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New and Old v. Fair and Balanced

February 10, 2011

The Daily, the iPad news app, has a story today about a study from the Harvard School of Public Health.  Riding in separated bike lanes–wait for it, wait for it–is safer than riding with traffic.  From The Daily:

…pedal-pushers are 28 times less likely to be injured if they ride on a separated two-way lane, instead of cruising amid cars in traffic.

This is obvious to just about anyone, akin to saying people who fly kites on days when there are no electrical storms are 98% less likely to get struck by lightning.  What is more notable about the study is that it runs counter to the common standards used to design streets just about everywhere.

This is contrary to American Association of of State Highway and Transportation Officials guidelines, used by most American cities to design roadway, which advise against building bike lanes that are separated from the street.

Then again, this isn’t surprising at all.  If the focus is to move cars, not people, then it’s no shock to learn that an organization wouldn’t want bike lanes to be much more than lines of paint.  Ask Iris Weinshall.

What is most interesting, at least to me, is not the story, but the reporting on the story and what it says about new media versus old.  First, read these two paragraphs in The Daily story, written by Sarah Ryley.  As a result of official opposition to separated bike lanes, she writes…

…people just didn’t ride.  Less than 1 percent of American commuters ride to work, and only 24 percent of adult cyclists are women, according to the study.  In contrast, in the Netherlands, where separated bike tracks are commonplace, 27 pecent of commuters ride to work and 55 percent of adult cyclists are women.

But that’s changing as cities across America buck the transportation officials’ standards in favor of the European model…

Now, compare that to this story in the Post by Matt Harvey, “Attack of the Killer Bike Lanes,” which uses a common line of attack, Europe bashing, introduced by a quote from a Queens native and West Village business owner:

“Bikes are great for the environment, but New York isn’t Holland or Poland. It can’t handle more bikes.”

Like it or not, that’s what the city wants. Two hundred miles of bike lanes have been added since 2008, part of an ambitious plan, modeled on Copenhagen, to build 1,800 miles of lanes before 2030. In 2008 alone, the city spent $8 million on them. Starting this month, so-called “protected” lanes — which run between the curb and parked cars — have hit the East Village, with more slated for Union Square, Columbus Avenue and Prospect Park.

This would seem a lot of effort for the only 50,000 daily cyclists in New York the US census records.

New media: more people would ride, but the needed infrastructure isn’t there.  Old media: few people ride, so there’s no need for the infrastructure.  New media: Americans can learn from Copenhagen. Old media: Americans have nothing to learn from Copenhagen.  (Or Amsterdam, or, oddly, Poland.)

Copenhagen-bashing is even more rampant on old-media editorial pages.  Here’s the New York Post’s Steve Cuozzo about dedicated bus lanes:

The DOT’s rationale seems to be that the existing lanes don’t work well because some motorists ignore the rules by driving and even parking in them. Of course, there’s a solution that would cost a lot less than $30 million: build a fence. But that elegantly simple remedy would get in the way of Sadik-Khan’s campaign to transform throbbing Manhattan into a Copenhagen-like lolling ground.

You know, because no one works in Copenhagen!  Instead, they just ride their bikes for fun, loll around, and pose for pretty Cycle Chic pictures.  If you install a bike lane on Broadway Wall Street traders will ditch their Thomas Pink shirts American Apparel tees and the entire American way of life will collapse!

The irony here is that Sarah Ryley has written for the Post.  I don’t know her, and I don’t know if she ever wrote about bike lanes or transit for the paper, but she’s not some hipster upstart who came out of nowhere, only to land a writing gig at some newfangled news app in order to push an anti-car agenda.  She’s a reporter.

The bigger irony is that The Daily is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, the same company that publishes the Post.  Clearly, the editors of each news outlet know their audiences.  Dead-tree media, its circulation shrinking and its readership more uniformly older, suburban, and car-dependent, remains defiantly anti-bike lane and anti-transit.  A new media outlet, with a younger, more metropolitan, information-hungry audience, is able to report a story that’s fair and balanced.

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