Thursday, March 13, 2008

Annual Cycling Editorial

Oh. Rant, I mean.

I believe I missed it last year, so I will start early this year. The media usually starts in about June expressing shock and dismay that most cyclists in Japan ignore the law and wobble about negligently, recklessly, idiotically, and as one put it "with no sense of anticipation."

Last year, the police---who often are prime examples of the negligent, reckless, and idiotic cyclist---proposed forcing all cyclists onto the sidewalk. One of the English language newspapers, either the Japan Times or the Asahi Shimbun, worried that if that happened, cyclists would think they owned the sidewalks. Don't they already think that?

This year, they are thinking of getting cyclists off the sidewalk; stopping them from holding umbrellas in one hand (often directly in front of their face so that they cannot see a thing beyond their front tire); prohibiting the extremely common use of cell phones while riding and other dangerous riding behavior.

I ride my road bike a lot. I have averaged 4,500 to 5,000 miles per year over the last 5-6 years. Most of this is along the Tamagawa, but some of it on roads. Frankly, the problem is that most mama-chari riders (and many road bike riders) don't appear to have any awareness of their surroundings, no sense of anticipation, no sense of danger, and often a total disregard of anyone or anything else. Most would seem to prefer to run into someone else and seriously injure or kill themselves and the other person rather than to take any action which would be "troublesome." You know, applying the brakes, staying in the correct lane, taking evasive action to avoid a collision, or even watching where they are going. Lest one think that only Japanese do this, I have seen plenty on non-Japanese adopt this sort of head-up-the-ass riding behavior. What non-Japanese often don't know is that many cycling violations are not traffic violations, but violations of criminal law (according to an article from a few years ago by the head of, if memory serves, the Japan Cycling Association). And you DON'T want to be arrested for a crime in Japan.

I have mixed feelings about this newest idea. I won't ride on the sidewalk unless I have no other choice, and then only for as short of a distance as possible. Too dangerous. I hate walking down the sidewalk with some wobbling fool reading his/her e-mail and clanging that damned bell ordering everyone out of the way. My wife refuses to budge for them. She has more balls that I do. They'll run you down and kill you---as some woman did to an elderly lady a few weeks ago. That woman is likely to spend some time in the pokey.

One the other had, if these mama-chari riders are forced onto the road and they don't change their behavior, natural selection will deal with many. That's the way the cookie crumbles, but then I will have to deal with them too when I am riding on the road. They are extremely dangerous to approach or pass no matter where they are. EXTREMELY DANGEROUS. One cannot trust them or take his/her eyes off them for a split second. Did I say that these wobbling, reckless, negligent riders are EXTREMELY DANGEROUS? I am perhaps understating it a bit. They will kill you and themselves in a heartbeat. BEWARE!

Last year a politician wrote an editorial in one of the newspapers suggesting that an education and licensing system for cyclists was an answer. He thought that the reason that cyclists were so lacking in safe riding practices is because most Japanese don't learn to drive and therefore have no real sense of the rules or dangers of the road.

Whatever the reason, a license isn't going to help anytime soon. Despite some suggestions, most places aren't going to have cycling paths either and even if they did, they'd become an extra sidewalk for absent-minded pedestrians and another parking space for cars. (One of the most dangerous places to ride along the Tamagawa is a short section in which the cycling path is separated from the pedestrian path by a line. There you have cyclists on the pedestrian path and pedestrians on the cycling path. As soon as they approach one another, they each try to get into the correct path, resulting in "confusion.")

I have no idea on how to reduce the dangers here. It would require a whole new approach to more than just cycling. People are riding a bike in the same way that people walk---without watching where they are going, without awareness of where they are, without awareness of what they are doing, without any rules of where to walk (the right or left side) and without concern about running into someone else. Plus, the rule is go as slow as a dead 3-legged turtle in molasses in mid-January unless you see someone else heading toward the same spot as you. Then run like a bat out of hell just to get in front, and then slow down and block the way. Just like folks ride bikes.

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