In too many cities, newspaper coverage of bicycling has stoked some of the darker aspects of human nature. Opinion pieces about bike lanes tend to cater to the reactionary opposition, goading the trolls of the comments section, where casual death threats are standard fare.
News-Press reporters Janine Zeitlin (center) and Laura Ruane (right) accept an award for their coverage of bike safety issues in South Florida. Photo: Florida Department of Health via News Press
But a newspaper in South Florida has taken a very different approach over the last few years, unabashedly advocating for safer streets for cycling. And it’s earning accolades in the process.
The News-Press in the Fort Myers, Florida, region won praise from the Columbia Journalism Review and local safety advocates for its “Share the Road” series, highlighting the danger faced by cyclists in a deadly corner of the deadliest state for biking.
Starting in the summer of 2014, News-Press reporters have shed light on bicyclist fatalities on local roads, and what can be done to stop the loss of life.
In the year the series launched, eight cyclists were killed in Lee County (population 661,000), the News-Press reported. By comparison, in Portland (population 609,000), one cyclist was killed in 2014 and zero in 2013.
The News-Press dug into the problem, running a feature on each of the 12 people killed while biking in Lee and Collier counties, which include the communities of Naples, Cape Coral, and Fort Myers. These areas are both huge tourist destinations and home to lots of low-income workers and immigrants. The roads are notoriously dangerous for people walking or biking.
Led by reporter Janine Zeitlin, who used to bike but stopped because it felt too risky, the News-Press combed through data about what was causing the collisions. Among the factors they identified: “wide and fast roadways,” “lagging infrastructure and laws,” “bad drivers,” and “lack of safety education.”