Fairness and objectivity go out the window in NELA newspaper’s fight against North Figueroa bike lanes

So much for fairness.

Or facts.

A local NELA newspaper offers a misguided editorial disguised as news, arguing against proposed bike lanes on North Figueroa Blvd (upper right corner; click to enlarge).

Now, I don’t have a problem with anyone who takes a stand I may disagree with.

Granted, I may get a little hot under the collar at times, but my attitude is they have as much right to their opinion as I do to mine. And I can learn more from people who don’t agree with me than I can from those who do.

However, just because you own a newspaper doesn’t mean you get to make up your own facts.

In this case, the writer, Tom Topping, claims — among many other highly questionable assertions — that studies show bicyclists are 12 times more likely to have a fatal collision than someone in a motor vehicle. Even though the studies I’ve seen say you are far more likely to die behind the wheel than riding on two.

In fact, your lifetime risk of dying in a car is 58 times greater than on a bike. Meanwhile, a 1993 study shows that, even adjusted for comparable time spent driving and riding, you have almost twice as much risk of dying from driving as from bicycling.

Needless to say, he doesn’t offer any support for his claim.

He also suggests that bikes represent just 2% to 3% of traffic — again, not citing a source — so we should only be entitled to 2% to 3% of the roadway, apparently willing to relegate us to a strip 1.1 to 1.65 feet wide.

For both directions, that is, not each way.

And he makes the absurd assertion — again, without any evidence to support it — that bike lanes on Figueroa will add a full hour to an average commute. Never mind that the much lower delays projected by LADOT are worst-case projections that are unlikely to actually occur, let alone mutate into the automotive horror show he projects.

No, far easier to simply make numbers up to support his NIMBYist anti-bike argument.

Of course, he insists he couldn’t be anti-bike, as he trots out the same claim found in virtually every anti-bike or bike lane screed, because he is a bike rider himself. Yet at the same time, calls those who created a study showing no harmful effects to local businesses as a result of the York Blvd bike lanes — one he calls “obviously slanted” — “pro-bicycle fanatics.”

Actually, the carefully controlled study was conducted by a UCLA researcher as part of his class work, with support from the LACBC and funding from industry trade group Bikes Belong.

If he thinks those are fanatics, I know a number of far more rabid bike riders I could introduce him to.

And never mind that studies in other cities support that finding, concluding that rather than harming local businesses, bike lanes actually result in increased business.

Then again, his style of riding may hint at one likely reason for his opposition to bike lanes, even as he reluctantly admits that bike lanes increase safety.

Additionally, safety studies show that while a bicyclist is 1200% more likely to have a fatal accident (see above) than a motorist, bike lanes make it only 30% safer (again, no source cited)*. So, instead of being 12 times more likely to die, a bicyclist is only 8 times more likely to die, a small gain to consider when the specter of removing motorist lanes comes up. (To use a bike lane you have to trust that motorists will look out for you — something I cannot bring myself to do when I am on two wheels. I always ride like I am invisible, never assume anyone can see me and am therefore 99% safe at all times)

*Comments in italics mine

Personally, I’d call a 30% reduction in fatalities a huge improvement.

Never mind that every single study I am aware of shows that bike lanes improve safety for bicyclists, as well as others on the road, motorized or not — cutting injury risk as much as 50% with a simple painted lane, and 90% on protected bike lanes.

He is right to suggest it’s best to assume drivers don’t see you when you ride.

But to conclude that cyclists are less safe in bike lanes flies in the face of all available evidence. And once again, he fails to provide any evidence to support his bizarre claim that assuming no one can see him reduces his risk on the road to just 1%.

If Topping or anyone else can provide a valid study supporting that assertion, I’d like to see it.

And in an all-too-tired refrain, he concludes by complaining about the lack of outreach for a bike plan that was adopted over two years ago, following more than a year of public comment.

So why does it suddenly become our problem when other people have had their heads in the sand for over three years, rather than engaging in what was a very public and high profile process?

Unfortunately, this is what too often passes for local journalism in the debate over bikes, with no hint of objectivity or fairness. When one local business owner on North Figueroa called to complain about the inaccuracies and lack of objectivity in Topping’s story, he was told to “buy your own newspaper.”

He’s got a point.

It’s his newspaper, and he can print whatever he wants, regardless of facts or fairness.

Just like the big metropolitan dailies do.

Well, some of them, anyway.

………

Long-time L.A. bike advocate Richard Risemberg, aka Mr. Bicycle Fixation, has started a petition calling on Governor Jerry Brown to sign a three-foot passing law to make up for the two he inexplicably vetoed.

You’ll see my name right there as signee number two.

Please join me in signing it, and forward it to every bike rider you know. Let’s let our governor know we’re not going to stand by and allow him to needlessly risk our lives and safety on California streets.

………

This is why police investigators need specialized training in analyzing bike collisions.

Utah authorities say that after a 10-year old boy riding on the shoulder of a highway was passed by a semi-truck, he rode into the traffic lane where he was hit and killed by a second semi-truck.

A far more likely explanation is that the first semi passed too close at too high a speed, sucking the boy into the truck’s slipstream and onto the roadway, into the path of the trailing truck.

But only someone who has experienced the terrifying power of that kind of slipstream when riding — or been trained to look for it — would understand that.

………

Good news for distracted drivers, as Volvo designs the world’s first second cyclist detection system to recognize and automatically brake for bike riders in the car’s path; the first such system is called “eyes,” which come as standard equipment on every driver.

And notice how they assume it’s the rider who will swerve into the car’s way, and not the other way around?

………

Note to Redlands Daily Facts: It’s good that Redlands is getting more bikeways. But sharrows aren’t bike lanes, and bicyclists already have the right to use the full lane in many, if not most, situations; the presence or absence of sharrows doesn’t change that.

………

Damien Newton asks what does it mean and what comes next now that the primary election for L.A. Mayor and City Council is over. LADOT has installed 123 miles of bikeways since the 2010 L.A. bike plan was adopted. Gary Kavanagh reports on UCLA’s Complete Streets Conference last week; nice to see the moribund Bikeside website come back to life to discuss it, as well. Curbed looks at the effects of AB 2245, which removed bike lanes from CEQA review. L.A.’s 4th Street is already a bike boulevard, whether or not the city wants to call it that — or fix it. Better Bike looks at the results of Tuesday’s election in the Biking Black Hole; it looks like the outsiders — and the only semi-bike supporter — may have won. Santa Monica College officially unveils their new 400 space bike parking lot. Fallen Cal Poly Pomona cyclist Ivan Aguilar will be remembered with a memorial ride and ghost bike today. CLR Effect notes that Southern California is becoming more colorful.

Remarkable sometimes how easy it is to park in a bike lane and force riders to risk their lives in high speed traffic; no, Mr. Topping, that is an argument for better enforcement, not another reason to oppose them. San Diego’s city council approves an ordinance calling for safer recreational and commuter routes for bike riders. Bike SD makes the case for protected bike lanes on El Cajon Blvd. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition rewards cyclists with chocolate for good behavior. Cyclist Chris Bucchere faces a preliminary hearing for killing a pedestrian in San Francisco last year. A Fresno school teacher is killed in a classic SWSS — single witness suicide swerve — as the driver claims he did everything right, but the rider inexplicably swerved into his path; thanks to Michael Eisenberg for the heads-up.

Bob Mionske offers advice on whether to fight that ticket. AAA releases a bike safety video, which you may recognize as a Canadian video released last year, as the Bike League casts its lot with an organization that fights bike safety laws in California and elsewhere. Bicycle Retailer reports on Day Two of the National Bike Summit. The Bike League reveals what Congress really thinks of us — including that bike advocates are sore winners, while the economic benefits of bicycling dominate discussions with Congress. Outgoing DOT Secretary Ray LaHood calls for increased, high-quality infrastructure for people who ride bikes. How to recognize a Stroad. Stereotypes of who rides a bike are rapidly falling away. The driver accused of attacking a pro cycling team in an Arizona road rage assault defends himself online. A Colorado woman saves her own life through cycling, dropping 170 pounds in four years. At Austin’s SXSW one good Tern deserves another. Bike Safe Boston says ride straight through an intersection; definitely good advice for all the reasons they cite. Transportation Alternatives provides the facts about New York bicycling. A New York lawyer says the city needs to introduce strict criminal liability for traffic violence. Residents of one New York neighborhood don’t want their historic cobblestones ripped out to make way for a bikeway; for once, I might agree with them. While we all face harassment while riding, women can face a far worse kind.

Bike-centric traffic signals go up in Montreal. British politicians lack the will to get anything done to promote bicycling, but London’s bicycling mayor BoJo finally unveils a real plan to remake parts of the city into mini-Hollands and change the future of bicycling in the city. A 94-year old British driver claims an unforeseeable medical condition left her unconscious behind the wheel and therefore, not responsible when she ran down and killed a bike rider a third her age. Perhaps the most subtly sarcastic bike advocacy headline in human history. Is Spain trying to force bicyclists off the roads? An Israeli company wants to turn your helmet into a heart monitor. A Zimbabwe man kills his father with a brick after they argue about borrowing the older man’s bike without permission, then allowing it to get stolen. Someone dumped uncooked rice on an Aussie bike path in an apparent attack on bicyclists. A Kiwi rider suffers a heart attack while on a cross country charity ride, and rejoins the ride just days later after heart surgery.

Finally, after a drunk driver runs down a Florida cyclist and flees the scene, her father takes her to Mickey D’s before driving her to the police to turn herself in. A Florida legislator finds his drive delayed a few seconds by a bus, and responds by attempting to ban public buses from stopping on streets.

And as bike ads go, this one for the British video release of Premium Rush isn’t half bad.

5 comments

  1. Mike Zois says:

    I grew up with Topping…..he’s an odd duck from a long line of odd mallards…Eagle Rock tends have more than a few.

    Mike

  2. Eric W says:

    I’m No 35 on the petition to Gov. Brown. Sign this!

    Dunno what to say about idiots who claim to have a legit newspaper and then make it all up, except now some of them have noticed people cycling, so they have to make up an angle to grasp at. I don’t give them any air time in my life.

  3. I am not going to sign a petition to try and have a wimpy invisible force-field law enacted that wouldn’t do anything to increase the safety of cycling. This idea for a three-foot passing law ranks just below having pictures of bicycles on the street to remind motorists not to hit you and that ranks below the dumb idea of having a white stripe on a busy street for protection from fast moving motor vehicles

    I want and need a actual physical barrier to protect me and others on bicycles against the much greater speed and mass differential of motor vehicles and the human errors that are intrinsic with operating them.

    Pedestrians get to walk on a grade separated sidewalk that provides them physical protection them from motorists and cyclists get a invisible force-field? Are you kidding me?

    Car manufacturers are required to provide cage construction, crumple zones, safety glass, seat-belts and airbags to provide physical protection for occupants of their vehicles and bicycle users get hieroglyphics painted on the roads or white stripes and invisible force-fields.

    Its almost as if people are making this stuff up as a red herring to divert attention away from what needs to be done to both significantly increase safety and the rate of cycling.

    • bikinginla says:

      Nothing about a three-foot law diverts attention from the need to provide safer infrastructure.

      It does only one thing — change the current unenforceable law that allows drivers to pass cyclists at any distance that doesn’t actually result in the rider’s death, to an easily understood and enforced minimum distance.

      It is, more than anything else, an educational tool for motorists to let them know what is a safe passing distance. It does not replace the need to re-envision our streets.

      • I can understand a court ruling that says you cannot get within 500 feet of a school or a particular person, but having a law that you cannot get within 3-feet of a person riding a bicycle is a measurement so small that it would be very difficult to enforce.

        Going after drivers with punishment for human error is not going to make a significant dent in the problem. Drivers are not usually deliberately trying to get too close to a person on a bicycle.

        The idea that we have accepted in the country is that it is ok to have a vulnerable person on a bicycle ride on a busy street with no physical barrier to protect them. Its supposed to be a large leap forward to get a couple of stripes on these roads for the bicyclist to ride on. Only a single digit proportion of the adult population would want to ride between two stripes on a busy street. The reason for this is clear, stripes do little to protect you from human errors that naturally occur from those driving a vehicle.

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