Sloppy cycling meets sloppy journalism

Washington, DC TV station WJLA, channel 7, has run a story about new bicycle laws passed by the DC City Council and signed by the mayor. The new section reads as follows:

A new section 9d (D.C. Official Code § 50-2201 .04d) is added to read as follows:

“Sec. 9d. Bicyclists’ use of leading pedestrian in tervals.
“(a) A bicyclist may cross at an inter section while following the pedestrian traffic control signal for the bicyclist’s direction of travel unless otherwise directed by traffic signs or traffic
control devices.
“(b) A bicyclist may cross an intersection where a leading pedestrian interval is used.”

Questions have been raised by cyclists in an online group I belong to, for example, “So how are the bicyclists supposed to reach the intersection when no bikeways are present? By lane splitting? Filtering forward on the right? Using the sidewalk? Or are bike lanes and boxes supposed to be provided at all intersections? This will be a boon to red light runners and further the bad mixing of bicyclists and peds as “one category”, or as some like to say, further the pedestrianization of bicycling.”

But I’d like to discuss the video itself. It came with an embed code, and here it is.

After 15 seconds of an ad for an Infiniti SUV, you’ll get to see the news story about bicycling.

Much of the narration in the video is posted on a Web page under the headline

D.C. cycling made safer with new rules of the road

That headline is rather interesting not only because of the questions which have been raised, but also because the law isn’t even in effect yet. In a year or two we might have data as to whether cycling has become safer. It would be much more difficult to determine whether that resulted from the new law. A recent study did show that cycling is becoming less safe the crash rate is increasing in Washington, DC — as might be expected when large numbers of new and inexperienced cyclists enter the traffic mix.

The text identifies interviewees — though only by their last names. One is named Clarke. More about that later. Also there are bike-cam shots in which you can see the cyclist’s plaid sleeves. This leads to an interesting discovery. My rundown of the video:

0:00 The words “outrage” and “alarm” are used. Inset on the screen reads “Bike vs. Car.” The TV station is pandering to motorists’ sense of entitlement and identifying inanimate machines as doing battle with each other, as a surrogate for operators of those machines placing them in conflict with each other. The concept of cooperative use of the public streets gets short shrift in this video.

0:49 Bicyclist in the plaid shirt threads the needle between a stopped SUV and a bus, placing him immediately directly in front of the bus. Nice thing the bus wasn’t about to start up. Headache for the bus driver in any case.

0:52 another cyclist waddles out from behind a stopped vehicle in front of another vehicle which is just starting to move.

1:02 the man on the street being interviewed is wearing the same plaid shirt as the one in the on-bike video making dumb moves. In the online text his name is given as “cyclist Billing” and he uses the royal “we.” “We” is WABA: Greg Billing writes blog posts for WABA and has written one about this new law.

1:05 Billing is shown turning left and heading for a door-zone bike lane to filter forward. Shot is cut off abruptly before he reaches the lane.

1:12 Cyclist identified in the text as Senff justifies advanced green on ped signal so “you don’t feel so, I don’t know…pushed.” How that applies when starting ahead of the motor traffic, I don’t know.

1:25 Through-the-windshield shot as car enters a combined bike lane/left turn lane, which figures later in the video too.

1:35 Truth is spoken by a man identified as Bradford: not all bicyclists operate properly.

1:40 Narration is about a bicyclist operating responsibly, but the bicyclist shown in one of many low-angle mood shots has a shopping bag dangling next to the front wheel.

1:45 The narrator complains of a bicyclist overtaking a motorist who is signaling a turn. The bicyclist, seen through a car windshield, is legally in a combined bike lane/left turn lane to the left of a through lane from which a motorist ahead is preparing to turn left illegally. Flex posts would keep a knowledgeable bicyclist from merging out of the bike lane. The driver preparing to turn left couldn’t make sense of the intersection design, and the bicyclist was blissfully unaware of the risk. The layout here is the same as at 1:25 in the video — it might even be the same intersection — and similar to the one at Market and Octavia Streets in San Francisco where fatal crashes have occurred.

1:50 The unidentified Clarke is revealed to be an African-American woman, not Andy Clarke, President of the League of American Bicyclists.

1:54 Billing provides a bike-cam shot, riding at speed in a left-turn lane going too fast to turn left, but the shot is cut just before he reaches the intersection.

2:15 A cyclist is in the door zone and uncomfortably close to a pedestrian.

2:20 — The law has to be voted on by Congress. It isn’t yet in effect.

All in all, there’s plenty enough cluelessness to go around, with this video, but I do agree with Mr. Bradford!

11 Responses to Sloppy cycling meets sloppy journalism

  1. To split a hair, I wonder if one can say that cycling is less safe in DC or whether more inept cyclists are now riding in an environment where other tangible measures of safety might not changed much. It would be easy to look at statistics and say that crash rates are going up and equate that to the city being less safe. To fall back on that old swimming pool analogy, would a pool become “less safe” if, all other things being equal, we added to the good swimmers a whole population of non-swimmers? What seems to be happening is that DC is saying that it would be safe for non-swimmers to jump in the pool as long as they held onto their rubber ducky floats, even if they don’t know how to swim.

  2. Good point, Khal. Cycling is less safe for someone just getting started, and that weights the statistics. I’ve made a minor revision accordingly. Is cycling less safe now for an experienced cyclist? Maybe not but it does take sophistication and resolve to avoid some of the baited traps the city has set for cyclists.

  3. I’ve occasionally stated that it takes a more (rather than less) saavy cyclist to outwit some of the more complicated traffic patterns created by more complex traffic designs (aka “baited traps”). The DDOT paper shows that, in contrast to a higher standard of diligence, a large fraction of cyclists either purposely ignore or are unaware of the need to follow the traffic rules that these facilities create. Either way, that is bound to increase the possibility of a crash. At least until the pool of participants learns the rules and follows them.

  4. “1:12 Cyclist identified in the text as Senff justifies advanced green on ped signal so “you don’t feel so, I don’t know…pushed.” How that applies when starting ahead of the motor traffic, I don’t know.”

    I think she’s saying that you get a feeling that motorists behind us are always wishing we’d go faster. When you get an advanced green light, you get a few seconds respite from that sense that you’re “in someone else’s way”. Of course, knowing one’s equal rights and responsibilities as a road user would do a better job of dispelling such fears than reverse discriminatory laws, but what are we gonna do – the populist bike lobby wants us to be “special”.

    “1:35 Truth is spoken by a man identified as Bradford: not all bicyclists operate properly.”

    Well, it’s a half-truth. Many road users operate improperly. Only some of them are cyclists. Then you have to factor in the danger posed by improperly-operated bicycles weighing 30 lbs and compare that to the danger posed by improperly-operated motor vehicles weighing 3,000 lbs. I’m guessing improperly-operated motor vehicles pose a bit more of a danger.

    • “Of course, knowing one’s equal rights and responsibilities as a road user would do a better job of dispelling such fears than reverse discriminatory laws”

      I’m an experienced bike commuter, and there is this one stretch of road in the city of Boston where I do not wait at the red because of my past experience with motorist behavior. When you’re moving with traffic (heavy and slow-moving at this spot) and suddenly a car (or often, a large truck) sidles up next to you and forces you off the road (and this happens a lot in this location) – you will want to get through that section before everyone else does. It doesn’t matter if I’m way out left of center of the lane – or riding in the left lane – motorists will try to “push” me out of the way. I have no choice but to go through this spot, otherwise I’m traveling an extra mile out of my way. Other cyclists have been purposefully rear-ended here (a recent court-case where the cyclist won, but there is still a lot of bad motorist behavior there). If it’s really bad and there is a lot of honking, I will actually ride on the sidewalk (as it’s legal there). oh – the speed limit through there is 25 mph, people drive at least 20 over – someone recently got into a horrific accident going over 80.

      So – I understand this behavior when there is heavy traffic and shared lanes with no space for anyone pass safely. motorists get frustrated and will start behaving illegally and very dangerously – cyclists will want to run reds to avoid this conflict – especially since no one is enforcing behavior at these stretches. However – once cyclists realize they can run this particular red with impunity they’ll just start doing it everywhere else.

      Of course if we lived in an ideal world where everyone respected everyone else, there wouldn’t be this problem – but at this one spot, I truly think separate is better for everyone.

      • Could you please identify the intersection for me? I’d like to go there and check it out. My experience is so contrary to yours that I can’t avoid thinking that there is a way to avoid these problems.

        On the other hand, the proliferation of door-zone bike lanes and resulting normalization of edge riding in the Boston area is increasing motorist hostility to cyclists who control the lane. I first heard the words “get in the bike lane” yelled at me out a car window last year, it has happened several times since, and I expect it to become more common.

        • sure – it’s the light at Ukraine way on the northbound stretch of washington street next to forest hills. There’s a bike lane and it changes back to sharrows – I’d recommend going sometime between 8 and 9 am. You’ll often have large trucks and buses gunning to get in front of you as you cross the intersection. I think this could probably be solved by a bike box, but I’ve also been purposefully forced off the road closer to the taxi stand (mostly by motorists trying to get around left turning vehicles in spite of the fact that they had just come up from my behind).

          That stretch both directions is pretty awful too – the road condition is horrible and people drive really fast through there and will buzz you even if you take the lane – there’s really poor visibility under the overpass, and the signal timing is backwards so motorists are already aggravated . Southbound it isn’t so bad, but even after you get past this mess heading north, you’ll also sometimes get intimidating/clueless motorist behavior on south street until you reach the monument.

          I hate running reds – I don’t do it all the time there, just when there’s someone in that right lane and they’re creeping up to try to get in front of me. maybe another solution is to stay out of that bike lane…

          as an aside – there needs to be some serious traffic calming in roslindale – for example – there are all these signs up on walter street next to the arboretum that say 20 mph and one corner is 15, but if you’re going slower than 35 mph you’ve got people tailgating you. Cummins has a 20 mph school zone, yet people drive 45 while the sign is flashing (someone recently ran into a house there). also, up around adams park, motorists will actually attempt to use the bike lane to get around you if you’re stopped for a pedestrian or if they think you’re moving slightly too slow – I’ve seen far too many potential accidents there.

          • Also – I’m mixed on the bike lanes on washington – on the one hand there’s a lot activity on the shoulder so you have to be extra careful through there – but on the other, it can get really backed up (some days during rush hour you can literally walk between forest hills to rozzie square faster than driving) – so it’s nice to be able to just ride past gridlock.

  5. “…I’m guessing improperly-operated motor vehicles pose a bit more of a danger.”

    No kidding, Ian. 34,000 dead people can’t all be wrong.

  6. Ian described the rationale some cyclists use for jumping ahead of motor traffic: “When you get an advanced green light, you get a few seconds respite”

    So cyclists are the the fox in a fox hunt, and motorists are the hounds. The hounds will catch up a few seconds later.

    I’d rather let all the “hounds” rush ahead. That leaves the road empty for me.

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