In a Low Key Piece, the L.A. Times Shows How It’s Done When It Comes to Discussing Traffic Enforcement

Today, the Los Angeles Times published its own opinion piece by Robert Greene of the #roadsharela team discussing the reality that drivers are too often excused for behavior that endangers or even kills cyclists and pedestrians. While Greene’s piece doesn’t offer prescriptions or bash the police and prosecutors for their boredom whenever a person is killed in the street by a vehicle.

spring street
Photo: LACBC

Greene’s piece is a pretty quick read, and the format is easy to follow: some storytelling from attendees at the California Bike Summit, a quick review of some prescriptions, and an even quicker show of support.

The Los Angeles Times’ column won’t attract the attention that the New York Times op/ed did this weekend, and that’s too bad. Greene manages to stay away from inflammatory headlines, victim blaming, silly graphics or the now-obligatory paragraph castigating the rampant law-breaking that apparently the vast majority of cyclists do hundreds of times everyday just to annoy opinion columnists and message board contributors.

Heck, the L.A. Times story even uses an image from a recent Ovarian Psycos ride without commenting on the lack of helmets being worn by the riders.

And that’s a good thing.

The problem with the New York Times piece which doesn’t appear in the L.A. Times piece is there is no false equivalency. As has been pointed out in Streetsblog, Biking in L.A. and Bike Snob, the New York Times, while bravely stating it is not o.k. to intentionally kill a cyclist, still paints the problem of cops not enforcing the law as partially “the cyclists” fault.

While they don’t phrase it this way they basically said that a group of kids riding their fixies through a stop sign is the reason that the police won’t care if a truck pulling off the 405 rams me and my kid on the way to preschool. To say nothing of the rights of the kids on fixies, they’re right to equal protection isn’t even mentioned.

One of the reasons I’ve been so enthusiastic about the Times’ effort to better cover the bicycle movement and the issues surrounding it is that they’re trying to go beyond what’s become the boilerplate when writing about bicycles. Even my friend Carla Hall, who I believe still thinks we’re all a little crazy for riding bicycles on city streets, is trying to understand what the average cyclist deals with when they ride on the street.

Neither column goes far enough to actually cite statistics, such as that in Eastern European countries where the driver is assumed to be at fault in any collision with cyclists and pedestrians that crashes and fatalities are 20% of what they are in the United States, but there’s a clear difference between the two columns.

In Los Angeles, the Times is trying to lead the discussion on how streets can be safely traveled by all users. In New York, the Times is putting the onus on cyclists to fix problems they didn’t create.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    I think they’re actually probably safer not citing statistics. There are so many differences between road conditions in Europe and road conditions in the US that it’s very hard to attribute any difference in safety to the legal rights and responsibilities, rather than to extra awareness of cyclists, greater separation between drivers and cyclists, and the generally lower number of drivers in Europe.

  • rakdaddy

    There was a great editorial this past Monday in, of all places, The Economist that discusses the European model that places fault with the driver:

  • davistrain

    Many years ago, after hearing reports about all the wonderful electric railway services in Germany (back when there was still East and West), I interviewed one of the officials at the Consulate General on California St. in San Francisco. He confirmed what I had heard unofficially, that driver’s licenses were much harder to obtain in his country, and he also told me how cars had to be maintained to higher standards (no running around with banged-up fenders or primer splotches.) And with much better public transit and bicycling routes, their equivalent of the DMV is less reluctant to suspend or revoke driving privileges.


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