It Doesn’t Just Matter What You Say-It Matters How You Say It

This was the central topic of conversation in a recent meeting I had. As biking, walking, and transportation advocates, we were meeting to plan our upcoming month long challenge meeting encouraging biking, walking, and busing in Billings.

Originally, this month was to be called the CommuteChallenge. Seems simple enough right? However, one member of our group suggested that not all of it is about commuting. What about kids who are yet unable to drive and so walk to their friend’s house? Or what about people like me, who unable to ride my bike because of all the snow, walk 2.5 miles to the grocery store planning to take the bus back only to miss it by two minutes, and end up walking home as well?

My supervisor, Kristi, using active transportation on one of Billings' bike lanes
My supervisor, Kristi, using active transportation on one of Billings’ bike lanes

Commute seems to connote something that is an obligation-something that you must do in order to get to your job. However, if we are truly focused on active transportation as a lifestyle (and I very much dislike the word lifestyle but I can’t think of another) choice, then it should not just be reserved for getting to work. The reason for this is twofold. While researching a paper for college, I discovered that shorter car trips are actually more polluting per mile than long car trips because certain pollution control mechanisms don’t have a chance to kick in on short trips. The second reason is that if we exclude other short trips from the active transit realm, then we are losing out on that much more opportunity to get some fresh air or interact with our fellow transit riders.

After deciding that we didn’t want to call the month the “CommuteChallenge” we considered changing the name to the “Active Transportation Challenge.” Still though, this allows for some confusion. Does everyone know what active transportation is? Maybe it’s driving while reading a book (my family actually knew someone who did this) or painting your nails. Something that I hadn’t even thought of was that public transit is also considered part of active transportation because generally people walk to the bus. I have heard the phrase “every trip begins and ends with a walk” but somehow I had never translated this to including buses in active transportation.

Finally, we settled on a new name. We decided to go with the simple but very specific “Bike, Walk, Bus Challenge.” This way, there will be no question that all three modes of transportation are included. Now, our next challenge is to impress upon participants that while exercise for the sake of exercise is also great, the purpose of the challenge is to replace car trips with bike, walking, or bus trips. But that’s a challenge for another day.

Elyse-headshot-1160-5Elyse Monat graduated from Tulane University with a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Spanish and a minor in Urban Studies. Because of her interest in sustainable transportation, she interned for IndyCog and Ride New Orleans, advocacy groups for biking and public transportation respectively. Elyse is currently serving with BikeNet Billings, assisting with programs that lead to more sustainable transportation in the community.

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