Editorial: Your Thoughts on L.A. Times “Roadshare” Series?

Cue the foreboding music, someone's on a bke! Screen capture of L.A. Times #RoadshareLA video - click to view at Times website

Someone’s biking, queue the foreboding music! Capture of L.A. Times #RoadshareLA video – click to view at Times website

The L.A. Times has been running a series of opinion articles under the tag #RoadshareLA. The pieces are “an online exploration of the seemingly sudden arrival of cyclists as not just a cultural but a political force in California.” Yesterday #RoadshareLA concluded with a pair of videos showing what scares bicyclists and what concerns drivers. You can tell the videos apart  because the bicycling one has foreboding music, while the driving one sounds more happy – exactly the opposite of my own experience.

As a cyclist, I welcome the L.A. Times coverage of bicycling. As the saying goes, all press is good press. These pieces let the L.A. Times readership know that cyclists exist. I remember in my early years with the L.A. County Bicycle Coalition (1998-2003) it was difficult to get the Times to devote any space to bicycling issues. The #RoadshareLA articles and videos do serve to further a healthy and needed debate. Streetsblog has shared these articles via our headlines. If you’re a cyclist, you’ve probably seen them in your social media feeds. Anecdotally, from my own cyclist-heavy Facebook feed, it seems like many L.A. cyclists have a positive impression of the series.

I find a few of the #RoadshareLA pieces pretty off-putting – including this article telling us that “Wilshire Boulevard… is not for bicyclists.” Some of them don’t feel newsworthy, including this one about the guy who moved to L.A., rode a few times, then stopped bicycling. Wow. Hold the presses. Some are inane - this one boils down to more-or-less “I read somewhere that driving burns calories.” On the other side of the coin, the series has also featured L.A. livability leadership, including Jen Klausner, Ted Rogers, and Streetsblog’s own Damien Newton.

Looking at  whole picture, though, I think it’s good that the Times speaks with multiple voices, reflecting  a diversity of opinions.

Now that it’s over (and, hopefully that doesn’t mean that the Times will forget the word bicycle for the next few years), Streetsblog wants to hear your comments on #RoadshareLA. What do you think? What was good? What irked you? What was missing? 

Here are a few more of my criticisms on the series:

  • Windshield perspective – So much of the wording just assumes a driver’s perspective. There are lots of examples, including this article’s title The 2nd Street tunnel’s frustrating bike lanes. Frustrating? I don’t know any cyclists that found these bike lanes frustrating.
  • Skeptical voice: Take this sentence from this editorial: ”The [complete streets] law was designed [to reduce emissions, to improve safety, to enhance the quality of life] and in part, some argue, to reduce obesity.” (bold added) “Some argue” that fostering bicycling and walking reduces obesity? Please. Is there really a debate on this? There’s plenty of research, easy to find.
  • Lack of diversity: throughout the series, and, especially watching the videos, it seems like every L.A. cyclist is a hip, Caucasian urban professional. Where are the Latinos, the elderly, the working class cyclists?
  • Focus on differences:  I guess it’s less newsworthy if there’s not enough conflict, but the series seems to hold that drivers and cyclists are so so different from each other. Somehow scofflaw cyclists are out wantonly breaking laws, and that angelic drivers aren’t, except for little oopsy “accidents.” For example, three minutes into this video, a driver (who is looking around and speaking into an electronic device) criticizes cyclists for wearing headphones. Damien put it well in this interview: all road users bend and break the rules. Everyone does it. Many drivers speed, use cell phones. Many cyclists run stop signs. Many pedestrians cross streets outside of crosswalks. This equivalence of intention doesn’t mean it’s all ok (I think drivers need to take responsibility for having a lot more metal around them that has a lot more potential for destruction), but I think that, overall, the way we all behave has a lot more in common than what this series portrays.

For my last two cents, I’d like to quote the Times’ Christopher Hawthorne, who editorializes in the paper’s culture pages.  In a January 25, 2014 piece titled CicLAvia closes a few streets to cars but can open the city’s mind, Hawthorne wrote:

The truth is that traffic isn’t going to get better. Period. We should stop promising that it will.

Congestion isn’t something to reflexively fear, in any case, even in Los Angeles. It is a sign of economic health and a vital urbanism.

In fact, every city Angelenos tend to idolize as a haven for pedestrians and users of mass transit and as a model of vibrant street life — whether it’s New York, Shanghai or London — is also “strangled by traffic.”

and

But to define people solely by mode of transportation — to say that they belong to one and only one of these various camps — is to risk missing what might be CicLAvia’s most valuable contribution.

Drivers, when they are not behind the wheel, are also pedestrians. Most cyclists also drive cars. The vast majority of pedestrians know what it’s like, as drivers, to feel the soul-crushing frustration of horrible traffic.

CicLAvia’s real importance has been to make clear that the divisions that we spend so much time debating — between cyclist and driver, driver and pedestrian, pedestrian and cyclist — are surprisingly malleable.

How about you dear readers? What did you like or dislike about the Times #RoadshareLA?