|[Sometimes, all it takes is a subtle article change.]|
I don’t want to unnecessarily pick on reporters, because they're overworked and underpaid and overworked. But the way this story was reported in the Star Tribune put the focus and blame on the victim:
The two pedestrians struck and killed Saturday night at an intersection in Ramsey were identified Sunday as a Texas couple in their 70s.Then the story starts to mention alcohol. Invariably, when you read an article about a bike or pedestrian accident, the article implies (overtly or implicitly) that the victims were culpable, intoxicated, or guilty of breaking a law.
John and Jean Nettelfield, 78 and 71, respectively, of San Antonio, were hit by a sport-utility vehicle and killed while trying to cross Hwy. 10 against a red light Saturday night, according to the State Patrol.
In this case, the paper offered a correction to an earlier report that had implied that the two elderly tourists were drunk. It turns out, they were just old and from Texas:
Earlier reports that alcohol had been detected in the Nettelfields were incorrect, the State Patrol said on Sunday.
Lt. Eric Roeske, spokesman for the State Patrol, said alcohol was not a factor in any way for anyone involved in the accident, which happened shortly after 9:30 p.m. at the intersection of Hwy. 10 and Sunfish Lake Boulevard, according to the patrol.
The SUV was eastbound on Hwy. 10 and had the green light when it hit the pair, authorities said. The driver, Cheryl Knoblauch, 34, of Ramsey, was not injured.
A second vehicle, a passenger car, also was involved, striking one of the victims lying in the road after the first impact.
The driver of that vehicle, Ashley Rohwer, 27, of Andover, was not injured, either. Alcohol was not detected in either driver.
The pedestrians were pronounced dead at the scene.
Ideally, when tragedies like this happen, journalists ought to mention the role that road design plays in these accidents. Highway 10 in Ramsey is an incredibly busy freeway that’s almost impossible to cross. The place where the couple was run over has a hotel on one side and businesses on the other. Mentioning the lack of pedestrian medians or crosswalks, or the fact that people on foot are required to walk far out of their way to cross at a signalized intersection, or at least bringing up the rash of people being run over by cars would add a lot to a story like this. That’s the kind of context we need.
These cases don’t always have to be just about accident reports, either. The Star Tribune dropped the ball twice this month while reporting on the Park and Portland redesign issue. Otherwise sensible reporter, Steve Brandt, wrote two different articles on the redesign, both of which minimized the benefits of the plan for the neighborhood while over-emphasizing the inconvenience to drivers.
|[Not all headlines have to inflame.]|
Opinions on restriping Portland and Park Avenues in Minneapolis to shrink the number of car lanes and give more space to bikes ran the gamut from praise to putdowns at a public meeting attended by more than 100 people Thursday night.
Attendees that I've talked to report a far more nuanced and positive discussion between cyclists, neighborhood residents, and others with concerns about safety.
"Who thought of this? Do they live in the city?" asked Monica Horning, a Bryant neighborhood resident opposed to the plan that would narrow the roadways from three traffic lanes to two and drop the speed limit from 35 to 30 miles per hour.
The more recent report on the details of road construction is only a slight improvement. The subtitle reads, “expect delays as the streets get shaved, repaved and restriped to improve cyclist safety.” That’s true, as far it goes, but it seemingly attempts to frame this story as a battle between motorists and cyclists, as if any improvements for cyclists come at the expense of car drivers.
This framing is misleading for at least two reasons.
First, the issue isn’t simply cyclist safety. A redesign of these streets will be safer for cyclists, pedestrians, and auto drivers. Park and Portland are badly designed for their neighborhoods. These are high-speed running through dense residential neighborhoods with a lot of children. Slowing the traffic down, reducing the number lanes, and calming traffic will improve things for everyone, particularly the most vulnerable (read: run-over-able) people. The new design will even make it safer for car drivers without really impacting the overall traffic volume of the street. It’s not a matter of bikes vs. cars. It’s a win-win-win situation, where everyone is better off.
Secondly, the current design is out-of-date and unnecessary. Brandt must not have been paying much attention at the meeting, because any traffic engineer would tell you that three lanes of one-way 40mph traffic on these streets is unwarranted. (“Unwarranted” is the traffic engineering term for “stupid.”) These streets were designed back in the 60s during the construction of Interstate 35-W, and in 2012 they’re obsolete.
Reading article after article where newspapers attempt to frame design debates into a “war on cars” is frustrating. It’s chum for the comment threads, driving traffic from the crucial “road rage” demographic. It’s also lazy journalism.
|[Sidewalks are people too.]|
As our metro boomers age, they’ll grow slower and easier to run over. These will grow in importance like a semi in the rear view mirror. We don’t want Minnesota to become the next Florida, where old people are run down at rates typically reserved for roadkill. (There was a recent incident there where a mother was charged with vehicular homicide for attempting to cross the street with her child from a bus stop to her apartment.) I’d like to see our journalists begin to mention street design as a factor in stories about traffic changes and pedestrian accidents. This really is the least we can do to honor the dead.
I guess it could always be worse. Witness this recent front page media frame from the DC Examiner: