Windscreen bias affects media coverage of Cambridge cycle lane projects – StreetsblogMASS
This spring, Cambridge City Council endured several marathon town hall meetings to discuss — and ultimately reject — petitions that sought to roll back some of the city’s flagship bike and pedestrian safety initiatives.
Each time, dozens of residents lined up to testify in support of policies such as the city’s bike safety ordinance. Council participated in another lengthy debate last night over a new policy edict, sponsored by Councilwoman E. Denise Simmons, which seeks to allow cars to return to the city’s waterfront park on Saturdays (supporters of the edict political tabled a vote until June 6, after it became clear they did not have enough votes to pass it).
Tonight we will vote to reaffirm our support for the pedestrianization of Memorial Drive.
Can we be done?
Do we really need to reaffirm these questions every week?
It is time for the town hall to focus on other matters. Housing affordability. Gun violence. Youth employment.
— Burhan Azeem, Cambridge City Councilor (@realBurhanAzeem) May 23, 2022
The majority of Cambridge City Council have always supported the city’s efforts to reduce traffic and meet climate targets by encouraging increased use of walking, cycling and public transport in the city, even if that means making the somewhat less convenient life for car owners. And at the ballot box, too, voters have always elected councilors who support initiatives such as the bicycle safety ordinance.
But it’s a different story if you get your coverage of these debates from public radio or television reports.
A StreetsblogMASS analysis of six recent reports on cycleways in Cambridge found that only two sources took up the majority of airtime: the owners of the hair salon Fast Phil and the owners of the Guitar Shop, the two companies at the head of the new “Save Mass. Av.” organization that opposes new projects for protected cycle paths.
Only one of those six stories (a WBUR story from April 26) quoted someone who was not a city councilor and explicitly identified as a cyclist or cyclist:
Drawing on the same voices over and over again, these news outlets have all offered their listeners a uniquely car-centric perspective on how, and for whom, Massachusetts Avenue should be designed.
None of the six stories mentioned the city’s climate goals, and only a handful mentioned the safety issues the cycling safety ordinance is meant to address on Massachusetts Avenue, where drivers injured at least 70 people. since the beginning of 2021.
Collectively, these stories present a classic case of “windshield bias” – media coverage that pays more attention to the perceived needs of car owners and all but ignores the broader public interest in reducing pollution and building safer streets.
In other words: the co-owner of Fast Phil’s takes up a lot of air time among these six stories, but she does not represent the majority of public opinion in the city of Cambridge.
Moreover, the conflict presented in these reports – “bike lanes versus parking spaces” – ignores and distracts from the more pressing problems of road violence and pollution that the city is trying to solve.
Fortunately, the local print media did a better job of covering these stories more realistically. Cambridge Day has produced several detailed summaries of City Council hearings with quotes from a wide range of advocates who represent more views.
And in February, the Boston Herald ran an article about new bike lanes west of Porter Square that leads into familiar grievances from business owners, but follows with an equal number of quotes from bike users in the second half the story.