Reviewing the Media Reviews of Los Angeles’ Dangerous Streets

Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times got the scoop on all of us with by publishing the findings of a University of Michigan study that showed that both New York and Los Angeles are more dangerous places to walk than an average American city.

Among the study’s findings:

  • Pedestrians in Los Angeles account for about a third of all traffic fatalities – triple the national average of 11.4%,
  • 3% of L.A.’s fatalities are bicyclists, nearly double the 1.7% national average,
  • 36% of all crashes at intersection are fatal versus. “Only” 22% are fatal nationwide,
  • Nearly two-thirds of all crashes at low speed, cars going thirty five miles per hour, cause a fatality. The number is only 21.8% nationwide.

CBS uses this graphic to announce deadly crashes in Los Angeles.

These numbers were even worse in New York City, but of course New York has higher numbers of trips made on foot and on bike than Los Angeles does.

While the study isn’t particularly surprising, it does provide an interesting look at how Los Angeles’ large media organizations cover such a story. In an opinion piece today, Paul Whitfield notes that commenters at the Times split into two camps: “drivers are dangerous,” or “pedestrians are idiots.”

However, the media in general placed the blame largely on Los Angeles’ drivers, following the lead created in the Los Angeles Times’ initial story

L.A. drivers have a high rate of fatal pedestrian, cyclists crashes,” blares the headline in yesterday’s Business Section of the Times. Inside the article, author Jerry Hirsch talks to both the report author and the Bike Coalition’s Eric Bruins. Both clearly state that better investment could create better streets, although Bruins also takes time to tweak Governor Jerry Brown for vetoing the “3 Feet Please” legislation that would mandate safe passing distances between cars and bicycles.

Thanks to a content sharing agreement, KTLA and CBS 2 ran very similar stories, even quoting Bruins although he doesn’t appear on camera. On their websites, KTLA reprinted the Times’ story. Despite rolling out the tired “Nobody Walks in L.A.” line, CBS 2′s story sticks to a “just the facts” report, but the headline of the piece declares, “L.A. Drivers Kill Pedestrians at Triple the National Average.”

NBC 4 had the strangest reaction. First, it briefly reported on the story, but then changed gears to talk about traffic safety measures being taken in Santa Monica. While road conditions are similar in both cities, it seems that maybe it would make more sense to send a reporter to the City of Los Angeles for this particular report.

Fox 11 had the most outrageous report, (video only), with the reporter both warning bicyclists and pedestrians to stay inside for fear of deadly streets and excorciating drivers for being willing to “run you down, just like that.”

KPCC wasn’t satisfied just re-reporting what was in the Times. The radio station asked listeners and readers to tell them where the most dangerous intersections in Los Angeles are for a future story. The crowd sourcing project seems a better way to get people involved in the story than just telling them to stay inside or excoriating drivers.

To the best of Streetsblog’s googling and television watching, it appears that ABC 7 did not cover the story at all. The Daily News also declined to cover the story.

Following the lead of the story authors, and later the Times, nearly all print stories used the word “crash” to describe a vehicle violently striking a person or object instead of “accident.” But broadcast news generally slipped back to using the judgement free term accident. The noted acception to this is LAist, which split using accident (7 times) and “crash” (6 times).

Nearly all of the news stories followed Bruins’ lead and criticized Brown for vetoing Senate Bill 1464, which mandated that all drivers need to give cyclists a 3 foot berth when passing from behind. Despite virtually no opposition, even AAA supported the bill, Brown vetoed it citing Caltrans’ objection to allowing cars to pass “double yellow” road lines to make the pass. Brown was concerned this language opened the door to legal action against the state. None of the twenty states with similar laws to the one Brown vetoed have experienced such lawsuits. Brown joins Texas Governor Rick Perry as the only governors to veto safe passing legislation.