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Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011

Reckless cyclists face crackdown

Safety blitz amid surge in riders, violations and accidents

Staff writer

Bicyclists are on the increase, but so are accidents involving them as well as reckless, illegal riding, prompting Tokyo police to launch a crackdown.

News photo
On two wheels: A woman bicycles on a sidewalk near pedestrians in Minato Ward, Tokyo, on Oct. 20, the same day another cyclist crosses in front of a taxi. YOSHIAKI MIURA
News photo

The Metropolitan Police Department campaign, which includes designating more marked bikeways, comes amid an increase in accidents and violations that will now face stiffer penalties.

People who ride bicycles without proper brakes or run red lights may face a fine of up to ¥50,000. Failing to ride slowly and carefully on sidewalks can result in a fine of up to ¥20,000. Police plan to strictly enforce the new measures while at the same time enhancing safety.

Cycling has long been a popular form of exercise and has increasingly been viewed as a means of commuting, particularly after the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11 stranded untold thousands of people in the capital, prompting a run on bicycles that quickly sold out.

Although most people use common sense when they cycle, there are aggressive types who thumb their nose at safety.

Some apparently find it fashionable to pedal brakeless, one-gear "pist" track bikes on the street. It is legal to ride a brakeless bike on a track, but not on the street.

A pist rider got the attention of police in February when one such bike was involved in a fatal collision with a 69-year-old female pedestrian in Shibuya Ward.

But in terms of overall identified violators of the Road Traffic Law, the MPD cited only 300 cases of cyclists running red lights, compared with 111 in 2009 — in both cases the figures only account for incidents police processed. Police also handled 661 cases of cyclists riding illegally modified bikes, including those with no brakes, compared with two in 2009.

Overall, cyclists who, according to police, violated the Road Traffic Law numbered 1,438 last year, compared with 574 in 2009. The number from this January to September was 1,351.

By prefecture, Tokyo logs the highest number of bicycle accidents. Last year saw 1,039 bicycle-pedestrian accidents, or about 40 percent of all such cases logged nationwide, an MPD spokesman said Oct. 20. Between last January and August, accidents involving bicycles accounted for 37.8 percent of all traffic accidents in Tokyo, the largest percentage ever.

The police are also planning to collaborate with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to increase designated bicycle ways on both the left side of streets and the right side of sidewalks, the spokesman said.

The capital currently has 13 places, or just 9 km, of designated bike lanes on streets, and another 37 km for bikes on sidewalks.

"I appreciate police being stricter," said Masakazu Saito of Jitenshabin.com Co., a Tokyo bicycle delivery service, adding some pist riders with low safety awareness "take off brakes because they think it's fashionable. They lower the image of cyclists."

Pists, which only have a high gear, cost from ¥50,000 to ¥80,000, and racing versions ¥100,000.

"We use road racers as well as pists and we do not allow our people to ride bicycles without brakes," Saito said.

Brakeless pists seem to attract aggressive riders who want to sport the image of a pro racer.

A case in point is a man who used to be a known street pist rider who championed the style.

He moved to Tokyo in 2004 after living in New York for 25 years. The long-time pist rider was interviewed for a magazine article back in 2006. In the article, he said it was cool to ride modified bikes on the street.

"I got lots of angry comments from people blaming me for pist accidents, and friendly comments from people who enjoy pist riding," he said.

But things have changed.

"I stopped riding a pist three years ago. For me, riding a pist with brakes is unthinkable and I don't want to pay a fine. I cannot truly enjoy riding a pist in this country, so I quit. I now ride a normal bicycle," the man told The Japan Times.

Underwear cop


An Aomori police officer trying to flee by bicycle after stealing women's underwear was caught red-handed Monday, local police said.

Yasuo Shichinohe, 48, has owned up to trespass and theft charges, the police said, allegeding he crept into a couple's home in the city of Aomori at around 1:30 p.m. Monday and took some of the wife's underwear before trying to flee by bike.

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