Our Boston bicycling safety advocates know that words can have a great deal of power. In order to be effective in our efforts to promote safety of those who travel by bicycle, whether for daily commute or in leisure, it’s imperative to properly frame the issues, the challenges and the people involved.
The power of smart language can be compelling, as evidenced by a recent blog post published as part of the Green Lane Project, a venture of the Seattle bicycle advocacy group PeopleForBikes.org. Writer Michael Andersen notes that rather than using the word, “cyclist,” it’s better to talk about “people on bikes.” Rather than use the word, “accident,” the word “collision” packs a more potent punch. And we can drive the point home better with a phrase like “protected bike lane” instead of “cycle track.”
Why do these seemingly minor changes matter? Some might view these fixes as trivial, but its effect is evident when we look at the so-called “war on cars” that was reportedly raging in Seattle just a few years ago. That three-word phrase was dominating the conversation about improvements to bicycle infrastructure in the city. Instead of discussing whether it should be safer for people to walk, bike or ride public transit, they were instead debating whether they should give in to demands to “make driving worse.” What should have been a winning issue for everyone became a losing issue all-around. But that shifted when a small non-profit group stepped in to champion a city-wide network of local streets that were low traffic and safer for those on bikes. And instead of calling themselves “biking advocates,” they labeled themselves “neighborhood advocates.” Continue reading