Japan cracks down on sidewalk cyclists

Japan National Police Agency ordered to enforce bicycle sidewalk prohibitions.

Sign: jitensha oyobi hokosha senyo doro hyoshiki

Post-war Japan has flip flopped on where cyclists should ride, alternating between prohibiting and permitting bikes on sidewalks. Currently, cycling on the sidewalk is not legal on most Japanese sidewalks, but the police mostly turn a blind eye toward the hordes of mamachari bikes on the sidewalk.

Fast cyclists and young Harajuku hipsters ride on the road and follow roughly vehicular rules, but a majority of people riding bikes think of biking as a fast form of walking and ride accordingly. The police only enforce the law when they see especially dangerous behavior or they’d like to harass somebody in the Japanese equivalent of Driving While Black. Anybody who’s familiar with Japanese society knows there’a lot of nudge nudge wink wink regarding acceptable behavior and what the law actually says.

Tens of thousands of commuters took up bicycle commuting in Tokyo in the aftermatch of the Great Tohoku Earthquake last March 2011. Apparently, they’ve stuck with it, because the huge crowds of bikes on city sidewalks have created a public safety problem as walkers and cyclists try to share the same narrow space.

As of October 25, a directive was sent to all prefectural offices of the National Police Agency to strictly enforce traffic rules for cyclists, especially when it comes to riding on the sidewalk. Bicycles are to be regarded as vehicles, with the rights and duties of vehicles on the road. Children and the elderly are exempted from the requirements. Certain wide sidewalks with round blue jitensha oyobi hokosha senyo doro hyoshiki signs indicate shared use is allowed.

Besides sidewalk riding, police say they will watch for equipment and red light violations by cyclists, looking in particular for those riding brakeless fixed gear bikes on the flat terrain of Kanto Plain. The fine for riding without brakes can run to ¥50,000 (USS$650). Riding on the sidewalk can carry a ¥20,000 (US$260) penalty.

More –>
* Mainichi Daily News: Police take steps to prevent bicycle accidents as number of riders increases after quake.
* Japan Times: Reckless cyclists face crackdown / Safety blitz amid surge in riders, violations and accidents.

9 Comments

  • Shuichikobayashimana
    October 27, 2011 - 4:44 am | Permalink

    As might be expected you noticed the new traffic policy in Japan. I also noticed the news an an ordinary Japanese. Certainly some people argue that it is very dangerous to ride a bike on a sidewalk. However almost all pedestrians and mama-chaiclists are completely familiar with our usual custom. It is terrible to ride a mama-chari outside sidewalk. In fact there is a very few bike lane in Kyoto. Hmm, I bet no change. :)

  • October 27, 2011 - 4:44 am | Permalink

    I live in Tokyo, and this has been all over the news.  I expect this to disappear completely in a month.  Japan, like N.America, has its fashionable ‘moral panics’, that disappear to be forgotten about.

    The real story is that if they did enforce against sidewalk riding, the place would be as bad for cyclists as N.America.  Besides the fast cyclists who take the road as of now, on sidewalks grandmothers and children ride here, as do drunk middle-aged men, mothers with toddlers in baby-seats or child-carriers, teenagers doubling friends or lovers, and a slew of others who would not ride on busy roads under any circumstances.  Sure, sidewalk cycling causes accidents, but not serious ones at the 10km/hr or less these folks ride.  Better the authorities should ask two questions:

    Why are people riding on sidewalks who are neither children nor elderly?
    – the roads are too narrow
    – the sidewalks are not
    – drivers pass too close on these roads (though do most else better than in N.America)
    – there are almost no bike lanes, and the few get parked in here, too
    – there is far too more road congestion, making them sometimes impassible even to bicycles

    What happens if you continue to take the hardline?
    – people will not leave the sidewalk for the road, but the car for the train
    – more people on roads over capacity
    – more people on trains over capacity
    – more accidents from the former, until you quadruple the per capita casualties, like N.America
    – you lose Japan’s critical mass of adult cyclists, with the same results as in N.America: deaths, sloth, obesity…

  • October 27, 2011 - 12:01 pm | Permalink

    I appreciate that extra perspetive, Mr S.

  • October 27, 2011 - 12:01 pm | Permalink

    While reading the stories I had the same thought — police will do something for a little while, but then ignore it and go back to whatever it is they do.

  • Shuichikobayashimana
    October 27, 2011 - 9:30 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Mr.S. who knows the real situation in Japan well. 

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  • November 18, 2011 - 1:09 am | Permalink

    hahaha, good luck with that…!

    [Translation: ain't gonna work, riding on the sidewalk is deeply ingrained.]

  • November 18, 2011 - 10:25 am | Permalink

    Good luck with that.” — That’s my strong suspicion as well. Has anybody noticed any actual change in sidewalk riding or police enforcement over the past two weeks?

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