Photo/Illutration“Keirin” bicycle racers call on cyclists to protect themselves by wearing a helmet in Nagoya in September. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The “bicycle boom” of the late 19th century in the United States caused some social concern.

Because this new mode of transportation enabled riders to zip around at what was considered breakneck speed back then, it startled horses pulling carriages, causing accidents. Fistfights were said to have broken out between bicycle proponents and opponents.

According to “Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)” by Tom Vanderbilt, citizens tried to ban bicycles in many cities.

Their argument was that since bicycles were not horse-drawn carriages, they should not be allowed on the road. Nor should they be allowed on the sidewalk, meant only for pedestrians, either, went the argument.

One could say that bicycles caused quite a bit of social friction in their early years.

But their speed is still a problem today. According to recent media reports, police are investigating a hit and run that caused an elementary school pupil on a sidewalk to suffer a broken leg in Sapporo earlier this month.

In December, a 20-year-old woman on a power-assisted bicycle fatally struck a 77-year-old woman in Kawasaki. The cyclist reportedly was holding a smartphone in her left hand and a drink in her right hand.

A bicycle may be vulnerable to automobiles, but it can be a menace to pedestrians.

The root of the problem lies in the difficulty for cyclists to follow a principle of staying on the road. Japanese roads are woefully lacking in dedicated bicycle lanes, and the presence of many cars parked by the curbside renders it unsafe or impractical for cyclists to navigate the road.

The only solution is to work on these obstacles one by one. At the same time, safety rules should be beefed up, such as requiring cyclists to wear a helmet on the road.

I am sure many people can recall the exhilaration of riding a bicycle for the first time. When pedaling with the wind in one's face and feeling the season, there are scenes that can be enjoyed only on a bike.

Let us enjoy spring while paying attention to everyone we share the road with.

--The Asahi Shimbun, April 16

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.