How to end the war on cars

June 10, 2015

By Hilary Angus

The language we use can shape our perceptions of the world around us and the people we interact with.

If you were tuned into Seattle’s transportation debates in 2010, the first thing you would have heard about was the “war on cars.” By crafting an illusion of war between the polarized identities of drivers and cyclists, the media created a very real battleground that played out on the city’s roads, often with devastating results.

Consequently, the rate of deaths and injuries to people riding bikes began to rise. In 2011, at the height of this “war on cars,” Seattle resident Cathy Tuttle founded a small non-profit, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, a safe-street advocacy organization.

Rather than referring to drivers or cyclists Seattle Neighborhood Greenways referred to people driving cars or people riding bikes. A traffic accident became a collision, not some accident of machinery or fate but the result of conscious decision-making on the part of the individuals in control of each vehicle.

The effect was remarkable. Slowly but surely, the war on cars language changed. People from team “driver” and team “cyclist” were both able to identify roles for themselves in team “neighborhood.”

In just four years, Seattle went from being the battleground for one of the most divisive transportation debates in the country to having one of the country’s most progressive transportation agendas.

To read the full article visit

Hilary Angus is a staff writer for Momentum Magazine and an occasional freelancer. She is interested in sustainability, human geography, and bicycling. You can connect with her via Twitter: @HilaryAngus


Seattle Neighborhood Greenways:

How smart language helped end Seattle’s paralyzing bikelash:

King5’s SDOT progress report: