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Cyclists confront increasingly bumpy situation

41 Comments

More Tokyoites are commuting to work on bicycles. According to a two-part article in Weekly Playboy (July 18, July 25), their number has risen sharply since March 11. At that time, gasoline price increases (and shortages) discouraged people from driving their cars; for rail commuters the interruptions in electric power drove them to two-wheelers.

"After the shaking stopped in our office building on March 11, the first thing I thought was, 'How am I going to get home tonight?'" says a 28 year old salaryman working in the Shimbashi district. "I knew the trains wouldn't be running. So I dashed out of the office to a nearby discount store. People thinking the same as me were already lined up. For about 15,000 yen, I was able to buy a 'mama-chari' (the standard women's bicycle with a basket over the front wheel, typically used by housewives). Weaving in and out of the gridlock on the streets, I was able to make it home that night. Actually I was surprised how little time it took me. While the trains stopped every time an aftershock occurred, the bike never let me down.

"So on days when the weather's good, I regularly go to work by bicycle."

At Asahi, a chain of bike shops with some 240 outlets nationwide, sales in March were up by 50% over the same month a year before; demand remained strong in April (20% over 2010); and May (10% over 2010).

"It's hard to differentiate regular demand from the sales that resulted from the disaster, but clearly the disaster has boosted sales," a spokesperson for the company was quoted as saying.

Unfortunately, Tokyo lacks bike lanes, which makes riding the streets risky. The riders themselves don't seem to be aware of traffic regulations for bicycles, and the police are vague on which rules they enforce.

"In situations where traffic signals differ for motor vehicles and pedestrians and bicycles, cyclists must adhere to the same rules as pedestrians," said a source in the National Police Agency. "For bicycles moving together with auto traffic, the rules are the same as for cars."

"These past several decades, Japan's traffic administration authorities have given priority to cars and completely ignored bicycles," complains Satoshi Hikita, director of an NPO that promotes cycling as well as a producer at the TBS network. "These distortions are becoming even more pronounced with the rapid increase of bicycles on the roads."

For safety's sake, Hikita argues for traffic rules and enforcement that put bicycles on more equal footing with motor vehicles.

"It's not widely known, but the penalties meted out to cyclists who violate the regulations are stricter than for cars," points out freelance writer Yusuke Uemura. "In extreme cases, cyclists can be charged under the criminal code.

"For example, cycling while holding an umbrella can result in imprisonment of up to three months or a fine of up to 50,000 yen."

In addition, cyclists judged responsible for personal injury or death are being slapped with increasingly severe penalties. Uemura points to such examples as the 2007 case of a man on a bicycle who disregarded a red light and collided with a 55-year-old female pedestrian in the crosswalk, resulting in her death. He was ordered to pay her survivors 54.38 million yen. Two years earlier, a high school girl using her cell phone struck and injured a 57-year-old woman. The settlement came to 50 million yen.

While affordable one-year liability insurance is available for cyclists, the coverage is generally limited and would have only paid out a fraction in the case of the above accidents.

So what can be done to avoid further crackdowns by police?

"Cyclists are not required to obtain licenses, making bicycles a convenient and eco-friendly mode of transport for everyone," Uemura tells Weekly Playboy. "If we want to be able to retain these merits of cycling, doesn't it make sense for users to reconsider the need for better manners?"

© Japan Today

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

41 Comments
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The author is lucky. No bikes, water or anything left when I took my over 7 hour walk home. Biking would have been may 1/3 that but it was so crowded, and a lot of hills on route 246.

I do bike a lot though, and use an umbrella if necessary. Usually when it rains, i prefer to walk as I hate getting my thighs wet.

Ride people ride. Good for your health.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

>“For example, cycling while holding an umbrella can result in imprisonment of up to three months or a fine of up to 50,000 yen.”

hooy.... glad THAT rule isnt enforced. pffff

0 ( +0 / -0 )

So what can be done to avoid further crackdowns by police?

How about stopping at traffic lights and not using a cellphone while riding? I know crazy idea...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Hearing about those two cases makes you think twice about riding a bike.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"Tokyo lacks bike lanes"

This is unforgivable. All they have to do is move all the buildings back a couple of meters, move the sidewalks ( if there are sidewalks - there are lots of streets without any sidewalks, which is also unforgivable ) back a couple of meters, and presto! There's your bike lane! This would also have the benefit of creating hundreds of thousands of jobs!

"For bicycles moving together with auto traffic the rules are the same as for cars"

Unfortunately this one cop didn't know that and kept telling me it was dangerous to make a right turn on the right turn signal.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"For bicycles moving together with auto traffic the rules are the same as for cars"

Not true for right turns. You're supposed to take it in two stages: cross the road in front first and then go right. It's the same for scooters, although most people under the age of sixty seem to ignore the rule, and behave like they're in a car.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Yesterday while at a red light I watched a high school boy on his bike, cellphone glued to his blank stare, headphones blaring in his ears, ride straight into a concrete pole! I laughed my a$$ of until the light changed! Maybe we need BRAINS before manners?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I have in line skated in Tokyo before. The only time I was stopped was in front of the Imperial Palace grounds. The officers told me "skate wa dame desu". I got onto the sidewalk and at the next block got back into traffic. Drivers need to be aware about cyclist on the road and cyclist need to be aware of drivers too. The local government will have to take care of this situation if the amount of people commuting by bike increases in Tokyo.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Drivers need to share the road and bikers need to stop being stupid!! Lack of helmets, lack of safety knowledge, driving on the wrong side of the road, earphones in... I feel for most drivers with such idiots but as someone who bikes (and not a crappy bike) I can tell you how dumb some of the drivers are here. Trucks are fine but damn, watch out for the yellow plates! Bikes lanes would be a huge help!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Bring back the velocar and jinrikisha.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

As a regular cyclist in Tokyo who actually does not cycle on the pavements I find most car users to be pretty ok, just give clear signals and follow the rules of the road. The most dangerous idiots on the road are other cyclists, especally the idiots who cycle the wrong way. Many a time i have been on a main road being overtaken only to have a dumb schoolgirl, mobile plastered to her ear, coming directly towards me causing me to have to swerve out into the trafffic. Makes me want to tazor the stupid b***ch as i pass. It amazes me that the death toll in this country for schoolkids on bikes isn't in the thousands.

4 ( +5 / -2 )

As a regular cyclist in Tokyo who actually does not cycle on the pavements

... problem with you Lance Armstrong wannabes in skintight underpants, pointy helmet & seat jacked as high as it will go, peddling away as fast as you can is that you may be faster than some highschool kids on mom bikes, but you're still far too slow and annoying to be driving on the road. Even when you're sticking to the side, you take up more room than you realize.

As far as getting flattened by some noddy driver goes, it's not a case of it... but when.

-6 ( +1 / -6 )

Manta60: I couldn't agree more. Cars are generally predictable if you're paying attention. The cyclists, not so much. One generalization that I'm perfectly comfortable making is that the vast majority of cyclists in Tokyo ride like selfish, ignorant, illogical morons! I also cycle regularly and not on the pavement. When I have an idiot coming at me the wrong way, I hug the side and refuse to move out into the lane so they can get by on the inside. They're breaking the law and endangering others and I will not kowtow to that kind of unnecessary stupidity, I don't care how old they are. I usually verbally let them know what the rule is too. I've had some yell back but I'm not bothered. Neither will I move for cyclists on the pavement when I'm walking. I almost always walk on the side and if a cyclist can't get past me then they can bloody well wait until the pavement, where they shouldn't even be, opens up a bit. Cars will never get used to cyclists on the roads until more people start riding and more people start riding properly. Right now, most cyclists are more like crazy, unpredictable hornets than fellow vehicles sharing the roads safely. Safe cycling roads depend as much on cyclists following the rules of traffic (and logic) as they do on car drivers looking out for cyclists. Never was the adage, it's a two-way street, more appropriate!

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Asy Asyy: Bicycles, under Japanese law, are light vehicles and are therefore meant to be on the roads. They have every right to be there and to take up space. Let's face reality too, for rides under 15 to 20 km., an in-shape cyclist can often get to their destination faster than a car, and that's with following the rules. So, perhaps it's cars that are taking up too much space. Let's not even get into the pollution, negative health affects, natural resources used to make cars, and so on and so on ......

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Unfortunately, Tokyo lacks bike lanes, which makes riding the streets risky. The riders themselves don’t seem to be aware of traffic regulations for bicycles, and the police are vague on which rules they enforce.

Boy is that a loaded statement. Like has been mentioned upthread, it wasn't cars that almost got me killed while riding bicycle in Japan, it was other bike riders. From riding down the wrong side of the road to not watching where they are going, most Japanese on a bicycle are a danger to themselves and everyone around them.

Taka

4 ( +3 / -0 )

Out here in Western Tokyo in my neighbourhood they are building quiet a bit of Bike-Lanes now.

This is helped with the raising of the Chuo-line and many roads being widened now as well as traffic volume on some roads being reduced.

There will be one bike-lane/road alongside Chuo-line that will go from Mitaka station over to Musashi-Koganei and possible further west.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"... problem with you Lance Armstrong wannabes in skintight underpants, pointy helmet & seat jacked as high as it will go, peddling away as fast as you can is that you may be faster than some highschool kids on mom bikes, but you're still far too slow and annoying to be driving on the road. Even when you're sticking to the side, you take up more room than you realize."

You sound like the type that panics simply because of a fast moving cyclist in the lane of traffic. And how many hard-core cyclists are there in Japan anyway? I'll bet no more than 5%.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Zenny11: There was a law passed some years ago saying that any newly built or widened roads have to have bicycle lanes. They've done some of that in the main part of Tokyo but you'd never know it because all it's meant is that people use the cycling lane for parking spaces. There was a brief effort at getting cars not to park in the few bike lanes but it seems to have faded.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Instead of building bridges that go nowhere, the government should be widening the roads and making bike paths throughout the city for easy commuting and recreation. That seems like a no-brainer. The reason why Japanese cyclists are so brainless is that the infrastructure is absent. The environment gives rise to the chaos, naturally.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I regularly ride the roads of Tokyo and have been delighted to see that bikes-only lanes have been installed in many areas of Tokyo with different-colored brickwork with clearly painted signs indicating bikes only, and bright clearly-lettered signs hanging above ones head ever 50 meters or so. You can't miss them. Yet, despite such efforts to point out to the public the obvious the bikes lanes themselves are crammed with wayward pedestrians without a clue as to their surroundings staggering about with abandonment and who show great indignation when you ring your bell at them. Bicyclists are geniuses compared to pedestrians but sadly 90% of bicyclists show not even a modicum of common sense or courtesy when wobbling about on sidewalks either.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

ambrosia: totally agree with you.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

As a scooter rider, I'm often confronted by bikers coming directly at me on the wronside of the road even though there is a sidewalk which they could use (maybe not legally). I believe that scooters and bicycles come under a similar law which says they should run on the left side of traffic but as the traffic is going only not in the opposite direction. Police are never around to stop any violators who run red lights but are always seen at the scene of an accident writing out reports. All of us know the rules of riding who comment here, but where are the Japanese commens regarding bicycle safety?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Thx, ambrosia.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Ambrosia - well said! Takes me longer to take the train/bus or drive to work than it takes me to get to work on my lovely road bike.

Asy, deal with it because the number of 'Lance Armstrong wannabes" increases year after year. Cheaper and better for your health. Perhaps you could get off your backside and try it??

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Asy Asyy; The speed limit in Tokyo is between 30-40kmph in most areas; a speed which everyone on a decent road bike can maintain. By telling us that vehicles (of whatever kind) are getting in your way when they are going at the legal speed limit, that means you are breaking the law.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Even in school way back when the bicycle was more or less invented we had bike safety classes, i.e. how to ride safely, wear a helmet, how to put the chain back on, how to find a hole in a flat tire, etc.... Wonder if they do any of that here in Japan?

On a related note to what Ambrosia-san mentions, I drive to work every day and I have an intersection near my home in central Tokyo and like clockwork, people of all ages or genders on bikes just ride through the red light. Anyone in the know in my neighborhood knows that our green light is meaningless and we are very careful when crossing the street. 6:30 this morn an idiot high school boy just when flying through the red light. Why there aren't thousands of more cyclist deaths a year in Japan is a true mystery to me!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Last week, I almost got run over by one of those bike riders ("Lance Armstrong wannabees" as another poster mentioned) whizzing by wearing some kind of skin-tight clothes as I was crossing a sidestreet. He looked back at me as if I was in the wrong. I thought pedestrians have the right of way if you're crossing in the crosswalk.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Howdy - You had the right of way, that biker should have slowed down.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The speed limit in Tokyo is between 30-40kmph in most areas By telling us that vehicles (of whatever kind) are getting in your way when they are going at the legal speed limit, that means you are breaking the law.

30-40kmph in most areas you are breaking the law

most areas you are breaking the law

most areas most most most

You invalidated your own point.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

I just bought a $500 electric scooter that should go 27mph tops and has a 20 mile+ range (cost about $.05-.10 to charge) Wanted something that could be compacted and a suitcase bike was a little too goofy.

Looking at a Horst-Link bike (Turner, Specialized) also or older titanium like Merlin, LiteSpeed, Clark-Kent, Xizang.

=Gas is expensive so more people are riding bikes or walking (this is the trend). Please be careful and make sure your eyes are able to see these people and do not drive impaired. It will become even more dangerous in the fall/winter darkness.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Riding a bike is cooler than taking the subway, but a bike needs to be parked somewhere. Always got a kick out of the kids you see with those roller-shoes (a walking shoe that also skates).

Seen those electric skateboards also.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

If this city wants more cyclists, they had better provide affordable and convenient parking as well. I wonder if the on-the-fly rental bike system like they have in Paris would work here.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

HOwdy, jerk bikers like jerk drivers. Don't label us all bad because of one!! I would have slowed down and waited for you to cross. Most cars wouldn't from what I have seen in my time here!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

As other posters above have noted, the biggest problem cycling on the road is other cyclists... Yes, we have the numpties who ride at you and think that you should have to go around them despite it being far more difficult and dangerous for you to do such a maneuver and that they are also legally in the wrong, but the most dangerous ones are those who without so much as a cursory glance, leave the pavement and enter into the road right in front of you. If they took at quick glance, they still might not notice you if you were coming up on them at speed, but you'd probably see them (if you were a defensive rider) and would be able to anticipate their move, but as things are, they are so very bloody random.

I have to admit it, I once checked my English - Japanese dictionary to see if there was actually a word for "common sense" in Japanese. It was there, but I so very rarely see its application.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Zenny11 Yes, riding along the Chuo line is great. I miss those days.

Now that I'm living in the ugly industrial countryside and riding my road bike $uck$. No space to ride on the narrow roads (cars would take you out), bumps before and after the sidewalk could destroy my tires not to mention it hurts, and my favorite one "the sidewalk ends here".

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Iceshoecream

An interesting point regarding the bumps & your tires... For a country with so many bicycles, the "lowered" kerbs at crossings are atrocious for bikes. Why can't they smooth them out more? They're quite dangerous as they are. I recently sprained my wrist wresting control of my bars back after my wheel hit a kerb here, and I was going slow at the time.

I usually have to raise myself off the saddle too as I've yet to spawn kids, and don't need involuntary castration where bodyweight meets saddle.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

HOwdy, jerk bikers like jerk drivers. Don't label us all bad because of one!! I would have slowed down and waited for you to cross. Most cars wouldn't from what I have seen in my time here!

tmarie: Obviously your reading skills are shite. Nowhere in my post did I mention ALL bike riders are jerks. I'm pretty sure there are at least a few decent ones out there. Just illustrating that I happen upon one every week or so. Then again, why do you label car drivers mostly bad, when you can't stand most bike riders being bad? If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen!

The thing is, most of the bike riders I've encountered ride as if they feel entitled to weave in between cars as fast as they feel like it with no thought for safety. I remember several times waiting to cross a crosswalk in the middle of a street. The backed up cars would leave a space for the sidewalk for me to cross, and while I crossed a bike would suddenly appear weaving on the far left end, between the cars and the opposite sidewalk. Even though I try to look around the left end of the car before completing my cross, it still scares the jeebies out of me to see a bike suddenly whizzing by. At least with a scooter passing on the left end, I can hear it coming as I cross. Unfortunately bikes going fast on the driver's left blind side don't see pedestrians that may be crossing in a crosswalk in the middle of a street, from the opposite right side.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Touchy are we?

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

For example, cycling while holding an umbrella can result in imprisonment of up to three months or a fine of up to 50,000 yen.” Japanese police stopping riders in the heavy rain for using an umbrella?? Never going to happen!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japanese police stopping riders in the heavy rain for using an umbrella?? Never going to happen!

True, because then you'll hear people complaining, "Don't those police have anything better to do than to stop people on the street on a bicycle, asking to see their 'gaijin card'/

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I applaud so many people in Tokyo riding bikes as an alternative to cars and trains. I really wish that it was safer for everyone for them to do so, however. As a pedestrian I get so tired of crossing the street, only having to dodge a cyclist who ignores the red light. I find many cyclists in Tokyo to be ignorant of the laws - and am constantly dismayed by the lack of helmet usage. Bicycle education is a must in this country!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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