Compare the following two challenges:
Bikes vs. Cars
Bike Portland vs. The NY Times
What is common about both of these sentences? Both are false statements.
It is pretty clear that Bike Portland wasn’t fighting the NY Times when they reported on a recent article.
Similarly, bikes aren’t trying to start a war on cars. If that was the case, the 2,000 lb steel object would probably win every single time. Bicyclists are only working to reclaim a portion of the public right of way to promote a sustainable form of transportation that can propel all of us into the future.
In general, I find that Bike Portland strives to use very neutral language, so as to influence others through the use of facts. I respect The NY Times and their thorough reporting style, however, when it comes to a piece about bicycling, I become quite skeptical. Skeptical because the outcome of the article depends on whether the author has ridden a bike in a city before. When this person has attempted to ride a bike, 99.9% of the time (not a scientific fact) they end up being quite sympathetic toward the needs of the vulnerable user – understanding the issues that they encounter each and every day. This isn’t a war, this is understanding.
Take for example the very first sentence of the NY Times article, where the author claims that Europe is “creating environments openly hostile to cars.” Hostile…wow…to me that is extremely harsh language. Are city planners really portraying characteristics of being an enemy to cars? I will agree that planners are modifying cities so that the more vulnerable users of the roadway system will be safe, all while promoting sustainable forms of transportation. This is done to create a more livable city, as well as maintaining their commitment to the Kyoto Protocol. However, I will NOT agree that this city modification is a form of hostility.
Later on, the author points out that “the municipal Traffic Planning Department here in Zurich has been working overtime in recent years to torment drivers.” Once again – Torment – terrible word choice. I am pretty sure the Zurich Traffic Planning Department isn’t working late at night, sitting together talking about the best way to torment drivers by being hostile. Instead, they are more likely working late at night, to create plans that reflect a city that is more environmentally friendly, and one that creates a priority for sustainable means of transportation. Car drivers may find themselves feeling tormented, but that may be more about their internal fear that their cheap date – the car – is about to come to an end, and is becoming more of a reality – exactly because the car is finally getting closer to (but still far from) its real cost that it places on our society. The planners aren’t trying to torment them, they are trying to create a livable community that is full of transportation options.
These feelings are quickly erased when you experience the changes firsthand – and not from the seat of your car. In the NY Times article, Hans Von Matt stated “There were big fights over whether to close this road or not — but now it is closed, and people got used to it.” It is rare to find residents that live in a safe, traffic calmed neighborhood, that find the lower speeds of their neighboring traffic to be unenjoyable. That is because humans are meant to live in a…get ready for it…livable community! (Ok, that connection is pretty obvious.)
At the end of the NY Times article, they mentioned that Pio Marzolini, a Zurich city official, sees it for what it is. “We would never synchronize green lights for cars with our philosophy. When I’m in other cities, I feel like I’m always waiting to cross a street. I can’t get used to the idea that I am worth less than a car.”
As far as Bike Portland goes, they tend to use more neutral language in its description of the current issues. For example, the NY Times mentioned that “Planners are working overtime to torment drivers.” Whereas, Bike Portland stated “European cities succeed in transportation policy and outcomes because they’re not afraid to challenge car dominance head on.” I completely agree with the latter argument, however, that is FAR from intentionally tormenting people.
Both articles talk about the exact same issue – transportation planning in Europe. Both articles seem to point you in the direction that this isn’t war, this is sustainable transportation coming to the forefront. In fact, both articles mention how availability of parking is crucial to fixing the problem. However, when it comes to choosing words, The New York Times seems to sensationalize this current issue with its choice of words – specifically ‘torment’ and ‘hostile’.
If we expect to end the war between bikes and cars, we need the media to stop creating this false war. Once again, it isn’t war that we are experiencing, it is an understanding (or a lack of understanding) in regards to the future of our cities and the role that sustainable transportation plays.