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What We’re Really Saying When We Say “Alternative”

090224lahood.jpgUS DOT Secretary Ray LaHood has drawn
ridicule for his support of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.
(Photo: Reconnecting

The word "alternative" is one of the most fraught in the English
language. While it can have some positive connotations, especially for
those who want to be seen as opposing the mainstream (like "alternative
newspapers"), when used by those within the mainstream, it is
usually a not-so-subtle dismissal. If you hear someone talking about
"people who live alternative lifestyles," there’s a good chance what
they mean is "those freaks that I have nothing in common with."

Today on the Streetsblog Network, member blog
argues against the use of the word "alternative" when referring to
non-automobile transportation:

Biking and walking are not alternative transportation. Alternative transportation is anauto-centric term which implies that only motor vehicles are mainstreamtransportation.

It’s a loaded term and one worth dropping, especially given the U.S. DOT’s recent policy statement that encourages government agenciesto consider "walking and bicycling as equals with other transportationmodes."

That policy statement and similar remarks by US DOT
Secretary Ray LaHood have caused some members of Congress to suggest —
they’re just joking, of course — that the former GOP Congressman from
Illinois is really, you know, alternative. This from Courthouse News Service:

To laughter, Republican House members suggested LaHood was takingdrugs, dismissed the very idea of bike lanes and derided any change to a car-dependent society. "What job is going to be created by having abike lane?" asked Ohio Republican Steven LaTourette.

He suggested that environmental sustainability projects have "stolen" $300 million from other programs and to attacked LaHood’s encouragement of bicycling, on a personal level. "If it’s not a typo, is there stillmandatory drug-testing at the department?" said the wit, to chucklesfrom the back of the room.

The idea of LaHood as being some sort of loopy fringe character would
have been unthinkable when he was appointed to the DOT position at the
start of Obama’s term in office. Back then, his most widely cited
credential was his pragmatic expertise in Congressional politics, his
ability to deal with folks on both sides of the aisle. Things have

Thanks to Mark Abraham of Design New Haven for
the link to LaTourette’s remarks.

More from around the network: Greater
Greater Washington
on an elected official who actually thinks we
might be too lenient with drivers who kill. DC
Bicycle Transportation Examiner
on the health bill’s Community
Transformation grants. And Tucson Bike
on the "Ciclovía" in Yellowstone National Park.

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