Saturday, March 20, 2010

Two steps forward, one step back

The beginning of March was an excellent time for cyclists everywhere. The Bike League's National Bike Summit was held in DC, and there was some serious advocating and politicking done:

  • Google maps unveiled it's "bike there" layer.

  • Bikes Belong launched it's People For Bikes campaign.

  • It was announced that bike lanes will be installed on Pennsylvania Avenue. (Some really cool looking ones, at that!)

  • Ray LaHood, your Secretary of Transportation, crashed the conference, jumped atop a table, and shouted down a sea change policy revision meant to be the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.

    It was exciting stuff, yall. It was enough to make me feel optimistic and hopeful about the future of our streets and transportation and access.

    But then right at the same time—on the last day of the Bike Summit, actually—Tony Kornheiser, host of ESPN's Pardon The Interuption, goes on a good six minute rant about bicyclists. (For the time being, it can be heard on YouTube.) Here are a couple of selected highlights from the transcript posted at washcycle.

  • I don't mind those one lanes, but you get in Rock Creek Park and 3 or 4 of these people start riding abreast, and I swear to you it's all you can do to not RUN THEM DOWN, like Wile Coyote's, run them over.

  • They don't share the road. They dominate the road. They dare you to run them down. And then when you do, they get angry.

  • TK: And so you tap them. I'm not saying you kill them. I'm saying you tap them. Tap them once.
    Other Dude: Just a spill, not a fatal spill, but a little spill.
    TK: If you're not rubbing, you're not racing right? So you pop them a little bit and see what happens.

  • The rant was immediately picked up and commented on by Lance Armstrong who, with a few mere flicks of his thumbs, was able to mobilize the entirety of the interwebs. This lead to a slew of complaints, a guest spot for Armstrong on the show, and an apology from Kornheiser.

    Which is good. Because it was a horrible thing to have said. Cyclists are attacked by motorists. That happens. For instance, the recent Dr. Thompson trial just got a ton of media attention. Those victims happened to survive the encounter. Plenty more cyclists don't survive theirs. There's a ghost bike memorial near my house in testament to that fact.

    And while I am plenty angry at Kornheiser, I don't think he's the guiltiest party. Pardon The Interruption is a comedy/sports show, and the host was putting on a show. He's a shock-jock and a loud-mouth. It's part of his "crotchety old man" shtick. He's an entertainer and he's doing exactly what he is paid to do. He drummed up some controversy, got a lot of attention and a big reaction, and got one of the world's top celebrity-athletes to appear on his show. He was doing his job, and he was doing it well.

    ESPN, however, I can fault. They're paying the man to say that kind of stuff. They're the man behind the curtain. So I'll be writing them a good break-up letter. (Radio station management can be reached here.) But I don't consume any of ESPN's products so I don't feel very empowered by doing that. (ESPN is 80% owned by Disney. What hope is there in affecting any kind of change when you're dealing with so large a beast?) According to the wiki, the program is sponsored by Diageo, a beverage company with a lot of products I can choose to not consume out of protest. I can definitely feel good about efforts to get them to pull sponsorship.

    Once I'm on this path of escalating blame, though, I realize that ESPN wouldn't air that kind of drivel if it wasn't profitable. It's the consumers who are entertained by violence and bigotry who are creating a market in which Kornheiser is employable.

    Which is why I'm encouraged by the outcry and the backlash. Perhaps ESPN will begin to suspect that Kornheiser isn't employable.

    Kornheiser, incidentally, was given a two-week suspension earlier this year after making fun of ESPN television personality Hannah Storm's attire. So if endorsing vehicular manslaughter is worse by several degrees than criticizing a woman's wardrobe, then there must be an equally harsher suspension to follow. Possibly a termination!


    Fat chance.

    It's so discouraging because there great things happening right now for pedestrians and bicyclists and skateboarders and rollerbladers and public transit-ers and anybody else who may not always rely on a car for transportation. Great things. The US Secretary of Friggin Transportion jumped up on a table and said so himself! Streets are being built, and are being retro-fitted, in such a way that safely promotes all modes of transportation.

    But there are still ignorant, or vicious, groups of individuals who actually believe in—and act on!—the kinds of things that Kornheiser said on air. So to give Kornheiser leeway to encourage and incite such behavior is reckless, dangerous, irresponsible, and stupid.

    But I continue feel that, in a way, getting mad at Kornheiser is like getting mad at a dog's teeth if it bites you. The teeth are certainly the offensive part, but they are also implements of a larger entity.
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