A group in Seattle has come up with a list of smart language about safer streets that has now been picked up nationally by People for Bikes. Seattle was leading the way on great transit, biking, and walking improvements when all of a sudden it became paralyzed with rhetoric of a "war on cars" (the term "war on cars", I'm fascinated to find out, originated with North America's favorite coke-addled mayor, Toronto's Rob Ford, who ran on a specifically anti-transit and anti-bike platform. So consider the source before using it. . . ).
New language, say the Seattle advocates, helped reset the message, and now the city is moving forward apace with protected bike lanes and more frequent transit schedules, and the public at large supports the changes.
A lot of this new language is great. Take a look.
I'm trying to wrap myself around exactly how I feel about this all. As I said, a lot of it is just smart. After watching the great Streetfilms video about Indianapolis' Cultural Heritage Trail, I started gushing about how great "bioswales" were, even though previous to the video I'd have not known a bioswale from a biohazard. Calling the darn things "raingardens" just describes what they are better. Direct language!
And making sure to tell the public that you are not just a bicycling machine, but perhaps a parent, or a worker, or a retired person, is also clearly smart.
I hope you won't mind something as middle class as a gif!
Oh, heavens though, what is a gif?
A lot of this feels like a repeat of other messaging trends. Many people still don't like anyone to complain about how uncomfortable it is to be a cyclist (sorry, "person who bikes") on streets designed for car-use only, lest somehow this will dissuade people from taking up biking. But the battle isn't one of marketing. People take up biking because the infrastructure makes it sensible for them. These new guidelines to call people a "person who takes the bus" or a "person who bikes" feel like messaging voodoo, intended to win people with jedi mind tricks. Just say what you mean.
If a person is so inconsiderate that they can't put two-and-two together to figure out that a pedestrian is a "person who walks", I think we're better off drawing a clear bright line in the sand and fighting that person than trying to drag ourselves behind them like whinnying sycophants.