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language matters

National org wants to know: What should we call this thing we do everyday?

Monday, August 25th, 2014

People for Bikes, a national advocacy group funded by the bicycle industry, wants to change cycling in America by coming up with a new name for it. Specifically, the group wants help figuring out what to call everyday cycling in order to differentiate it from recreation and fitness riding.

Here’s the set-up from People for Bikes via an email they sent out today:

“Lots of people ride bikes for recreation, exercise and sport. But there’s another kind of bicycling that’s becoming more and more popular in communities across the country. It’s difficult to quantify, because folks call it a lot of different things. And it doesn’t have an official name…

Imagine you’re rolling out on your bike right from your garage—no spandex involved, you’re wearing normal, everyday clothes.


Comparing language in winter traffic advisories from PBOT and ODOT

Thursday, February 6th, 2014
Are all road users equally served by traffic advisories?

We think the words people use say a lot about their perspectives and priorities. That’s why I always enjoy reading traffic advisories and press releases from our local transportation agencies.

When it comes to severe weather warnings, I have communicated directly with both the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) and the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) that their statements should not ignore the fact that many people in this region ride bicycles in winter. Yes, even when it snows and rains.

So, with this week’s big snowstorm on its way, I sat back and waited to see how each agency would handle the inevitable bad weather road advisories. I’m happy to report, that while not perfect, both agencies have improved a lot in recent years! Let’s start with ODOT…

Language Matters: Despising ‘avid cyclist’ and a news story anatomy

Monday, October 7th, 2013

“The term ‘cyclist’ continues to provide us with a damaging mental barrier and convenient scapegoat. It serves only to alienate and denigrate an entire segment of society, and cast them aside as ‘others’.”
— Chris Bruntlett, via Hush Magazine

In our ongoing effort to raise awareness about how the words we use establish (sometimes harmful) cultural norms and have a major impact on our discussions around traffic safety and bicycling, we’re bringing back our Language Matters column.

While many people still don’t get why we take this issue so seriously, we are heartened by two recent examples we’ve come across that help make the case that this is something worthy of consideration and action.

The first is an excellent essay by Vancouver (Canada) resident Chris Bruntlett titled, I Am Not a Cyclist which was published on Hush Magazine’s website last week. Chris emailed us to share the essay and said he was inspired to write it after an appearance on a local talk radio show where the host referred to him as an “avid cyclist” throughout the interview. Chris said he had recently watched Áron Halász’s Cyclists Do Not Exist Tedx talk and he read our story from last month about a researcher’s work on language use and bike advocacy.

Researcher explores the ‘Language of promoting cycling’

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

“When it comes to cycle planning and policy, all parties involved (politicians, policy-makers, practitioners, advocates, etc) should remember that they are providing for “cycling”, not “cyclists””.
— Glen Koorey, University of Canterbury

Reader John Lieswyn (an associate at Alta Planning + Design) emailed me a link to an amazing bit of research this morning. A 2007 paper written by Glen Koorey, a transportation researcher based at the University of Canterbury titled, Are You a Cyclist or Do You Cycle? The Language of Promoting Cycling.

This 10-page paper (PDF) blows my mind, not because of the subject matter itself, but because Mr. Koorey explores a topic I have thought and spoken about for many years. It’s as if he crawled inside my brain and then reported back what he found.

From the online abstract, it appears Koorey presented the paper at a cycling conference in New Zealand. Here’s how he introduces the topic:

“Promoting more cycling in New Zealand is still an exercise fraught with much adversity, both from the general public and from decision- and policy-makers. It is therefore crucial that anyone advocating for a better cycling environment is careful in how they present their case, lest they end up “scoring an own goal” or furthering existing mis-conceptions.”


Bike Gallery uses ad to make ‘Plea to Portland Cyclists’

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

Bike Gallery, an institution in Portland with six local stores, is running an interesting new ad in the Willamette Week. The ad is a ‘Plea to Portland Cyclists’ and it implores people on bikes to wear bright clothing, use lights, and obey traffic laws.

Here’s the ad: (more…)

Editorial: Signs of traffic culture on paths vs. roads

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011
Sign on I-205 path-1
A common sign on multi-use
paths. Why don’t we use these
on other transportation facilities
that are narrow and have users
that need to use caution around
one another?
(Photos © J. Maus)

The other day I was riding out to Southeast Portland along the I-205 multi-use path and I came across a sign I’d seen many times before.

“Bicyclists” it read, in large, all-caps font across the top, “This is a multi-use path. Reduce speed. Watch for pedestrians.” (The exact same sign is also on the Eastbank Esplanade just south of the Hawthorne Bridge overpass.)

I’ve shared thoughts about sharing paths with people on foot several times on this site in the past; but recent discussions about the safety and lack of space for bicycles and cars on rural roads put this sign into a new light. (more…)

Language Matters: PBOT on Sunday Parkways

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

[Publisher's note: As anyone who follows me on Twitter or who has read the comments and stories on this site closely over the years knows, I have a thing for language. In my opinion, the words we use have a very powerful role in shaping the narrative around transportation issues. I see examples of this impact almost every day. In Language Matters* (column originally called Language Police, but changed after some feedback in the comments), we'll highlight communications from advocacy leaders, government agencies, and elected officials that offer examples of how transportation language is used — and misused.]

Sunday Parkways kicked off last weekend. To prep the media for the event, the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) sent out a press release. Here are the excerpts that caught my eye (emphasis mine): (more…)

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