Tuesday, November 3, 2009

KPCC Botches Bike Discussion

The following letter concerns this on-air discussion, which aired the morning that Dr. Thompson was found guilty of assault with a deadly weapon - his car.

It's worth listening to the first few minutes of the show just to hear an insane caller who is a resident of Mandeville Canyon, where the incident took place. The caller just keeps repeating that cyclists are rude. They ride "in front of cars" and "don't get out of the way." This call has to be the low point of the whole discussion. The lowest point, in particular, is when this caller says that someone is going to die on Mandeville and that none of the residents are going to feel bad about it. Wow.

Wow, wow, wow.

[The picture, by the way, depicts 8th Street near my apartment. It's a very typical LA situation that could have been discussed with a level head. The right lane is too narrow to share if a biker is doing the safe thing and staying out of the door zone. Luckily for motorists, the city has placed for your convenience ANOTHER LANE just to the left of the one the biker is occupying. All motorists must do is step on the brakes lightly, wait for an opening in traffic, and change lanes, allowing plenty of room for the biker to breathe. It's not rocket science people. ]

Roadblock's logical suggestion in a midnightridazz forum on the show was that we write Sharon McNary, who handles programming for KPCC. So I did. My letter follows. (By the way, if you want clarification on the all the legal issues that were mishandled on this show, wikipedia did a bomb job of summarizing California vehicle codes relevant to bikes).


Dear Sharon,

Wow, I am really disappointed with how this show was handled. A bunch of misinformation regarding the law went unquestioned. Caller after caller gave the impression that bicyclists are legally required to ride single file, which is not true. Mantle never clarified the law. I cringe to think how many motorists listened to this show and came away with the incorrect impression that riding side by side is illegal. It's actually a very safe and reassuring thing to do when the lane is too narrow to share with a car but wide enough to accommodate two bikes.

Moreover, Mantle gave a lot of air time to motorists complaining about bicyclists on "busy streets" or "narrow mountain roads," but never clarified that the bicyclist has the legal right to be on any road (excepting the freeways). He could have said this right at the beginning. The horrendous comment from the Mandeville resident should have been tempered by some sort of sane follow-up. A caller suggests that "someone is going to die, and nobody in Mandeville is going to feel bad" and Mantle doesn't bat an eye?

It was not until much later in the show when a caller finally made the point that roads are public and cyclists have the full right to be on them (even when they are too narrow and require drivers to - gasp - slow down). Nor did he offer the sensible observation that drivers, too, act "arrogant" and constantly break the law. He seemed to vindicate angry motorists when he said it was "unrealistic" to expect drivers to adjust their behavior and pass safely.

The worst moment was when Mantle claimed that we have "minimum speed limits," which is just obscenely incorrect.

Mantle had a huge opportunity to encourage safe behavior by both cyclists and motorists. It's really not that difficult for us to share all the roads. Cyclists might slow motorists down a little bit; but motorists pollute the air a little bit, and we all have to breathe. I wish more of a civilized discussion could have taken place. Too much airtime was given to venting, misinformation, and resentment.

KPCC could do a great service by covering the ongoing bike boom in LA and the fact that more and more of us are getting on bikes. Follow the LA Times' lead and discuss how to ride safely, how motorists and bicyclists can make their interactions more pleasant, and base this dicussion on the facts in the law. Yes, infrastructure in LA does not exactly facilitate bicycling. Cyclists have to take the lane A LOT on our narrow streets. We really need the media to recognize our rights so that we don't have to suffer from any more road rage.

Kristen "Herbie" Huff
Los Angeles
commuter cyclist and urban planning student

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