KABC Discovers What’s “Bugging You…”

I have to admit. I expected worse.

When I read on Midnight Ridazz that ABC 7 was running advertisements about a segment on the 11:00 P.M. news called “Road Wars: Cars v Cyclists,” I was expecting a total hit piece on bicycling.  My friends in San Francisco and New York warned me that there is always a blowback in the media when cycling and transit start making headways against a Car Culture mentality.  We’ve already seen the assault on the Westside Subway because it won’t magically unclog Westside surface streets.  Now, it’s cyclists turn.

And the promo worked.  I watched ABC 7 all day waiting for it to run again, and then stayed up late to watch the piece.  I was ready to write an immediate reaction piece here, in the same way I watch the Super Bowl just waiting to be outraged by car commercials.  For those of you that don’t know me, that last part was a joke.

But the piece wasn’t that bad.  The promo for it, promoting a “road war” and featuring angry clips from motorists and a crazy-looking Aurisha Smolarski from the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition promised something cutting edge and news worthy.  This piece was neither.

Sure, it was biased against cyclists, casting them as incompetent menaces instead of equal users on the road.  Instead of rousing my protective nature toward cycling,  it left me wondering, “that’s it?”  After all that promotion the best they could come up with was footage of a couple of cyclists running stop signs?  I mean, we all know drivers would never do that.

But that wasn’t my only complaint with the piece, following the story chronoligically:

I have to wonder about starting the piece with a cyclist making a legal left-turn in a turn only lane.  Most drivers, and some police officers, seem to think that such a move is illegal for cyclists.  It’s an odd way to start the story, especially by going right from that clip to a driver complaining about cyclist behavior at stop sign.

  • The only driver interview is with Chris Castillo who begins with a smirking, “there just happen to be certain cyclists, for the most part, that don’t obey safety rules.”  The way he says it, with a lopsided grin, makes me think he’s not referring to all cyclists everywhere, but of some people he knows personally.  My guess, he’s referring only to LADOT meter enforcement.
  • You Tube?  Really?  “And on YouTube there are videos of hundreds of cyclists breaking the law.”  On YouTube there are also hundreds of videos of cars driving recklessly.  Also: hundreds of videos of “Shakira shaking her butt.”  And, O…M..G…there are literally thousands of videos of “cats doing funny things.”  Perhaps YouTube popularity is not the best way to judge how prevalent something is.
  • “Viewers tell us cyclists have cursed at them and threatened them sometime on the road.” is somehow equated equally with, “cyclists complain cars don’t give them enough room.”  First: cyclists watch your news show (i.e. they’re viewers.)  Stop acting like cyclists are some sort of rare species that can’t figure out how to work our black and white picture boxes ever since our rabbit ears stopped working.  Second, when I say something bad to someone, even if it’s threatening; it is not equal to driving so close to a cyclist as to potentially cause a crash.  That’s what “not giving cyclists enough room” really is.
  • What’s up with the interview of Aurisha?  Where’s the crazy Aurisha from the promo?  Why this well-dressed, rational woman calmly explaining the difference between how bad driving is a menace to everyone and bad cycling is a menace to, well, bad cyclists?  It’s almost as though the clip they showed in the promo was wildly mis-representative of Smolarski’s speaking style.
  • What the LAPD officer says is true for every user of the road.
  • The end of the story is so innocuous as to be almost useless.  Really?  You could find some cyclists that obey the law?  Good for you.

In the end, I was left rolling my eyes instead of feeling angry.  The best reaction to the article was actually scribed by our friend Roadblock over at Midnight Ridazz.

The traffic grid in Los Angeles is designed primarily for cars and until it accomodates bicycles, cyclists will fudge the system. In the Netherlands the traffic grid is designed for ALL modes. Lights signal green first for peds, then for bikes then for cars. There are rarely any stop signs and the laws place strict liability on the heaviest vehicles first meaning that if you are driving a heavy vehicle an accident is automatically your fault unless proven otherwise. This forces drivers to slow down when peds and cyclists are present. It makes for a much more people friendly environment.

A little more of that would definitely make things more pleasant for everyone.

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