City Desk

What the Examiner Should Have Written About Capital Bikeshare

Things Examiner reporter Liz Essley could’ve written about in today’s Examiner, based on the statistic that there are more driver-biker crashes given the rising number of cyclists in D.C.:

  • Why more cyclists on the road mean more crashes, but also mean roads are safer
  • Whether better education is needed for drivers and cyclists
  • If there's a critical difference between Capital Bikeshare users and those who ride bikes they own
  • Why people ride on sidewalks
  • In addition to that sidebar listing "the rules" for cyclists in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, a consideration of whether said rules are practical, need changing, or need enforcing

Essley’s piece is relatively fair, tremendously so when compared to its front page headline: "Motorists fuming as bicyclists pack roads: Everyone angry at clueless Bikeshare riders." And especially when compared to the placement above a photo of an armed protester standing in front of flames (which is meant to illustrate a story on the Middle East, not the 15th Street cycletrack). It's fair enough that David Alpert defends it heartily at Greater Greater Washington.

But it still falls into the tired, broad “drivers hate cyclists hate Bikeshare hate drivers blame cyclists blame Capital Bikeshare” trope:

But neighborhoods still feud about who's to blame — cyclists or cars.

Both drivers and experienced cyclists blame bikers for blowing past stop signs and stoplights, not wearing helmets and weaving through traffic.

Capital Bikeshare users cause the most problems, both groups say.

And then, unsurprisingly, Twitter blew up.

I have a problem with Essley's piece because it's, at best, boring. The collective brain trust that considers, even casually, how we get around this city has largely moved—at least marginally—past placing blame wholly on all bikers or all drivers. D.C. may not be as bike-friendly as, say, Copenhagen, but it’s made substantial gains in cycling infrastructure and in the number of riders on the road in the past few years. Whether you agree with the presence of cyclists, they’re around in a way that they weren’t a decade ago.

We’re well past the period of time where it’s interesting or useful to write a he-said, she-said finger-pointy piece based on a few choice quotes from token characters (cyclist-driver, pedestrian, bike advocate). Essley’s article is an oblique blame game that tries to illustrate a news peg—hey, look, more people on bikes means more accidents!—but instead comes off as scattered list of things cyclists do that people don’t like.

Photo by Flickr user Angela N., under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

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  • Mario

    As an experienced cyclist I find it equally "tired" that you bring up helmets when writing a driver v. cyclist piece. Helmets have NOTHING to do with how one obeys rules (or doesn't), and has zero impact on congestion. It simply has no place in this discussion. Try and prove me wrong; you can't.

  • Alex Baca

    @Mario, I don't think I brought up helmets in this post. Essley did in her story.

    I don't want to get into a helmets-versus-not fight here—that's for another day—but I do agree with you that helmets don't prevent accidents and that their outsized importance in cycling-safety discourse is absolutely ridiculous. But this post isn't about that, which is why I don't bring them up.

  • Mario

    Sorry, Alex. Didin't realize you were pulling those bullets from the article. It's Essley who needlessly inserted the language about helmets.

  • oboe

    Sure, but the entire point of The Examiner is to confirm and stoke the fears of older, white suburbanites. Not sure how your suggestions advance that agenda.

  • kob

    People are in a perpetual state of rage over bikes vs. cars. I think most people are now wary of offering any opinion about it because the arguments are too familiar. The Examiner piece didn't advance the story. Seriously, why even care?

  • SW

    @oboe: Ha! That's true.

    There's the issue of bikes vs. pedestrians too, for the record. Maybe I'm just especially cranky because I used to jog on the Mt. Vernon Trail a lot before I moved.