Changing the Conversation: People on Bikes or People Walking

It is no secret cyclists are viewed negatively by many drivers and thus much of the public. A conversation about “cycling safety” starts off somewhat divisive as if we are asking for something for our special group. Sarah Goodyear has written an interesting blog on this topic in the “Atlantic City Lab” talking about Seattle Neighborhood Greenways efforts to change the dialog by changing the words we use. This has been written on as well by “People for Bikes” blogger Michael Anderson.
They make a great point. People react differently to variations in language. Rather than call us cyclists, they recommend “people on bikes.” Pedestrians become “people walking” and drivers become “people driving.” Rather than saying the car hit someone say “the person driving the car” hit someone (person on a bike or person walking). A bicycle safety advocate becomes a “neighbor advocate.” Rather than refer to a cycling crash victim simply as a cyclist, they become “a husband, father of two, an employee of Publix and a neighbor.” I believe this is a terrific idea. People walking and people on bikes are equally vulnerable to being injured by people driving. For most of our neighbors, driving a vehicle is the most dangerous thing they will do each day. By framing our advocacy as neighborhood safety we will change the conversation and include our neighbors. It becomes community safety and is equally their concern. We are all vulnerable since virtually all people driving cars are also people walking in parking lots, strolling on our neighborhood streets and running for exercise.
Supporters say this has begun to pay dividends in Seattle. Requests for bike lanes and infrastructure upgrades have been better received as needed neighborhood safety upgrades. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Email them to

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Jim Dodson
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A Florida injury lawyer, family man and avid cyclist who clients have trusted for over 25 years.
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