Yet another cycling is dangerous story

With gas prices the way they are, stories about cycling in mainstream press abound. As I have pointed out before (see Media Bias) these stories for mass consumption generally paint a one-sided cycling-is-dangerous story. Despite my high hopes for the journalistic balance of the Wall Street Journal (news that is. I don’t expect balance in the editorial content), Rhonda Rundle’s story from August 1, 2008 fell into the same familiar pattern. The title, Risking Life and Limb, Riding a Bike to Work in L.A., should have been a give away.

The story profiles the trials and tribulations of a couple of newbie bicycle commuters. Then, Rundle tells us darkly “In 2006, 28 people in Los Angeles County were killed on bikes”. Waiting for the other shoe to drop, but it never does… I go the web and discover that SEVEN HUNDRED AND NINETY NINE souls were killed on the roadways of Los Angeles County that year (NHTSA).

Is cycling particularly dangerous? What about walking, motorcycling, and driving in a car? If people were really most concerned about their own safety, they would be riding mass transit (approximate number of deaths: zero — far safer for their occupants).

The story wasn’t all bad including a plug for biking advocates who offer “defensive riding” classes. (I hope, but can’t really tell, this means the equivalent of Road 1)

Much to my suprise and delight, the editors did run an excellent letter:L.A. and Biking: Not Quite the Un-Motor City Just Yet
August 9, 2008; Page A10Bicycle commuting is alive and well and growing in Los Angeles (“Risking Life and Limb, Riding a Bike to Work in L.A.,” page one, Aug. 1). Despite your description of cycling in Los Angeles in almost solely negative terms, I can confirm that Los Angeles is an often excellent city in which to ride and that facilities and recognition for cyclists are growing, albeit slowly.You state that 28 people were killed on bicycles in 2006 without mentioning the nearly 1,000 killed in auto accidents. You state that “every cyclist seems to know someone who has been injured.” Surely the same can be said for knowing someone injured or killed in an automobile. You use a single incident to support the claim that motorists are becoming “increasingly cranky” with cyclists. On the contrary, I believe the wide attention paid to the recent “road rage” incident shows that there is increasing tolerance and support for cyclists and that, for once, it isn’t just other cyclists who are outraged by this type of incident.

Los Angeles does have many challenges for cyclists: long distances, high-speed traffic and a generally unsupportive local government. However, we also have many advantages: great weather, good streets, plenty of alternate routes and a growing number of people who see the advantages and pleasures of cycling for transportation.

David Matsu
Los Angeles