What Sane, Responsible Bike Coverage Looks Like

Regrettably, the embed code for the opening volleys in CBS2’s "bike bedlam" series is busted, so you’ll have to actually visit the CBS2 site to watch the three-minute segments that ran in between Volkswagen and Hyundai spots the last two nights.

Instead I’m posting the above video courtesy of the Beeb. It shows something I don’t think I’ve ever seen in an American newscast: A reporter evaluating bike infrastructure by riding on it (Al Roker came close to doing this back in May, though). London Mayor Boris Johnson recently launched a pair of "bicycle superhighways," and reporter Claire Heald tests one out for her viewers. Will the routes attract new riders? Do they feel safe? Can you ride without getting blocked by auto traffic? Watch and learn.

Most elements of the piece don’t really differ that much from an American TV news segment. You’ve got your people on the street, some anecdotes, and footage of the street in action. But we’re not accustomed to the perspective Claire Heald is using to present the piece. She’s reporting for viewers who might be interested in trying out the new bike lanes. Crazy, right?

Over at CBS2, reporter Tony Aiello and his producers could have taken their series in some interesting directions. Like looking into how NYC’s new bike lanes — the ostensible hook for the whole week — are affecting street safety. Or even showing New Yorkers how to ride in them.

No hint of any of that so far.

It looks like, at best, we’ll be treated to a week of conventionally "balanced" journalism. Here’s how that plays out. After hurling invective at cyclists for several days via promos (sample anchorperson tease: "Up next — we investigate just how bad bicyclists make our city streets"), last night CBS2 announced that in the next segment, it’s time to get the cyclists’ perspective. After which, anchor Kristine Johnson weighed in reflexively: "Two sides to every story."

Actually, if the subject is "bedlam," the truth is that there aren’t really two sides to this story. Injuries to pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists are down on the corridors where protected bike lanes have been installed. How can you launch a series about bike policy and biking in New York without mentioning this overarching fact?

There are nuances to the story, and one of them is the persistence of people who do stupid, inconsiderate, and sometimes risky things while riding. We know that design changes which give cyclists dedicated space can make this  less frequent, and it’s safe to say that some stepped-up cycling education is also in order. But CBS2 is apparently incapable of presenting cyclist behavior with any sense of proportion.

On the same day CBS2 aired its first "bike bedlam" segment, NYCDOT released an exhaustive study of pedestrian injuries and deaths. Among the findings: bike lanes significantly reduce the risk of death for pedestrians injured by motor vehicles. Bike lanes save lives.

Also documented in the report: In the vast majority of traffic crashes that kill pedestrians — 78.5 percent — the driver was culpable.

CBS2 did run a segment on the study, deftly identifying the second side to the story. They ran the piece under the web headline "Drivers: NYC Streets for Everyone But Us."

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