SF Media’s Double Standard on Traffic Crashes Rears Its Head Again

Standing on the corner of Castro and Market yesterday afternoon, CBS 5 reporter Ken Bastida relayed to the camera a sad tale of the dangers of walking in San Francisco.

Ken Bastida, newfound pedestrian safety advocate. Image via CBS 5

“We’re about to do something here that really could be taking your life into your hands,” Bastida said before entering a crosswalk.

He’s not kidding: Two or three people are injured on the city’s streets every day, statistically speaking. And Bastida, being the hands-on newscaster he is, was in the field to get to the root of this “growing problem for pedestrians,” as CBS 5 put it.

“We talked to a lot of the people who live in the neighborhood. It’s not just this neighborhood,” Bastida said before cutting to an interview with a man on the street. I was glad to hear him acknowledge this — a pedestrian was injured around the corner from my home in the Inner Sunset that evening.

This issue needs more scrutiny from the media. After all, 800 pedestrian injures are reportedly hit every year, and 13 people were killed last year — the vast majority by cars.

Except Bastida wasn’t there to talk about cars. CBS sent the journo-turned-pedestrian-advocate out there to talk about bikes.

That’s because a bicycle rider hit an elderly man at that intersection yesterday morning, and both were hospitalized. “Witnesses say a bicyclist came barreling down the street, right down Castro, through the red light, and struck him,” Bastida said. Fortunately, both parties seem to be making a recovery today.

There’s no excuse for colliding with a pedestrian in a crosswalk, no matter what your mode of travel. But there’s also no excusing the double standard apparent in the media’s obsession with bike crashes, while traffic injuries caused by motorists go vastly under-reported.

Like Bastida, many local media outlets took up the cause of pedestrian safety after yesterday’s crash. The story even held one of SFGate‘s three photo-feature slots for hours on its front page.

Yet, despite the abundance of pedestrian injuries caused by drivers, reporters like Bastida don’t seem as quick to cover them.

As I wrote earlier this week, the media generally tends to jump all over relatively rare pedestrian crashes with bicyclists and Muni drivers while overlooking the far bigger risk posed by private motorists. (There was one very welcome exception in the Chronicle yesterday: Columnist and former pedestrian-victim-blamer C.W. Nevius conceded that when you look at the numbers for pedestrian injuries, “It is pretty hard to escape the conclusion – it’s the drivers’ fault.”)

In fact, news crews were nowhere to be seen after SFist reported a crash at Castro and Market last Saturday in which a woman was hospitalized by a driver. Yet yesterday, CBS sent not one, but two reporters to cover the bike-ped crash at that same intersection. (Watch Linda Yee try to get the SF Bicycle Coalition’s Andy Thornton Thornley to say that people on bikes feel “entitled,” as I’m sure she does with AAA for every car crash she reports on.) Anchor Allen Martin even made sure to tie yesterday’s crash to Critical Mass, which is kind of like tying the typical car crash to Nascar or a presidential motorcade. Cars are involved, but the similarities end there.

If CBS is going to stay on top of the pedestrian safety beat, I’m still hoping to see a camera crew in my neighborhood today. Just last night, my girlfriend came across a woman injured in a crosswalk at Irving and 14th Avenue, just around the corner from where we live, and I went out to investigate.

Officer Santiago in the crosswalk on Irving and 14th Ave. where a woman was hit last night by a driver. Photo: Aaron Bialick

According to San Francisco Police Officer Eric Santiago, who responded at the scene, at about 7:35 p.m. the driver, a roughly 45-year-old man, injured a woman of about the same age while she was crossing 14th in a crosswalk marked with bright, yellow zebra stripes. The driver was making a left turn from eastbound Irving.

The woman’s injuries didn’t sound as serious as those of the man hit by the bicyclist in the Castro, though she also needed treatment at the hospital.

The most glaring difference I can see between the two cases is that pedestrians are constantly being hit by cars, not bikes. When I walk down that same street, as I do almost daily, I’m not worrying about the people on 30-pound bicycles. It’s the multi-ton, motorized masses of steel I’m watching out for.

While the police told reporters that the bicyclist at the Castro crash “might” have run a red light, Santiago was quick to clear the driver on Irving of any wrongdoing, despite his obvious failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. Pedestrians always have the right-of-way in a crosswalk, and it’s incumbent on the driver to respect a bright yellow one not controlled by a traffic signal. But Santiago said the driver didn’t get a citation for violating the pedestrian’s right-of-way and hospitalizing her, nor was he likely to.

“This is an accident. It wasn’t intentional,” Santiago told me.

Bastida, where are you?