A Return to Normalcy

It’s undeniable that bicycling to get places is slowly becoming the “new normal.” Every time I ride Midtown’s Fourth Street, I see more pedalers than motorists, even in the rare rains, and that happy disproportion is greater now than at any time I can remember. Fourth Street has been my beat for decades; I’ve used it to get to work, to shop, to visit friends, and I’ve been denting my rims on its potholes for thirty years.

Likewise Fountain Avenue, a street more heavily afflicted by cars than Fourth is: while cyclists by no means outnumber drivers here, I see rider after rider passing me going west as I head the other way on my weekly run to South Pasadena, shining like bright seeds of hope amid the chaff of motor traffic.

And Downtown, of course, buzzes with bikes, despite the clumsy throngs of buses, trucks, and cars obstructing the bike lanes (as well as the rest of the street). I see more and more women riding everywhere, and folks of all colors and ages wearing a bewildering variety of regular street clothes along with diminishing numbers of riders dressed in specific bike-identified couture such as shants and jerseys as well as the much-maligned Lycra®.

And Santa Monica, as regular readers will know, swarms with everyday folks on everyday bikes, who throng the happy everyday businesses of Main Street.

In other words, we’re not so special any more.

I know a lot of my fellow riders will feel a twinge of dismay at this growing acceptance of cycling. A lot of us like to use cycling as a symbol of rebellion, wearing outlandish hairstyles ranging from punk crops to dreadlocks to just plain windblown mess, and some go so far as to mimic the “colors” favored by outlaw motorcycle gangs.

And this is good: the Dominant Culture deserves to be rebelled against. But there comes a time when rebellion has to go out of style, because the population is coming over to our side. That moment hasn’t actually arrived, so don’t dig up that unused comb quite yet. But it’s coming. More and more of “them” are now “us.”

In a way it is, to borrow President Warren G. Harding’s phrase from the time of World War One, a “return to normalcy.” After all, bikes were once the dominant form of urban transport, and they have remained the most energy-efficient and the most socially-beneficial throughout the long dark night that car culture, based on laziness and an illusion of elitism, imposed on our world.

Harding’s normalcy didn’t last, but our new normal had better. The world just can’t take business-as-usual anymore. It’s killing our planet, our cities, our wealth, our health, and ourselves, one by one on the streets.

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