It must be hard trying to be a good reporter at the Washington Examiner. You write a reasonably balanced article about the ever-present bicycle-
driver tensions, and then the editors put it on the front page with a huge incendiary headline, and boom—you’ve just stoked a lot of hatred out there as your contribution to the public marketplace of ideas.
This morning, commuters walking to the Metro who got a copy of the Washington Examiner tabloid saw a cover that shouts, “Motorists fuming as bicyclists pack roads; Everyone angry at clueless Bikeshare riders.”
Whoever did the layout even put it above a picture of actual riots and fire in the Middle East. Martin Austermuhle notes, “From afar you’d be hard-pressed not to think that the Examiner is discretely trying to make another point.”
Inside, though, is a story by Liz Essley that is actually fairly even-handed. The first person she quotes is not an angry driver but a cyclist who’s been legitimately wronged:
Columbia Heights resident Jack Santucci was biking on a Logan Circle street last year when a woman in a parked car opened her door, giving him no time to do anything but smash right into it.
Though D.C. rules require drivers to look before opening doors, the woman blamed Santucci. He should not be biking on the street, she told him, incorrectly.
"There’s a lack of awareness of the rules,” Santucci said. “That’s just the adjustment for the change in the city. People need to get used to the presence of bikes on the road, and people on bikes need to get used to the idea that there are cars in the road, too.”
Essley then quotes a driver complaining about cyclists and someone else complaining about people on Capital Bikeshare, but closes with a quote from Shane Farthing of WABA about how drivers could benefit from some education as well.
A pull-out box lists some rules of the road, including responsibilities for both cyclists and drivers, and Essley also has a companion piece about how many drivers are making illegal U-turns on the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes (though I think the story and some of the people quoted are confusing Pennsylvania Avenue NW, which has the center bike lanes, and Pennsylvania Avenue SE, which does not).
DC media, I implore you—beef up your Metro reporting so that the Examiner isn’t the main source of actual information, and hire Essley, Kytja Weir, and other hardworking reporters so that they can tell us the news somewhere other than the hate-mongering Examiner.
While the story is fair to both sides, these stories about how one group is angry at another can so easily become divisive. Alex Baca wrote sarcastically on Twitter, “OF COURSE all cyclists think all drivers are the problem, and OF COURSE all drivers think cyclists are the problem. Yep. That’s it.” And then, more seriously, “I find assholes—ped, driver, cyclist—(I have at some point been an asshole on all of the above and you likely have, too)—to be the problem.”
Geoff Hatchard observed, “People of DC—I’ve figured everything out! We should all hate each other and anyone who is not just like us, and it sells papers.” Sadly, it probably does, especially when the papers are free.
But this is no laughing matter. Topher Matthews noted, “You know what’s funny, seeing the Examiner print a hilariously awful anti-bike headline the day after two drivers almost killed me.” Actual road safety is rarely a part of these stories on bike crashes, traffic cameras and more.
In fact, the numbers in the story point out that safety increased. Michael Perkins pointed out that the numbers show “a 39% increase in bicycle crashes compared to an 86% increase in bicycle commuting.” In other words, all of this stuff is helping people get around with less risk of being hurt. Isn’t that important, too?