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TYRRELL: Self-righteous cyclists peddling a car-free world

Angry cranks out to make the world over in their own image

- - Wednesday, January 22, 2014

There are many different indicators of an unhappy society.

Sociologists point to crime rates, suicide rates, the incidence of divorce, even the frequency of customers leaving the lights on in public restrooms. Economists point to economic-growth rates, unemployment rates and the University of Michigan's monthly economic outlook for the United States.

One of my own personal favorites is the sudden transformation of the republic's healthy, happy, rosy-cheeked bicycle riders into a mob of angry cranks. It happens every few decades and is a sure sign of an unhappy society.

I well remember back in the late 1970s when, come to think of it, Jimmy Carter was in office. The economy was in a tailspin. Moreover, things were not going well for us abroad, for instance, in foreign capitals, at some of our embassies and with the then-Soviet Union.

At the time, the country's sociologists, economists and other students of the American condition brought forth their indicators of social unease, and they were alarmed. Yet I looked beyond those indicators to the nation's bicycle riders, and I found them irritable, touched by the anarchists' itch, and nearing urban revolution.

In the late 1970s, if you took into account the findings of the nation's sociologists and economists and my own gauge of social unrest — that is, the bicycle riders — I think you would agree: America was in a hell of a mess. It would take a very great statesman to reverse things.

Today, all sane Americans rejoice in knowing that Ronald Reagan was there in the wings, waiting to come on stage and save us from the Carter malaise and its concomitants: crime, unemployment, low growth, the Soviet Union and those people who neglected to turn the lights out in public restrooms.

Doubtless today there is a candidate in the wings ready to try his or her hand at returning America to its customary vibrancy.

Contrary to our current president, general unhappiness, low growth and foreign-policy amateurism are not the norm. We do not have to endure it. America's best days are not over. Who will lead us out of the drear I do not know, but as everyone knows, the Republicans have a very healthy field of presidential aspirants. Competent candidates are available.

However, the nation's angry bicycle riders, I fear, are going to be with us for a while. In a few years, President Obama might be back in Chicago as former President Barack Obama, organizing illegal aliens or whatever, and the gloomy riders will still be out there arrogating to themselves their "bike lanes."

Hillary Rodham Clinton will be securely in retirement, all her dreams of presidential grandeur vanquished, and still the militant bicyclists will be riding down the middle of Main Street presuming to slow down traffic to a modest 10 miles an hour and making inscrutable hand signals to drivers in every direction.

This time around, unlike the late 1970s, their anger is seemingly unappeasable, and they have local government on their side, especially in blue-state constituencies.

Yet now comes a calm voice of reason, a full professor of law from a highly respected university, George Mason University. He is professor Frank Buckley, and he has viewed the pedaling indignados on his King Street thoroughfare in historic Alexandria humanely.

Each day, 15,000 commuters pass his house headed to work on this ancient two-lane street. It is barely 30 feet wide. At rush hour, it is dangerous. Even in off-hours it is congested. Yet Mr. Buckley is glad to have the occasional pedalers with him and his neighbors on the sidewalk. He is resisting their demands to take away street-parking rights for dedicated bike lanes. He sees it as a national movement that is anti-automobile and anti-modernity.

Of course, he is right. These are not cyclists in pursuit of scenery and good health. If they were, they would be riding along the 35 miles of bike trails that the community has maintained for them.

They are angry, obsessive utopians who would make their anti-people campaign — their anti-freedom campaign — the first battle in an attempt to take over the way normal Americans live. They are a social indicator of unhappy times that, God willing, are about to end.

In Alexandria, as in Los Angeles, Boston and other cities where the angry bicycle riders have made a lunge for power, they are being resisted. My guess is cooler heads will prevail. Bikes, pedestrians and automobiles have coexisted on sidewalks and streets for decades.

The angry bicycle rider is an indicator of angry times. With the passing of Mr. Obama, times will be getting better. With his replacement in the White House, Americans will smile again — even bicyclers.

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is editor in chief of the American Spectator and the author of "The Death of Liberalism" (Thomas Nelson, 2012).