Update September 5, 2011: I gave a short speech to Moving Design participants about language and word choice, a kind of follow up to this article, as a “policy insight of the day.”
When speaking or presenting, be as specific as possible. The following are examples specific to the course of transportation discussions.
“Car traffic banned from this road.” Are you also banning trucks and SUVs?
“Vehicles will be rerouted.” Does this include those riding bicycles? Here’s an example of a current detour that only mentions cars, buses, and trucks. Which route should someone riding a bicycle take? Sometimes state and local laws will classify a bicycle as a vehicle, but then exclude it in specific passages – it’s weird. Better just call out specific vehicles, be they of the motorized or human-powered variety.
“Cars are aggressive to bikes.” Cars and bikes don’t operate themselves.
“We plan to narrow the road to calm traffic.” Are you going to narrow the road, or narrow certain lanes and reassign portions of the road to different uses, like a protected bike lane, or wider sidewalk? Then give the measurement of lanes, the sidewalk, and the curb face-to-curb face width. Consider that “street” is not a synonym for “road.” Road often represents what’s between the curbs, and the pavement, while street includes the road as well as the sidewalk. Street is a bit more abstract as well, sometimes meaning the activity that occurs on or around roads (like “street life”).
“Ignorant drivers…” Or do they lack specific education and relevant information?
This bikeway in Bremen, Germany, uses both color and pavement design to delineate space for people bicycling (like me) and people walking.