Wordplay: Language a New Focus of Bicycle Advocacy

A few months ago I posted a short piece reflecting on my disassociation with cyclist and instead identifying myself as an urbanite. I was inspired to think intentionally about the cyclist label after a discussion with my classmates in Cascade Bicycle Club’s Advocacy Leadership Institute. Tom Fucoloro, author of the Seattle Bike Blog, sparked our minds by challenging the sensibility of using labels such as driver, cyclist, and pedestrian. Makes sense to me – after all, I am all of these things at various times and it seems foolish to define myself by how I get around.

Now, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways is in the spotlight for a blog article it wrote about using better language to break down perceived barriers between people using different modes of transportation. Clearly SNG is finding success; the idea of breaking barriers through more appropriate language not only appeared in my class but also in my neighborhood group. I find my daily language changing and noticed fewer people around me identifying themselves as cyclists. After all, we are all just people, right?

Check out SNG’s quick-guide to positive language:

Language guidelines from Seattle Neighborhood Greenways

Language guidelines from Seattle Neighborhood Greenways

More on this:

Let’s Talk About Safe Streets | Seattle Neighborhood Greenways: http://seattlegreenways.org/blog/2015/01/06/lets-talk-safe-streets/

HOW SMART LANGUAGE HELPED END SEATTLE’S PARALYZING BIKELASH | People For Bikes (with comments by Tom Fucoloro of the Seattle Bike Blog): http://www.peopleforbikes.org/blog/entry/how-smart-language-helped-end-seattles-paralyzing-bikelash

Seattle Bike Blog: http://www.seattlebikeblog.com/2015/02/09/im-not-a-cyclist-supporting-safer-streets-is-obvious-once-you-ditch-vehicle-language/

Language, Vehicle Size, and Bicycle Advocacy | IsolateCyclist: http://www.isolatecyclist.com/2013/12/09/language-vehicle-size-and-bicycle-advocacy/

Accidents Vs. Collisions | Living Streets Alliance: http://www.livingstreetsalliance.org/2013/03/accidents-vs-crashes/

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More Traffic Violence: Hit & Run on Rainier Ave

Another instance of drivers running down pedestrians and fleeing the scene in the rainier Valley? This is becoming ridiculous. Can a strong road rechannelization prevent bad driving? Probably not. But smart engineering can slow speeds, increase pedestrian safety, and make it less likely these collisions will continue at such high rate. This is just one more tragic example of why Seattle DOT needs to take Rainier Ave safety seriously – and do a complete overhaul prioritizing Safety over Speeding.

Woman struck while crossing Rainier: ‘I have never been so scared and alone’ | Seattle Bike Blog

 

No charges for person who killed man walking his dog in a Kirkland crosswalk | Seattle Bike Blog

Last week I shared an article about traffic fatalities and the history of traffic rules. It waa clear that rules were cjanged from pedestrian-focused to autocentric. Unfortunately, this has often fatal consequences. Last fall a man was hit in Kirkland. The driver, protected by decades of favorable law, is getting no punishment. Meanwhile, the man walking his dog is dead.

So in this prosecutor’s eyes, breaking the law requiring people to yield to crosswalk users is not itself proof of negligence. This implies that reasonably careful people are allowed to break this vital traffic safety law, which protects the exact “vulnerable users” the Negligent Driving charge is intended to address. This is a disturbing reading of the law, but one we have sadly seen before.

Another case of a innocent pedestrian killed and no action being taken against the driver. Read more on the Seattle Bike Blog.

Murder Machines: Why Cars Will Kill 30,000 Americans This Year | Collectors Weekly

A typical busy street scene on Sixth Avenue in New York City shows how pedestrians ruled the roadways before automobiles arrived, circa 1903. Via Shorpy by way of Collectors Weekly

Last week I wrote about my run in with an angry driver and how cyclists often discuss how they consistently are in danger of being hit, injured, or worse. I asked “How often do you go home at the end of the day and discuss how your life has been put in danger?” And I answered every day. My message was clear: Slow Down for Life. Presently, Vision Zero campaigns around the world are working to decrease traffic fatalities to an unbelievable number” zero. The video I shared shows how ridiculous  people think that idea is. Yet there was a time when streets were ruled by people, not automobiles. Drivers were held responsible and it was assumed that people would be in the street so drivers and transit slowed to a pedantic pace. Last year Collectors Weekly published an article about just that. Murder Machines: Why Cars Will Kill 30,000 Americans This Year explores the history of traffic fatalities and looks at a time when the rules and assumptions of the road were very different:

In 2012, automobile collisions killed more than 34,000 Americans, but unlike our response to foreign wars, the AIDS crisis, or terrorist attacks—all of which inflict fewer fatalities than cars—there’s no widespread public protest or giant memorial to the dead. We fret about drugs and gun safety, but don’t teach children to treat cars as the loaded weapons they are.

“The people who really get it today, in 2014, know that the battle isn’t to change rules or put in signs or paint things on the pavement,” Norton continues. “The real battle is for people’s minds, and this mental model of what a street is for. There’s a wonderful slogan used by some bicyclists that says, ‘We are traffic.’ It reveals the fact that at some point, we decided that somebody on a bike or on foot is not traffic, but an obstruction to traffic. And if you look around, you’ll see a hundred other ways in which that message gets across. That’s the main obstacle for people who imagine alternatives—and it’s very much something in the mind.”

Note: there is a video at the end of the article that is somehow both hilarious and terrifying. Be sure to check it out.

Respectfully Sir, My Life Matters

It’s not a war on cars. It is a war for my life. It is a war for his life, her life, and their lives. It is a fight to make streets safer for everyone, not just cyclists. It is campaign to choose safety over speed. Slow Down for Life.

Ask yourself this:

How often do you go home at the end of the day and discuss how your life has been put in danger? 

Chances are the answer to that question will depend on your main mode of transportation. People in several thousand pound metal bubbles probably don’t think about it all that much. After all, being hit while driving a car can be quite painless, especially in settings where speed limits tend to be low. But that is not the case for pedestrians and cyclists. When you are not in a car you don’t have that extra protection keeping you safe in the event of a crash. You are vulnerable In fact, in the state of Washington you pedestrians, cyclists, and other vulnerable travelers are legally classified as a vulnerable user. And vulnerable you are – just look at your chances of survival if hit by a vehicle moving at speed:

An graphic from one of SDOT's presentations on the Rainier Ave Safety Project. SDOT commonly uses this graphic to convey the importance of slowing vehicles.

A graphic from one of SDOT’s presentations on the Rainier Ave Safety Project. SDOT commonly uses this graphic to convey the importance of slowing vehicles.

Now, before you think “he is just a whining cyclist” remember that I ride everyday, walk quite a bit, and currently drive commercially as a courier for a blood center. Before that I drove for a food bank. Before that I switched off biking and driving on a cross-country trek. And dispersed in there I drive when I need to. As I said before, I do not consider myself a cyclist. I am simply an urbanite, and my bike is the most sensible mode of transportation for my daily needs. This is not about cyclists. This is about life.

So let me ask again:

How often do you go home at the end of the day and discuss how your life has been put in danger?

Do you know what my answer is?

Every day. Every single day I speak with another person who walks or bikes and we share our struggle to gain respect and stay safe on the road. Why must we do this? Why do our lives not matter? When will I be able to go home and not worry that my life is at risk because I am trying to live a healthy, sustainable lifestyle?

Case in point: Yesterday I rode home from work along Lake Washington Boulevard southbound from the southern edge of the Arboretum to Colman Park just south of I-90. For the most part I was respected, and people passed me safely. But as I was passing Leschi Park that all changed when two vehicles came up behind me. The first passed safely; the second came far too close. As his passenger door came level with me he began cutting back over, pulling his right rear within a foot of me. Instinctively I reached out and banged the side of his car yelling “HELLO, I AM HERE!” I know banging on people’s cars does not make them happy – car brain usually makes them unreasonably angry. But I will protect myself.

Unfortunately, in this case car brain had completely devoured the man’s mind to the point where his sympathy for the life of another human being disappeared. He not only slammed on his brakes and veered in from of me, causing me to swerve into the grass, but also continued to aggressively swerve, accelerate, and brake to keep me off-road until he was able to pin me at the next cross street. Thankfully, the shoulder turned smoothly into grass without curb or ditch – any obstacle surely would have thrown me on my face. As I come to a stop he rolls down his window.

“Don’t you hit my fucking truck you little asshole! Why the fuck did you hit my truck?”

Naturally, no amount of explanation calmed him or made him realize the dangerous position he put me in. My pleas for respect under limited and shrinking road space, feeling trapped between his truck and the grass, and being forced to ride over a very bad patch of pavement fell on deaf ears. He finished with a threat to flatten my face with his fist (as if he had not already tried this with his truck) and sped off throwing exhaust and gravel in my face.

Fortunately, the ordeal left me only angered but not injured. Later that night at Rainier Valley Greenways 18 community members sat together and discussed precisely what I want drivers to understand: we feel endangered and our lives matter. Please, choose safety over speed. Slow down for life.


Vision Zero in Nevada

This video from Vision Zero Nevada has been floating around cyberspace and I appreciate the transformation a little perspective adds as the questions change. See national traffic data, the international Vision Zero campaign, and Vision Zero Seattle (it’s coming!).

Slow Down for Life.

P.S.

Unfortunately, I was not planning on riding that day and so did not have my camera that I have been using to document all of my rides. If I was recording his face would be plastered all over the internet right now and his dangerous actions would contribute to my future video highlighting my biking experience. I will be more vigilant with recording and next time the aggressive driver won’t be so lucky.

Rainier Ave Safety Project – Final Meeting Tomorrow, 11/18

You’ve seen the news: Rainier Ave and MLK Way are dangerous. The entire Rainier Valley is dealing with tragedy and loss in the wake of major “accidents.” Vehicles have gone through shops. 10 people were hospitalized after one collision. A 7-year old girl was sent to the hospital after a September hit-and-run and is still recovering.

People in the Rainier Valley have demanded change for years; plans to apply a road diet to Rainier date back to the 70s. SDOT traffic engineer Dongho Chang is confident it can be implemented successfully, and SDOT is finally moving forward, promising implementation by Spring 2015. Last week they engaged the community to discuss a greenway from Mt. Baker to Rainier Beach. This week SDOT Director Scott Kubly promised a hundred passionate community members that “We’re going to do a safety project. We need to make Rainier Ave safer.”

SDOT’s last feedback session will be 11/18 at the Ethiopian Cultural Center (8323 Rainier Ave S) from 4:30 to 6:30PM. Come tell SDOT we want safer streets. Tell them we want a road diet. No, tell them we need it. Together we must demand change. The lives of our friends, family, and children are at stake. Every day lost in another roll of the dice. Who will be the next victim?

More Coverage from KUOW.

EDIT (2014.11.21): My volunteer group’s letter to the editer, above, was just published in the South Seattle Emerald.

War on Homelessness, or War on the Homeless?

Busting encampments doesn’t end homelessness any more than busting drug users created a drug-free America.

Last Friday a homeless man fell from a ledge over I-5. He later died from his injuries, and the media has little to say about the whole affair. Anyone following my blog knows how big a deal Sher Kung’s death turned out to be…it is funny how we as a society value different types of people. She was young, active, an icon and role model by all accounts; he was older, homeless, invisible. I found out about Sher Kung’s death from shocked Seattleites and a slew of media coverage; I learned of his accident in an email warning about the traffic jam his fall created. What more needs to be said?

Luckily, the Stranger is always good for covering stories overlooked by the mainstream media. The Stranger article not only reports on the incident but examines the reasons why homeless people are being forced into dangerous situations. “When we don’t take responsibility for the people who are sleeping outside, and instead penalize and criminalize people sleeping outside, it just drives them into more remote and unsafe situations” says Director of Real Change Tim Harris.

I occasionally work with homeless people and I personally know people who have lived homelessly in Seattle. To me Nickelsvile and other encampments are not an eyesore or a problem. They are a solution for people who the system is not supporting. Sure, it might not be the best solution but with needs high and resources low a second-best solution might be all we have. These people are building a community and supporting themselves – why are we trying to prevent this?