloth bags and heading to a farmer’s market.

  • everyone please comment on la times articles/other “mainstream” news sources as much as possible; the comments on this op/ed are fairly pro-cyclist, but we need to be setting the record straight as much as possible. I couldn’t figure out the times’ god damn comment registration so i’ll post what i was going to write here, to make myself feel heard…Thousands of people die every year from our broken traffic system and we still think it’s a laughing matter, or worse, we irrationally define ourselves by it (“you are what you drive”, where we live). When will we realize this car thing is an endgame, making us fatter, angrier, more disconnected, more polluted, poorer, and finally more dead? Streets are our most abundant public spaces and we’ve given them up to machines. Every other major city in the country has discovered this and is making huge inroads to remove cars from their streets and put people back on them; STREETS FOR PEOPLE, duh. Except Los Angeles, which is being left in the dust, even by our neighboring cities. But luckily, cyclists are some of the most active, engaged, and committed people around this place, and it won’t be long before all the drivers in this city look back on the “old me” after they emerge from their car binge like a bad drug habit.

  • My responses to today’s post-Mandeville fallout.

    Times Op-Ed:

    A good point: many people wrongly assume cyclists have no rights (including some cyclists). To clarify, cyclists do have a right to occupy a full lane even if they are moving slower than motorized traffic, as long as it is unsafe to share the lane with a car, or if there is damage to the outside of a lane that would make it dangerous to ride to the right. It can be argued that one of these two conditions apply to a majority of streets in L.A.

    It’s no wonder that utility cycling is on the rise; it’s far cheaper than owning and maintaining a car, and has the potential to accommodate many more people using already existing road space. If given a modicum of support with improved infrastructure and policy, it can easily help solve some of our city’s transportation problems.

    KPCC:

    To say that cyclists are “difficult to avoid” when they claim a traffic lane is nonsensical, unless, like Dr. Thompson, your intent is to “accidentally” run them down. Cyclists that ride in the gutter are far more likely to be hit by a motorist who doesn’t see them.

    When a cyclist takes a traffic lane, it is either because the lane width is insufficient to safely share with a car or there is damage in the right half of the lane that makes riding there dangerous. It is not an attempt to be “rude” and slow down or block motorized traffic.

    It is apparent that certain drivers misinterpret this behavior as arrogance. It is not. As a utilitarian cyclist, I have learned through experience that if I am overly considerate on the road and neglect to ride in a safe position, I could be sideswiped by a driver who can’t be bothered to slow down and pass me with adequate space, or possibly slammed by a driver-side door, thrown open into my path by someone in a parked car.

    If I have to make a choice between appearing arrogant and being killed or crippled, I will side with arrogance.

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