WPIX Gets BIke Law Facts Wrong and Misses DMV Scandal Under Its Nose

New Yorkers have seen their fair share of malicious press about bikes, from willful ignorance in Daily News editorials to Marcia Kramer linking cyclists to terrorists. But sometimes, it’s not maliciousness that causes trouble. A story from WPIX reporter Kaitlin Monte this morning may have been intended to educate the public, but did little more than circulate misinformation. A moment of fact-checking before going on air could have salvaged much of the piece — and perhaps spotlighted a newsworthy scandal right under the reporter’s nose.

The story about NYPD’s “Operation Safe Cycle” got off on the wrong foot from the start. “Few things are worse than getting nearly knocked over by a Lance Armstrong wannabe as you cross the street,” Monte said in her introduction. As far as danger on the streets goes, actual collisions with cars are far worse than near-collisions with cyclists, but let’s skip Monte’s editorializing and go straight to the facts of her story. There are two big errors that should be corrected.

Most of Monte’s piece consists of man-on-the-street interviews with a mix of cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers. “Once I was trying to get out of a taxi, and a bike almost hit the door,” a young woman told her. Monte doesn’t mention it in her piece, but that’s called dooring. The young woman, not the cyclist, was at fault. The woman is required by law to look before opening her door into the path of an oncoming cyclist. It’s such a problem that the city has developed an education campaign to alert taxi riders, and the Taxi of Tomorrow includes sliding doors to cut down on dooring. But why let facts get in the way? Let’s blame the cyclist for it — NYPD has!

The second big omission comes at the tail end of the piece. “The price for being pulled over? A fine of up to $270, and paying your ticket online means an extra $88 surcharge and extra points on your license,” Monte said.

“Wow, adding points on your license?” the show’s anchor asks, appearing shocked by the harsh punishment for cycling offenses.

“Yep, it can be pretty serious. So watch out, bikers,” Monte replies.

Well, not exactly. Though cycling violations are not subject to surcharges and license points, the DMV website (much like the law itself) doesn’t distinguish between bike and car violations. As a result, for years the state has assigned fees and license points that don’t legally apply. The DMV is aware of the problem but seems to have no intention of fixing it, a newsworthy scandal that gets no mention in Monte’s piece. To her credit, Monte tweeted this afternoon that she is interested in following up on the issue. Update: Monte says a follow-up piece is “in the works.”

NYPD says “Operation Safe Cycle” targets the most hazardous cyclist behaviors. That sounds good, but halfway through the crackdown, it appears NYPD has not shifted away from its fish-in-a-barrel policy of years past: stopping cyclists for safe but illegal behavior, handing out bogus tickets, and racking up huge fines for minor offenses.

The way NYPD continues to approach bike enforcement is hardly going to have an impact on the most reckless cyclists who blow through crowded crosswalks or ride against traffic on a busy street. Of course, given the far deadlier reality of dangerous driving, there’s no proof that a bike crackdown, no matter how well executed, is going to get the city any closer to achieving its Vision Zero goals.

Now that’s a story worth reporting.

  • JarekAF

    “Few things are worse than getting nearly knocked over by a Lance Armstrong wannabe as you cross the street

    Few things? I can think of more than few:
    1. Actually getting knocked over by a “Lance Armstrong wannabe” [ed. dear journalists, can we kill the f–king “Lance Armstrong wannabe” thing already. Lance Armstrong has been disgraced. He hasn’t raced in years. Those people aren’t “Lance Armstrong wannabes,” they’re people on road bikes riding fast.]
    2. Getting hit by a car.
    3. Getting hit and killed by a car.
    4. Getting hit, killed by a car, and then blamed for it by the police and local press (except for streetsblog).

  • Note: Ms. Monte finished in third place (as Miss New York) in the 2012 Miss America competition:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaitlin_Monte

    So this is not a person who has a strong background of investigative reporting, and thus the mistakes on display here are somewhat predictable. What I do not understand is how they pushed this segment to air with anyone else supervising the process, unless the entire culture at this news station is to just make it up as they go along

  • Whenever someone says that almost getting hit by a bike is the worst thing in the world I always wish the ghost of someone who has been actually hit and killed by a car would pop up and say, “Really?”

    New Yorkers, at least those willing to speak to TV reporters, seem to have lost the ability to distinguish between the generally annoying, somewhat dangerous, and the totally deadly.

  • Dead men tell no tales

  • millerstephen

    @brianvan:disqus : While your comment about Monte’s reporting is relevant to the discussion, a swipe at her Miss America history isn’t. I think this is a distinction you’ve drawn out a bit more in a discussion on Twitter, but I just want to make sure that gets highlighted here as well: https://twitter.com/brianvan/status/502508656882372608

  • That’s very thoughtful of you and I agree. The issue is not that she had a beauty pageant career, the issue is that she is a recently hired journalist (two months ago for her first reporting job) who doesn’t seem to have any credentials or education background in this field. That’s not an insurmountable challenge for traffic reporting, but for things that stretch farther than that, new reporters (even those with a MA in journalism) often need editing/supervision assistance to get the job done right. I see even deeply-experienced reporters get this stuff wrong after hasty/glossed-over/bias-laden work.

    You figure that, if 4-6 people worked on this for hours, that at least one of them might have known (and spoken up) about dooring being a violation by the door opener, not the cyclist

  • Joe Enoch

    Regarding this story’s insane “dooring” quote, I have a legitimate question: If I am doored by a taxi or TLC passenger, who is at fault? The dirver? The passenger? Both?

  • Mark Walker

    PIX11’s coverage of livable streets issues ranges from authoritative (Arthur Chi’en) to competent (Greg Mocker has come a long way) to…well, this. The station has won a lot of Emmies, but it’s under the same pressure to do fluff as any TV news operation, and in this case it looks as though a reporter hired to do fluff wanted to stretch herself into a new area. I wish her well; all great reporters have to start somewhere. But the commenters below who object to a lack of supervision are right. Not to recognize what dooring is — wow. That’s a serious error.

  • nycadmin

    Can someone explain to me how the DMV can assign points to cyclists’ driver’s licenses if a driver’s license if not required to operate a bicycle?

    Next time I am stopped by a cop for a violation on my bike, is it better to hand him my passport?

  • Emmily_Litella

    Mediocrity in the workplace is rampant throughout this society, newsrooms are no different. The program is the commercials, the show (newscast in this case) is just there to get you to watch the commercials. These people have not taken a hippocratic oath or even needed to pass something like a Bar Exam. Good to call them out, but that and $2.50…

  • Joe R.

    I think a large part of the problem here is who they choose to interview. It seems the news networks focus mainly on the wealthier sections of Manhattan for their interviews. I don’t take much stock in what some 1%er with no real problems in life and all the time in the world to complain finds annoying. They should try doing these interviews in poor or middle class neighborhoods. They might get answers like broken streets are the biggest problem, or perhaps speeding motorists, or high housing costs, or lousy schools. I doubt they would get much complaining about bicycles. This entire bikelash thing is a symptom of the wealthy who hate bicycles riding through their neighborhoods because it reminds them that lower classes exist (i.e. a subway rider is lower class to these people but a cyclist is the lowest of the low). To them lower classes represent only one thing-labor to be exploited but at the same time kept in line. They probably view bicycle lawbreaking as “their” servants breaking their rules. I recall vividly one time I was in Manhattan and some old woman who appeared to be well-heeled made a comment as a bike slow-rolled through a red light. I facetiously responded “Oh, the horror. The horror!” The look on her face of disbelief was priceless.

  • BBnet3000

    People arent actually afraid to be hit by bikes, they just say they are. Part of my commute to work (by bike) has people jaywalking in front of me very regularly. I’m always happy when theres a car coming down the street at the same time as me, because people don’t step out in front of them as readily. I wonder why?

  • The Doors

    Silly question. Of course YOU are at fault! Do you know how expensive it is to fix a car door?! So why do you think it’s okay to just ride into it??

  • Jeff

    Better than those Dale Earnhardt wannabes zooming around, am I right?

  • SteveVaccaro

    That is an interesting question. Opening the door, including dooring bicyclists, is considered “use,” not “operation” of a vehicle. The driver (and the owner) are responsible for the use AND operation of a vehicle, but there is a loophole in the carrier-for-hire insurance requirements that allows a cab or livery vehicle to insure the driver only against negligence in the operation but not in the use of a vehicle. Meaning that if the passenger in a yellow cab doors you, you can’t claim against the driver’s insurance, you have to claim against the medallion, and often those are hocked up to the gills and not worth much.

    This morning, I am going to court to argue that the state-created insurer of last resort for hit-and-run victims, MVAIC, is responsible for the negligence of a cab passenger who “doors-and-runs.” MVAIC is trying to claim that is is not responsible for the use of the hit-and-run cab as if it were a commercial insurer operating under the loophole in the commercial insurer requirements (which it is not).

    I would much rather see legislation requiring taxi TV to tell cab passengers not to door cyclists (like there was years ago) and that they should stay at the scene when they do door a cyclist. We see plenty of door-and-run cases in our law practice.

  • qrt145

    Besides the insurance question, is it not a crime to “door and run”? It should be.

  • Bolwerk

    Can’t speak to this, but “news” organizations do seem to hire a lot of people who were in that pageant. And that pageant seems to attract its share of bobbleheads.

    And it’s not like there aren’t boatloads of journalism students in NYC, many of whom have helluva academic credentials and probably struggle to find gainful employment.

  • Bolwerk

    I seriously doubt they aren’t selecting every single interview deliberately. Local news is about PR more than news.

  • Ian Turner
  • Eric McClure

    Why? Because they won’t make the news if they get hit by a driver. A cyclist, on the other hand…

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