Stranger reader Jason Anderson doesn't like my piece in this week's paper. I write about the death of Sher Kung, the woman who died last Friday after a collision on the notoriously dangerous bicycle thoroughfare of Second Avenue, and go on to criticize the city council for fighting bicycle safety improvements and drastically underfunding the city' official bike plan to make the city safer.
Here's my article, and you can decide if it's characterized correctly by Anderson's letter:
I am dismayed by the coverage given to this story, in part because it is ostensibly about the bike crash (but is instead a policy piece about biking), and in party because it is an unfairly biased policy piece about biking.
As to the crash itself, I learned nothing from the article, other than perhaps the "anti-bike crowd" or policies should be blamed. I still know nothing about what happened, other than the left-turning truck hit the cyclist in the intersection. It would be relevant to know whether either party was following all traffic laws, or whether there were environmental causes at play (like sudden glare from the sun around a corner) [this information was not available when the article was published — Eds]. I am not saying this happened here, but as an example, we blame drunk drivers when they injure someone—we do not blame the designer of the road.
As to the article, I am troubled by its baseless advocacy. I am a practicing attorney, and when I represent clients, I start from the premise that my client's viewpoint is correct, and I work backwards to figure out the rest. The Stranger is one of my favorite news publications, and is generally viewed as a news source (indeed, this story is located under the "news" link on your website), albeit with an irreverent style. A journalist essentially has the opposite job of mine—to presume nothing and to root out and report on the facts.
My concern with this article is that is starts with the premise that all things bicycling are good, and anything contrary is bad. The article then uses phrases like "anti-bike propaganda machine," which undermines any semblance of objectivity. The article gives no explanation behind the debate, and instead vilifies any opposition, resulting in a fallacious "us versus them" dynamic. This makes anyone who disagrees appear mean-spirited or stupid.
Both sides' arguments have merit, and they are not fairly represented by the invective used on KIRO radio or by a Seattle Times columnist. Seattle is growing and changing, and there are legitimate questions to be asked about how we improve our infrastructure. This is something The Stranger does quite well in nearly all respects, except when it comes to bicycling. Upstanding, progressive, and forward-thinking citizens who favor transit improvements can still be opposed to certain elements of the Bicycle Master Plan. When The Stranger dismisses these differences of legitimate opinion, we all suffer.
For example, progressive citizens can be concerned with the Bicycle Master Plan in several ways:
• Bicycling is a great goal and good for public health overall, but when bicycling is emphasized at the expense of other forms of transportation, what happens to those who cannot bike—the disabled and the elderly? (If any other city policy resulted in hardship on these groups, I imagine The Stranger would oppose the policy) Do we want to encourage bicycling in our darkest, rainiest winter days, or is that unsafe?
• Are other forms of transportation even suffering due to these changes, such as through longer commutes, or is it imaginary?
• Does it make sense to change two-lane roads into one-lane roads, reducing throughput while population size is growing? (Not to mention the attendant backups and congestion this causes, resulting in further difficulties for cyclists dealing with impatient drivers.)
• Are there legitimate concerns over bicyclists' behavior? If a car cannot predict how a bicycle will travel (sidewalks, running stop signs and red lights, ignoring traffic laws), whose fault is this? If we enforce traffic laws and look down on those who defy them, why is this not applied to bicyclists?
My point is that this article causes more damage than good. Generating a polarizing debate about bicyclists borders on FOX News-style advocacy ("are car drivers bad people or just unintelligent? More at 11"), when an inclusive, constructive discussion about a core Seattle issue would serve everyone's interests, and closer resemble objective journalism.
What happened last week was a tragedy, pure and simple, and appears to have just been an accident. Could it have been prevented? Maybe, but all intersection crashes could be prevented if we just didn't have intersections (or cars!) - but no one can seriously advocate this. I do not think it is fair or appropriate for The Stranger to capitalize on a tragic death to propel a one-sided "debate" about bicycle policy. We should mourn the person we lost, celebrate her memory, and, separately, ask objective questions about the future instead of making pronouncements of blame to score points in a manufactured debate.
The Stranger knows how to ask the tough questions and investigate its stories, and I think an article that starts with a viewpoint while failing to seek a legitimate counterpoint causes the entire electorate to become less informed. The Stranger rightfully criticizes other media sources for biased coverage, and I think the same principles can be applied here.