Stop Using Alternative Transportation [the word that is]

We bicycle advocates have never liked the term “alternative” transportation. It intimates a second choice, an alternative to something we really, really want. Hooey! Feet, bikes, and transit have been our first choice. A car is a good choice … when it’s the last choice. So finally, there’s a new term — “active” transportation. The more positive and accurate name says, “We choose our feet, and we feel great.”

Don’t quote me, but I think the term “active transportation” started with the collaboration of public health researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC directs Americans to walk for exercise, but where to walk? US cities are designed for cars not people. (Don’t get me started on mall walking.)

[Find some of the research.]

So enlightened folks at the CDC saw the connection between our auto-oriented, unwalkable American cities and the declining health of our citizens. (Of course there’s junk food and video games and computers and TV, but if kids could play in the street again … ah, the subject of a future blog.) With the exciting partnership between public health and transportation professionals, we can get back on our feet. Public awareness is the first step. And changing the usage of a single word creates awareness.

So repeat after me! Active transportation is the new alternative.

5 responses to “Stop Using Alternative Transportation [the word that is]”

  1. Back in my Corvallis days, we talked about “appropriate” transportation.

    Wonky, I know, but we were trying to convey that cars are appropriate for some trips (long distance, lots of gear) and other forms are appropriate for most trips (shorter distances, etc.) We were trying to insert ethical decisionmaking into the discussion.

    Active is a good term for bikes and walking, I’m not sure it encompasses transit. Do you think it does?

  2. I like the framing of “Active Transportation” because you can then use “Interactive Transportation” to cover light rail/heavy rail/high speed rail for their ability to allow people to interact with each other.

    Come to think of it, Interactive Transportation is also doable while walking and biking. We always mourn our lack of “interaction” in our single occupant travels in our cars.

    Active Transportation can therefore be looked at with communicating of the individual as a value we want to lift up (there was a rathole here that I don’t wait to continue down). For a moral frame, “Responsible Transportation” seems more emcompassing from the stewardship point of view.

    Ray Whitford

  3. Yes, walking and biking especially allow for interaction with fellow humans, flowers, sunsets…the modes that make us smile. And one more comment about what snappy title we’re going to use for non-car trips? It’s my feeling that the terms Responsible Transportation and Appropriate Transport as mentioned earlier by Evan, suggest a bit of snobbery in our choice. I still think Active Transportation is positive and not accusatory of unenlightened folks. But, heck, whatever we call it, let’s get on with it!!

  4. I prefer sensible transportation myself :) but I think active makes perfect sense for walking, biking , skateboards etc. Its clear and it conveys a sense of what makes them superior to auto modes.

    I think when you apply it to transit it becomes another piece of jargon. That is something we need less of rather than more. It seems to me transit is about as passive a mode as there is – more passive even than driving oneself, probably more passive than as a passenger in a car.

    I guess part of it depends on what the purpose of using the term is. If we are going to adopt it for PR or political purposes then I would want to see it tested in focus groups etc before using it for that purpose. I suspect the audience on this forum is not very typical in its responses.

    I agree that appropriate, responsible and sensible for that matter all have a value judgment attached to their use since it labels other modes irresponsible, inappropriate and lacking in sense. All of which are true, but we probably should try to be more polite than that if we want to win people to using them.

    On the other hand I would want to test all of those with people who don’t think about this as hard as we do. It may be appropriate is exactly the right message for some circumstances.

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