How to be gentle about this...

We are all about to undergo a paradigm shift that will seem impossible at first, but once we accept it, will condition us to be nicer and, at the same time, to save the planet.

Back up a minute to demonstrate how another paradigm shift bumped up against a difficult adjustment period, and now seems just . . . perfect! Remember smoking? I do. I recall, back in the 60s, sneaking my first Salem Menthol – and coughing my lungs inside out – with a friend in her family’s backyard trailer. All through the 60s and mid-70s, continuing trends from much older generations, we smoked in restaurants, at office desks and at the Thanksgiving table between turkey crams.

My paradigm shift, hereinafter referred to as a p.s., occurred in 1975, in a Chinese restaurant in Santa Monica. My friend Leslie Glazer’s mom was treating Leslie and eight of her pals to dinner. Seated at the opposite end of a long table from Leslie’s mom, I ate my moo goo gai pan, then lit up a ciggie, as I and the rest of Western civilization had always done. Leslie’s mom asked me, none too politely, to put it out. Of course I did. She was paying!

And that’s when it started. Not with Leslie’s mom, per se, although that moment rocked my own little world, but in the entire culture, and in later years, with the banning of smoking here, there, and everywhere. In California these days you need to sneak off into the high desert and light up behind a big boulder. Everywhere in the U.S.A., you cannot smoke around other people unless you’re standing in a good cross-breeze, and you need to ask permission first, unless your compadres are smokers too, poor souls.

So you can see the success of this p.s., right? We wouldn’t want to return to a world of people blowing smoke in your face in Chinese restaurants.

So, new p.s.: Complete Streets, as the movement is known officially (there is a national coalition), calls for roadways designed and operated to enable safe, attractive, and comfortable access and travel for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and public transport users of all ages and abilities.

Our own Peg Regan, retired principal from MVRHS, currently has a state grant to raise consciousness about this issue and, ideally, to get our roads re-plotted and repainted to enable cyclists and pedestrians to comfortably make their way from Point A to Point B.

Universal reaction to the concept of Complete Streets: “But bicyclists ARE a problem in the summer!” And no one who drives a car gets it.

Hello! Bicyclists are not a problem, certainly not THE problem. Cars are the problem. Everyone knows this. We grieve over B.P. fouling the Gulf of Mexico, we fret about that darn pipeline snaking down from Canada, we loathe the massive freeway interchanges, and getting stuck for two hours in one of those horrific grids; the presidential election in November may hinge on the price of gasoline per gallon on the day people mark their ballots and yet . . . bicyclists are a problem?

Some critical facts about Complete Streets:

In towns and cities where more cyclists and pedestrians are incorporated into municipal lanes, speed limits are reduced (yes, that’s what causes motorists to gnash their teeth, having to slow down; it’s a human reflex), but once drivers are accustomed to multi-use roads, they stop gnashing and, good news!, accidents are way reduced! And fewer sets of teeth are ground down!

The law already favors bicyclists, although no one knows this, not even the peddling hordes themselves, except for the growing band of militants in big cities. As my friend, David Whitman, asserts in a recent e-mail — he of the long beard, shades, and bandana, in the Vello-yellow rocket machine; you’ve all seen him: “Bicycles are considered vehicles with all the same rights and responsibilities. Cyclists are required to ride as far to the right as is safe to do so. Safety that is to be determined by the cyclist, not some impatient driver. You are not required to ride on the shoulder, nor are you required to hug the white line. You ride too far to the right, and motorists will pass you when it is not safe to do so. That is how cyclists get killed, not from riding in the lane itself.”

Motorists are easily annoyed when one of those alpha cyclists – you know the ones, in neon green / orange & yellow wind-breakers and black latex knickers -- hugs the road, when a bike path runs clearly alongside. Well, here’s the deal: bike paths are already thronged with mamas with babies in strollers, dog-walkers, skaters, and cyclists like me who lollygag along going “ooh” and “ahh” at the changing light over Farm Pond. Should alpha cyclists come barreling down this merrily crowded lane, we’d have over-turned strollers, decapitated golden retrievers, and lollygaggers in petticoats and straw-boaters strewn all along the way.

So talk to Peg Regan, if you run into her, and ask her what’s shaking. One targeted area for the Mass In Motion Complete Streets program is to connect that bit of bike path that rolls out along Beach Road to the drawbridge, over past the hospital, and hooking up with that teeny bit of Utopian asphalt that wends alongside the defunct ER parking lot.

It’s about time! You come (slowly) gliding southwest down from the bridge (yeah, I know, we’re supposed to walk our bikes, but if no one’s coming, okay, so ticket me!), then suddenly you’re confronted by speeding east-bound traffic. If there are no cyclists peddling in your direction, to whom you would, of course, defer, you skitter along the road, well within the sand-heaped painted shoulder, and make your way to that lovely but all-too-brief bike path.

So dearest motorist (and I realize I’m addressing nearly everybody reading this), if you spot a newly stenciled symbol for a bike rider on an enlarged shoulder lane, this is part of your new awakening. You’ve got to share. Just like we learned in kindergarten. And the joy on that cyclist’s or pedestrian’s face (now that you’ve chosen NOT to squash this person under your wheels) might effect your own decision next time you venture into town:

“Hey! Maybe I’ll unearth that old trike! Maybe I’ll buy a new or used bicycle! Maybe my sweetie and I will walk to town holding hands, and singing the lyrics to ‘Moonriver’!” — bearing in mind there might still be laws against p.d.a. on the New England books – “and maybe this Island, or at least our own beloved Cottage City – will be a destination for people who would adore to go someplace where you don’t need to bring a car.”

Paradigm shift!

Speaking of travel gone wrong, our own Thomas Dresser has a new book out: Disaster Off Martha’s Vineyard, recounting the harrowing tale of the shipwreck of the steamship City of Columbus off Gay Head on a frigid January night in 1884. The only survivors were rescued by the Wampanoag Native Americans who braved brisk seas to save a few souls. Tom has speaking dates all over the Island, but, for our delectation, we can hear him at the Oak Bluffs Library at 6:30 PM on Thursday May 17; and the Oak Bluffs Senior Center at 10 am on Friday, May 18.