December 2006 Archives

Forcing Bikes on Sidewalks ??

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I have to write this to alert the world about how changes in bicycle traffic laws might start to move in a whacky direction in Japan. Though the editorials by the mass media often do a good job at these kinds of things, I unfortunately could not find any articles on this topic in English. This is probably because the movement doesn't seem so controversial at a glance, thus considered not worth being taken up by overseas media.

Here's the story.

The National Police Agency is taking a second look in 30 years at the currentlt ambiguous positioning of bicycles in Japan which by the law are designated as vehicles, and required to run on the roadway. However, bikes have practically been allowed to run both on sidewalks as well as roadways regardless of what the law states, resulting in a majority of them being ridden on the sidewalk. This situation has lead to an increase of bicycle and pedestrian related accidents, in which pedestrians are injured.
The agency plans to define requirements for bikes allowed on sidewalks in the revised bill planned for submission at the next regular diet, in an attempt to clarify the positioning of bicycles on roads. The objective is said to avoid the increase of accidents between pedestrians and bicycles on the sidewalks.
The revised bill is said to keep the fundamental rule of bicycles on the roadway, at the same time clearly stating for the first time that bikes will be allowed on sidewalks in certain cases, for example in situations below :

  • When children, the elderly, and people making frequent stops in front of stores (for shopping purposes) being the riders
  • When riding in places where roadway riding is deemed dangerous

Seems like a step in the right direction ? Think again.

Look at the bill this way.
Instead of proposing a safe solution to separate bicycles from pedestrians (which should be the natural way to go towards the said-to-be-objective), the agency has opted to clarify cases where bikes should ride on sidewalks WITH pedestrians. This results in a lack of essence to lead bicycles on to the roadway where they basically should be, and in contrast justifies bicycles on sidewalks with pedestrians.
Doesn't this seem strange ? By becoming a little bit doubtful, it's easy to imagine a hidden intent here. In dangerous cases where bikes are allowed on sidewalks, who would actually deem roadway riding dangerous? Answer : the cops on the streets. The revised bill would give the police clearly stated rights to pick bicycles off the roadway and on to the sidewalks at their own leisure saying "this road is dangerous".
Cyclists (and non-cyclists) in Japan being aware of the agency's past attitude towards bicycles can see the hidden intent to gradually pave way leading bikes off roadways and on to the sidewalks. The proposed bill would act as a step in that direction. There is talk about an existance of a group inside the police which may pull off something like this. They are said to have a position against bicycles being a part of vehicle traffic, and in favor of putting them aside with pedestrians. Some sources back up this existence of these board members within the group who have written up this proposal.

Sources also say that once the bill is presented to the diet, the possibility of it being opposed (or even seriously debated upon) is very low.

First of all, what a shame that the Police Agency has come up with this hipocratic bill in order to deceive us cyclists. Why do they have to trick us with numbers ? Where is the debate ?

Second, there seems to be nothing wrong with the current law regarding the relationship between pedestrians and bikes. Bicycles are vehicles belonging on the roadway with automobiles. It a matter of enforcement, making the law known thoroughly to drivers, cyclists, through the education system.

Third, the idea of picking bicycles off from the roadways and on to the sidewalks doesn't look at all convincing as tackling the problem of growing accidents head on. It's about time the authorities seriously take on the issue of giving bicycles an independent position in the traffic ecosystem instead of regarding them as "something in between peds and cars".

That "independent position"should take shape as bike lanes on the roadways. It will be difficult, but it has to be done. After all, Japan is a country where 2 out of 3 of the population own bicycles, by the numbers. WE NEED BIKE LANES, especially in metropolitan areas.

Lastly, cyclists also have to take on their part in thinking about bicycle's concrete position in the traffic society, and coexistence with other means of traffic. Cyclists have to act responsible towards this.

The relationship between pedestrians and bikes seem to be safe and friendly in places overseas. It may be that we haven't seen the dark side, and each place has it's problems with bikes and peds, it 's something worth looking in to and sharing.

The first step in voicing out against the bill is to publicize the situation in and out.
Let's spread the word.

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