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?

 

 

  • grrlyrida

    What bothers me about the series and the bike movement in LA in general is the lack of Latino voices, Black, Amenian and Asian. The series should have been called “More white people with bike problems.” This is always troubling because when I ride my bike and talk with others who ride their bikes they don’t resemble anyone in those articles. When I walking my dog in Silverlake I see young Latino, Asian and black kids flying down Sunset with their fixes or BMX bikes, not a bunch of white folks from the Westside who occasionally ride their bikes. Or I see my neighbor who happens to be Latino get ready to ride his bike to work. From a county with with 48% Latino, 14% Asian and 9% black and with a black president you’d think we would hear more voices than those that look more like a Mitt Romney rally.

  • Erick Huerta

    Ditto @grrlyrida:disqus comments. I commute from boyle heights through downtown into south central for work 4 times a week, which is an easy 7 mile ride for me. But the reporters and the people they interviewed make it seem like I’m on a death wish by riding through these neighborhoods. I have the privilege of being able to bike to work because I want to, but that’s not the case for others trying to get to work. The LA Times won’t take notice of cyclist of color until one of us (god forbid) gets hit by a car. If at that.

  • Salts

    LA Times should not allow articles to be published that treat law-breaking as behavior exclusively found in bicyclists. No stupid anecdotes about bad experiences with bicyclists. Every single article that attempts to do that should note how many innocent people are killed by stupid drivers in the city before they go off about how “dangerous” and “inconsiderate” cyclists are towards everyone else.

    No more articles on the premise “my commute is slower now because the city decided to make the street safer”

    Every article should ask what is more important, street safety or saving minutes on one’s commute? If rush hour is a concern, remove parking. If you propose that then suddenly everyone will say that rush hour isn’t THAT bad.

  • John Lloyd

    I agree that the LAT’s attention to bicycling for transportation was welcome, and the fact that it wasn’t entirely negative was also a step in the right direction. But, there was still an underlying assumption in most of the coverage that an automobile-based transportation system should be the default mode for LA, when for a variety of reasons never really explored by the LAT (air pollution, public health, public safety, equity, congestion, livability, economics, climate change, etc), the automobile needs to be shown the door and replaced by alternative ways of moving people. In the long run, this is an imperative, not a “choice.”

  • DMalcolmCarson

    I sent this in to their “Readers Representative”:

    “TheLA Times published an error of fact in its Editorial entitled, “Sharing the
    road in Los Angeles”, Feb. 24, 2014 (A13). The Editorial states in relevant
    part:

    “Those lane changes [removing automobile lanes] may enhance
    some communities and protect the safety of cyclists. But they also affect the
    community patterns – and needs – of a city laid out for [automobile] drivers.”

    This is demonstrably false. It should go without saying that the core areas of Los Angeles, most of which date to the 19th century and earlier, were
    laid out for pedestrians and horses and buggies, not car drivers. It is also
    true, however, that the vast majority of even the more recently developed parts of Los Angeles was laid out for riders of the streetcar lines, once the most extensive urban railway system in the world. The only areas of Los Angeles that were laid out for car drivers are those areas that were developed in the post-World War II period and those are generally low-density neighborhoods on the fringes of the city that house a very small percentage of the City’s total population and are mostly irrelevant to this conversation. All of the areas referenced in your “RoadShareLA” series are pre-World War II neighborhoods that were laid out either at a pedestrian scale (e.g. downtown LA) or for streetcar riders (e.g. Highland Park, Eagle Rock, Los Feliz, South L.A., etc.). I’d be happy to send as much evidence of this as you would like, but I’m reasonably sure that after a moment or two of reflecting on the many articles about Los Angeles history that have appeared in your own publication, you will agree.

    This could be dismissed as a minor historical detail, but I believe that it’s
    fundamental to the debate at hand. If we understand that LA was not “laid out
    for drivers”, but was instead originally laid out for pedestrians and
    transit-riders, the task of re-establishing a balance between automobiles and
    other users of the city’s streets may seem much less daunting. After all, the
    traffic-choked, auto-oriented version of LA that came into being in the latter
    half of the last century was never particularly successful at delivering on the
    dream of easy universal mobility, particularly not for the substantial minority
    of residents for whom car ownership always remained financially out of reach.

    I would appreciate it if you would go so far as to print a retraction of this
    error, given the importance of it to the questions of public policy that the
    editorial seeks to address, and because it’s a common, easily falsifiable myth
    that needs to laid to rest, starting most importantly with the city’s newspaper
    of record.

    Thank you for your attention.”

  • Joe Linton

    Awesome – great point! Hopefully they’ll print something.

  • As someone who lost multiple Great Aunts and Great Uncles (i.e. my Angelino Grandparent’s siblings) to death via the early car culture in Los Angeles, I want to thank you!

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