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.