“Alternative” transportation: a phrase that’s bad for you

What does that adjective mean, anyway…”alternative”? Because when I think about it, I just find it insulting.

Bloomington created an Alternative Transportation & Greenways System Plan (the ATGSP, a mouthful of an acronym) a few years ago. It troubles itself only with bicycling routes and pedestrian paths like trails. That word “Alternative,” though, assumes that the automobile is the “standard” mode of transportation,  if not the “preferred” one, for everyone, all the time. 

Let’s see: children under 16…the elderly…people with certain disabilities that prevent them from driving…people who can’t afford a car…who am I missing here? These people do not necessarily have direct access to the would-be standard choice of transport. For them, in short, the car is not “standard.” How about people who live close enough to their needs that they get along fine without a car…people whose bicycles or feet are already their “standard” mode of transportation by choice? The “Alternative” title of such a policy document permanently undercuts their choice.

Residents of District 6, the downtown-most district of Bloomington, are the most likely to not consider the car “standard” transportation. That’s a key reason why I moved, successfully, to rename the ATGSP as an amendment to Resolution 08-02, in January of this year.

The ATGSP was concerned only with bicycle and pedestrian paths and routes. Public transit, for example, or mopeds and scooters, viable “alternatives” in today’s Bloomington, are contemplated in other policy documents. The euphemism “alternative transportation” was coined back when no one took seriously the rights of bicyclists and pedestrians to be on the street co-equally with cars. You could also tell that the phrase was coined under the assumption that cars are the “standard” mode of transportation across the U.S., even though this plan was just for this one city.

So I had the despicable word “Alternative” changed to the phrase “Bicycle & Pedestrian” (the BPTGSP, even less pronounceable, I admit). I said, call this policy document what it is.

Comes now word that Monroe County is getting more serious about funding their ATGSP. Good news there, friends. Both city and county need to more aggressively pursue the equalization of modes of traffic on all roads in the county save highways. Even on highways, that can be done.

But County officials, remember that as long as you ghettoize non-car modes under the debilitating moniker “alternative transportation,” you’re not really making transportation safer and more effective. Consider replacing “alternative” with “bicycle and pedestrian” like the city did.

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