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The 4 Biggest Sins Committed By Reporters Covering Pedestrian Deaths

Each year, motorists on American streets kill nearly 5,000 pedestrians. The loss of life is enormous — equivalent to 12 jumbo jets crashing with no survivors — but the steady drumbeat of pedestrian fatalities doesn’t register as an urgent public safety crisis. Maybe it would seem more urgent if the press covered pedestrian deaths as the preventable outcome of a broken system, instead of a series of random “accidents.”

Reports that accuse pedestrians of "darting" into traffic are remarkably common. Image:

Reports that accuse pedestrians of “darting” into traffic are remarkably common. Image: WKRN Nashville

Most local media reports of pedestrian deaths are just a few sentences long. In that brief space, they still manage to trivialize the issue of pedestrian safety and gloss over the underlying causes of traffic fatalities.

Here are four common problems with how pedestrian deaths are covered in American media and why reporters need to change their approach to traffic violence.

Blaming the victim

The default stance of most coverage is to blame victims for their own deaths. Maybe the reporter will note that the victim was not in a crosswalk, or jaywalking, or reportedly “darted” into traffic.

The underlying message is the same: If only the victim had followed the rules, he or she would still be alive. What never seems to get much scrutiny is how the driver’s actions could have prevented the fatal collision — by traveling at a safe speed, for instance, or just driving attentively on a busy city street.

In reporters’ defense, crash information tends to come directly from flawed police reports that reflect a survivor’s bias.

These reports are often based on a single eyewitness — the driver who hit the victim. Depending on a witness who is potentially culpable for killing someone cannot produce a trustworthy account. Nevertheless, the driver’s version of events is often repeated by police, becoming the basis for local news stories.

Read more…


When Media Outlets Cover Delivery Cyclists, They Rarely Talk to Them

Image: Biking Public Project

Image: Biking Public Project

NYC’s mostly-immigrant food delivery cyclists don’t have it easy, working on car-centric streets through all sorts of weather, all while under pressure to make their deliveries as quickly as possible.

But media coverage of delivery cyclists tends to dehumanize them, failing to convey their perspective or consider the difficult working conditions they contend with.

That’s the conclusion of a report from the Biking Public Project [PDF]. The authors identified 74 stories about delivery cyclists published in NYC newspapers and online outlets (including Streetsblog) between 2004 and 2014, and found that only 27 percent included at least one quote from a food delivery person.

The result is that media tend to portray delivery cyclists as “foreigners without documents” who bike unsafely and flout the law, the authors argue. Their analysis found that stories that failed to present the point of view of delivery cyclists were 68 percent more likely to portray delivery cyclists as “bad or deviant.”

Take, for example, a 2010 column from the New York Post’s Steve Cuozzo about delivery cyclists on the Upper West Side:

Read more…

Streetsblog USA
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Vox Pulls Back the Curtain on “Scam” to Save Lives With Red Light Cameras

You can usually count on Vox for accurate, research-based explainers of public policy issues. That’s why the new Vox video on red light cameras is so monumentally disappointing.

Researchers have established that red light cameras make streets safer by reducing potentially fatal T-bone collisions, though they do lead to more rear-end crashes, which tend not to be very serious. But motorists upset about receiving fines for dangerous driving mobilize tenaciously against automated enforcement. The use of red light cameras in Colorado, for instance, is consistently under siege in the state legislature. They are currently outlawed in more than a dozen states.

Campaigns against automated enforcement could hardly ask for better propaganda than this Vox video. Here’s a look at what’s so wrong with it.

1. Red light cameras save lives — but who cares?

Once you get past the click-bait title, “Why Red Light Cameras Are a Scam,” the piece starts out well. There are more than 30,000 traffic deaths every year in the USA, we’re told, and “23 percent are intersection related.” Vox also notes that the cameras reduce T-bone collisions and that they “really can and do save lives” — but for some reason this is immediately overshadowed in the video by the increase in less deadly rear-end fender-benders.

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Victim-Blaming Commences After Bruckner Boulevard Claims Another Life

Was this driver adhering to the 25 miles per hour speed limit before fatally striking a pedestrian on Bruckner Boulevard?Does it matter to NYPD? Image: News 12

Was this driver adhering to the 25 miles per hour speed limit before fatally striking a pedestrian on Bruckner Boulevard? Does it matter to NYPD? Image: News 12

A motorist struck and killed a man last night on Bruckner Boulevard, a Bronx street designed to facilitate speeding and one of the borough’s most dangerous places to walk.

The victim was attempting to cross Bruckner near East 149th Street at around 12:30 a.m. Monday when he was hit by the driver of a BMW SUV. The impact was severe enough to cause major damage to the vehicle and, according to police, injure the driver and a passenger. Images show the SUV with a concave grille and hood and a hole in the windshield.

News 12 aired video of what happened immediately after impact:

Surveillance video of the accident appears to show the person hit being dragged several feet by the SUV. The vehicle smokes up, and a police car and other vehicles soon make their way over to the crash.

The victim was a 23-year-old man whose name had not been released by NYPD as of late this morning, pending family notification.

The speed limit on Bruckner Boulevard is 25 miles per hour. But the street, which runs below the Bruckner Expressway, is designed like a highway, with up to 10 lanes in some locations, counting service roads and turn lanes (see Google Maps embed below). With five deaths from 2012 to 2014, drivers killed more pedestrians on Bruckner Boulevard than on any other Bronx street except the Grand Concourse, according to the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

DOT identified Bruckner Boulevard as a priority for safety fixes in the Vision Zero Bronx pedestrian safety action plan. “Bruckner Boulevard is a very wide, multi-lane boulevard,” DOT project manager Kimberly Rancourt told Bronx Community Board 2 last year. “It has lots of traffic but it also has excess space that isn’t needed for capacity.”

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How to Counter the Victim-Blaming Impulse After a Traffic Crash

When a driver strikes someone walking or biking, the tendency to blame the victim runs deep. Ask Raquel Nelson, who lost her young son to a hit-and-run driver, then got convicted for vehicular homicide, even though she was just trying to walk across the street with her children from a bus stop to her home. Or witness the reaction to the death of Amanda Phillips, who was struck by a truck driver while biking in Boston last week.

Why do people blame victims, and can anything be done to lead them to reconsider this response? New research published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggests that personal values play a large role in determining whether someone assigns culpability to victims or perpetrators — and that the way incidents are described can influence these attitudes.

Writing in the New York Times, study authors Laura Niemi and Liane Young say that people who value “loyalty, obedience and purity” are more likely to view victims of sex crimes and physical violence as “contaminated” or responsible. Psychologists refer to these as “binding values” because they’re associated with a worldview that prioritizes group cohesion. People who hold binding values tend to more more religious and more politically conservative.

On the other end of the spectrum are people who subscribe to “individualizing” values like fairness and reducing harm. This group is less likely to blame victims, Niemi and Young write, and tends to be politically progressive.

People’s values tend to be fixed, but Niemi and Young found that the way incidents are framed can influence how they perceive victims and perpetrators:

Read more…


Truck Driver Kills Cyclist Leah Sylvain in Bushwick — Victim-Blaming Ensues

Joseph Cherry struck and killed 27-year-old Leah Sylvain while she biked up the Evergreen Avenue bike lane early this morning. Photo: Google Maps

Joseph Cherry struck and killed Leah Sylvain on Evergreen Avenue early this morning. Photo: Google Maps

A fuel truck driver struck and killed Leah Sylvain, 27, as she was biking on Evergreen Avenue in Bushwick this morning.

Sylvain was traveling north in the bike lane when Joseph Cherry, also traveling north, turned his truck to the left across her path, fatally injuring her. Sylvain was lying on the road with head trauma when police and EMS arrived at 6:46 a.m. She was pronounced dead at Woodhull Hospital.

Cherry, 52, was charged with misdemeanor careless driving, two moving violations for failure to yield, and another unspecified violation, according to NYPD.

While Sylvain clearly had the right of way and Cherry broke the law by failing to yield, CBS New York‘s Ilana Gold reported that Sylvain “slammed into” the truck, citing police investigators. Gold’s video segment said Sylvain was riding on the sidewalk, which subsequent NYPD reports corrected, and that witnesses said she was “distracted on her cell phone.” The video has since been taken down, and the references to sidewalk riding and the cell phone have been removed from the online text of the CBS story.

Sylvain is at least the fifth cyclist killed by a New York City driver in 2016 — and the fourth in Brooklyn.

If you’d like to voice your concerns about street safety in the area to Deputy Inspector Maximo Tolentino, the commanding officer of the 83rd Precinct, the precinct community council meets on the third Tuesday of the month at 6:30 p.m. at the precinct house, located at 480 Knickerbocker Ave.

This morning’s crash occurred in the City Council district represented by Antonio Reynoso.


Here’s a TV Story With a Two-Wheeled Perspective on Biking in NYC

This story from the New Jersey-based TV show “Chasing News” is meant to have a light touch, but it does a better job explaining how streets work than most “straight” news reportage.

Correspondent Tamara Laine talks with safe streets advocates Ollie Oliver and Janet Liff about the need for protected bikeways on Fifth and Sixth avenues. She even goes for a ride on a Citi Bike to see firsthand how dangerous it is to dodge open car doors and double-parked vehicles.

The piece goes off on a tangent toward the end, but all in all it’s pretty great. Seriously, did you ever see Marcia Kramer on a bike?

We’ll be back on our regular publishing schedule Tuesday. Enjoy the Memorial Day weekend, everyone.


Driver Kills Toddler in the Bronx as NYPD and the Press Declare “Accident”

E. 164th Street and Gerard Avenue, where a driver killed a 3-year-old this morning. Image: Google Maps

E. 164th Street and Gerard Avenue, where a driver killed a 3-year-old this morning. Image: Google Maps

Update: WPIX identified the victim as Mariam Dansoko. WPIX and other outlets are reporting that the driver, a 21-year-old man, was turning left from Gerard Avenue onto E. 164th Street when he hit her.

A driver killed a 3-year-old girl in the Bronx this morning. NYPD filed no charges and almost immediately told the press the crash was an “accident.”

An NYPD spokesperson told Streetsblog the victim “was walking behind her mom” at E. 164th Street and Gerard Avenue, not far from Yankee Stadium, when she was hit by the driver of a black Nissan.

The crash occurred at around 8 a.m. The police spokesperson had no details on who had the right of way. The driver was not charged criminally and was not issued a traffic ticket.

Media reports said the victim’s mother was pushing a stroller with a second child inside. They were not reported to be injured.

Details are still scarce, but the Post, the Daily News, and WABC all repeated information from the police concerning the actions of the child and her mother, while downplaying or ignoring the role of the driver who took the child’s life.

“The little girl tried to keep up, but was struck by a driver,” the Post said.

“The collision appeared to be an accident, police said,” read the News.

Read more…


Check Out This Wonderfully Normal CBS 2 Queens Blvd Bike Lane Story

There’s nothing particularly noteworthy about this CBS 2 feature on the plan to extend the bike lanes on Queens Boulevard. And that’s what makes it noteworthy.

With shots of the street where lanes now exist, reporter Sonia Rincon begins the piece like so: “The DOT is reshaping the landscape of one of the most dangerous roads in the city.” No quick-cut shots intended to invoke mass panic, no Marcia Kramer-style indignation over the prospect of sharing street space with people who aren’t in cars. Just a simple statement of fact.

Rincon spoke with City Council Member Danny Dromm, who explains how adding space for bikes helps slow motorists down, making the street safer.

And get this: Rincon talked with people who ride bikes on Queens Boulevard as part of their day to day lives — people who are grateful that Mayor de Blasio instructed DOT to proceed with phase two of the bike lane project despite Community Board 4 failing to support it.

“Right now I’m going to work, while biking,” said Melody Santos, who indicated she did not ride to work before DOT installed the existing 1.3-mile bike lane segment on Queens Boulevard in Woodside.

Rincon does devote airtime to random quotes from a couple of people who don’t care for cyclists, and to Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, who repeats her specious argument that the project should be brought before the Queens Borough Board. Otherwise, Katz claims, making Queens Boulevard safer for people who walk and bike will “cause great difficulties.”

But Rincon closes with Dromm, who notes that the responsibility for engineering safer streets lies with DOT. Anchor Maurice DuBois even wraps the segment by citing Queens Boulevard crash data.

About what you would expect, right? But compared to the fact-free sensationalist screeching New Yorkers were subjected to during the bikelash era, it’s practically a revelation.

Streetsblog USA
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Associated Press Cautions Journalists That Crashes Aren’t Always “Accidents”

The Associated Press has tweaked its guidance for journalists about when to call traffic collisions “accidents.”

Street safety advocates, spearheaded by New York City’s Transportation Alternatives, have been pushing police and media organizations to drop the term “accident” because it implies the absence of culpability — often before all the facts are in — and makes traffic collisions seem like random, unpreventable acts of God.

The AP style guide, a highly influential reference book for reporters, currently doesn’t take a stance on whether “accident” is appropriate. A web addendum to the guide does recommend against “accident” because it’s not a neutral term, but the guide itself refers to collisions as “accidents” multiple times.

The new style guide will be released June 1 and cautions against calling a crash an “accident” in cases “when negligence is claimed or proven.” The AP tweeted today that “crash, collision or other terms” should be used instead.

The strange thing about the revised guidance is that “accident” is still the default term, instead of a term reserved for cases in which the absence of fault has been ascertained.

Under the AP’s guidance, journalists reporting breaking news about collisions would continue to use the loaded term “accident” before an investigation has determined whether negligence or recklessness was a factor.

But hey, the AP isn’t known for rapid adaptation. It’s just getting around to blessing a lowercase “I” when spelling the word “internet.”