Opinion: Dangerous rhetoric on our streets

After the tragedy in Arizona, this graffiti on N. Rosa Parks Way just before
a tricky crossing for people on bikes and on foot — is even less funny.
(Photo © J. Maus)

For anyone that follows our national politics, the tragic news of this weekend comes as no surprise. We have let public discourse in this country devolve into a “climate of hate”.

Unfortunately, politics isn’t the only place where dangerous vitriol happens.

As we’ve seen with many examples through the years, our traffic culture is also a place where hate is all too common. Remember back in 2006, when a Portland shock-jock said, “When I hear on TV that a cyclist has been hit and killed by a car I laugh, I think it’s funny… If you are a cyclist you should know I exist, that I don’t care about you. That I don’t care about your life.” I took those words very seriously and did everything I could to bring attention to them and hold that person and their employer accountable. Or how about the situation back in July, when a TriMet bus operator published a blog post detailing his homicidal impulses with the headline “Kill This Bicyclist!” complete with photos of the “bicyclist” in question?

All you have to do is read comments on bike-related stories in any mainstream news outlet and you’ll understand that hateful rhetoric is alive and well in our traffic culture.

I am a firm believer that the language we use and the tone it sets has a very powerful influence on how people act. As a society, we need to do everything we can to call out hate-filled rhetoric and be mindful of how it can lead to dangerous behavior — whether it’s directed toward politicians or toward other road users.

— A few readers shared a great post about a need for transportation civility posted today on the Greater Greater Washington site.

Switch to Desktop View with Comments