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The News Cycle: What is the 'new normal'?
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Weird. Immature. Eccentric. Irresponsible. Reckless. Odd. Undignified.

These words are used to describe people who, by choice, use bicycles for transportation. They ride their bikes to work, to the store or to class even when the weather's bad and even though they own perfectly functional automobiles.

Why do people subject themselves to the heat, the humidity, the car traffic and the disapproving glances? Riding a bike for fitness is one thing - that's what spinning classes are for, right?

But pretending a bike is a car? That's not normal.

Let's examine what is considered normal.

In Chatham County, a normal round trip commute takes 41.6 minutes. This obviously ignores commuters driving in daily from Effingham, Bryan, Liberty, Jasper and Beaufort counties to their jobs in Savannah. They spend even more of their lives behind the wheel.

A significant portion of these trips is made in single occupant vehicles of sizes and configurations once mainly found on farms, ranches or construction sites. And this is during a time that gasoline prices fluctuate wildly, but are currently hovering around $3.60 a gallon.

This is considered normal.

On the other side of the spectrum are those who don't cross county or state lines on the way to work. In fact, they may not even cross aldermanic districts. As Savannah Bicycle Campaign Executive Director Frank McIntosh pointed out in his column last month, 40 percent of trips made in urban areas are two miles or less, yet the vast majority of people use their automobiles for all of these short trips even when the weather is nice and even in one of the most beautiful cities in North America. Meanwhile, the obesity rate in our state has doubled in the last 15 years.

This is also considered normal.

There's been a lot of talk recently about how to contend with the coming of a "new normal," a phrase that's used to describe everything from our beleaguered economy to our changing climate. The new normal, some suggest, requires a return to the old normal.

Or to put it another way, forward-looking folks are becoming early adopters of old technology as a strategy for maintaining and improving their quality of life in time of uncertainty. Bicycles are a key component of the new normal equation.

People right here in Savannah are using their bicycles for fun and fitness, yes, but also to get where they need to go and to get things done. Like their fellow citizens all over the country, they are beginning to view the bicycle as a tool to improve their commutes, their personal finances, their health, their attitudes and their neighborhoods.

Doubt it? Let's visit the aisles (or at least the websites) of the big box stores. We are just browsing, mind you. Better to buy from one of our fine local bicycle shops, where we'll get much more for our money and ensure more of our money stays here in our community. Still, let's see what's out there.

Believe it or not, the big retailers are starting to stock bicycles that come complete with fenders, chain guards, lights, cargo racks and other features making them well suited for commuting and running errands. Even the nation's largest grocery retailer will sell you a Dutch-style city bike.

Does the idea of large numbers of normal Savannahians using normal bicycles for normal daily trips sound far-fetched? I direct your attention to local people, who previously limited their agricultural exploits to pushing lawnmowers, but are now harvesting vegetables from their own gardens.

Regard the shoppers, who bring reusable bags not just to the supermarket, but also to every store they visit in Savannah. Think about area residents, including one "food celebrity" with millions of television viewers and restaurant customers, who keep chickens in their backyards. Consider the local families who are buying food directly from the farmers who grew it.

How much of this would have been considered normal just five years ago? Not much, probably. Fifty years ago? All of it - except for the concept of a food celebrity.

As transportational cycling increases, we will begin to think differently about our neighbors, who handle the business of daily life by bike. What words will we use to describe them?

Responsible. Reasonable. Practical. Resourceful. Smart. Healthy. Normal.