The Vehicular Cycling Metaphor

[Caveat: this is just my opinion as a writer on the site. I am not speaking for the board, where I am also a member.]

mpls franklin sidewalk cyclingOver the last few weeks, there’s been an interesting conversation on this website about increasing the diversity of writers and (by extension) topics. For example, a group of (old and new) writers met up last month to discuss this very issue. Sadly, I wasn’t at the meeting, but I’ve head it went well and fostered a host of good ideas. (I also hear there will be more to come.) One of the attendees kindly wrote up a description of the event, and her post generated a rich conversation on- and off-line, in the comment threads and message boards.

At its root, the main question is this: Why are the people participating in online urban planning discussions disproportionately younger white men?

Speaking as a member of this group, it can be difficult to understand this problem. Our streets belong to everyone, and everyone has a stake in how they’re designed. And in my perambulations about the city, you need only mention to strangers that you work on urban planning issues and you’ll quickly discover strong opinions about street design. This is not an area where only “experts” can weigh in. To the contrary, almost everyone has something compelling to say about the street in front of their home, their commute to work, or their recent experience walking through downtown.

And on top of the rich variety of street opinions, people “speak with their feet” every day. Planners, engineers, designers, artists, and architects are well served by paying close attention to the patterns and rhythms of everyday life, the way that people park their bikes, drive their cars, or cross the street. So with all this potential energy and conversation around our streets, our most important shared public spaces, why is only a narrow sliver of our society participating in the conversation?

Vehicular Cycling 

openstreets15I research bicycle planning, and this same kind of problem has plagued bicycling communities across North America for a century. For example,  everywhere in the US, women ride bicycles at far lower rates than men.

In my research on bicycling in the Twin Cities, I went out of my way to interview bicyclists who were “newer riders,” and who represented age, gender, race, and class groups that are less likely to be found riding bicycles. There are many reasons that someone will choose not to ride a bicycle, but the one common thread between all these groups of people was a concern over riding in the street. Even if they might want to ride a bike, if people don’t enjoy it, they won’t do it.

As Walker has thoroughly pointed out on this very site, throughout much of the 20th century, the dominant approach to bicycle planning has been the “vehicular cycling” doctrine. According to this approach, the best way to ride a bicycle in a city is to “act like a vehicle.” One rides in the middle of the lane, signals all one’s moves dramatically, dons highly visible equipment, and waits patiently in the middle of car queues at intersections. This, we are told, is the safest, most effective way to ride a bike in the city.

These days, vehicular cycling is old news. I don’t even want to talk much about its pros and cons, only to say that if that’s your thing, go for it. Rather, to me the interesting thing about vehicular cycling is how people who adopt this mantra have difficulty understanding why everyone doesn’t ride their bike in a similar way. Many vehicular cyclists that I’ve talked to seem unable to comprehend why everyone doesn’t ride around cities like this every day.

“What’s the problem?” the vehicular cyclist wonders. “All you have to do is be aggressive and take the lane.”

Only it’s not so simple. Many people don’t want to assume the position of having to fight with traffic. By forcing bicyclists to act a certain way, our streets limit the number and types of people who will ride bicycles. In other words, if everyone has to adopt a “vehicular” attitude, the vast majority of bicyclists will be fit, wealthier, white men.

“Vehicular Blogging”

riverlake-boulevard2Just as vehicular cyclists have difficulty understanding why others don’t follow their lead, many people I’ve talked to about this website have difficulty understanding why others don’t write posts.

“What’s the problem?” the urban planning blogger wonders. “All you have to do is be assertive and write a post.”

In other words, just as there’s nothing stopping anyone from riding their bike down Hennepin Avenue, there’s nothing stopping anyone from writing a post about Hennepin Avenue. As a platform, streets.mn is open to all. Nobody is screening out women, people of color, older folks, or exurbanites from writing. In theory, we should have a diverse conversation.

Only it’s not so simple. Just as many people don’t want to fight with traffic, I suspect that many people feel uncomfortable expressing themselves in dialogues where they have to fight with aggressive attitudes. As one commenter put it, there is the perception of a “culture of jargony condescension” that makes many people feel uncomfortable sharing their thoughts on this site. That’s just one example of one type of discomfort … I suspect there are others.

This is why it’s very important to treat others with respect in conversations about cities. Creating a “comfortable space” for many different writers, different opinions, and different ways of speaking is very similar to creating a comfortable space for many different kinds of users on the street. It takes work. Just as we have to create complete streets for diverse people, we have to create complete online spaces for diverse writers. 

A Website is like a City Street

Granted, I think everything is like a city street, but I think of every online project (like streets.mn) as being a “space.” Just as a city street has rules, rhythms, and expectations, streets.mn has implicit and explicit patterns, behaviors, and ways of speaking and listening.

We won’t create a truly rich conversation by taking our “collective space” for granted. Doing so will simply limit participation in ways that remind me of how narrow bike lanes and shoddy sharrows limit bicycling. Instead we need to be attentive to creating a welcoming space for online dialogue. We need to reach out to new voices and new writers, and be sure to listen to them when they do speak. It takes work, and speaking for myself, I’m looking forward to it.

midtown greenway

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59 Responses to The Vehicular Cycling Metaphor

  1. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell June 17, 2014 at 1:11 pm #

    Very excellent post (and not because of the vehicular cycling element)! 🙂

  2. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary June 17, 2014 at 1:38 pm #

    It’s an interesting comparison, Bill, but you of course neglected one important difference between city streets and websites: while we only have a certain number of streets for a given place, websites can be infinite. Pinterest is mostly (I carelessly assume) 30s-to-middle-aged women. Do I suffer as a young white male by this? Or do I just spend my time on another website?

    I don’t think either site ever set out to exclude certain groups, but is it necessarily a problem when their audience tends to be a particular group?

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke June 17, 2014 at 1:41 pm #

      You’re absolutely right.

      To answer your last question, I’d say it depends on what the goals are. The point of this comparison was to illustrate WHY these kinds of latent sorting mechanisms occur.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller June 17, 2014 at 1:51 pm #

      It’s no you that suffer from not being on Pinterest; it’s Pinterest that suffers.

      Just as it’s not the women and people of color who aren’t participating here that suffer (well, that’s debatable), but it’s we who suffer from not being able to benefit from their experiences.

      • Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus
        Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus June 17, 2014 at 9:39 pm #

        Mmmmm, well put!

        • Adam Miller
          Adam Miller June 17, 2014 at 9:48 pm #

          For the record, I view myself as providing a diverse voice by virtue of being old (37). 😉

          • Matty Lang
            Matty Lang June 17, 2014 at 11:13 pm #

            Good job “old” white guy (38). 😉

    • Julia June 18, 2014 at 12:19 pm #

      In regards to Pinterest, you are setting up a strawman. I “use” Pinterest (as a tool), but I do not “consume” Pinterest (as a source of content). I go to the site itself ONLY for a specific purpose (as a graphic designer, it can be a decent tool for communication between myself and clients, but we are pinning directly on other sites). Additionally, I’ve tracked the spread of Pinterest and it was very clearly and purposefully targeting privileged trend-conscious women in their 20s-40s (I assume for their spending potential).

      Streets.mn, on the other hand, is creating and dispersing new content. Its purpose is to “expand the conversation about land use and transportation issues in the Twin Cities/Great MN” — it fails BY ITS OWN EXPLICIT METRICS when that conversation is primarily privileged, able-bodied, relatively young, white men. This isn’t “oh, the internet has space for everyone! go find your own corner!” When you ask if the lack of women and people of color (among other groups) is a problem, you are missing the whole point of a real conversation about local issues.

    • Julia June 18, 2014 at 12:23 pm #

      Interesting that all the images to illustrate this piece are of relatively young, able-bodied white people.

  3. Janne Flisrand
    Janne June 17, 2014 at 9:14 pm #

    I love this metaphor. Thank you.

  4. Morgan zehner June 17, 2014 at 9:39 pm #

    With regards to white men commenting. Men have tons of leisure, because in our sexist society women do most of the work.

  5. Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus
    Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus June 17, 2014 at 9:41 pm #

    Thank you for writing this, Bill!

  6. cdElle June 17, 2014 at 9:57 pm #

    This is a thoughtfully written piece. I can relate to it in many ways. The comparison between vehicular cycling makes a lot of sense. Not everyone can or wants to. Applies to many things in life. The positive tone, reinforces the idea, that the site is a welcoming environment to many different ideas/perspective. It’s great that Bill stressed this, it is worth repeating over and over again.

    I’d like to add that I appreciate how accessible the language is in this piece. My only gripe with Streets.mn is how wordy posts can be and the boring academic language used at times. It ends up excluding people from the discussion.

    Writing and putting your thoughts out there for everyone else to dissect can be tough (we all struggle with it, I’d guess even you men).

    • Walker Angell
      Walker Angell June 18, 2014 at 7:23 am #

      “My only gripe with Streets.mn is how wordy posts can be and the boring academic language used at times. It ends up excluding people from the discussion.”

      Sadly, boring academic language is often necessary and critical in communicating accurately and in having accurate dialogue. If your doctor is instructing a surgeon to operate on your leg you do not want her to simply say ‘her leg hurts’. You want her to be very specific that it is a lateral fracture of your left greater trochanter (actually considerably more specific than that, but you get the picture).

      Similarly, being very specific about types of facilities and under what circumstances will lead to what very specific outcomes is necessary. Otherwise the whole conversation eventually devolves to ‘we want better streets and buildings’.

      Search engines are your friend. Look up terms that you don’t know or aren’t sure about or think someone has used in a wrong way. Even people who research this stuff for a living have to do this routinely. Or do what I do when I’m tired; have a glass of wine and skip reading the complicated stuff.

      “Writing and putting your thoughts out there for everyone else to dissect can be tough (we all struggle with it, I’d guess even you men).”

      This can be tough (or exceptionally easy) for any person regardless of age, race, wealth, ethnicity, disability, gender, hair color, or amount of facial hair.

      • Matt Steele June 18, 2014 at 9:13 am #

        I’d like to throw in a defense for wordy posts and academic language – when it’s necessary to deal with specifics within projects. I’m not an academic, but I learned through Google and following transportation and land use discussions for years. I’m proof it’s not inaccessible to academics.

        But I think the complaint about wordy posts and academic language misses the wonderful point made by the vehicular cycling metaphor (And I’m not an eager vehicular cyclists, so the metaphor really helped me understand accessibility. Thanks Bill!).

        The point is that there’s nothing wrong with being a vehicular blogger if we recognize that’s not the only way to do things, and that we need to keep building other parallel “blogging facilities” which actively welcome and encourage a broader base of participation. I’ll continue to be a vehicular blogger, but I’m glad we’re building more bloggingtracks that welcome more voices to the table.

      • brad June 18, 2014 at 12:41 pm #

        So, if technical language is sometimes necessary, then how can streets.mn support people who don’t know that terminology? “Go look it up” is not exactly welcoming these people into the conversation or overcoming the perception of a “culture of jargony condescension”. One idea might be creating a “jargon” page (with illustrations) on streets.mn, then link there when terms are used in posts.

        • Bill Lindeke
          Bill Lindeke June 19, 2014 at 6:33 am #

          That’s a great idea Brad! I’m going to get a crowdsourced document started, or maybe make it a post of its own.

        • Joseph Totten
          Joseph Totten June 23, 2014 at 12:10 am #

          I know that personally I try to link everything possible to a source. Occasionally I will use Wikipedia for the base terms as they simply do a good job explaining the terms. I would not encourage simple searching as much as I would encourage following links if ever possible.

      • cdElle June 18, 2014 at 4:38 pm #

        I’m just going to point out that accessible doesn’t mean “dumbed down.” I’m a big fan of the way Ezra Klein wrote about health care policy during the Obamacare debate, for example. I’m not saying every post can, or should be written this way. But it’s something to keep in mind. Are you demonstrating knowledge or sharing it?

        • cdElle June 18, 2014 at 4:41 pm #

          And another thing. I really hope that streets.mn isn’t the “transportation and land-use” equivalent of doctors talking to surgeons. Medical journals are important but I’d never subscribe to one.

          • Matt Steele
            Matt Steele June 18, 2014 at 4:49 pm #

            I have yet to see a StreetsMN article that reads like a transportation journal article. But it is indeed important to have the equivalent of medical terminology in this field. The “surgeons” are planners and engineers who are destroying our futures one stroad at a time, and they aren’t going to suddenly engage with the public in a meaningful way. If we want change – and we’ve produced change – it has to happen on their terms since they have the power, whether that’s right or wrong.

            But it can’t be exclusively human interest and photographs either – we need a certain level of basic understanding of the language of land use and transportation to advocate for a better outcome, just as a patient needs to listen and learn from their doctor in order to advocate for their health.

    • Janne Flisrand
      Janne June 18, 2014 at 2:47 pm #

      I am totally on cdElle’s side on this one. I’m currently at a conference of energy efficiency advocates, and despite 1) their “rule” to avoid acronyms and 2) my 95th percentile of energy efficiency issues and policy, I’m constantly asking people to explain stuff. (Just imagine if I weren’t comfortable doing that!)

      Streets.mn mission is about expanding and improving the conversation on land use and transportation topics. Unless the mission is missing the phrase “among engineers and hyper-interested nerds,” being too lazy to include definitions and explanations in our posts undermines our mission.

      Personally, I think we should be working to improve the conversation among ALL Minnesotans on these issues. AND, I’d like us to make an effort to make our posts readable by anyone with 12th grade reading skills. That’s going to help build the political will to get the things suggested here implemented.

      Avoiding jargon is only the first step in making our posts accessible and useful.

      • Matt Steele June 18, 2014 at 2:49 pm #

        So what you’re saying is that vehicular blogging isn’t welcome on StreetsMN anymore?

      • Julia June 18, 2014 at 3:12 pm #

        I think this is a valuable point. “Jargon” is a really great way to control who is speaking and who isn’t. I get that it often serves other purposes (like clarity and efficiency) but it’s important to keep in mind the exclusion costs of using more and more technical or field-specific language.

        Jargon excludes voices by:
        1) making the conversation harder to understand for the reader who might not be familiar with the special language
        2) making the conversation harder to participate in for the potential commenter who might not be confident in their ability correctly understand/use the special language.
        3) signaling to all readers that the conversation is a “closed” one (thereby potentially losing readers/commenters who may speak the special language but (correctly?) interpret the use of the special language as as marker for other forces for exclusion).

        • Matt Steele June 18, 2014 at 3:32 pm #

          Thanks for the comment. I think this concept needs to be explored more. Thanks for bringing up the cost of jargon – something to be weighed against its benefits. This seems like a much more fruitful way of thinking about its use than categorically calling it bad or dismissing its value.

          Other people clearly have a different feeling towards useful jargon than I do (I won’t defend useless jargon, and I concede that the line between useful and useless is not probably clear).

          I view jargon, or academic language, as something that advances me as a person. I enjoy learning how to speak knowledgeably in a variety of fields. My background is not in transportation or land use – I speak in jargon I’ve learned, but I still have much more to learn. But clearly I’ve learned it along the way, and I’m proud of that.

          A more recent example has been my dealings with architects, builders, and subcontractors on renovation of my house. If I don’t understand something, I’ll look it up. I probably didn’t know what the gable end of a roofline was, or the difference between a gable bracket and a corbel, or the difference between fascia and frieze board a year ago. But I learned, because I wanted to understand. And when I’m shelling out massive amounts of money to be invested on my house, I want to understand. The result? I can have a much more engaged and fruitful conversation with my architect, and I can accurately compare bids between subcontractors. If I expected them to avoid technical and academic terms and concepts in their dealings with me, the results would likely involve higher risk, cost, and displeasure.

          • Julia June 18, 2014 at 3:46 pm #

            Oh, I really love special/insider language, including in groups that I’m not at all a part of! (I don’t like it as a tool of exclusion, but I do like it as a means of cohesion.) I think it’s fascinating to watch it develop and I take a great deal of pleasure in the kind of learning you’re detailing (I’m also working on house-stuff and yes, so much to learn and so many technical terms that help me understand more just because there IS a difference between two things the lay person might see as the same!). I don’t mean to dismiss it categorically and I’m glad I was able to convey a cost/benefit view of it.

            My point in this conversation has more to do with in/exclusion. You have a vested financial interest in jargon for your house. You are willing to accept that the architects and contractors whom you work with will be more responsive and give better results if you are able to speak their language.

            But here we’re talking about a website that at least nominally is focused on a broad conversation about public spaces. Many of the decisions are made by elected officials and public servants, and it isn’t the responsibility of the general population to be able to speak to that specialized level in order to be treated with respect, to have their/our voices heard, and to be taken seriously. This makes the context and goals very different.

            • Cedar June 21, 2014 at 8:21 am #

              On the topic of jargon and writing — while in general I don’t mind a wonky article, I also think there is much to be said for writing something with a more general (but interested) audience in mind. My professional background has primarily been in the museum field, where issues of accessibility are a constant when writing exhibit labels. You don’t don’t dumb it down, but aim to write clearly and succinctly so that the broadest possible audience will understand what you’re saying and will want to read it. I don’t think jargon has to be totally eliminated, but there’s much to be said about encouraging writers to think about potential audiences. An article will be that much stronger if it can be readily digested by both professionals in the field as well as the more general (albeit by definition interested if they find their way to this site) public.

  7. John Edwards
    John Edwards June 17, 2014 at 10:22 pm #

    Guilty. I have been skeptical of the diversity conversation for these reasons. Nobody is shutting anyone out. Streets.mn has no standards. If they did, I wouldn’t be here.

    I’m not sure what boldness possessed me, a non-academic, to become a contributor. The site contact form didn’t work. I had to fish around on twitter for Lindeke’s email and pester him with multiple messages.

    So it’s hard enough to work up the courage to say “Hey, look at this. I wrote a thing.” And it’s easy to imagine there are people with amazing things to say who don’t see themselves in the youthful, manly, glowing white faces at the bottom of our posts, and think maybe this isn’t for me.

    Streets.mn isn’t vikingsfanatics.com (not that ladies can’t love football!). Streets are of interest to everyone.

    Not that anyone is doing anything wrong. It’s just that we could be doing things righter. Like how about we open the site up to free-form grammar?

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller June 17, 2014 at 10:37 pm #

      I’m pretty sure my posts and comments are strong evidence of the acceptance of free form grammar and spelling.

    • Rosa June 18, 2014 at 12:37 pm #

      Having no standards does shut people out. Lots of women give up on public transit and bicycling because of ongoing sexist harassment. It just becomes not worth the trouble and danger. And then someone brings it up here and we have to have one more tiring discussion about how it’s mean to say men harass women on transit because it’s sexist to notice it or bring it up. So the site not having a standard against that pushes women off the site or out of the comments.

      I totally support your main point but the idea that lack of formal barriers is gender or race neutral is a constant problem.

      • Matt Steele June 18, 2014 at 1:04 pm #

        I don’t think the solution is to have standards in the way we’re speaking of them – that’s dangerous for a variety of reasons. If someone makes a comment out of ignorance, why can’t people just respond to inform them? Isn’t that the point of comment functionality on a blog?

        • Rosa June 20, 2014 at 11:15 pm #

          If the group wants diversity, and the current conversations, including ignorant sexism, shuts out (or wears out) a group that is already mostly missing and the bloggers claim to want to attract more of, then no.

      • Adam Miller
        Adam Miller June 18, 2014 at 1:12 pm #

        And, of course, sidewalks aren’t harassment-free either.

  8. Bill Dooley June 18, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

    As an older African American male bicyclist who will sometimes take the lane, your post is right on the money. I am trying to recruit more diverse voices for streets.mn. We’ll see where it goes.

  9. Matt Steele June 18, 2014 at 2:52 pm #

    Matthew Yglesias on the case for jargon: http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2011/12/30/the_case_for_jargon.html

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller June 18, 2014 at 3:30 pm #

      If your reader doesn’t understand you, there’s not much of a case for it.

      You can try to teach people jargon, which was basically Yglesias’s response, but if you’re just using it without the tutorial, you’re missing some of your intended audience.

    • Julia June 18, 2014 at 3:33 pm #

      His case seems to be 1) it is a way for him to be taken more seriously by jargon users, 2) he wants his readers to be familiar with jargon with the hopes that they will become more engaged with the topic, and 3) sometimes jargon serves a purpose for clarity.

      I suppose it’s up to Streets.mn writers to determine the purpose of their writing (and the website). But I read his snippet as a justification for a very context-specific use of jargon, not for jargon in every setting.

      Yglesias’ first point might make sense here if the purpose is to influence policy and be read by engineers/policy-makers/others by using jargon to signal expertise, experience, and insider status and legitimize one’s views. I could see that applying, but it’s not clear from the mission statement.

      If the purpose is the second, it seems a bit premature and also a bit exclusionary–not all readers/commenters/contributors will be in a place in their lives to delve into the nitty-gritty of transit-land. Is it worth it to lose/exclude a range of readers/voices?

      His last point is the most legitimate, in my view. Sometimes using more generic language ends up confusing the situation. It’s great to have specificity in language, but it’s also tough to ensure that an audience shares the same vocabulary, especially when you’re looking to be accessible to a variety of people.

      Personally, I would lean towards keeping jargon to a minimum, when it is necessary for a specific communication reason. I’d love to see a mouse-over explanation for those instances, along with hyperlinks to a non-technical glossary. I’d suggest limiting the number of unique technical words/phrases that appear in each article to some low number (three?). I’d also use a disclaimer for articles that rely on this language heavily, to indicate that speaking heavily in jargon isn’t a high-status marker, but an unfortunate circumstance that is happening for [specific] reason.

      • Matt Steele June 18, 2014 at 3:38 pm #

        It’s clear we all come here for different reasons, and we all find different value in the content on StreetsMN. Personally, I rarely read through or comprehend the purpose the human interest stories. But I don’t have a problem with them on the site. My brain sees StreetsMN as an open advocacy platform for bringing to light issues that involve transportation and land use – and the end goal of that is to indeed influence policy as it shapes our built environment. Others see it differently. I like that we’re a big tent, as long as we all keep in mind that we have slightly different assumptions as to how StreetsMN creates value in our community.

        • Julia June 18, 2014 at 3:51 pm #

          I thought the point of the post here was that it’s NOT currently a big tent? It’s a young, able-bodied, privileged white male tent and that goes against the stated intent of the site.

          • Matt Steele June 18, 2014 at 4:08 pm #

            It’s what we strive to be. We have a ways to go, but that’s the goal. But we need to make sure we grow the tent rather than kicking some out so others can come in. We can have depth in addition to breadth.

            • Julia June 18, 2014 at 4:19 pm #

              I guess I am unclear what you were responding to in my comment about Yglesias’ snippet on jargon. I by no means was suggesting kicking anyone out, but I was commenting on how jargon might play into Streets.mn’s intent and the current lack of breadth.

              If the goal is a broad conversation and the conversation is currently heavily dominated by a very narrow segment of the population and the aim is not to kick anyone out, then the logical solution is to invite quite a few more people in, right? And if diversity is valued, then the invite matters only inasmuch as the conversation actually IS broadened and the able-bodied, young, privileged, white male population is part of it rather than dominating it.

              • Matt Steele June 18, 2014 at 4:24 pm #

                I think we’re missing something if we strive for breadth without acknowledging the value of depth. Can’t we have both?

                Ultimately this leads back to the Vehicular Cycling metaphor… building cycletracks doesn’t mean and end to vehicular cycling. It doesn’t help to limit discourse with an undue suppression of technical articles possibly written by able-bodied, young, privileged, white male voices. That’s not the point. The point is to build a structure that keeps what we have, while bringing more alongside it.

                • Julia June 18, 2014 at 4:38 pm #

                  I didn’t dismiss the value of depth at any point. The closest I came to a point at all similar was suggesting that we make it clear in framing technical discussions that they are not valued OVER other discussions. I also took a bit of an “anti-jargon-for-the-sake-of-jargon” position, but that’s not anti-depth in any way whatsoever.

                  I don’t think that calling for breadth should require that we praise depth.

                • Adam Miller
                  Adam Miller June 18, 2014 at 4:47 pm #

                  I think we can have both and I’m not so sure about your apparent assumption that depth requires poorly-used jargon.

                  All I think is really required to prevent your jargon becoming a means of exclusion is explaining it when you use it.

                  That can be challenging if you’re using language whose meaning is self-evident to you, because you may not even realize it’s jargony, but it is ultimately a fundamental challenge of technical communication. All the precision in the world doesn’t help if the reader isn’t following along.

                  • Matt Steele
                    Matt Steele June 18, 2014 at 4:51 pm #

                    Who’s advocating for poorly-used jargon? I think most writers on this site use it sparingly and use it well.

                    • Adam Miller
                      Adam Miller June 18, 2014 at 5:42 pm #

                      I guess I’m not sure what you are arguing against. I see people asking writers to be mindful about their jargon, and pointing out how it can be exclusionary.

                      And I see you arguing against sensoring away technical discussion.

                      Where is the conflict between those two things?

        • Janne Flisrand
          Janne June 18, 2014 at 5:35 pm #

          I think part of the purpose of streets.mn is to build the political will and expertise in a larger segment of the public SO THAT elected officials will feel the pressure of their constituents who care about our issues. SO THAT more Minnesotans have an accessible opportunity to self-educate on these issues as you have, Matt. SO THAT elected officials feel expert enough they can push back on planners and engineers who claim expertise to implement bad projects.

          If we make it hard to learn fewer people will. If we make it easy, more people will.

          • Bill Lindeke
            Bill Lindeke June 18, 2014 at 6:12 pm #

            Figuring out the purpose of streets.mn is a question for the board. At the moment, our purpose is to “further the conversation”, which can be taken a lot of ways.

            Speaking for myself, I’d like there to be room in the conversation for both technical and less technical conversations alike. That’s going to take some understanding on many different parties about how to listen, and how to speak.

            Anyway, these are precisely the kinds of questions and responses we need to be having if we want to grow.

            • Matt Steele June 18, 2014 at 6:17 pm #

              Glad to hear that’s what you’d like to see as well, Bill. Right now it feels like some folks are advocating for a shift in content, devaluing the technical, rather than just expanding it. I think the mission would be better fulfilled by having both. I hope we end up with both rather than a movement away from what we have already built, because that devalues the work many of us have put into this site so far.

              • Adam Miller
                Adam Miller June 18, 2014 at 9:42 pm #

                Maybe I’m missing it, but I don’t see anyone advocating for a shift in content. I see a critique (that seems valid to me) of some of the style, but that’s different.

                I had a period recently at work where projects that had been handled by a now departed (changed employer, not deceased) colleague were coming across my desk. Much of what I did is say exactly what he’d been saying, but with less technical language that colleagues and clients could more readily understand. My new audience really seemed to appreciate it.

                To me, anyway, that’s all that’s being requested in this thread.

              • Janne Flisrand
                Janne June 18, 2014 at 9:51 pm #

                Matt, I’m curious where you think there’s been a call for a shift away from technical content — can you point to that? I haven’t seen it, but maybe I’m missing something?

                I’m interested in accessible content — and highly technical content can be accessible if written well. It’s critical that we provide analyses of engineering traffic count predictions and reviews of design proposals. I think it’s also critical that we provide those in ways that a smart lay-person can read. I do also think that understanding how design proposals and existing context affects a diverse array of people helps inform which design and engineering solution is the best one — but I don’t think it would be a good idea for adding that perspective to translate to a reduction of accessible and technical content.

                • Joseph Totten
                  Joseph Totten June 23, 2014 at 12:47 am #

                  This is where I am struggling, and lacking a descriptive metaphor like Bill’s I must ask, what are we calling Jargon?

                  I could say Bill’s post above was full of Jargon. (Stroad, Vehicular Cycling, and even Sharrows are all terms that will likely require a Google search for a brand new user, (Yes, sharrows too, I am a biking fanatic and have been since my dad put the trail-a-bike on the back of his tandem, but until a webcomic “Yehuda Moon” really nailed it home, I was unsure exactly what sharrows were))

                  It is incredibly difficult to take a reader from 0-60 on a topic and make a good point for people already going 55 without alienating them with length (if we’re talking about technical topics that have been discussed on streets.mn).

                  I think that overall, we need to assume that the reader will have enough interest to follow a few links for terms, yet we must also make sure we are linking everything as writers, that we think readers might get caught up on, and we explain the hard stuff in the vernacular.

          • Matt Steele June 18, 2014 at 6:15 pm #

            I guess I still don’t get why it’s that hard. Maybe that’s where I’m struggling with the details of the metaphor. To vehicular cycle on a stroad is to put one’s life in peril. To know what a stroad is requires ten seconds and Google.

  10. Nick Magrino
    Nick Magrino June 18, 2014 at 4:59 pm #

    I can’t state enough how much I love a good metaphor, and this is a good metaphor, but the comment sections on these posts kind of highlight how fraught with peril this all is.

    • Julia June 18, 2014 at 5:09 pm #

      What do you see within this conversation that feels fraught with peril?

      • Matt Steele June 18, 2014 at 6:19 pm #

        Nick- This seems like a good discussion so far… people with a variety of viewpoints, even different ways of seeing the same thing, and talking about it in a productive way.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke June 18, 2014 at 5:30 pm #

  11. Eric June 18, 2014 at 11:17 pm #

    Ok. Let’s face it. Streets.mn is a website. And not a website that a lot of underprivileged people are ever going to find their way to. We can sit here and talk for hours about how to make something that, by nature, tends to attract privileged people, more inviting to the underprivileged… but it really just seems like a bunch of privileged idiots trying really hard to seem like they care about the underprivileged. Did anyone ever really think a website was a good way to hear the voice of the underprivileged? If so, they’re blatantly delusional about what privilege means in the first place.

    • Julia June 18, 2014 at 11:39 pm #

      Part of the discussion here is also about making sure streets.mn is welcoming to and inclusive of people of color and women. My guess is both groups use the internet at least as much as white people and men.

      Your argument seems to be that the “underprivileged” aren’t online? The world’s laziest google search suggests that, as of 2010 (many tech years ago) and according to the Pew Research Online Project, 57% of users in households with incomes under $30,000/year use the internet and 31% use it frequently. I’m sure there’s a lot of data to parse around this, more current and tailored to our location. So if it’s not that, then what’s your point? You’re really dismissive of even the discussion of broader inclusivity, without any constructive input? I don’t get it.

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