Op-ed in the Star lacks journalistic standards

Bike to work day 2014

Letter writer Liz Sutherland, above, rides her bicycle around Toronto on a daily basis and volunteers with Cycle Toronto. Photo by Hyedie Hashimoto.

Retort letter: Lack of journalistic standards evident in Star's Wheels opinion piece last weekend

Liz Sutherland wrote a letter to the public editor at the Toronto Star following the offensive opinion piece [which we will not link to] published on March 18,2016, written by Wheels columnist Jim Kenzie.

Sutherland received a reply from the Star's public editor, Kathy English saying her letter had been passed on to the Wheels editor. It also said, in part: “Mr. Kenzie is a columnist for the Star and as such, has wide latitude to express his own perspective. Columns are not intended to be 'objective' but express a point of view.” Sutherland’s reply was subsequently published (in print only so far) in this Saturday's Star. dandyhorse is also publishing it here, below.

We won’t link back to the tripe in the Star — that would be giving Kenzie and his Wheels wing men what they want. But, for those of you that followed the brouhaha on social media, you’ll want to read Sutherland’s letter. We hope the Star publishes Sutherland's response to the Wheels piece online as well.

Update: The Star has begun to publish some of the letters to the editor complaining about Kenzie's op-ed, here.

...

Dear Ms. English,

I am writing to complain about the absence of journalistic standards evident in Jim Kenzie's recent article, "Carte Blanche: Another politician with his head in the sand."

Mr. Kenzie is the Star's Chief Automotive Reviewer, and as such he is a poor choice of author for an article on the place of cycling on Toronto's streets. The bias against cycling in Mr. Kenzie's writing comes through loud and clear in his selection of evidence and language. His article is full of misleading statements that heap scorn on those who choose to cycle in Toronto and anyone who thinks public funds should be dedicated to cycling infrastructure.

For instance, Mr. Kenzie argues that the prevalence of cycling in Toronto is overstated. He provides as evidence the fact that one sees "approximately zero bicycles" on the Gardiner Expressway and the 401. What Mr. Kenzie fails to acknowledge is that cyclists are in fact prohibited by law from riding on these highways.

He then asks rhetorically, "how many cyclists did you see pedalling up the Avenue Road hill toward St. Clair the day after Valentine's Day, when the temperature was about minus 30 on the wind-chill scale?" Of course, very few cyclists would choose to use the high-speed Avenue Road when there is a perfectly good bike lane on Poplar Plains Road, just 200 metres to the west. I myself cycled to my workplace at St. Clair and Yonge via Poplar Plains on the day in question. But that fact is beside the point as casual observation is not a good way to determine transportation needs in a city and it is irresponsible to suggest that decisions should be made on this basis. That said, there is evidence that winter cycling in Toronto is growing steadily (there are estimates that 30 to 40 percent of cyclists in Canada bike year-round), and it would be foolhardy of the City to ignore the needs of these commuters.

Mr. Kenzie then writes "we still kill more pedestrians and motorists on Toronto roads than we do cyclists. But any interaction between a cyclist and, well, anything else (car, telephone pole, curb) is much more likely to end in tears than, say, a vehicle-to-vehicle interaction." With this deft phrase, "ending in tears," Mr. Kenzie manages to avoid assigning responsibility for the traffic violence he is describing, somehow managing to blame cyclists for their own vulnerability in the same way that women who dress "provocatively" or walk alone late at night are often blamed for any sexual harassment and violence they encounter from men. Just being on a bicycle, in Mr. Kenzie's world-view is "asking for it."

Finally, Mr. Kenzie has the gall to speak of "probably a gross misappropriation of scarce taxpayer dollars" spent to appease "a very vocal minority" when in fact the City of Toronto spends only $3.08 per capita on cycling infrastructure, less than half the City of Ottawa, for comparison. (Toronto's cycling infrastructure budget is set to increase from $9 million to $14 million in 2016.)

In a recent study, the Pembina Institute found Toronto had the lowest level of cycling infrastructure in all five Canadian cities studied. The scarce cycling infrastructure in this city cannot keep up with demand, as the number of people biking on Toronto's streets has risen rapidly in recent years (a 2006 count of almost 20,000 cycling commuters is woefully out of date). Meanwhile, Toronto's spending on cycling infrastructure would constitute a rounding in error in the $1,052,000,000 now earmarked to update the Gardiner Expressway east of Jarvis, a highway segment that serves approximately 5,200 drivers.

I am a regular Toronto Star reader and, in my view, your newspaper normally provides a more objective view in its coverage of cycling issues in Toronto. I strongly suggest that, if your editors wish to retain this reputation for balance and responsible journalism, they should think twice before offering future assignments on the subject to a champion of the car.

Sincerely,

Liz Sutherland

Toronto

....

Eds Note: Well said, Ms. Sutherland, well said!

Related on the dandyBLOG:

Coldest Day of the Year Ride 2013

From the Horse's Mouth: Nancy Smith Lea from TCAT

Another small step for bike lanes on Bloor-Danforth

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