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Why You Can’t Trust TV News to Report on Bike Lanes

Earlier this week, in an “investigation” seeking to link bike lanes to traffic congestion, ABC 7 reporter Jim Hoffer drove around Manhattan avenues timing his trips. The station ostensibly wanted to test DOT’s numbers showing that average travel times on two streets with protected bike lanes decreased after the lanes were installed.

It’s a terrible way to measure the performance of city streets, but when Hoffer disclosed his times on Eighth Avenue – an average of 7 minutes, 9 seconds to make the 11-block drive from 23rd Street to 34th Street during seven tests over two days — the results sounded so ludicrous, even for Midtown, that we thought: Two can play this game.

Streetsblog ran five tests during the evening rush (between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.) on Wednesday and Thursday. Instead of driving Streetsblog’s Mobile Unit SUV, I took cabs. ABC Eyewitness News helpfully blared on Taxi TV every time.

The average trip time? Four minutes, 37 seconds, about two and half minutes quicker than ABC’s average, and a minute and a half longer than the average in DOT’s report. I was unable to replicate ABC’s 7-minute-plus average, with the longest run coming in at 5:37. The fastest run clocked in well below DOT’s average at 2:37.

Here’s the secret to ABC’s report: Traffic, especially in Midtown, can be a crapshoot. Anyone familiar with this part of Eighth Avenue knows that traffic can snarl between 31st and 34th Streets near Penn Station. Sometimes it can be a quick ride through, and sometimes you’re stuck behind someone getting in a cab or a driver turning through a crowded crosswalk.

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Driving in Manhattan Stank Yesterday, It Stinks Today, It Will Stink Tomorrow

This just in from the crack investigative team at ABC 7: Driving in Manhattan stinks!

Why is this news? Because a recent NYC DOT report suggested that driving became a little more fluid on some streets where bike lanes were recently added. Unlike when a driver kills a pedestrian or cyclist and anonymous police sources blame the victim, this is a claim that our local broadcast media feel compelled to investigate.

Ripping off rival CBS and its “Mobile2″ unit, ABC’s Jim Hoffer set out to show that New York bike lanes are not, in fact, making it a breeze to drive in the middle of the nation’s largest city. Hoffer did a few time trials from 96th Street to 77th Street on Columbus Avenue, and get this: It took a little more than six minutes, on average, to drive that one-mile segment. Six minutes!

For everyone keeping score at home, that means if you’re driving toward the heart of Midtown Manhattan during the morning rush on Columbus Avenue, you can travel at an average speed approaching 10 mph, which is 20 percent faster than the average speed of a New York City bus. Maybe that’s because Columbus Avenue still has four motor vehicle moving lanes during the a.m. peak, same as it did before the protected bike lane was installed in 2010.

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WPIX Gets BIke Law Facts Wrong and Misses DMV Scandal Under Its Nose

New Yorkers have seen their fair share of malicious press about bikes, from willful ignorance in Daily News editorials to Marcia Kramer linking cyclists to terrorists. But sometimes, it’s not maliciousness that causes trouble. A story from WPIX reporter Kaitlin Monte this morning may have been intended to educate the public, but did little more than circulate misinformation. A moment of fact-checking before going on air could have salvaged much of the piece — and perhaps spotlighted a newsworthy scandal right under the reporter’s nose.

The story about NYPD’s “Operation Safe Cycle” got off on the wrong foot from the start. “Few things are worse than getting nearly knocked over by a Lance Armstrong wannabe as you cross the street,” Monte said in her introduction. As far as danger on the streets goes, actual collisions with cars are far worse than near-collisions with cyclists, but let’s skip Monte’s editorializing and go straight to the facts of her story. There are two big errors that should be corrected.

Most of Monte’s piece consists of man-on-the-street interviews with a mix of cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers. “Once I was trying to get out of a taxi, and a bike almost hit the door,” a young woman told her. Monte doesn’t mention it in her piece, but that’s called dooring. The young woman, not the cyclist, was at fault. The woman is required by law to look before opening her door into the path of an oncoming cyclist. It’s such a problem that the city has developed an education campaign to alert taxi riders, and the Taxi of Tomorrow includes sliding doors to cut down on dooring. But why let facts get in the way? Let’s blame the cyclist for it – NYPD has!

The second big omission comes at the tail end of the piece. ”The price for being pulled over? A fine of up to $270, and paying your ticket online means an extra $88 surcharge and extra points on your license,” Monte said.

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The Daily News Editorial Board — Still Part of the Problem

I’ve been trying to put my finger on why this morning’s Daily News editorial about slower speed limits got under my skin so much. The core message is fine — New York does need to measure the impact of new street safety policies. But it’s obscured by a thick layer of ignorance.

Start with all the clumsy signifiers that come straight out of a Tea Party manifesto. To the Daily News, the New York City advocates, policy experts, and civil servants trying to prevent traffic injuries and deaths by reducing the incidence of speeding are “theorists” looking to impose a “social engineering project.” (Clearly, we’re all getting marching orders from the UN.)

“Show us the numbers,” goes the subhead, by which they mean “detailed, street-by-street, regularly refreshed data documenting the impact of this rejiggering on the push to save New Yorkers’ lives.”

The city absolutely must track progress. The thing is, there’s already “detailed, street-by-street, regularly refreshed data” on traffic crashes. After years of pestering from Streetsblog, Transportation Alternatives, and open data advocates, the NYPD started publishing a citywide feed this May. NYPD’s street safety feeds would be a lot better if the department released geo-tagged summons data as well, so people can see if traffic tickets are being issued where enforcement is really needed, but that’s not what the Daily News is looking for.

Here’s where the editorial board finally tips its hand:

By objectively tracking the experiment in motion, Trottenberg has a precious chance to undo the cynicism bred by her predecessor, Janette Sadik-Khan, who infamously cherry-picked information to justify new bike lanes, pedestrian plazas and more.

This is rich. For several years the Daily News editorial board has been impervious to data on street safety. No matter how many before-and-after studies piled up showing fewer injuries and better economic performance after streets were redesigned, the Daily News didn’t acknowledge the evidence.

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One Mindblowing Fact Missing From BuzzFeed’s Port Authority Listicle


Earlier this week, BuzzFeed gleaned some fun facts about the Hudson River bridges and tunnels from a Port Authority data dump on the number of eastbound automobiles, buses, and trucks. If you took the numbers at face value, you might be left with the impression that cars are the most important thing moving around New York. But when you measure people instead of vehicles, the numbers look quite different.

BuzzFeed’s John Templon started off the nine-point listicle with a breakdown of vehicle traffic on the Port’s crossings:

1. It’s almost all cars. Automobile traffic consistently makes up around 91% of the total vehicles going over and through the bridges and tunnels in a month. Trucks make up between 6 and 7 percent, and buses account for the final 2 to 3 percent.

Buses are mentioned once again, and readers are left with the impression that they aren’t all that important, even at the crossing with the most bus traffic:

6. Buses love the Lincoln Tunnel. Buses accounted for 11.4% of all vehicles taking the Lincoln Tunnel to Manhattan in 2013. (Port Authority is right around the corner.) That proportion is 10 times greater than any other eastbound crossing. Next is the Holland Tunnel, at just 1.4%.

Barely more than one in ten vehicles coming from New Jersey in the Lincoln Tunnel is a bus. But what happens when you measure people, not vehicles?

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Satirical “Bicycle Lobby” Twitter Account Fakes Out Media Giants

The parody Twitter account "Bicycle Lobby" jokingly claimed to have placed white flags on top of the Brooklyn bridge this week. Reporters from the AP and New York Daily News didn't get it.

Reporters from the AP and New York Daily News took a tweet from the @BicycleLobby account a little too seriously.

The @BicycleLobby Twitter account is a parody inspired by last year’s unhinged rant about bike-share from Wall Street Journal columnist Dorothy Rabinowitz. Its running joke for the past 13 months has been that “the all-powerful bike lobby” envisioned by Rabinowitz is real — and yes, it controls the universe.

Sample tweet from July 20: “Today is the 45th anniversary of the day we faked the Moon landing.”

So when someone noticed this morning that the American flags atop the Brooklyn Bridge had been replaced with white flags, naturally @BicycleLobby took credit:

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 1.50.49 PM

The funny thing is, some big news organizations took the bait. First the New York Daily News and then the Associated Press reported that bicyclists had claimed credit for the prank. Not long after, those early reports were scrubbed from the Daily News site and the paper was calling it a mystery. But News 1130 in Vancouver, BC, was still carrying the AP story at 2 p.m.

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WNBC Shames City for Letting Employees Hog Parking With Bogus Placards

The next time you’re in a part of town where a lot of city employees work, take a look at the dashboards of cars occupying curbside parking spots. In neighborhoods across the city, you’ll see bogus placards that parking cheats use to evade meters and other regulations. In a two-part series, WNBC’s Tom Llamas traveled to Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn and St. George on Staten Island to document the problem. He found that while officials at the top know the abuse is wrong, NYPD parking enforcement regularly turns a blind eye on the street.

Many city employees see free on-street storage of their private cars as a perk of the job. “Because we work for the city, why should we pay?” Tara Jones, a children’s services employee on Staten Island, told WNBC. “Do policemen pay for meters? Do firemen pay for meters? No.”

Most other placard abusers Llamas interviewed on the street remained nameless and either lied on camera about paying or were shamed into feeding the meter, perhaps because they knew what they were doing is wrong. After all, free street parking isn’t an entitlement, it’s a land grab that’s hurting local businesses and residents.

“Merchants here cannot find parking for themselves, for their customers, and it really hurts them as small business owners,” said Josef Szende, executive director of the Atlantic Avenue Business Improvement District. A FedEx driver double-parked on Atlantic told Llamas that “it’s impossible” to find a legal space to make deliveries in the area.

“It’s disheartening because it’s so blatant. Everyone in the community knows they can’t park here,” said Robert Honor, who owns a wine shop in St. George, where parking abuse is a long-standing problem. Only 10 of the 89 parked cars inspected by WNBC displayed meter receipts, and those without proof of payment went without tickets.

While surveys of retail districts around the city show that most customers don’t arrive in private cars, placard abuse leads customers who do drive to clog up streets as they search for an open spot. And that can foil the city’s attempts to reform curbside parking prices.

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Portland Newscast Offers Biking Conditions With the Weather Report


Here’s a local newscast that’s getting something right. FOX 12 in Portland, Oregon, has taken to reporting the conditions for cycling along with the weather report.

“They’ve been doing it for a while now,” says Jonathan Maus at Bike Portland. “Just responding to market demand.”

The station reported on June 24th: ”Not a bad day to take the bike out for a spin. Roads should be dry most of the day.”

On June 19th: “Looking to get out on the bike? Ideal riding conditions Thursday.”

Is this the future of the local nightly news?

Steven Vance at Streetsblog Chicago reports that local cyclists have been lobbying the local NPR affiliate to broadcast conditions — including construction updates, wind speed, and wave conditions — on the Lakefront Trail, the busiest biking and walking path in the country.

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Marcia Kramer on Vision Zero: Why Isn’t City Hall Sticking It to Pedestrians?

She’s back. Marcia Kramer is here to defend unsuspecting New Yorkers from Bill de Blasio and his nefarious goal to eliminate traffic deaths in the city.

“The city says 250 New Yorkers are killed every year; 4,000 injured,” she began her report last night on WCBS. Okay, if the city says so.

But as for the mayor’s plan to prevent New Yorkers from getting injured and killed by keeping dangerous drivers off the road, he’s got it all wrong. ”Apparently not at the top of the mayor’s list is helping motorists,” Kramer said, apparently oblivious to the fact that more than a hundred motor vehicle occupants are killed and thousands more injured in New York City each year.

No, forget about protecting people in cars from reckless drivers. To “help motorists” you have to do something about those pesky pedestrians. “Who can argue that jaywalkers are a driver’s nightmare?” Kramer asks. “But not the mayor’s priority.”

You know what’s worse than jaywalkers? Of course: bicyclists. “What about bicyclists who don’t stay to the side of the road or go up one-way streets the wrong way… [and] who weave in and out of traffic, going into whatever lane they want?” Kramer asks, over a shot of a cyclist riding with traffic up Sixth Avenue, navigating outside the door zone of a stopped taxi cab.

What a nightmare.

Kramer does mention one victim of traffic violence: Noshat Nahian, age 8, who was killed just feet from where de Blasio signed the traffic safety bills yesterday.

Was he jaywalking? Riding his bike the wrong way? No, he was walking to school with his sister, in the crosswalk, with the signal, when an unlicensed tractor-trailer truck driver drove over him. Kramer never mentions that.

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Anonymous NYPD Sources Blame Another Victim of Motorist Violence

Area of Roosevelt Avenue where a speeding driver killed a cyclist Tuesday afternoon. Image: Google Maps

Area of Roosevelt Avenue where a speeding driver killed a cyclist Tuesday afternoon. Image: Google Maps

A motorist killed a cyclist near Citi Field Tuesday afternoon. The driver was ticketed for speeding, but true to form, anonymous police sources and the media blamed the victim for his own death.

The crash happened on Roosevelt Avenue near 126th Street, under the elevated 7 train on the perimeter of the stadium, at around 12:48 p.m. According to NYPD and published reports, the driver of a Mercury minivan hit the cyclist from behind.

Photos and video of the scene show that the frame of the victim’s bike was snapped into pieces, with the minivan perpendicular to the sidewalk, its windshield shattered. The victim, whose name had not been released by police as of this morning, died at the scene.

The Post and DNAinfo reported that, according to unnamed police sources, the cyclist “cut in front” or “swerved into the path” of the driver. The NYPD spokesperson we spoke to had no such information. The spokesperson said police summonsed the driver for speeding — a crucial detail that was not reported in the press. So once again, unnamed NYPD personnel selectively leaked information that served to blame the victim, and reporters repeated it without question.

At this point the speeding ticket is the sole charge against the driver. The investigation into the crash is ongoing, NYPD told Streetsblog.

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