Better Luck Next Time, Westways

For the little driving I do compared to my biking, call me a creature of habit: I still renew my AAA membership without fail. It’s a tradition that goes back more than a quarter of a century, but one that has become increasingly irksome to me.

One of the “perks” of membership is the subscription to “Westways,” something I’ll skim through at best — if at all. And odds are I might not have seen the article titled “Sharing The Road” in the current issue (not available on the magazine’s website)  had Susan not left the magazine open to it on my desk.

Needless to say I had some problems with one of the largest most entrenched proponents and perpetuators of car culture talking about how bikes and pedestrians and motorists could better get along. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for promoting making the streets safer for everyone involved, but it didn’t take long for writer Peter Bohr to show a pro-car bias.

And so I wrote them and told them all about it:

I consider myself something of a AAA anomaly: a 25-plus year member the last three of which have seen me shift gears (literally) and log more than 16,000 miles as a dedicated bike commuter, while adding only 6,000 miles to my truck’s odometer. I preface with that because in those three years of me pedaling well more than twice the distance that I’ve driven around Los Angeles I’ve become increasingly disillusioned with the Auto Club’s notable lack of awareness of self-propelled modes of transport — and Peter Bohr’s article, “Sharing The Road” (January/February 2010), does little to ease my aggravation.

I can certainly admire Westways attempt to promote the important topic of shared and responsible use of the roadways by everyone — and Bohr makes some excellent points. But his pro-auto bias shows through (heck, he’s even identified as a “veteran automotive journalist”). Barely mentioning the bad crosswalk and bike lane actions of “impatient or distracted drivers,” Bohr then goes on to skewer and generalize pedestrians who  “frequently jaywalk,” bicyclists who “often ride on the wrong side of the road and ignore stops signs and traffic signals, and joggers “hooked to their iPods” who “can be oblivious to the traffic around them.”  I don’t dispute those observations, but I do find it sadly typical that Westways and Bohr would ignore the myriad specific examples of motorists’ selfish and reckless behavior — far more frequent given their numbers, and often with much more dire consequences.

Equally telling is that there’s no mention of the infamous July 2008 incident involving an enraged motorist in Mandeville Canyon who was arrested after an accident and charged with willfully causing the injuries sustained by two cyclists. In case no one there at Westways has heard of it, Dr. Chris Thompson, a former emergency room physician, was found guilty in November of multiple counts and as of this letter is awaiting sentencing of what could be up to 10 years in prison. Instead, Bohr opens the article with the far less prevalent tale of an elderly pedestrian being ticketed almost four years ago. Such a choice is veritably quaint — and surprise: there’s not an irresponsible motorist to be found!

Lastly, there’s the “Safety Tips” sidebar, the order of which left me curious as to why motorists are the last group to be listed, below cyclists and pedestrians. In fact why is an automobile magazine preaching to cyclists and pedestrians above their core readership, if at all?

I guess my bottom line is: nice try, but better luck next time (not that I’ll be holding my breath).  Westways’ heart may have been in the right place with this feature, but its perspective certainly wasn’t.

Will Campbell