If you’ve ever been mown down by a mamacharri, or had to dive out the way of one of the shopping bicycles ridden without much care in Tokyo, you won’t be alone.
If you are a law abiding cyclist, that’s great, but to pedestrians in Tokyo some riders are a menace – so say city police, and it’s easy to see why.
As if it’s not enough that there seems such confusion about whether they are allowed on the sidewalks/pavements or not – are they? aren’t they? – there is an increasing problem with the ignoring of traffic signals and the age old problem of lack of knowledge of cycling laws is worse than ever.
How many times have you seen a quick hop skip up on to the sidewalk to avoid a red light? Or simply a charge across the edge of a busy intersection in what may seem like completely safe territory but that can cause confusion to motorists and pedestrians alike and result in regret all round? Maybe, like us, you’ve seen riders idiotically choosing the wrong side of the road to go about their business, earphones in? (Yes, we know, it’s not only bikes and their riders at fault – plenty of fairly thoughtless driving goes on in this city, some of it by professionals…)
The trouble for many of the worst offenders seems to be deciding whether they are cyclists or road users. For many, there should be no difference and the blurring of the lines – that they can choose to be a ‘pedestrian’ when it suits them – is the biggest danger of all: that and the lack of understanding.
Now the Tokyo government, “will start pressing criminal charges against cyclists who repeatedly ignore red lights” according to the Kyodo news agency.
Citing Police statistics, the Japan Times says today that in 2012, 18,220 accidents in Tokyo involved bicycles. Of those in which a cyclist was at fault, it says accidents caused by ignoring a red light made up 9.6 percent.
The report also says that prosecutors plan to clamp down on riders who “ignore traffic signals while talking on a mobile phone amid a traffic jam.” Charges they will press are not clear – and it seems first-time offenders (those who are caught for the first time, at least!) will not face indictment but there is to be something of a clampdown. So, watch out. Fines of up to ¥50,000 can apparently be issued on the spot.
It seems to this cyclist fair to say that if you ride a bicycle you should either do it on the road or be willing to completely yield to pedestrians – whether they be in your path or not. There are cases where a young mother has two kids on the bicycle and clearly feels safer off the road. That’s fair enough. But it’s up to her to work out whether squeezing along that side of the pavement stopping others from passing is worth the extra five seconds she’ll gain or not.
It may also be up to the city or national government to help those of us who do want to ride along cycle lanes that allow us to go as fast or slow as we like, without cars or people – or parked bicycles – to get in our way. They need to build more – and this may not be as easy as it sounds. But surely Tokyo, one of the most bicycle heavy cities in the world, should be doing something more about this.
As the latest headline grabbing “clampdown” takes force and we wait and see whether it will be a success or not, perhaps the advice of blogger Byron Kidd, over at Tokyo By Bike, rings true – “forget the law, its incomprehensible, and just exercise common sense and ride safely. It’s worked for me.”
Main image: Sebra / Shutterstock.com