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Friday, April 06, 2007

Sense and stupidity in San Francisco's media

Image of bicyclist on Golden Gate Park
The higher echelons of editorial policy at the San Francisco Chronicle are generally indifferent to bicyclists and hostile to anti-establishment grassroots activism. This bias is clearly evident in the Chronicle's elevation earlier this week of an incident following the March Critical Mass. The paper continued to scold bicycling activists with an editorial in today's edition, "Cool it, Critical Mass":

For too long, the pack of rude and sanctimonious bicyclists who call themselves "Critical Mass" have been tolerated in San Francisco. The police have looked the other way and elected officials have been afraid to confront a determined political force in this city.

The more militant of the bicycle advocates fail to recognize that they are undermining their cause with their open provocation. Yes, San Francisco is precarious terrain for bicyclists, with its hills, narrow streets and concentration of people and cars in 49 square miles. It's also a difficult city for motorists, pedestrians and the many residents who must rely on the Municipal Railway to get around.

The way to make this compact city work for all modes of transportation is for San Franciscans to share the streets with civility, humility and adherence to the rules of the road. The Critical Mass rides contain none of the above.
Apparently, the Chronicle's editorial board wants bicyclists to behave more like motorists, who, let's not forget, kill more than 40,000 people each year in the U.S.

However, while the pro-car management of the auto-industry advertising dependent Chronicle may be hostile, bicyclists in San Francisco do have friends at the paper. One of whom is columnist Jon Carroll, nearly always a voice of sanity:
Something happened at Critical Mass last Friday. We were not there, so we don't know what happened. It's useful to remember that before talking about thuggish bicyclists or imperiled children. It's also useful to remember that not much actually happened. On the scale of things, the accident I saw recently on 580 in San Leandro was 10 times worse. It involved two ambulances and an accordion-pleated car.

It did not make the newspapers because no symbols were involved. So on the reality scale, the Critical Mass event was very small potatoes. If your blood pressure rose while discussing it, it's because you have strong feelings about the symbols. Everyone is safe and healthy, except the guy behind the wheel of the car on 580.

Automobile drivers have ruled the roads forever. Our cities have been built to accommodate automobile drivers because automobiles are profit centers for lots of companies. But it's not just that. People really like their automobiles. You've probably had a car you've liked; maybe you still do. You've probably said, on your way to somewhere, "How dare they do that thing which is delaying me?" Because you have the car. You are the boss.

Automobiles are all about entitlement. You can go anywhere you want! You are free! Also, you can have sex in the backseat!

Alas, there are way too many automobiles. They spew noxious fumes. They make loud noises. They threaten pedestrians. They threaten the planet. They are misused far more frequently than guns, with bloodier results. Also, they make people lazy. They contribute to obesity, rising health care costs, sloth, greed -- are you getting angry yet? (Read more.)
In cyber-saturated San Francisco, bicyclists have other friends, in the less partial media, such as the Fog City Journal,,, and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. And bicyclists are fortunate to have the media-savvy San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

Image: Roger J. Wendell. Bicyclist on Golden Gate Bridge.
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips


Jamie said...

I noticed your statistic quote of 40,000 deaths related to cars each year... I'd like to quote this figure in an article I'm writing for my blog. Where is this statistic from?

Paul Dorn said...

Annual traffic deaths in the U.S. are reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, it the agency's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). In 2005 there were 43,443 total fatalities, including 4,881 pedestrians and 784 "pedalcyclists."

Anonymous said...

On Father's Day my family of 4 rode across the Golden Gate Bridge on bicycles. It was supposed to be relaxing and fun. It wasn't. The expert cyclists whizzed past us with no warning at high speeds, often cutting it close with the oncoming cyclists who were also going very fast. Only a couple of times did I hear, "Passing on the left." One time my 12 year old almost got hit. I actually did get hit, but only our bodies hit, and we both stayed on our bikes. I was on a 1-speed cruiser, so it was obvious I was no expert. Why not slow down a little? What's the rush? This was a Sunday afternoon, a Father's Day no less. There were many other tourists, many of them on rented bikes. It seems common courtesy would dictate slowing down and taking it easy on a HUGE tourist attraction like the Golden Gate Bridge. If the bicyclists in Critical Mass behave like these cyclists did, which several San Franciscans have told me is the case, I can see why people get fed up with them. I used to think cyclists only had cars to fear, but now I see they have to fear each other!

Thanks for the opportunity to vent.