Thursday, September 11, 2008

Reflections on Kansas City media coverage...

I've been somewhat mum on my reactions to the latest media coverage of bicycling in Kansas City. Apparently, my reaction isn't too far off from others' take, either.

I can't speak for everyone interviewed, but there are three recent pieces of media coverage that have me a little bit concerned: Up To Date's show on Bicycle Commuting, the One Planet: Cycling in Kansas City episode, and the recent NBC Action News spot: Bikes Vs. Cars.

The chaps from the BBC, when I first ran into them, were aghast as if they'd just experienced several near-death-experiences back to back. No, we don't have bike lanes everywhere. No, we don't have street sweepers running 24/7. The route they presumably could have used was Main Street. Several times this summer, I've ridden on Main Street and even Brookside Blvd to get around, even in rush hour. It's pretty easy riding, except for the hill near Liberty Memorial. Bicyclists use the bus lanes quite often, and KCATA doesn't have a problem with that. When I see a bus coming, I safely merge into traffic or get off the road and let the bus pass through.

They claimed that putting bikes on the bus is "what you're supposed to do" in KC. Take a stroll through Midtown any time during the day, and it becomes clear that bicycles are viable, respected vehicles on the road. In droves, cyclists travel between downtown and Westport. I'm not downplaying the reporters' opinions. The racks on the bus are good for covering longer distances or for cyclists who are not comfortable in rush hour. The rest of the terror that the reporters seemed to have could be due to anything, including riding on the opposite side of the road. I can appreciate that.

In Up To Date, I think too much focus was given to the dangers of bicycling, the challenges cyclists face, and the lack of infrastructure. That's not really any one person's fault, because the discussion was being steered by the entire panel and the callers as well.

If things were as bad as the media has portrayed lately when I started riding two years ago, I wouldn't be doing this. I would have given up! In the two short years I've been using my bike to get around, there have been a lot of improvements to boot.

Sometimes I wish I could change the name of this site to "KC Commuting" because that's what I'm doing. I'm getting around Kansas City. I don't always use my bike. I don't always use the bus. I don't always use my car. I don't always car-pool with friends. I don't always walk. I use whatever means seems like the right choice to me given the situation. Countless scooters, bicycles, buses, cars, pickups, vans and SUVs interact with one another in a civilized manner every single day in this town. Sometimes I have a bad day and whine about (or even belittle) a fellow road user because of a specific incident. Sometimes it's a motorist who honked at me. Sometimes it's a cyclist riding against traffic. Whatever the case may be, we're all out there. We're all trying to get where we're going, and we're all the same. Urban infrastructure in Kansas City isn't missing a whole lot. Miles upon miles of bicycle-safe routes exist already, and the city is in the process of bolstering and marking them as such.

It's a shame that our panel on Up To Date couldn't praise more of the many community benefits of cycling and walking for basic transportation. Environmental impact is the only community benefit that was mentioned. All the rest were selfish, personal benefits such as health and saving money.

I've been interviewed by NBC Action News twice now. The first time was during Bike Week in May, and I think that one went quite well. The most recent spot was entitled "Bikes Vs. Cars" or something similar. This just boggles my mind. No one actually pits bikes against cars or vise versa. The motorists interviewed were sympathetic, not angry for the few short seconds they were allowed to speak: "I'm afraid I'm going to hit them!"

We ride with cars. We are part of the traffic on the road. Likely, cyclists don't get honked or yelled at any more often than other motorists get honked or yelled at. We're just out in the open and can hear the shouts a little easier. The people who road rage aren't angry at cyclists. They're angry people looking for an excuse to vent. Very few of the incidents where a motorist and a cyclist have an altercation are due to malice and an us-versus-them mentality. Crashes happen because of inattention and scoffing laws in the interest of convenience. ALL road users are guilty on both counts, regardless of what kind of vehicle is in use.

"Bikes Vs. Cars" also seemed to dwell a lot on the injuries sustained by cyclists. Any uttrance of injury was picked up like it was blood in the water. No one writes about the countless injuries sustained by other road users.

Not to break out with the nerd factor too much, but I'd like to start wrapping up this rant with a quote from noted security expert Bruce Schneier. It's about terrorism in the news, but it applies equally as well to bicycling woes:

"... the very definition of news is something that hardly ever happens. [emphasis added] If an incident is in the news, we shouldn't worry about it. It's when something is so common that its no longer news - car crashes, domestic violence - that we should worry. But that's not the way people think."
In closing, I'd like to state that some excerpts of my interviews that made it into media coverage lately might have been taken a bit out of context. All of us get around this town just fine, regardless of what transportation method we choose. As the economy crunches us, we're all going to feel some growing pains. I don't think this is out of the ordinary.

I'll see you all out there on the road!


kG said...

Well put, man --- only by the grace of know you was I able to say -- "yeah, he's not being allowed to give the whole story here...." I watched with the wife, and had much the same opinion -- Bikes vs. Cars? I wasn't aware we were at war with one another. Hmmm... All in All, I am thankful for the news coverage. give them my number, man. I'll take some camera time - you know me. Course, it'd probably turn into a mindless rant-fest complete with wacky poses and caffiene induced hollering. That'd be fun. ;) Good stuff man -- keep up the good work. If you need a new rear tire, lemme know, man. I got spares.

The Unabashed Blogger said...

Keep it down over there!!! You're eroding my defiant attitude and dare devilish reputation while facing the rigors of commuting!!

I do love the quote in the BBC segment about making sure your affairs are in order if you plan to ride a bike in KC. That was fantastic! Wasn't that a city councilman?!

Noah said...

I do believe it was, and I think I know who it was, too... but I'm not 100% sure... If it is, that quote doesn't surprise me.

Anonymous said...

Oddly enough, WIRED notes that the more bicyclists out there, the safer it is for everyone.

I'm not saying that you steered the stories that you now find fault with, but your combative attitude is precisely what the "bleeds/leads" folks like to find. You are gold (those people don't like to work hard), and as long as you continue this way, don't expect it to change.

But you know what? You ride your bike, and you post about it. Banal much?

Noah said...

I'm working on the combative thing but I didn't dwell on negativity during the interviews. I don't think anyone did. True, what bleeds leads, and they ran with it.

I get frustrated easily and have mentioned in this post that I tend to complain a bit. I have other faults as well.

Banal as it may be, those who find my missives to be hackneyed and played-out are free to go read the writings of anyone else, or no one at all. My observations stand on their own and others may read them at will.

I agree with wired -- and you, from the sound of it: more bikes is safer. More bikes means more people used to seeing bikes. More bikes means probably less drivers -- or at least more drivers who are also riders on occasion. Drivers who ride are more sympathetic. Wholeheartedly agree.

Anonymous said...

When I listened to the Up To Date episode, I also heard the negativity, but the blasts didn't scare me away from biking; rather, I felt like they were aimed at encouraging discussion to pressure city policy to become more sympathetic to cyclists on the road. If anything, what I heard was to encourage people to get out and ride more and demand the infrastructure to adapt. And so what if their reasons for riding (environment, health, money) were shallow? These are things that the common man understands.

PM Summer said...


By golly, YOU GET IT! Good man.

From following your blog, I rather thought that you did, but it's good to see you come right out and say it.

As my cousin from Independence's boss once once famously said, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself."

Noah said...

Yes, I do. And from the time I wrote this there's been a change in what I write about. I'm no longer going to enumerate my close calls or inconsiderate people (motorists, pedestrians, cyclists etc). I'm no longer going to talk to the media, unless it's just really quick and if I do talk to them, I'm going to deflect "bleeding questions" with answers like "let's talk about the benefits of cycling..."

The Pitch did it. KSHB did it. They focus on the negative. and throw away all the praises of cycling that I gave. That means I can no longer emit a shred of negativity, because then if they want to use anything I say or write, it will be positive.

I want more people to ride in Kansas City and everywhere else. Cycling isn't a death trap, and I'll be damned if I make myself a part of the propaganda machine that's trying to sell it as such.

Lindsey said...

Biking is healthy not just physically , but mentally. From the Cardio Vascular benefits to the being alive and feeling alive. More street sweepings, less debris on the roads means we stay farther to the right, read safer. More bike racks at various stores and you would have many more riders. The average bicycle is fairly expensive these days and we need to lock them up. The benefits of using the bikes for short trips saves all kinds of money. Gas emissions, parking, gas prices themselves, accidents. the list is very long. MORE MEdia Coverage of cyclist would be benificial to the entire Kansas City Metropolitan Area.

Noah said...

I'd have to disagree that riding further to the right is equal to safer. Further to the right means you're riding where motorists aren't looking. It also makes it more likely that people will try to pass you when it's not safe (i.e. on a two-lane road with oncoming traffic or on a four lane road trying to squeeze between you and the car in the left lane. It's usually better to be out there taking the lane. You get seen and people get the point that they need to change lanes to get around you.

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