Tag: media

Central Valley Media Needs Help More than Ever

It’s almost the end of 2019, and you’ve probably seen a bunch of those “10-year challenge” posts (#10YearChallenge) where people look back at 2009/2010 and compare themselves or things with how they are now.

Sadly, it’s not something you’ll really see from local media. If the Fresno Bee did a #10YearChallenge post, it would probably look something like this. with the old Bee on the left, and the current Bee on the right.

Unfortunately, even as Central California has continued to grow at a very rapid pace, the fourth estate has been heading in the opposite direction. This year, the decline in local journalism appears to have accelerated, with the Bee ending their Saturday edition and the Fresno State Collegian sounding the alarm that they might only make it one more year. Click to read more!

Reaction to LA bag ban shows same old story

Just a couple of days ago, the city of LA decided to implement a ban of disposable plastic bags over the course of the next year. The news caught me by surprise, as I try and follow developments regarding movements to ban or tax plastic bags.

What didn’t catch me by surprise are the comments that followed the decision. I’d seen them all before.

The reason is, it’s just another example of how in the internet age, ideas still travel slowly. When I wrote that just a week ago, I focused on transportation projects, but the bag ban is the exact same deal.

Banning or taxing plastic bags isn’t a new idea, not even in the US. According to a 2010 article, when LA County (this time it’s the city) banned the bags…

25% of the world now bans plastic bags, and Los Angeles County is one of a growing number of US communities getting on board.


I’m sure that number has gone up.

But it doesn’t matter. People like to pretend only their immediate local community matters, than that they have uniquely come up with a group of scenarios or points that have never been considered or proven wrong before.

The naysayers arrive with the same group of comments that were posted by a similar group of people when Maui, San Francisco, DC, Switzerland etc etc etc all took similar steps. They make it seem like the idea is brand new, has never been attempted, and no thought has been put into it. Whats even more worrisome is that in this case, various cities around California have already taken that step. Indeed, residents of LA can drive for 10 minutes to find themselves in areas where bag bans already exist.

A few of the comments are….

-It’s a major inconvenience, it’s hard to remember to carry your own bags. This will never work.

It sure is, at first, because you’re used to not doing it. Once you start, it takes as much effort to remember as it does to remember to take your wallet.

-It hurts the poor.

Only the bold angry internet commentators seemingly care about the poor. No one else has thought up of ways to distribute free reusable bags to those who need it.

-“I use them for trash, now ill just have to buy plastic bags instead for trash, its the same thing!”

Except it’s not. Last time you saw a plastic bag floating across a parking lot, stuck in a tree, blocking a drain or spoiling a field, did it look like this….


Perhaps like this…


Or was it one of these?


Yeah, banning plastic grocery bags does lead to an increase in purchases of large garbage bags. No, that’s not an unintended consequence that shows those behind the changes are idiots. It’s an improvement.

There are three issues with plastic grocery bags, two of which get solved by the ban

1) They last forever
2) They’re small, lightweight and there are billions of them
3) They’re free.

Yes, those giant garbage bags DO last as long, if not longer, than the grocery bags. But because they’re bigger, they don’t just escape and fly away and ruin the landscape. And because one must purchase them, one is more careful with their use. Free = waste. If a grocery bag takes more than a second to get open, it gets tossed aside, as there are a hundred more right there. If you’re paying for your bags, then suddenly tossing one aside isn’t so much an option.

So let’s do what the naysayers who fear change did not do and look at other cities.

In DC, where a 5 cent tax was implemented, the change was shrugged off as noted in this article from a few days after it took effect.

Here are some of the initial reactions on that same website

Sadly, the more hilarious comments posted on websites like the Washington Post no longer seem to be available for viewing after 3 years. I guarantee some of them were almost word-for-word the same as those you see this week in the LA Times, and you will undoubtedly see in Fresno whenever the state gets around to implementing a blanket policy.

In DC, the tax did not ban the use, but prompted people to make the changes. Many stated 5 cents would either result in no change (who gives a crap, it’s just 5 cents!) or result in major economic fail (everyone would shop in Virginia or Maryland!)

Of course, neither happened.

Bag use dropped at a much faster rate than expected, resulting in less revenue

City officials had guessed the fee would raise $3.5 million to clean up the city’s Anacostia River before the end of 2010. The tax brought in a total of $1.9 million in the first ten months of 2010, according to the city’s latest data.

and with it, the pollution decreased.

A report on the Anacostia prepared two years ago found plastic bags made up about half of the trash in the river on the city’s east side. This year, an environmental group that does an annual river cleanup said it collected a third as many bags as it did in 2009. Click to read more!

In internet age, ideas still travel slowly

We’re all very familiar with the idea that if a volcano blows in Indonesia, a plane crashes in Paraguay or a riot breaks out in Helsinki, news of the event will reach every corner of the globe in a couple of hours. The world is of course connected and news can travel quickly.

Theoretically, ideas can travel as quickly as news, and yet it seems that it isn’t the case. Indeed, new ideas, which may be fantastic, well-proven concepts, can take years to be spread and accepted.

When it comes to adopting proven best-practices, that’s a huge roadblock.

Two things inspired me to write this post. One, is the announcement that the New York City bike-share system will launch this summer and be sponsored by Citibank. What caught my eye was the parade of articles about the concept that followed the press releases. The second thing that inspired me to write this post are the songs I heard on the radio today. Those two concepts might seem unrelated, but they both show how ideas still spread slowly.

With bike share, New York has been following the exact same media pattern we saw in Boston in 2009-2011. Boston, naturally, was mirrored in London during the same period. Both of course were simple repeats of what happened in Washington a year earlier. The same can be said in many, many other cities.

If you followed the introduction of bike-share in any of these cities, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you’ve been following it in Portland, Chicago or San Francisco, then you may have noticed the first phases. If you want a sneak peak, just read through anything that came from NYC press this past week.

Basically, bike-share is not a new concept. 3rd generation bike share has been out in force since the summer of 2007, when Paris unleashed the world’s biggest system. That system has been mimicked successfully in city after city around the globe. But it doesn’t matter how successful it has been in Paris or dozens of other cities, when the concept is “introduced” to a different city, it’s always the same.

The comments tend to reflect the following:

It’ll never work! No one will ride them! Only tourists will use them! It will be a boondoggle! There will be so many accidents, injuries or deaths!! If people wanted to bike, they’d have their own! There will be rampant vandalism! It’ll cost too much!

And so on and so forth. You should know exactly what I’m talking about because every single city boils down to the same sets of (bad) arguments. And in every case, the media and the people ignore the fact that the EXACT same lines were repeated in 2011, 2010, 2009…etc in countless cities across the world…..and in every single case, the comments were off.

If you DO point it out though, there is a common answer.

“So what. We’re (New York City/Boston/Chicago/DC/Mexico City/Rome/Denver/San Francisco). We’re nothing like (Paris/Boston/London/DC/Mexico City/Rome/Denver/San Francisco). What works there won’t work here”

But it does, every damn time.

The hoards of unbalanced tourists that will cause havoc in the street in New York, and ride straight to their death? The size of injuries will probably be very similar to that of Boston, DC, London and so on. As far as I know, the number of deaths or serious injuries can be summed up with the number zero. Traffic chaos? Sure, will be around the same as every other day. Lack of use? Absolutely, just like no one rides the train.

I get it; every city is super-unique….except when they’re not. They’re still people making the same choices, working similar jobs, trying to get to similar places.

It doesn’t matter how connected the world is, it doesn’t matter how EASY it is to look up if the scheme has been successful in other cities before, it’s always the same. Those making the comments act as if we’re still in 1820 where a program 100 miles away effectively doesn’t exist because word doesn’t travel.

Why don’t the people writing articles about potential vandalism, injury, lack of use etc think for a second “hm, I wonder if I’m the only person in the world who has ever been brilliant enough to come up with these potential obstacles? There is a chance I might not be. I should look to see what was said and done elsewhere”.

I really do wonder why so many in the media, which pride themselves on research and investigations fail to do the most simple of searches.

What bothers me most about this is that when ideas spread so slowly, it makes it very difficult for other cities to adopt best practices.

We see this over and over again.

Look at “sharrows” painted on roads. They were common in Portland for many years, and they began being used around the country. But even after many major cities had successfully installed them, there were huge barriers to others following suit.

For example, both LA and San Francisco organized expensive and time-consuming “studies” about sharrows. There was no need; Portland could have been taken as a multi-year field study. But no. It had to be done again.

I guarantee if someone were to propose sharrows in Fresno, for example on the Gettysburg bike lane project which lacks bike lanes, the city would say “we don’t know if that would work, we need to study it”.

I know that’s exactly what would happen, because when I asked the city to consider back-in angled parking on Broadway, I was told it wouldn’t be done because it was unproven, even though countless cities have proven it’s safer and more efficient. It doesn’t matter. Like all those other cities, Fresno is unique, and what works there won’t work here….

The list can go on. If you live in ANY American suburb, and the city proposed or recently built your very first roundabout….I can recite the article the local paper or TV station produced without having ever read it. I guarantee they interviewed a concerned neighbor that was sure there would be many accidents. I would bet that a local politician was outraged at the congestion that would obviously occur. Of course, like in every other suburb where those points were raised, that never happened.

Change can be scary. However, part of that fear can be relieved by simply looking to see if a concept has been tried elsewhere and if it has worked. It’s also important to see if the same concerns were raised and if they were also unfounded.

But how can those ideas be spread if innovation still travels so slowly?

I will have a follow up post looking at social networks and music, and the fact that even when people pro-actively share things, it can take a very long time for stuff to spread.