Friday, April 16, 2010

Under State Law . . .

Another cyclist in our area has been hit by a car. It happened yesterday, near Cheney. I first learned about the accident this morning, when it showed up as a news brief in the Spokesman-Review. From that article:

A 36-year-old bicyclist was seriously injured Thursday when he was hit by a car while riding about two miles south of Cheney.

Theodore Chauvin was northbound in the southbound lanes of Cheney-Plaza Road about 6:15 p.m., when he was struck by a 1997 Kia Sephia driven by William Knight Jr., 47, of Williams Lake.

Knight swerved in an attempt to avoid hitting the cyclist, who was three feet inside the travel lane, said Sgt. Dave Reagan, Spokane County Sheriff’s Office spokesman.

Chauvin suffered a broken leg and shoulder and was taken to a downtown hospital, Reagan said.

Under state traffic law, bicyclists are required to obey the same rules as motorists. Chauvin, who was wearing a helmet, may be cited for improper lane travel, Reagan said.

The cyclist was Ted Chauvin, an accomplished racer from this area. I don't personally know Ted, but I do know of him and a racer with his accomplishments will, out of necessity, have ridden thousands and thousands of training miles on the road. And in my experience, the roadie culture is generally pretty law-abiding. So I was having trouble envisioning the scenario in which Ted was out riding down the wrong side of a rural road.

And of course, it was important for the S-R to conclude the article by reminding us all that "bicyclists are required to obey the same rules as motorists". BAD cyclist.

The online version of the article was later edited by striking the word "northbound" (textbook example of how one word can change the entire meaning of a sentence) and the sentence "Chauvin, who was wearing a helmet, may be cited for improper lane travel, Reagan said."

And this comment was ammended:

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected since initial publication. The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office corrected on April 16 that the bicyclist was riding southbound in the correct lane of travel when he was struck.

That "bicyclists are required to obey the same rules as motorists" apparently remained relevant, despite the new information that had emerged.

A second, separate online article was posted and read as follows:

A bicyclist on Cheney-Plaza Road was seriously injured Thursday evening when he was struck by a car in the southbound lane of the road two miles south of Cheney.

Theodore Chauvin, 36, suffered a broken leg and shoulder and was taken to a Spokane hospital for treatment.

A previous report incorrectly indicated that Chauvin was riding in the wrong lane, against traffic. The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office said today that Chauvin was riding in the correct lane.

Under state traffic law, bicyclists are required to obey the same rules as motorists.

Chauvin was hit about 6:15 p.m. by a 1997 Kia Sophia driven by William Knight Jr., 47, of the Williams Lake area. Knight told deputies he attempted to avoid the bicyclist.

Once again, the S-R felt a responsibility to not let us loose sight of the fact that "bicyclists are required to obey the same rules as motorists". (And divulge that Kia has a new model - the "Sophia".)

Then, I found a post on the Inlander website that contains the following brief:

Drivers vs Cyclists
In other bad-driving news, William Knight struck cyclist Theodore Chauvin on Cheney-Spangle Road last night. Chauvin went to the hospital with a broken leg and Knight, cops say, will face penalties.

So the story was first reported(?) as a cyclist being struck while riding illegally on the wrong side of the road, by a driver who tried to avoid hitting him. Those are the main facts that people who read only the print article will draw their conclusions from.

With the little information we have, it's hard to know much about what really happened, but it appears that the more accurate story is that a cyclist was struck while riding legally, by a driver who will face penalties over the incident. That's a whole different set of facts to draw your conclusions from.

Nice work, S-R. Oh wait, I'm sorry. It's the fault of the Spokane County Sheriff's Office. You told us that many times and still, I forgot.

Oh, and I'd like to add that, under state traffic law, motorists are required to obey the same rules as bicyclists.

Best wishes for a fast recovery, Ted.


Edit 4/17: Both the print and online editions of today's S-R contained a news brief titled Injured cyclist not to blame.

From that brief:

A bicyclist on Cheney-Plaza Road who was seriously injured Thursday when he was struck by a car was not to blame for the accident.

Theodore Chauvin, 36, suffered a broken leg and shoulder and was taken to a Spokane hospital for treatment.

A previous police news release incorrectly indicated that Chauvin was riding in the wrong lane against traffic. The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office said Friday that Chauvin was riding in the correct lane.

Chauvin was hit about 6:15 p.m. by a 1997 Kia Sophia driven by William Knight Jr., 47, of the Williams Lake area. Knight told deputies he came around a curve and attempted to avoid the bicyclist.

Knight will likely face an infraction, said sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Dave Reagan.


Anonymous said...

The cyclist should sue the Sheriff and the Spokesman-Review for libel.

Hank said...

No telling if there was some haste in the reporting or carelessness on the part of the investigating officer. I hope Chauvin recovers fully.

Mike Sirott said...

Thanks for the coverage on the accident Pat. Luckily in this day and age, we don’t have to rely solely on second-rate new sources like SR to get information.

I’ve raced many miles with Ted during the past few years. He’s a good guy and his bike handling skills are among the best. He got 3rd place in RvP, and he was supposed to race with us in Walla Walla this past weekend. He’s also a USAC official. Here’s to a speedy recovery and I hope he’s back on the bike soon!

Ken Paulman said...

To play devil's advocate for a bit (for those who don't know me, I used to be an editor at the S-R), it's very likely the language about the law was intended to distinguish between rules for cyclists and pedestrians. Sadly, a lot of people in the non-cycling world don't realize that cyclists are supposed to ride with traffic, like a vehicle, instead of against it, like a pedestrian.

Also, it's possible that the driver lied to deputies at the scene, or the responding officer made a typo in his/her report. But the bad info clearly came from the sheriff's office: Here's the corrected press release (the original has evidently been taken down).

Now, did the language about state law belong in the S-R's rewrite? Probably not. But I can tell you from experience that it's an easy thing to overlook.

The Inlander clearly had the more succinct first version. Probably because they had the luxury of waiting until the following afternoon to post something about it, instead of cranking it out on deadline a few hours after the accident.

First draft of history and yada yada yada. This stuff is tougher than it looks sometimes.

And here's to a speedy recovery for Ted Chauvin. There but for the grace of God go the rest of us...

Pat S said...

Thanks for chiming in, Ken, I really appreciate your perspective.

S-R bashing is all the rage these days and too easy. But your comments remind us that behind the institution are a bunch of real people under constraints, busting ass to get it right. Despite all my criticism, I admit I'm fairly addicted to the S-R and pissed in the event I can't grab my print copy from the front porch to start my day.

Not that I'm apologizing about my cyclo-centric rant.

I reacted and piled on because my nerves are still raw from the cyclist that was killed downtown a few weeks ago and some of the sentiment that emerged.

As the Chauvin story unfolded, my perception of how it was presented was 'guilty until proven innocent'. And I still don't think that my perception was totally off base and I still think there are some attitudes at the paper and sherrif's office that could use some adjustment.

Anonymous said...

"Tough" journalists "busting ass" to write a "first draft of history"?

Or just another lazy newspaper publishing verbatim police reports without even minimal effort at independent fact checks?

Lets all just agree to blame Beneditos.

Ken Paulman said...

Well, anonymous, I suppose it's true the reporter could have done more.

Having been the night city editor, I can say with reasonable certainty that the reporter put a call in to the responding law enforcement agency. In this case, the only person authorized by SCSO to comment would have been Sgt. Reagan, who also wrote the initial news release.

So, apart from that, what "minimal efforts to check facts" do you recommend? Remember, you've got about 90 minutes to report and write the story. Should the reporter have tried to sneak into the hospital and interview the victim?

Of course, the paper could have waited a day, but they had no reason to suspect the information they got from Reagan was incorrect, and then they'd have to deal with howls of "a cyclist was hit by a car last night, and there's nothing in the S-R about it!"

(Sorry, Pat - don't want to drag down your blog, but I have a hard time resisting these discussions).

Ken Paulman said...

And Pat - I agree you've got a good point. As a cyclist, I'm equally sensitive to this stuff.

But I also think that we can be defensive to the point where we can't recognize that cyclists can have some responsibility for their outcome.

Not in this case, of course. There doesn't seem to be much Chauvin could have done.

But here's an example of what I'm talking about. I once (12 years ago?) accidentally doored a cyclist while he was shooting a narrow gap between a long line of stopped traffic and my parked car. He flew over his bars, but wasn't seriously hurt. By law, the cyclist (who refused to call the police) was at fault, but that didn't stop a crowd of onlookers from nearly mobbing me at the scene, to the point where I offered to pay $200 for the damage to the guy's bike, and moved my car several blocks away to keep the windows from getting smashed in.

Then as now, I was a pretty devoted cyclist, and rode almost daily. Didn't matter to those people. Regardless of the law, regardless of whether I had a reasonable expectation for a bike to show up alongside my car, the cyclist, by virtue of being the cyclist, was automatically the victim.

I didn't sleep for two days.

So, did the Sheriff's office jump to conclusions about what happened because they have a blame-the-cyclist default? Possible.

But, really, I think all that happened here is the sheriff's office botched a press release, everyone involved did their best to clear up the misinformation, and we're all reflecting on the results through different lenses.

Anonymous said...

But, can't we just get unchecked raw documents on the internets? If the SR adds no substantive value, why buy thar tp-sized paper?

Seems to me that hospitals have phone systems, Old Timer.

As far as dooring--I'm sure you know that bicyclists here in Spokane are scolded for taking the lane, scolded for riding on the sidewalk, which only leaves the dooring zone. In fact, designated bike lanes are often in the pathway of opening car doors.

If dooring ain't illegal, it should be. Its no different than a parked car pulling out abruptly into traffic. How hard is it to check your mirrors before opening your door in traffic? Your offer of money does seem to indicate an acceptance of liability. Good for you.

I'm still waiting to see my first Spokane pro-bike lynch mob.

That must been headline news in the SR, sorry I missed it.

Ken Paulman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ken Paulman said...

(reposting to clear up some muddy language)

See, this is exactly what I'm talking about.

I've been riding year-round for years, logged thousands of miles (including quite a few in rain, ice and snow), and the second I suggest a cyclist did something irresponsible (my example, not Chauvin), my credentials as a cyclist are revoked.

Generally, when a cyclist is hit with a car door in Minneapolis, where this happened, the driver is liable. The cyclist, while out at the bars later that night, left me a couple of voicemails pointing that out.

However, since he was committing a moving violation at the time (passing stopped traffic on the right), he was legally at fault. I checked with a couple of law enforcement agencies to be sure of this. I offered again to file a police report so the cyclist could collect from my insurance company, and he again refused.

A few days later, we had some beers and hugged it out. He admitted that he shouldn't have been riding like an idiot.

It's tempting to break the world down into cars=bad and bikes=good. I've found, however, that people become more receptive to the needs of cyclists when we take some responsibility for our actions.

Sometimes, as in Ted Chauvin's case, the cyclist is clearly the victim. But we shouldn't be so quick to presume that the cyclist is *always* the victim.

As for the news story, hospitals guard patient privacy very closely. You can't just call the front desk and ask to interview someone who'd just been in an accident and expect to be patched through. Presuming you know which hospital to call - police rarely give that information out.

And frankly, I don't really consider pestering someone who's just been through a trauma like that to be a reasonable course of action for a reporter to take.

Anonymous said...

Who's revoking your cyclist cred? That's the real bike vs cars silliness. A car driver doesn't lose "cred" for having been in an accident, regardless of fault. Of course you can have your opinion, and of course I can point out just how wrong you are.

The whole issue of moving violation is silly on two levels. First, its very awkward, and often dangerous, to wait beside a line of cars if you did not, or could not, take the lane. This is a hazard specific to bicycles, and one of several damned if you do, damned if you don't situations.

Second, drivers ALWAYS must check mirrors before swinging open a traffic side door, and its not just bicycled to look out for. If a wide load had ripped off your door, how would you justify swinging your car door open.

I agree with you cyclists do dumb things, but not that your example is persuasive. Also, bicycling may help bicyclists become better drivers, but your own example proves that is not always the case.

Drivers also do dumb things, but the difference is perhaps that no one questions driving per se after a car-bike accident. The actions of one driver are also rarely generalized the way the actions of one bicyclist are generalized to all bicyclists. As a cyclist, I'm not responible for the "moving violation" of the poor guy you doored. As a driver, I'm not responsible for your moment of carelessness as a driver either.

But this accident does not appear to have anything like the complexity you ascribe to it.

Jeez, editors get it wrong and then obfuscate like politicians. No wonder no one reads the paper anymore.

Safe riding and driving, Ken.

Ken Paulman said...

What the cyclist in my example should have done (and what I do when riding in traffic) was wait *behind* the line of cars, instead of passing them all on the right, running the red light (which he was certain to do at the speed he was going), and forcing them to all pass him again. But not for his reckless actions, there would have been no crash. Upon further reflection, he admitted as much.

And yet, he's still the "poor guy I doored."

This brings me back to my original point.

Some people hold cyclists to a higher standard for behavior on the road. No question.

However, I think the bigger problem is that cyclists and drivers alike are completely confused about what the rules and best practices are when it comes to sharing the road.

Proof: As anonymous has pointed out, you're as likely to be harassed for obeying the law (taking the lane) as you are for breaking it. That's certainly been my experience.

The S-R's original report, based on the best available information at the time, attempted to bring about clarity on the rules of the road as the pertained to the accident. If it was car vs. car, there would be no need, because we all know which side of the road the car goes on. Ask ten people about the bike, though, and you're bound to get at least two or three different answers.

That this was perceived as some sort of slight against cyclists shows me that perhaps we, as cyclists, can be a bit overly defensive about this. And it's impossible to have an honest discussion about sharing the road when the default assumption is that the motorist is always the perpetrator and the cyclist is always the victim.

I should point out again for clarity's sake that I no longer work at the S-R - I left a year ago to pursue the glamorous nonprofit world.

And again, to be clear, I'm just engaging in a rhetorical exercise here. Forgive my exuberance, but it's rare that my worlds of bike-geekdom and journalism-geekdom collide like this.

My sympathies go out to Ted Chauvin and his family, and I hope he's riding again soon...

Anonymous said...

I apologize for expressing sympathy for the guy you carelessly doored. God forbid anyone should sympathize with a downed bicyclist, no matter the fault. Sheesh!

I note that, by your own account, observers at the scene disagreed strenously with your interpretation. If this was Spokane, it was unlikely they were bicyclists.

So the bicyclist deserved to be doored because he "would have" run a red light? were just performing a public service! Probably saved the dude's life. Heh.

And did you happen to pass this bicyclist when you parked?

I don't see my skepticism as defensiveness. I simply see it as the kind of skeptical stance that a good journalist should recognize.

Sorry, your story doesn't add up.

But, I keep an open mind. Send a link to the SR article on the pro-bike lynch mob and I may change my mind.

The SR never lies.

Ken Paulman said...

Anon, please go back and re-read my posts more carefully. You're missing a few key details, as well as the point - which you are illustrating perfectly, I might add.

Anonymous said...

But why would we believe you over the bystanders?

You must admit you have a self-interest in blaming the cyclist.

If the dooring were a story you edited, would you direct the reporter to interview and believe only the driver (as you demand here) or also query the cyclist and bystanders?

Wouldn't we particularly want to hear from the bystanders if the driver described them as vigilante mob that made him cough up 200 bucks? What a story! Man bites dog!

Ken Paulman said...

Still missing the point. Give it another read. Good night.

Anonymous said...


I think Ken's personal story has just the opposite meaning than he intended. Basically he's saying that a driver's word is proof enough, at least when that driver is himself.

I'd rather if newspapers were even handed, sometimes bicyclists do wrong, sometimes drivers, sometimes combination fault, maybe sometime nobody's really, but the paper (and cops) should wait to weigh everyone's story, and the physical evidence, before weighing in.

Ken says that it's not good to disturb an injured bicyclist, but isn't it almost always the bicyclist who is injured? That's a little too convenient for drivers. It doesn't do the bicyclist any favors to falsely imply s/he is at fault, either. Personally, I can wait to hear the real story.

That said, I wonder if this wasn't just something like a typo gone very wrong.

Pat S said...

Shit, I'm diggin my front row seats. My sad little blog don't deserve this action, but I'll take all I can get. Great discussion, guys.

Ken Paulman said...

I see what Anonymous is saying, but the point of my story was to show that as cyclists, our sympathies always default to the cyclist, even if he was in the wrong, as in my example.

I thought it was my fault, the guys standing outside the bar thought it was my fault, and the cyclist thought it was my fault. One guy was on the ground and one wasn't. Completely understandable.

However, when the dust settled and all the facts were in, it turned out that the cyclist was the one to blame. He owned up to it.

And the fact that Anonymous still can't seem to accept that, and would prefer instead to accuse me of making things up, just underscores that point.

Sorry this got so sidetracked.

Back to the news story. Reporters rarely, if ever, interview people involved in traffic accidents. Mostly for practical reasons, as I've already pointed out. There are hundreds of injury accidents a year in Spokane. There aren't enough hours in the day to track down all the people involved, interview them at length, and compare it to what the police found.

Police interview everyone at the scene (assuming they're still alive or conscious), and the people involved with a crash can be charged with a crime if they lie to the investigating officers (whereas lying to reporters is still legal). They then release the results of their investigation to the media. Notice that you almost always see phrases like "police said" in these stories.

I don't know what went wrong in this case, but clearly, the bad information came from the Sheriff's office.

It's true - you don't really need the paper to pick this stuff up for you. There's nothing stopping you from make daily checks of all the police websites looking at press releases about traffic accidents. If that makes more sense than picking up the paper, you should do it.

As someone who rides every day and spent seven years working in journalism, I can tell anti-bike bias when I see it. And I don't see it here.

You can take my word for that, or not. Up to you.

Ken Paulman said...

Sorry - one last thought. It goes without saying, but let me again emphasize how unfortunate it is that this misinformation got into the paper.

And as angry as you guys were about it, I can absolutely guarantee that no one is more pissed off than the reporter and editor who got burned by the bad news release. They just don't have the opportunity to vent about it on a blog.

Anonymous said...

Ken, I'm skeptical that the bicyclist you doored would back up your account. And, it is you, not the cyclist or a police officer, that is giving us the belated judgment/confession that it was all the bicyclist's fault. You are reporting what a cop (who you admit heard only your account) said and what the bicyclist said. Everything is second hand at best, and filtered through you, the driver in the incident.

Your conflict of interest is apparent. There is no parallel here between your account and a story produced from good journalistic practices. I have not, actually, accused you of making stuff up. I'm accusing you of presenting as objective truth an account that only considers one point of view (your own) and only one source (your own), and then using that as an example of a story that must be believed. There is an insufficient basis for your argument.

It is entirely reasonable to treat your story with skepticism. A good journalist would follow up on exactly the questions I asked.

I find your rationalizing a warning note. If this were the sort of one-sided deterministic approach that our news media brought to these sorts of collisions, god help all of us on two wheels. I don't actually believe the media always fails in its reporting of these collisions. However, I do sense the pattern of stereotyping in your account that too often skews newspaper and police reports of car-bike collisions.

Your contention that bicyclists cannot sympathize with the drivers side or take blame is simply false, and your story, and my response, does not persuasively support your stance. Your story may however show your own reluctance to "own up" as a driver and editor. But, if so, I see that as an individual failing, not necessarily one of these groups as a whole.

Even given the facts you state , the incident you describe is open to other interpretations. You insist that only your interpretation can be the true one. You also insist that you know what what the bicyclist "would have" done if you hadn't doored him. Neither your interpretation or prediction of someone else's future behavior are factual claims, but you present them as such here. A good journalist would suspect underlying rationalization, since the interpretation and prediction neatly support your claim that the cyclist was at fault.

I know bicyclists who have caused accidents and deserved blame, your assertion of blind allegiance to my group is false. One of my friends went through the windshield of a car because he (my friend) ran a red light on his bicycle. My friend admitted he ran the light. I also agree that it was my friend's fault, from his description.

Your contention that someone that disagrees with you is some sort of mindless bike-sympathizer may actually illustrate your own lack of rational perspective and stereotyping. Your answers to me are mainly ad hominem, an approach which undercuts the notion that you are simply relating an objectively true story in a disinterested fashion.

I disagree that newspaper people can't (or don't) blog. I disagree that they deserve to be the angriest in this incident, or even that they are. I disagree that I'm angry.

I agree that Pat is angry.

Ken Paulman said...

Anonymous, you make a good point that's well taken.

Of course it's very possible the other guy would give a different accounting of events. Since this was at least ten years ago, it's possible either of us would leave out important details. For instance, in my recollection, the cyclist was Billy Dee Williams and I was driving the space shuttle, but I don't think anyone would believe me if I wrote that.

But in the end, he was on the wrong side of the law, and he knew it. He had not one, but two opportunities to avail himself of legal remedy. He didn't take them. Case closed.

I'm not offering this story as a journalist presenting a piece of news (reporters and editors typically recuse themselves from stories that involve them personally). It's a very personal anecdote to show how internal biases can distort our perception of reality.

So even if I am giving a wildly unbalanced account of what happened, I think we can agree on that point. OK if we leave it at that?

Back to the topic at hand. The handling of the story in the S-R was seen by Pat and others as perhaps an indication of a deeper prejudice against cyclists. I think he makes a compelling argument and, for all I know, he may be correct.

However, I have my own biases, and they're a bit more complex.

On one hand, I'm a devoted cyclist. I commute every day, rain, shine or 20-below. I've slugged up ridiculous hills with Pat. I've been run out of the road and shouted at by angry motorists simply for trying to get to work. I work on a neighborhood task force to, among other things, improve safety for cyclists in my community. So, believe me, I get that there are people who don't like cyclists, and I devote a lot of time and energy to fixing that.

On the other hand, I also have the perspective of having worked in the S-R newsroom, having very likely supervised the reporter who wrote the story (I don't know for sure), having dealt with erroneous press releases, having worked with Sgt. Reagan, having fielded phone calls from angry readers. I've been accused of every sort of bias you can think of (I fondly recall the Ron Paul people as particularly vocal). This is a drill I've been through many times before.

And so, simultaneously having my own bike-bias as well as knowing a bit about How These Things Work, I have a hard time believing that this was anything other than an unfortunate mix-up. It's a shitty deal for Ted Chauvin who, for the record, deserves to be the angriest, and who I hope recovers fast. But there was nothing within reason the reporter or editor could have done to catch the error.

You can take that at face value, or you can dismiss me as an apologist for my former colleagues. I won't take it personally.

Ride on, Anonymous, and be safe.

Anonymous said...

So you end with another appeal to establish your "bike cred" and then take the opportunity to publish your resume? No offense, but I know journalists with better resumes on food stamps.

Perhaps its time for newspapers to return to a definition of "reasonable" that includes "reason." This story simply did not make sense as originally written.

Then again, neither did your dooring story, nor did it serve your rhetorical purpose. Maybe reason is beneath journalists, something just for us commmon folk?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to re-establish the gold standard.