KTVU Reporter Documents Own Harassment of Cyclists

Last week, KTVU 2 reporter David Stevenson drove down Valencia Street, yelling at bicycle riders through the window of his motor vehicle, asking where their helmets were. He even brought a camera crew to film it — oddly enough, in the name of bicycle safety.

KTVU's David Stevenson distracts a cyclist from potential hazards like drivers opening car doors on Valencia. Image: ##http://www.ktvu.com/videos/news/special-report-negligent-bicyclists-could/vG5DN/##KTVU 2##

“As twilight descends,” Stevenson told viewers, “the most vulnerable of the crowd dodge dangers on every block.”

“Dangers”… like distracting them by shouting through the passenger window, pointing a TV camera at their faces?

Stevenson’s behavior seemed to border on an offense that’s suable under Berkeley’s new bicyclist anti-harassment law, had it taken place in that city. As a colleague of mine put it, driving down Valencia yelling, “Where’s your helmet?” at bike riders is like waving a loaded gun in the air and yelling, “Where’s your bullet-proof vest?”

At best, Stevenson’s report was a sloppy analysis of bike safety that neglects to field any perspective from bicycle advocates or research the actual causes of bicycle crashes and injuries. The segment simply cited the numbers of bicycle riders killed and injured, then implied that helmets and lights are the most effective solution for preventing deaths and injuries. Stevenson made no effort to weigh factors like driver inattention or speed, which can have deadly consequences. (Speeders are, of course, harder to harangue from the passenger seat than cyclists.)

There’s nothing wrong with the friendly promotion of bike lights as an essential tool for night visibility (though Stevenson did point to bicyclists without lights in daylight).

But if Stevenson had even grazed the tip of the iceberg on the complex debate around bike helmets, he’d find there’s far from any consensus about their efficacy as a safety measure. No doubt, wearing one is (and should be) a personal choice. But for starters, Stevenson might have looked into why the European Cyclists Federation, comprised of 65 bicycle coalitions in 39 countries, actively campaigns against mandatory helmet laws and “shock-horror” helmet promotions that unrealistically depict bicycling as an abnormally dangerous activity. As worldwide Danish bicycling advocate Mikael Colville-Andersen of Copenhagenize is keen to point out, there’s little evidence to support the notion that riding a bike carries a higher risk of head injury than many other everyday activities like walking, climbing stairs, or driving.

And if Stevenson was truly concerned about bike safety in the Bay Area, he might note the danger of dooring, the single most common cause of motorist-induced injury suffered by San Francisco bicyclists. He might also wonder about the drivers whom he taped stopping in the bike lane on Valencia, and why such streets lack safer designs like protected bike lanes.

Stevenson shames a bicyclist weaving around cars stopped in the Valencia bike lane for not having rear lights. Image: ##http://www.ktvu.com/videos/news/special-report-negligent-bicyclists-could/vG5DN/##KTVU 2##

It’s too late for KTVU to take back this particular affront to the public discussion about street safety. But here’s an intriguing datapoint for a potential follow-up: An Australian study suggested that mandating helmets for motorists could potentially save 17 times as many lives as a bicycle helmet law (without the adverse impacts of discouraging bicycling and reducing the “safety in numbers” effect [PDF]).

  • mikesonn

    I couldn’t believe what I was watching while this was on. Pure and utter crap.

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    In NYC the number of reporters driving around filing stories (especially on CBS2) is so incredible….they file stories about distracted driving, while they themselves drive distracted. 

    This story is doubly awful.  Yelling at bike riders – which distracts them when they need all their senses while riding – is bad, and the reporter being distracted behind the wheel.  It’s danger x 2.  Also stupidity x 2.

  • This is staggering.  Like the exploding high school video we covered in LA last week, it’s basically unintentional self-parody.

  • It’s funny how you omitted the NYC DOT study which shows 97% of fatal cycling crashes where the helmet status was known the victim was not wearing a helmet.  And this number stays steady in the later years where the helmet status is more certain.  Compare that to the numbers of non-fatal injury cycling crashes in NYC where the number is 87% not wearing a helmet.  (page 27 http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/episrv/episrv-bike-report.pdf)

    Bialick’s continued discouragement of helmet use is a clear danger to cyclists in this city. Far more so than the current bike lane from Scott to Baker on Fell.

  • Andy Chow

    While I think helmet is a personal decision (just like decision of whether to drink alcohol or smoking), I think that the bicycle industry needs to do more to equip bicycles with lights.

    In the automotive side, nearly all safety features are standard, regardless of the price of that vehicle. For example, the cheapest new car model these days would have standard seat belts, dual air bags and side air bags, but still have hand crank windows and standard radio without MP3. Whereas the most luxury model 20 years ago would have no airbags.

    I believe that head and tail lights need to be a standard feature for bicycles. If they are, then the wiring and placement of lights would be better designed more effectively than installing aftermarket lights. The lights could be less likely to get stolen since they would be better attached and more common (just like people don’t steal car steros that were installed in the factory.)

  •  Logan – your link goes to nowhere, making me wonder if you just made up that stat.

    Anecdotally, I can rattle off several dead cyclists in the Bay Area who had helmets on when they died. Matt Peterson, Kristie Gough, the woman killed on Alpine at 280, both cyclists killed on Sand Hill, at Woodside/280, both cyclists killed in Concord last week. That’s 8. For your statistics to hold, we’d need 300+ dead non-helmet wearing cyclists in the Bay Area in the last 6 years and no additional helmeted cyclists. Not even close.

  •  The lights could be less likely to get stolen since they would be better attached.

    Or they would be more likely to get stolen because they would not be as easily removable by anyone with a shred of common sense who takes their lights off when they lock up their bike.

    An entry level bike might cost $200. Add front and rear lights with your wiring and now it’s $250. The vast majority of riders never ride at night. All you do with your proposal is make cycling more expensive, thus discouraging cycling. The most effective safety measure for cyclists… is “more cyclists”

  • @twitter-14678929:disqus the link does go somewhere if you take a second to think and remove the paren that got attached to it… http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/episrv/episrv-bike-report.pdf

  • Abe

    Yes yes yes! This!

    It should be noted that safety features are standard in automobiles because They are required by the government. I don’t know of any reason why the same couldn’t be done with bicycles.

  • Anonymous

    KTVU is owned by Rupert Murdoch, right?

  • Correlation ≠ causation. Lots of other factors and evidence I’ve seen pointed out on the other side, but not about to get into one of these debates.

  • Anonymous

    The helmet thing drives me nuts, especially because of the hypocrisy of expecting cyclists to wear them but not drivers even though car accidents are one of the leading causes of head injuries (along with falls). The more I engage in these debates/discussions about bicycle helmets, the more I realize that the people who are vocal about cyclists being required to wear helmets (like this “junk news” local reporter for KTVU) have other psychological/emotional issues which are going on and which confuse the issue in their mind. They are unable to weigh actual risk as opposed to perceived risk and hence are unable to make decisions based on that actual risk. The result is inappropriate allocation of limited resources (time, money, goodwill, etc.).

    There is absolutely no way you can argue that cyclists need to wear helmets and not motorists. To do so is completely irrational because you are saying: hitting your head is bad, but I will ignore the most common ways this happens and instead focus on one small way this happens (bicycling). Even worse, not only do they focus on this one way, they completely *ignore* the most common ways. Of course, those who are claiming cyclists must wear helmets but not motorists will disagree that they are being irrational … so what’s going on?

    That’s what I’ve been trying to understand recently. So far, my theory is that:

    1) There is some underlying jealousy that cyclists get to “get away” with all this stuff that motorists can’t/don’t. Cyclists don’t stop at red lights, stop signs, etc. They ride on the sidewalk. They don’t have lights. And on and on. True or not, that is what they perceive. Yet this behavior on the part of cyclists (regardless of whether you think it is right or wrong, and regardless of how often it actually happens especially when in comparison to how often “bad motorist” behavior happens) poses negligible risks to motorists, but yet some motorists have placed disproportionate weight on the ramifications of said behavior, making it appear that (as I recently heard somebody say) there is a fine line between bicyclists running stop signs and the collapse of civilization. In the end, the motorists feels like cyclists are “getting away” with bad behavior and just wants to see them punished. There is no rationality taking place here, just vindictiveness.

    2) There is a knee-jerk emotional reaction to having your method of travel (the car) being called dangerous, polluting, and otherwise “unlivable”. People naturally throw up an emotional defense against all arguments coming from cyclists once they have decided that cyclists are attacking their way of life (true or not). The result is that this set of anti-cycling motorists shuts down to listening to anything cyclists have to say. Being one who often makes this point to motorists, I have personally witnessed friends and family start taking on the same irrationality about, for example, bike helmet laws. Rationality, even the merits of the argument at hand, no longer matter when somebody feels attacked. (By the way, I’m not saying motorists shouldn’t be confronted with the destruction they are causing. Motorists need to take responsibility for the externalized costs they have exacting on our society and natural resources. And though they may not be happy about accepting that, it is reality and must be dealt with. It certainly won’t help to be defense and continue behaving the same. Nobody likes criticism, but the solution is not to through away the criticism just because you don’t like hearing it.)

  • The Greasybear

    The casual viewer of this laughably bad segment is likely left with at least two erroneous beliefs–that adult San Franciscans are required to wear helmets when riding bikes, and the dangerous and illegal behavior by motorists captured in that segment has no notable connection with cyclist safety.

  • Anonymous

    Out of curiosity, what are the “light laws” in northern European cities with high numbers of cyclists like Amsterdam, Copenhagen, etc? Are lights required at night there? I would think so, but I really don’t know.

  •  Thanks Jason. I’m surprised by that stat – but not shocked. But the more likely conclusion to be drawn is not that the stat is that high because the helmets saved lives, but that the person not wearing a helmet was more likely to crash for some other reason. One demographic conclusion is “helmets cost money that could be spent on drugs instead”.

  • Anonymous

    @jd_x:disqus After dark front and rear lights are mandatory as well as front, rear and side reflectors. During the day no lights or reflectors are required.

  • @joakimfors:disqus Only a rear reflector, not a rear light, is required at night. 

  • Anonymous

    @azb324:disqus I was answering jd_x question about the rules in the Nordic countries. 😉  … or at least what the rules are in Sweden and Finland. I must admit that I’m not up-to-date on the Danish or Norwegian rules but I assume they are similar.

  • @joakimfors:disqus Ay, my mistake, I got mixed up.

    On that note, my contribution: I think I heard that the Netherlands enforces light laws pretty stringently.

  • Andy Chow

    Aftermarket lights are removable is no different than aftermarket car steros have removable faceplates, because aftermarket devices can be sold to people with other brand/model of vehicles. People don’t steal factory car stereos because they can’t be installed on other vehicles.

    As to adding to the cost, factory installed lighting should cost less than aftermarket installation. They would also work more effectively by only having one button and one battery bank instead of two.

    As for the notion that some people never ride at night, there might be some people that never at night, but there others who would ride during daylight in some seasons but at night time in other seasons. This would be especially true if bicycling were to be more common and become a primary mode to substitute automobiles, rather than riding strictly for recreation. The reason I think lights haven’t been included because many still think bicycle as a recreation equipment, that you shouldn’t ride at night or in bad weather, or ride on the street with mixed traffic.

    Ironically, reflectors are standard equipment for bicycles. Obviously reflectors are not useful during daytime but not sufficient for night time riding. If you believe that most people don’t need lights because they don’t ride at night, then why reflectors are still standard (would it save another $10 by getting rid of them). If they are there because of night time riding, why not equip it with a better feature?

    If bicycling requires some kind of insurance like automobiles, lighting would have been a standard feature since the cost outweighs the benefits (by saving the costs associated with accidents).

  • I can’t say this segment will prompt me to boycott this station because I never watch it in the first place. However, most TV news programs should be required to post this before the opening title: 

    “Warning:  watching this show will diminish brain activity associated with critical thought, rendering you stupider and more disconnected from reality. Continue at your own risk.”

  • mikesonn

    I think KTVU is one the few (or only) FOX stations that’s independently owned. I think.

  • To think I biked there just a couple hours before… OH he’s glad he didn’t pick me to harass. 
    I can’t believe it either. Yet so many do, sadly. 

  • Yeah Aaron, how dare you point out that there’s a complex debate! *shakes fist*  Anytime I hear about a complex debate, I get so discouraged that I ride a mile on my bike without my helmet.

  • Anonymous

    Except the Methane Beverly Hills High School was made by amateurs.  This guy gets paid to make this crap.

  • Triple0

    My question is left unanswered: Does KTVU management support Mr. Stevenson’s dangerous behavior? 

  • R

    As a driver and a cyclist, I cannot stress how important proper lighting is. I have a pair of headlights on the bike and a pair of blinking reds on the back. When I drive I’m always looking for cyclists, but in the dark we’re invisible without proper lighting.

  • I had a spirited debate with a friend about this and I think the reason the bad biking behavior stands out is that the bad biking behavior breaks laws/mores that would be really crazy to break with a car.  Even reasonably safe things like running a stop sign when no one and no obstacle are around, stopping waiting 1 minute and realizing you’re never going to trip the light to green and going when all clear, etc. are things that you “can’t” reasonably safely do in a car.  And that part stands out because you see someone breaking a law/more that you can’t.

    Throw in the more edgy stuff like not even having the intent to stop at anything in the Wiggle or that woman on the bike who just about ran into me on my bike when I had a green on Valencia and she had a red and it is just bad behavior–that would be completely outrageous in a car.

    As a reasonably rule-following type, I ‘get’ it, too.

    You can then flip this to a ‘what about the cars?’ but many of those law breaking activities aren’t breaking the mores of the road.  Sure as a car driver I was stunned at the California Roll when I moved here, but I adjusted as it was SO prevalent that it became obvious it was How Things Are.

    “What do you call a guy who stands on the corner and yells at bad biking behavior?  A nut.  What do you call a guy who stands on the corner and yells at bad driving behavior?  Hoarse.”

    So I believe the reason why people get so bent out of shape about bad biking behavior is because a lot of it is breaking the mores of driving an auto, not the laws.

  • Sigh. Why do bicycling activists feel the need to defend bad behavior? Real activists do what’s best for their constituents. Complaining about someone reminding cyclists to wear a helmet is not productive. Wondering why this guy could find so many people at night not wearing helmets and what can be done about it might be better. Or is safety that unimportant.

    BTW, if you don’t have lights at night you’re braking the law and you’re putting more than yourself at risk.

  • ubringliten

    I think pedestrians should wear helmets as well.  They are the ones that get injured by motorists a lot more and I am sure majority of them would get head injuries.

  • Anonymous

    @mark2000:disqus You make it sounds so simple even though it’s so much more complicated. As somebody who considers themselves a “real activist” with regards to cycling, I look at the cost/benefit of everything. Let’s take wearing helmet.

    – Reduces damage to your head/brain during many falls

    – Increases damage to neck in some falls
    – Keeps some people from cycling because they find the helmet uncomfortable/hot, messes up their hair, is a pain to deal with (carry around when not using), etc.

    Further, the real issues with bike safety isn’t cyclists  wearing/not wearing helmets but interactions with cars (see Copenhagen, Amsterdam, etc. where they have amazing safe bicycle infrastructure and nobody wears helmets and yet they have the lowest injury rates).

    Finally, consider that there is a huge net benefit to society for having more people cycling (e.g., reduction in obesity, reduction in air pollution, reduction in oil/gas consumption, reduction in urban noise, etc.).

    When I put all this together, it’s not at all clear that we should be requiring cyclists to wear helmets. The main threat to cyclists are cars. I think we should take the money and effort that is spent on making cyclists wear helmets (which is mostly the symptom of a bigger problem, namely collisions with cars and otherwise poorly designed bicycling infrastructure) and use that to make our streets safer for cyclists and otherwise get more people cycling. Even if it’s true that some people are injured when they wouldn’t have been had they been wearing a helmet, the *net* benefit to society of having more people cycling outweighs this downside. You have to asses the bigger picture.

    Again, I’ll repeat to make it clear: anything that encourages more people to cycle is a *huge* net benefit to cycling. Therefore, if something discourages people from cycling (like making them wear a helmet), any rational person would simply not ignore that fact.

    In the end, I think it should be official policy that helmets are “highly recommended” but it in no way should it be a law. I think CA, therefore, has the right approach.

  • Guest

    While it was certainly bad reporting to:

    1)  Yell out the window to distract a cyclist,
    2)  State the no helmet is “negligent”, and
    3)  State that no tail light is “illegal” when it isn’t,

    There’s no question that the cycles shown in the nighttime segment have:

    1)  No reflectors on the wheels;
    2)  No headlight; and
    3)  No reflectorized tires.

    All three of which are illegal (at night).

  • Anonymous

    @014d815e337305dccb0b861fe6cdb3e3:disqus I think you have a good point: lights should be built into bikes. I know I personally am annoyed at always having to take my lights on and off since I can’t leave them on because people will steal them. I would prefer some “factory-installed” light that is sufficient. You can still always add your own light if you really need extra power or want something with more features. I would probably do that, but I bet I would use just the built-in one for the vast majority of my nighttime trips.

    But it’s a little different than a car because a car has a power source (the engine) whereas a light on a bike will require some sort of waterproof/weatherproof lid/flap for getting at the battery to replace/charge it. It’s not an insurmountable problem by any means, but I think less trivial than you make it sound. Many of the things you mention on cars (blinkers, headlights, etc.) need an external power source onboard. Excepting the recent introduction of e-bikes, that is not something that can be found on a bicycle.

    I also think you’re right in that bicycles don’t have lights because bicycling has always been thought of as a recreational/sport thing and not a utilitarian/transport thing.

  • Anonymous

    “Reflectorized tires”? I’m pretty sure that’s not a law.

  • 15 bare-headed people on a street is safer than 2 helmeted people.

    Safety in numbers.

  • Anonymous

    This would make for a hilarious segment on the Daily Show. Imagine one of their Senior Correspondents driving around in an SUV shouting questions at bystanders. 

  • Guest

    I don’t understand.  Only 74% of the fatalities involved head injuries. But only 4% of fatalities were helmet-wearers.  How did the helmet help them from being a higher proportion of the 26% of fatalities that didn’t involve head injuries?

  • It’s reflectors on the wheels OR reflectorized tires. Most tires nowadays are reflectorized.


  • Davistrain

    This whole discussion of TV “news” reminds me of the “on the spot news reporter” trying to question a distraught disaster victim, who tells him: “If you don’t get that @#$%^!! camera out of my face right now, I’m gonna stick it in you where the sun don’t shine!!”  

  • I definitely agree. I constantly come across bicyclists at night in the Mission wearing *all black* with no front light, no back light, maybe a reflector on the pedal you can pick out if you’re lucky. If you are one of these cyclists, you might as well be wearing Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak. It is predominantly sheer luck that you don’t get hit. (The one exception, ironically, might be Valencia Street where there is a decent amount of street lighting.) Please, please, please bicyclists put lights on the front and back of your bike when you ride at night. I light my bicycle up with all sorts of blinky things. Plus, when I bicycle at night, it’s nice to see blinking red taillights ahead and know I’m not alone.

  •  jd_x, I’m sorry it took me so long to get back to you. I had to compose myself after  rolling around laughing until I pissed myself. Then I had to share the link to your comment with friends so they could have a giggle too.

    The hair part made me laugh the most because nothings worse than helmet hair, not even a skull fracture.

    “Further, the real issues with bike safety isn’t cyclists  wearing/not wearing helmets but interactions with cars”

    Yeah, you don’t live there. So go ahead and risk yourself to make a statement about how we should be like Europe. I’ll wear a helmet, thanks.

    “Finally, consider that there is a huge net benefit to society for having more people cycling”

    Or walking. Or taking the bus. Or doing jumping jacks. Or about a million things that are not the lifestyle you’ve decided to promote.

    This is why, even though I cycle every day and use it as my main form of transportation I will never have anything to do with the “cycling community”. None of you organized cyclists have any sense or perspective. It’s other people who have to change, there’s nothing you can do to be safer or make things better on the road. Having this conversation at all – legitimizing people not wearing helmets in the CURRENT environment, not the fantasy one you wish you had – is destructive and irresponsible. Car drivers have to wear seat belts, cyclists should wear helmets. To say otherwise is biting yourself in the ass.

  • “especially because of the hypocrisy of expecting cyclists to wear them
    but not drivers even though car accidents are one of the leading causes
    of head injuries”

    Even if this stat was true it would still be a very silly two wrongs fallacy. Just because drivers are unsafe doesn’t mean that cyclists should be unsafe just to make things equal. Plus there are safety requirements on drivers – you’ve heard of a seat belt right?

    What drives me nuts is this idea that it’s cyclists against cars. You know you’ve got a real movement when you’ve got a common enemy to rail against. Amirite?

  •  Yeah, Rupert Murdoch is out to get your bikes! Hide!

  • Holy fucking shit! I just watched the TV piece and can’t believe this article. You’d think the news man was stalking Valencia screaming at people. He spoke to ONE GUY who was in the process of riding and he was happy to talk. Everyone else was stationary, off their bikes, or specifically riding for the camera. My god, you cycletards are set off by absolutely nothing. 

  • Gneiss

    Wearing a helmet reinforces the image that cyclist is a fringe, dangerous activity that only the brave and committed will do.  That image has quite a bit to do with why they don’t cycle short distances as adults.  Wearing crazy clothes and protective equipment just to be outside makes us look like dorks.  Especially when motorist use the same stuff they were to work and school to drive in.

    I’d like to point out that while the safety benefit of wearing a seat belt is undisputed, the rate of fatalities and injuries from car accidents didn’t decline appreciably after laws were passed to enforce wearing of them.  Why?  Because it simply encouraged more dangerous behavior by motorists.  The same is true in countries that passed helmet laws.  There was no change in injury or fatality rates.  However the sad thing is, though, when you mandate helmet use for cyclists as they did in Australia, they saw huge declines in cycling mode share.  That’s the main reason why organizations in Europe are against that kind of legislation.  They don’t want anything implemented which would discourage people from riding bikes.

  • Gneiss, I’m glad you’re able to put your sense of cool and style above your safety. I’d hate for you to look like a dork. Hope that works for you.

  • Gneiss

    Just for the record, Mark, like you I wear a helmet every time I ride, which is every day on my commute in SF.  But not for safety, rather I don’t want some lawyer telling me or my family that the reason why they are reducing an insurance settlement is because I must not have been ‘safe’ because I wasn’t wearing one.  Don’t presume that because I support cyclists not wearing helmets that I follow that path.

  •  Gneiss, it’s good to be a hypocrite.

  • Guest

    jd_x – You and the other 4 likes would be wrong.  Reflectorized tires are required if the reflectors on the wheels are removed.  See California Vehicle Code Section 20201.

    It also requires a reflector on each pedal, but I couldn’t tell from the video if the bikes had them or not.

  • mikesonn

    Yeah, I’m sure @mark2000:disqus bikes as his main mode of transportation. Just like every person driving who cuts me off always reassures me that they “ride ALL the time!”

    Old hat troll. Bored.


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