Why We Should Lose the Words "Pedestrian" and "Cyclist"

Car sitting have through a crosswalk
People who drive should leave room for people who walk.

Lloyd Alter / CC BY 2.0

Pedestrians and cyclists are people who bike or walk, not some separate species.

Earlier this year I wrote a post titled People who walk and bike in Toronto are fed up. I could have written "Pedestrians and cyclists in Toronto are fed up" but wanted to stress that these are people, these are citizens, these are not abstract constructions. "People who bike" is sometimes awkward compared to just saying cyclists, but it's important to never lose sight of what they are -- people.

I am not alone; there is a fascinating thread on Twitter that started by Walksafe out of Miami. It all started with a weird story from Florida headlined 1 hurt after SUV crashes into Barnes & Noble in Coral Gables. The driver (not car) injured a man inside the bookstore but, fortunately, "no pedestrians were hurt."

As the tweeter at Walksafe notes, "Somehow, 'no pedestrians were hurt' in an incident where a driver in an SUV made what appears to be an illegal U-turn, jumped a bollard, smashed into the wall of a building, and injured a man inside said building enough that 'the victim had blood all over his face'."

It got picked up by other people who bike.

Mike Lydon, the co-author of Tactical Urbanism, jumped in as well.

Kathryn is right. Most people who bike also walk and also drive. In fact, a new study by a British insurance company found that people who bike actually become better people who drive. Carlton Reid reports in Forbes that according to Nick Day of Chris Knott Insurance, people who have driver-only policies make twice the number of claims each year than those who have cyclist-driver policies.

“Cycling trains you to be more alert to the dangers of road use and better able to anticipate hazards,” explained Day. “You’re more aware of how you fit into your surroundings, and you’ll ride, or drive, accordingly. Physical exercise [also] leads to improved mental agility, making cyclists more responsive drivers.”

Of course, it could also be simply that they bike more and drive less. But let's stick with the story because it reinforces my point: cyclists and pedestrians are people, not hobbyists or athletes doing something strange. They are just trying to get around using different modes of transportation.

Let's not depersonalize it. On TreeHugger I will continue to avoid the words cyclist and pedestrian, and I will continue to be a person who bikes and walks and drives.

Beware "avid cyclists"

And for a bit of hilarity, read Eben Weiss on the use of the adjective "avid", which automatically turns a cyclist into someone who hates cyclists.

Despite having the word “cyclist” in their name, you won’t find avid cyclists at the mountain bike trail, on the road hunkered down in a paceline, riding around the city with one pant leg rolled up, or any place else you typically encounter regular cyclists. Rather, avid cyclists seem to frequent community meetings, local TV news segments, and Internet comment sections, where they can generally be found making sweeping pronouncements that begin: “Well, I’m an avid cyclist and...,” followed by a lengthy explanation of how cyclists don’t follow the rules of the road and/or why that local bike lane project shouldn’t happen.