Media Critique: KGW’s take on driving at night

Most of the news coverage from local television sources is from a car drivers point-of-view because news executives assume that’s who’s watching their shows. And they’re right! That’s why so much of what we see on local news stations is biased toward driving cars and tends to marginalize or patronize road users on foot or on bikes. I’ve leveled major criticism at local news coverage many times over the years.

So when KGW’s “Driving Me Crazy” series (see how the name itself centers drivers?) took on the topic of drivers having a hard time seeing people at night, I was ready to get mad. But it turns out that it wasn’t really that bad. Here’s my critique…

The segment opened with the typical pablum of people in cars who just cannot fathom why other road users do what they do. “Why do grown adults think it’s a good idea to run down the middle of the street in the dark wearing black from head to toe?” was the viewer question that inspire the segment. It opened with interviews of people in their cars who said, “People in Portland just literally walk whatever they want. It’s terrifying,” “I don’t want to get like go to jail for killing somebody,” and “I almost hit one of my neighbors who was wearing all black during a rainstorm who was walking their dog.”

This was not a great start, and my blood pressure began to spike. Then our friend Dylan Rivera, a public information officer from PBOT, swooped in to save the day! His official comment to KGW was that their entire premise sounded like victim blaming. I was really glad KGW Host Chris McGinness included Rivera’s take right at the outset.

McGinness also did the right thing when he included a comment from The Street Trust Executive Director Sarah Iannarone who said we need to look out for each other. McGinness even said “streets are shared spaces” and referenced the Oregon law that requires drivers to stop for pedestrians trying to cross the street.

McGinness then talked to someone who works as a sales rep for a local running store. The rep organizes weekly group runs that start in the Pearl District and he’s taken it upon himself to make sure folks wear light-up vests and other reflective gear. That’s great. It’s good for vulnerable road users to acknowledge the inherent dangers of running on streets at night and do something to make it safer.

While I think there is a lot more to say about the topic of night driving and safety of people on the roads, I like how McGinness didn’t really take a side (other than the general framing choices of course) and he let folks say their piece. This is really important! It’s one thing if people say things on TV that I disagree with or that I think put people in danger — but it’s another thing when the host validates those voices. McGinness didn’t do that.

He ended with this: “No driver wants to hit someone. No runner or walker wants to be hit. We can all do our part — drivers paying attention and runners and walkers doing their best — to help drivers see them.” Not bad. Yes it sort of both-sides an issue where one party should hold a lot more responsibility given their ability to do harm; but given that this is a major network TV news show, this is about as good as we can expect.

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Jimbo
Jimbo
8 days ago

I kind of want one of those vests. Looks like they pack up small and they don’t look bad either.

I have tried all sorts of stuff in Tigard and the drivers here are really quite bad during the winter. Visibility is one issue, but I also think that the sudden lack of people going outside when it is dark and rainy makes drivers less accustomed to keeping an eye out for walkers/bikers. Since we walk to pick up our child from daycare, we really noticed that at a certain crosswalk we could not get cars to stop no matter how much we waved our lights.

Something different like that vest might just catch enough attention from drivers that they might give us the same courtesy that we receive during the rest of the year.

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
8 days ago
Reply to  Jimbo

I’ve worn one of those reflective vests for a couple years before yet another car driver couldn’t be bothered to stop at a stop sign and almost ran me over in a crosswalk. After that, I quite walking.

Chris I
Chris I
8 days ago
Reply to  SolarEclipse

I don’t bother with the vests or lights. Just walk like no one sees you, because they probably don’t. Take side streets and cross major roads only when no one is coming. Don’t use signalized intersections and marked crosswalks if you can avoid it.

Jimbo
Jimbo
7 days ago
Reply to  Chris I

Problem, when picking up child from daycare in Tigard during rush hour there is always someone coming. It never stops.

Trike Guy
Trike Guy
8 days ago
Reply to  SolarEclipse

Vests are actually very ineffective.

Though the driver can pick it up far away, the brain doesn’t say “human being” when they see it.

Bio-mechanical motion, even of point sources results in much earlier recognition of a human being. That’s why lights/reflective elements on feet/ankles, legs, hands/wrists and arms are much more effective.

PNWPhotoWalks
PNWPhotoWalks
7 days ago
Reply to  Trike Guy

I agree. When I was commuting year-round on foot, I wore a reflective belt and ankle straps. I still carry my ankle straps with me in case I feel the need to put them on when it’s dark and rainy. This was my high-viz look in 2011. Note my comments about naysayers.

Todd/Boulanger
7 days ago
Reply to  Trike Guy

Yes, humans react to human movement motion….and bring a flash light to flash to add motion too.

SilkySlim
SilkySlim
8 days ago

Bonus background: Chris is a hardcore runner!!! We’ve raced together on the same Hood to Coast team, usually placing on the podium in the co-ed division. He’s fast!

As another hardcore runner, I definitely take it upon myself to play it smart when I have to run at night. I less so care about dressing bright than just picking areas that minimize car interactions, or at least lead to predictable interactions. This often means a bunch of laps at Reed, or the relatively calm Eastmoreland neighborhood. Lucky me I know.

In a weird little twist, sometimes I actually prefer wearing dark clothing at night. Instead of making cars notice me and take any sort of action, they just end up acting predictably and I can easily avoid any conflict. Your mileage may vary, but has worked for me.

nic.cota
nic.cota
8 days ago
Reply to  SilkySlim

Whoa, was about type this exact same thing! I run every morning and honestly prefer to not get noticed. Getting noticed usually leads to unpredictable reactions from drivers. Especially in the dark and when there’s so few people out on the street.

Therefore I treat every interaction like I’m not seen: run behind the car when meeting at a corner, turn down the street to avoid conflict at the crosswalk, or just hop on to the sidewalk whenever a car is approaching.

idlebytes
idlebytes
8 days ago

Visibility is great and all but the amount of drivers that still don’t see me despite being lit up like a Christmas tree is the problem. There are all sorts of things drivers are expected to be able to avoid hitting in the road that don’t have high vis vests on or lights. Not to mention headlights these days are often dangerously bright and light up the street like it’s daytime. There’s very little excuse for a driver to hit someone in the road whether or not they’re wearing a high vis vest.

The driver in the story talking about almost hitting their neighbor needs to slow down and drive better. If it’s dark and rainy out they should be driving slower because obviously visibility is worse. The amount of people that exceed the speed limit when visibility is reduced is criminal. It’s pretty much all of them. Not to mention the number that don’t stop for stop signs.

Even when they see me in the road in front of them most still keep creeping forward because heavens forbid they have to actually stop for a few seconds. My commute home is only 30 minutes and it’s rare that I don’t encounter at least one driver that does that creep toward me. Often it happens multiple times. It’s not fun trying to guess if they actually saw me or are looking at a car behind me trying to determine if they can dart across the road before it gets to the intersection.

X
X
7 days ago
Reply to  idlebytes

I also hate the creep. Creepers think I was born with that dirty look on my face but no, it’s just from practicing.

Somebody mentioned weather. Two things happen when a front is coming in: the fish start biting, and USA drivers go stark mad.

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
8 days ago

I’ve been hit during the day wearing hi vis, I’ve been hit at night lit up like a Christmas tree. I now realize that cars just don’t see me, no matter what. That is my problem with these type of news stories, it gives people the impression that if they do X then everything will be alright, and if they don’t do X then it’s their own fault if they are hit. When the truth is, it doesn’t matter, cars just don’t see cyclists, they only see other cars, sometimes not even that.

Matthew
Matthew
8 days ago
Reply to  Jay Cee

On my evening commute in the dark, I have a flashing front and back light on my bike and wear a headlamp helmet with flashing band, and a reflective flashing EDM-style vest. Despite this luminous display, it’s a regular occurrence to have cross-street cars zip up to stop signs, fail to come close to a complete stop, and either go though the intersection or catch themselves as they begin to accelerate once they become aware of your presence.

And I think that’s the core problem. They simply don’t choose to be aware of any road users other than automobiles. The basic problem is that too many auto users are only looking for other automobiles when they drive. That’s a reason speed limits seem to be so often disregarded as well.

Until auto users shift their focus so they anticipate engagement with pedestrians and bike riders, it doesn’t matter if you go for a neighborhood jaunt outfitted as a Portland Winter Light Festival exhibit. They ain’t gonna see you.

Alan Love
Alan Love
8 days ago
Reply to  Jay Cee

Yup, doesn’t matter what you’re wearing. People are only looking for other cars. I still ride with all the lights etc., though, in case there is a collision I can then use the video evidence (I always ride recording) of blinking lights reflecting off the driver’s side window or nearby road signs. In a court of law, the other side can’t claim I “came out of nowhere” or wasn’t doing enough to be visible. The cops may not care, but in a court room (hopefully where cooler heads prevail) it could be useful in collecting damages or (hopefully not) a wrongful death suit.

Lazy Spinner
Lazy Spinner
8 days ago

Nice to see a balanced view on the issue. When running or riding, I have an equal responsibility to be visible, predictable, and compliant with road use rules just as a driver does. That’s just good sense and a smart self-preservation tactic.

squareman
squareman
7 days ago
Reply to  Lazy Spinner

Equal responsibility? Let me know when a runner kills a driver in a collision.

Lazy Spinner
Lazy Spinner
7 days ago
Reply to  squareman

I do not understand the angry tone of your reply. I merely state that my personal protocol is not to dress like a ninja nor take unnecessary chances when I am running or riding in low light conditions. I also endeavor to make eye contact with drivers, obey the road rules, use signals, lights, reflectors, etc. In no way am I victim blaming or absolving motor vehicle operators of their responsibility. Again, as the far more vulnerable road user, I do what I can to make myself visible and predictable to other roadway users. That should not be controversial.

squareman
squareman
6 days ago
Reply to  Lazy Spinner

There was no anger in my reply, why are you inserting it? But look at all the trouble you’re describing going through to avoid getting hit. What has the average driver done to avoid hitting you? It sounds like a significantly asymmetric effort to me. And again, only one of you can kill the other with their means of conveyance. The responsibility, and especially the culpability are anything but equal.

Trike Guy
Trike Guy
8 days ago

Anyone who travels the roads at night, regardless of mode, should read this:

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/cxo.12447?itid=lk_inline_enhanced-template

A very thorough treatment of what happens to our vision in different stages of low light and the difference between visible and conspicous.

qqq
qqq
8 days ago

I love all the glowy stuff. Seeing nighttime group rides where everyone’s got colored spoke lights is beautiful. I hate the blinding headlamps, especially when worn by people running and walking towards me on MUPs. Friendly people (who look right into your eyes to say hello) with headlamps are the worst. Bikes on MUPs with blinding and/or blinking headlights designed for street use are also bad–the “protect myself with no regard for what it does to you” equivalent of drivers who leave their high beams on.

Laura
Laura
8 days ago

Those light vests the runners were wearing are called Tracer by Noxgear. They make a dog version, as well. Lots of colors and color patterns available in one reasonably priced device.

My biggest issue as a pedestrian, bike rider AND driver, is the ultra bright vehicle headlamps, especially on the current generation of pick-up trucks since they are higher than usual. The misuse of fog lights in non-fog conditions is a very close second. Seriously…how often do we get ground-level fog in Portland?
All of that brighness coming toward you impacts your ability to see unlit things on the periphery. I forget the actual vision process, but basically parts of your eye need to recover from that brightness before they can see things in the dark. I fully understand how the person waiting to cross the street, even if they are wearing some bright colors or lights, may seem invisible.

maxD
maxD
8 days ago

What’s driving me nuts? headlamps on runners! They inevitably shine right in my eyes (on Esplanade or Waterfront trail). I like the vests in the video- better for runners to be seen without the blinding side effects.

Mark Remy
Mark Remy
6 days ago
Reply to  maxD

Runners wear reflective gear to be seen. They wear headlamps so that THEY can see.

maxD
maxD
6 days ago
Reply to  Mark Remy

I can understand using a headlamp on a forested trail, but they are not providing useful illumination the well-lit esplanade or waterfront paths- but they are shining in the eyes of people walking/biking the opposite direction of them.

qqq
qqq
6 days ago
Reply to  Mark Remy

Yes, at the expense of everyone they look towards being able to see. They’re worse than bike headlights because those don’t look swerve upwards or to the side to follow everywhere the rider looks.

Jenny the Bike gal
Jenny the Bike gal
7 days ago

Good to see a balanced article. EVERYONE needs to be part of making our roads safe for all.

robert wallis
robert wallis
7 days ago

This article made me curious as to how dangerous night was compared to day. I was surprised to see – much more dangerous. I have never worn lights while walking. After reading this, maybe time to get some.

https://injuryfacts.nsc.org/motor-vehicle/road-users/pedestrians/

Chris I
Chris I
7 days ago
Reply to  robert wallis

And keep in mind that many more drivers and pedestrians are impaired at night, as well. I would be interested to see a breakdown of incidents by hour of the day. I imagine it looks somewhat like a bell curve, peaking around 11pm or midnight and then dropping off again.

Jo
Jo
7 days ago

When I am driving, I’ve often thought so many streets are so dark. Street lights, when there are some, are way up high. I would like to see more street lights placed at cross walks and at a lower level. There’s a good example of one way out in Marine drive where the path crosses the road. I think it’s just outside Portland limits so maybe that explains it.

Allan Rudwick
7 days ago

(side note- apparently adblock plus blocks the ability to post comments. interesting)

This story reminded me of an experience I had biking the other day and almost hitting a runner who was running right next to parked cars / dodging in and out of parked cars at dusk. I had lights on and could not see them until the last moment. Scary for both of us perhaps. On a neighborhood greenway! I’m guessing neither would have gotten hurt in a crash. He had reflectors.

Reflectors aren’t anywhere close to as visible as active lighting.

squareman
squareman
6 days ago
Reply to  Allan Rudwick

Whether running or riding in the street, never weave in and out of the parked cars. The best thing you can do is remain predictable by maintaining a steady line. If you need to adjust your lane position, do it gently, not abruptly.