[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):
“The public should expect traffic control changes in the vicinity of the event and be aware of increased numbers of pedestrians and bicyclists. Residents will have access to their homes and can cross the route at the designated intersections.
… The traffic-free streets and parks are excellent, safe places to be a pedestrian and bicyclist and be active during the event.”
One of my main issues with transportation language is the use of the words “pedestrians” and “bicyclists.” In my opinion, putting a label on someone simply for how they move around only makes it easier for them to be marginalized, stereotyped, criticized, dismissed, and so on.
In the case above, PBOT’s press release reads as if “pedestrians and bicyclists” are some sort of alien beings that will descend upon these neighborhoods. What makes the statement worse, is that it’s followed immediately by “Residents…” These two sentences create the false dichotomy that the “pedestrians and bicyclists” that will participate in Sunday Parkways are not residents of the area.
Given the fact that some people in East Portland don’t like the inconvenience of Sunday Parkways and feel “trapped” inside their homes as it is during the event, it would be wise for PBOT to avoid endorsing the idea that participants are outsiders, or worse, these odd creatures known as “bicyclists and pedestrians.”
Here’s my rewrite:
“The public should expect traffic control changes in the vicinity of the event and be aware of increased numbers of
pedestrians and bicyclistspeople walking and biking on the roads. Residents will haveaccess to theirhomes will be maintained and residents can cross the route at the designated intersections.
… The traffic-free streets and parks are excellent, safe places to
be a pedestrian and bicyclist and be activeenjoy your community during the event.”
I think the words we use matter. A lot.
What do you think?