Image from Northwest Vietnamese News via the Rainier Valley Post

The Sun Break compares our headline favorably to the Times:

But in the Times headlines, light rail is always implicitly the agent of destruction: light rail “injures two” (who tried to make an illegal left turn in front of a sign marked No Left Turn), a woman “sustain[ed] injury” when she ran into the light rail, and a girl talking on her cellphone who stepped into the trackway was “struck by light-rail train.” In none of these cases did the illegality, incompetence, or obliviousness of the person who caused the accident make it into the headline.

I think it’s imp0rtant to point out that headlines at The Seattle Times are not written by the authoring reporter, so the blame usually falls on a nameless editor rather than Mike Lindblom or whomever reported the piece in this case (“Seattle Times staff”). There’s also no reason to blame a vast anti-rail conspiracy rather than simple sloppy thinking.

Still, this kind of thing matters. Whether I’m browsing a newspaper in print, on Twitter, or on their website, I’ll read a fraction of the stories; for the ones I don’t care about as much, the headline forms my entire impression of the issue. Inaccuracies like this one affect the perception of the vast majority of readers that don’t follow the subject closely.

36 Replies to “Headlines”

  1. Sure, it’s not the rail operator’s fault, and the driver should not have made that left turn. However, I think it’s completely fair to criticize ST for making the oblivious and incompetent (but probably legal) decision to run rail along a busy street. Not only does it increase the risk of collision substantially, it also increases delays experienced by transit riders and by drivers using the roadway.

    1. That time has come and gone. Criticize all you want, but unless you can go in the past and change things, this debate no longer warrants attention.

      1. I disagree, you need to look into the past and see if what you did was good or not in order to make better decisions in the future.

      2. Exactly, I was surprised that the center running on 112th was even considered (although not chosen as the preferred alternative in the end) for the B-segment of Eastlink.

    2. “Oblivious and incompetent?” Really? This is one of the more grade-separated light rail systems of the world!

      You could get a much safer result by grade separating all of our arterials; it’s all the unprofessional drivers in cars that are a threat to pedestrians, trains, and other cars.

      1. You people don’t understand. Prior to Link, MLK was an idyllic pasture, where candy colored cars that exhausted Chanel #5 never wen above ten MPH, and woodland creatures frolicked. The many local small businesses gave out cotton candy for change, and all God’s children co-existed peacefully.

        Link destroyed all that

        Save Our Valley – Never Forget!!!!!!!

  2. It’s kind of like calling crashes involving drunk drivers that kill or gravely injure people “accidents”. Getting into a car while under the influence of drugs or alcohol is criminal behavior. When such behavior results in a death that should be called “Negligent Homicide” not an “accident”.

    Why editors at news sources don’t get this is beyond me.

    1. Blaming the victim (or in some other way shifting blame) is an integral part of US culture – always has been.

      1. Excuse me. The driver of the squished PT Cruiser in the photo was not a “victim”. At every intersection that crosses the light rail tracks there are a dozen “train” lights flashing when one approaches. The left turn signal was most assuredly red, but the idiot in the left seat probably saw no approaching traffic from the opposite direction on MLK. All the cross-traffic was stopped for SOME reason, so s/he took the “opportunity”.

        Get over you oblivious assumption that cars have absolute right-of way.

      2. I think this was the accident NB at South Dawson Street where no left turns are allowed at all and a left turn route exists by turning right half a block south to wait at the signal crossing MLK westbound. There is a sign indicating this at the right turn (and many cars manage to safely cross MLK by following this route).

    2. Reminds me of that exchange in “Hot Fuzz”.

      “Don’t say ‘car accident.’ Say ‘traffic collision.'”
      “Because ‘accident’ implies that no one’s to blame.”

      1. That exchange didn’t make sense to me when I saw the movie. I now realize it’s because I was expecting a punchline about political correctness but instead what he said made sense.

      2. More than making sense, it sets up the dichotomy between him and the local cops. He views everything as a potential crime, while the locals present everything as an accident. It just gets bigger and bigger as the movie goes on; but that little discussion over the first deaths is what sets it all up.

      3. This has also occured in the realm of firearms where the term AD (Accidental Discharge) has been replaced with ND (Negligent Discharge) when the operator is at fault. Only when there is an equipment failure (EXTREMELY RARE) can the term AD be used.

  3. Even though the what seems like monthly accidents are “not the fault” of light rail, normally, in accident safety procedures, the entire system is looked at to determine why the same pattern (left turn into light rail) happens over and over and over again.

    So, typically you ask questions like:

    1. Is there some obstruction or other barrier that makes the train hard to see.

    2. Is there some type of mental blindness (cf. “The Invisible Gorilla”) that make it unexpected for a driver to expect a train on the street.

    3. Is the speed of the train, or coloration at night, or any other factors responsible for why drivers are not responding to it, or the signage or the signaling.

    Talking about whose headline was better — doesn’t really acknowledge or fix a persistent and deadly problem.

    1. Honestly, this accident seems more along the lines of “Screw it, I want to make a left turn/U-turn now and save myself a few minutes” and they were paying more attention to oncoming traffic rather than the Link.

      Also, I don’t drive much on MLK, but I believe where it is illegal to make a left turn, the only sign is a static “No Left Turn” sign versus a digital sign indicating when a train is approaching. Perhaps these “No Left Turn” signs aren’t bold enough? This shouldn’t surprise me, though – it happens at a lot of other intersections, too. Note: I’m not advocating for a digital sign to be installed – mainly because that’s ST and SDOT saying indirectly that it’s ok to make a left turn here.

      1. There are large bright flashing LRV signs that activate when trains are approaching at every intersection that Link crosses on MLK.

    2. A general failure to respect “no left turn” signs and arrows citywide is what’s mostly to blame, I feel. At least, that’s what I noticed when I was working as a delivery driver. We have a lot of them here, in some places for safety, and in some places to prevent backups.

      Spend some time on Broadway at Madison, for example. There’s a no-left-turn-at-rush-hour sign there, but at rush hour there’s a near constant backup from left-turn traffic (no separate lane, no separate signal, heavy traffic in both directions, so the left lane becomes a de-facto left-turn lane and the through traffic squeezes down to one lane to get past).

      Or check out John at 23rd. There’s a no-left-turn sign in one direction and an “on arrow only” in the other, due to the intersection being at the top of a blind hill – left turn traffic in either direction can’t see oncoming traffic. My delivery route took me through there many times a day, and people always flaunted the signs.

      So the light rail has nothing to do with it; people in this town just love to turn left, legal or not.

      1. I’ve seen more than one person turn left at 45th and University Way, which blocks left turns at all hours in all directions.

      2. Yeesh. I understand people sometimes failing to obey “no left between the hours of X and Y” signs, because they’re *confusing* — you drive this route at all hours of the day and *sometimes* it’s legal and *sometimes* it isn’t — but people really ought to be able to obey blanket prohibitions on left turns.

      3. I think we all know what’s going on… a driver makes a quick risk-reward calculation and decides that their chance of getting caught is about 0%.

        If you’ve ever watched an HOV on-ramp (not direct access) at rush hour, it’s the same thing. Lots of SOV drivers who would never dream of using the HOV lane have no problem using the ramp, since once they’re on the highway, no one can prove that they used the wrong ramp. WSDOT advertises that the violation rate for HOV lanes is less than 5%, but they don’t mention the violation rate for on-ramps anywhere, except to say in passing that it is “higher”.

        For better or for worse, the only way that we could ever stop this behavior is with better enforcement, either automated (like with automatic speed cameras) or manual (station police at every HOV on-ramp). And even then, the punishment has to be severe and frequent enough that offenders will not simply decide to chance it.

  4. I wonder why Lindblom has suddenly become a friend to STB writers – his articles used to be almost uniformly criticised on this blog. Could it be because he is sceptical of the deep bore tunnel project? Doesn’t change the fact that he doen’t much care for Sound Transit’s projects either. Remember that he always used to find the one or two businessmen whose lives were ruined by construction on MLK and not the postive overall impact of Light Rail in the Rainier Valley.

    1. I actually think Mike Lindblom’s articles have gotten a lot more positive about SoundTransit after ST2 passed.

  5. General Comments…

    Drivers of motor vehicles tend to focus on what is immediately around them…large truck, space in the next lane that they want, station on the radio, good looking person walking down the street, etc.; not the signage, lane markings, and other traffic control devices designed to regulate the flow of traffic. As a driver of a large delivery truck (and also a small car) and a rider of a bicycle I’m very aware of signage, lane markings, speed limits, no left turn lanes et. al. because I have to be. I’ve had training in the driving of large emergency vehicles (try an aerial ladder fire truck with a 10 speed road ranger transmission) as well as defensive driving courses. Yes, I’m one of the few who always leaves sufficient stopping distance in front of me, I am always aware of the speed limit (don’t even need the GPS to tell me what it is, it’s on those signs on the side of the road). My one comment is that ALL Drivers should pay attention to what is around them and obey the signage. Period.

    BTW … Joke of the week perpetrated by WASHDOT, “Smart signage on the highways”, too bad we have dumb drivers who won’t read and obey the signage.

    I don’t think the design of MLK is at fault, it’s well marked where and when turns or crossing of the light rail are permitted using many different clues. Yes, in an ideal world given infinite dollars we could have built the line above grade or in a tunnel but this was a reasonable compromise. Problem is, clueless drivers. Clueless pedestrians. Clueless headline writers.

    Pay attention when you drive, ride a bike, walk, crawl or otherwise motivate on the streets, walkways, etc. I’m tired of watching out for you.

    1. It is simply mind-boggling how oblivious drivers can be. I was once a passenger in my buddy’s car as he was driving down SR-167. He started weaving in and out of the HOT lane across the double white line. Now I clearly remember from *my* driver’s ed course that it is unlawful to cross a double white line. But even then, there’s a sign every quarter-mile or say which reads “ILLEGAL TO CROSS DOUBLE WHITE LINE.”

      After he had crossed it the third time, I said, “You know you’re not supposed to cross the double white line, right?”
      “Of course you can. That’s why it’s white.”
      “Um, that’s not what the signs say.”
      “What signs?”
      “The signs every quarter-mile that say ‘ILLEGAL TO CROSS DOUBLE WHITE LINE.'”

      And this guy is a Boeing engineer.

      1. Perhaps we need periodic driving exams (every 5 years or something) — and much stricter exams like they have in the UK. If I were re-tested I’d probably pass, but almost nobody else I know would.

      2. I’d be more troubled that he thought that the color of the line determined its crossability, rather than whether the line was solid or broken.

  6. Rail bulbs … a line of red bulbs at street/rail intersections, parallel to the tracks, that flash brightly when a train is coming. But they’re still not as good as crossing gates.

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