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Our August podcast: Is carnage worth coverage?

Posted by on August 21st, 2013 at 2:37 pm

Carnage ruins lives, and coverage of carnage helps fix streets. So we write about it.

Two months ago, after returning from a country that transformed its streets in the 1970s after a mass protest movement about street safety, Jonathan kicked off what he described as a “mini advocacy campaign” by BikePortland to raise awareness of the traffic carnage on our streets.

This is a delicate line for our little news operation to walk. People read posts about crashes because they find them relevant, but they’re the opposite of enjoyable to read. We received emails and comments from people who thought covering collisions too closely was sensationalism and would only scare people away from riding. Also, there’s a widespread misperception among non-bikers that, hour for hour, biking is a generally dangerous way to get around. It isn’t. (See p. 27 of this PDF for Portland’s latest numbers.)

But carnage ruins lives, and coverage of carnage helps fix streets. So we write about it. This month, podcast producer Lillian Karabaic, Jonathan and I devoted the full half-hour of our monthly podcast to discussing this decision and the factors around it.

As usual, the podcast (which is shorter than the average time it takes a Portlander to get to work) also offers a low-car tip of the month — and an invitation for your feedback. Let us know your thoughts here, or email them to podcast@bikeportland.org.

To follow the show, you can subscribe for free on iTunes or by RSS or even sign up to get an email notification each time we upload a new episode.

We’ll even forgive you if you like to listen on the couch.

NOTE: Thanks for sharing and reading our comments. To ensure this is a welcoming and productive space, all comments are manually approved by staff. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for meanness, discrimination or harassment. Comments with expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia will be deleted and authors will be banned.

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Scott
Guest
Scott

Call it “un-sustainable transportation related urban organic detriment” and Portland will demand more coverage.

Joe Rowe
Guest
Joe Rowe

The carnage coverage has allowed Michael Anderson to spread his bias about helmets. He used his power when a bike was mowed down by a truck and cited. Mike refused to offer an apology and said his mention of no helmet was appropriate. The law does not require adults to wear helmets, and Mike and reporters justify the power of the pen because they think “hey it might have helped”.

Hey Johnathan, Until you resolve this I’m asking people boycott all vendors on your site until you address the questions. Should reporters use their power to suggest the following things “might have helped” human or other victims?

Questions:

a) Should houses wear helmets? A lot of homes get hit by cars. Hey…It might help.

b) Should reporters make notes about helmets when adult cyclists are mowed down by illegal car actions? Hey it might have helped.

c) should reporters suggest make notes about what women wear when they are attacked in an illegal sexual act? Ugly clothing might have helped. But clearly a reporter is unprofessional in this regard.

? Please respond Michael or Johanthan.

I’d like to know what others think. I wear a helmet, but I’m sick of the Oregonian and cops using any excuse to blame victims of cars gone wild.

Posted at 3:50 pm after Scott’s post #1 at 2:53PM

Anne Hawley
Guest
Anne Hawley

I wear a helmet pretty much 100% of the time after that one stupid time I just…sort of tipped over and hit my (helmeted) temple on the sidewalk during a very low-speed parking maneuver. That’s me–my choice. I agree that mentioning the helmet status of a crash victim usually amounts to victim-blaming, and I get tired of it. I’m always glad, though, when the victim asserts that the helmet saved their brain.

And, to be fair, it’s important to hear of cases where the much-vaunted helmet did nothing to prevent injuries. Helmets only save lives sometimes. People can choose.

Anne Hawley
Guest
Anne Hawley

Oh, and Michael, I’m downloading the podcast now. Looking forward to it.

Sho
Guest
Sho

Its good to hear about the accidents and necessary information, the issue with reading it here is bias coming from it. It is mainly a repetition of what the news has already reported on and none of the stories have ever directly stated the circumstances without turning it towards how the cyclist isn’t at fault or if we adjust these laws (in which they may have been in clear violation of) they would be ok. It is also pretty comical at times seeing what makes the news here including car accidents. Larger cities rarely report upon accidents and even murders (i.e. Chicago, LA, etc) unless there is a necessary reason for all the public to know. I haven’t met anyone who was gracious for websites and news reporting on their loved ones death, especially since the majority of the reports are done before knowledge of the situation is complete.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

“…Also, there’s a widespread misperception among non-bikers that, hour for hour, biking is a generally dangerous way to get around. It isn’t. (See p. 27 of this PDF for Portland’s latest numbers.) …” andersen/bikeportland

For people traveling by bike, on roads alongside motor vehicles, biking is generally dangerous. I suppose though, numbers Andersen is referring to, give some people a sense of confidence that they won’t be the one hit by a motor vehicle.

I consider good coverage of collisions between motor vehicles and people walking, biking, skateboarding, and so on, to generally be a good thing. There is a need for people to be aware of how well or poorly their roads are working, and problems some of the people using the roads, are creating. In depth, follow through coverage of collisions can help towards this awareness, leading to broader participation in arriving at solutions to the problems.

If it’s hoped that people will support advances in active transportation infrastructure in the Portland Metro area, and more extensive, more effective than exist now, remedies to the problem of bad driving and generally bad road use, they have to know, so to speak, the ‘shape of the beast’.

spare_wheel
Guest
spare_wheel

Jonathan, Michael, and Lillian, I really enjoyed the podcast. The fact that no one on city council commutes by bike is saddening. Until we elect more “people who cycle” for transportation we will stagnate.

kittens
Guest
kittens

While it is hard to read, stories about bike-car crashes help me assess risk and understand what times and places are most dangerous.

dwainedibbly
Guest
dwainedibbly

The carnage coverage can only help to put more pressure on law enforcement to do their job. Keep it up!

TOM
Guest
TOM

I’d say “continue the coverage” , but would like to see followups on individual stories in the Monday roundups.

ie: we read a lot about the guy hit by the white F-250 crew cab, but have no idea of the current status of the investigation or riders condition. Kinda leaves an incomplete feeling.

SilkySlim
Guest
SilkySlim

I think you guys have been doing a stunning job reporting on “carnage,” downplaying the sensational aspect of these rare (wish they were rarer!) events and placing it in proper context to help us understand the grander transportation issues at hand.

My only suggestion would be to give some play the incredible track records of some of our best infrastructure, including our simple greenway route system. I know, the feel good news can seem a bit silly (“1000s Quietly Commute By Bike on Calm August Morning!!”), but I’d like to be reminded a bit more frequently of how streets have indeed been improved.

deborah schultz
Guest
deborah schultz

I appreciate the coverage of bike-car crashes. I feel it helps me avoid areas that have proven traffic pattern pitfalls and be an informed advocate for safer streets.

Ethan
Guest
Ethan

I’m not sure a charge of helmet bias can stick, be it BikePortland-wide or a specific article. Having traveled to cities where almost nobody wears a helmet, and covering the realities on the streets here for so many years, I tend to trust that BP has the perspective to parse the real-world implications of helmet use (or non-use) on our streets AND the potential we have to become the first American city where helmets become a rare sight … but we’re a long way from that on many fronts.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

What I think would be interesting is a periodic update on all the CAR-nage wreaked on our streets, sidewalks, storefronts, and front yards. Highlighting just the incidents where bikes are involved does somewhat create the impression that riding a bike is what’s dangerous, not driving cars. Or worse, that cyclists are the ones causing all these wrecks–if only they could be removed from the street, all these crashes would stop!

BUT, if we could see property damage, time lost, pedestrian injuries, AND injuries and damage to property (cars) of drivers–even in car-on-car collisions–it might wake people up to the destructiveness of cars. Something like that might even go a ways to stifle the “bikes are a menace and should be registered/licensed/insured!” mantra I hear so much of in, ahem, other forums. Compared to cars and their destructive capacity, bikes are diddly. The problem is, we focus too much on just the fatalities, and the old 25-30k deaths a year figure we always hear doesn’t really bring it home. As far as most people are concerned, those deaths all happen “somewhere else”–the U.S. is a big place. We need to see the big picture of auto-destruction.

I mean, look at the traffic report on any given morning–one minor rear-ender, or even just a stall, on 84 and traffic is backed up for miles, with commuters trapped on the freeway and time being lost for thousands of drivers. The amount of damage done by one single drunk driver launching off a flyway onto MAX tracks causes untold delay and time lost for hundreds of people, and tens of thousands of dollars of damage. That’s not even to mention the human toll of injuries and fatalities that happen with no bikes involved. I have to think that seeing the sum total in dollars, time, pain, suffering, grief, etc. that is caused by cars being operated poorly would get more people to agree that “something” needs to be done–better-engineered roadways, removal of cars from known incompetent drivers, something.

The comprehensive view of explicit destruction (i.e., not even the incremental environmental damage caused by normally-operating cars) caused directly by cars is what I think warrants attention. Of course, getting your hands on that data could prove daunting; you might need a couple more interns.

Caleb
Guest
Caleb

Please keep reporting on collisions, crashes, accidents, crimes, etc! I’m thankful for the reminder that complacency in our every day routines takes all kinds of tolls on society.

TOM
Guest
TOM

I just got back from Chicago ….WOW, about 20% helmet wearing by riders , lots of wrong way down 1 way streets , many,many Walmart/Target bikes and bikes locked up on the sidewalks at night. My mid-zoot touring bike would be high end/exotic over there. That sure IS a different culture , made me miss the ‘ole PDX that I complain about frequently.

Steve B
Guest
Steve B

I agree more noise needs to be made. I appreciate the continuing coverage of crashes involving people walking and biking. Thanks, Bike Portland.

AndyC of Linnton
Guest
AndyC of Linnton

Excellent. I just put the podcast on my iTunes, and cannot wait to take a listen . I also appreciate your coverage of the carnage on the streets, I think it’s important to highlight these things.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

I agree with others above that this coverage is a good thing. It not only raises awareness of what we’re up against, but raises awareness of specific dangerous routes and prompts productive discussions here of how to solve some of our transportation problems. I think the total effect is overwhelmingly positive.

If people are walking away thinking all this says cycling is dangerous, it’s MISUNDERSTANDING THE MESSAGE. It’s not that cycling is dangerous: it’s that CARS ARE DANGEROUS. The average person on the street doesn’t think of driving as an inherently dangerous act every time they get behind the wheel, especially here in Oregon where proper driver education is still not required, decades after it was mandated in other states.

The focus on cyclist carnage is just a lens onto the bigger problem that CARS (and bad driving) KILL thousands every year, in fact victimizing many more times vehicle occupants than cyclists and pedestrians. It is my hope that the focus on cyclist carnage helps direct attention to the greater problems of dangerous drivers and driving behaviors, and the roads that exacerbate the dangers that they pose.

gutterbunnybikes
Guest
gutterbunnybikes

I appreciate the collision (I refuse to call any of it accidents- there is always a fault) coverage. I particularly like the follow ups both in the way of the trails and punishments and the recoveries. Those follow ups are what is often missing in most media reports of such accidents, unless of course it had some sort of weird twist in the story.

Of course if you really want to bring the problems with cars you should also carry articles on auto/auto collisions, oil spills, oil company death squads in Africa and the such. I have “oil spill” as a tag on Google news, and it’s incredible how much is spilled, stolen or fought over. There is multiple updates to the news feed daily, unlike the tag “commuter bicycling”.

And I feel pretty confident in saying that the most destructive device ever invented by man has been the internal combustion engine. It’s destroyed more land, killed more people, and has caused more harm than anything else EVER on this planet….and it continues to do so. People will look back at the ICE. like we look back at dark age medical procedures. Though hopefully sooner than too much later.

jim
Guest
jim

For some reason Bikeportland has fealt the need to propagate the bikes vs cars mentality in Portland. It wasn’t the best choice of moves.

dbrunker
Guest
dbrunker

The interesting thing about this podcast is all the answers you’re looking for are right in your remarks.

Yes, bicycle accidents should be reported, but framing is everything. If you try to report an accident with too much neutrality then you leave too much to the reader who will will jump to the conclusion that bicycling is dangerous and stop riding.

Here’s what you should do:

* Report the tragedy
* Explain that we do not have to accept accidents as inevitable, bike vs car accidents are preventable
* Explain how the accident could have been prevented and if possible give examples of how it’s worked elsewhere