Japan National Police Agency ordered to enforce bicycle sidewalk prohibitions.
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.
* 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.