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The Illusion of Causality

November 22, 2010

And then there were three.  Gothamist adds its voice to today’s pileup on cycling with this story: With Cycling Deaths on Rise, NYPD Cracks Down on Cyclists.  Nineteen cyclists died in 2010 through the month of October, seven more than in all of 2009, although whether this rate outpaces the increase in cycling is never said.

Lest you think the NYPD suddenly grew an extra chamber in its heart that pumps compassion for cyclists, take a look at how the NYPD, according to Gothamist, is responding:

In response, the NYPD has gone on a ticketing blitz targeting cyclists, issuing summonses for such infractions as talking on a cellphone while biking and cycling without lights.  Sources tell the Post that NYPD officers in the Midtown North precinct are cracking down on cyclists who pedal on sidewalks…

As far as I know, none of these behaviors were a factor in any of the fatalities this year, so the idea that the NYPD is protecting cyclists from themselves is laughable.  Jasmine Herron died because she was hit by a bus after getting doored, but the NYPD is not mounting a campaign to get drivers to look before they open their doors.  Riding on sidewalks is illegal, but has not resulted in any pedestrian deaths, unless you count the 4-year-old kid who knocked over an 87-year-old woman and is now being sued for it.

Sometimes the simplest explanation is the most likely: the NYPD is cracking down on cyclists because it wants to and can.

This is lazy reporting on the part of Gothamist, if you can call what Gothamist does reporting. (Note: I used to write for the site.)  There is zero causal relation between cycling deaths and stepped up enforcement.  If anything, cycling is far safer than it has ever been, yet ticketing blitzes against bikers have made the news a lot lately.  That doesn’t jibe with Gothamist’s logic.

I believe, more and more, that the media is our worst enemy.  Sensationalism and pitting us versus them, no matter who “us” and “them” are, is more important than digging just a tad deeper for the truth.

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