The Nikkei Weekly – November 30, 2009
Speeding cyclists pose threat
Health, green issues get people on bikes; poor habits result in pedestrian collisions
An increase in accidents involving pedestrians is forcing the city to place limitations on a popular cycling course in Tokyo. Some of the plans under consideration include building a platform that separates the pedestrians from the cyclists and enforcing speed limits.
Some municipalities have changed street names to emphasize the pedestrians‘ right of way. A strong awareness of health and the environment is turning more and more people into cyclists, but these cyclists need to find a safe way to coexist with pedestrians.
„Watch out for pedestrians“ and „Reduce speed“ are among signs that dot Fuchu Tamagawa Kaze no Michi, a 9.4km road alongside the Tama River in western Tokyo.
Cars and motorcycles are not allowed, but the road has been the site of collisions involving pedestrians for about 10 years. According to Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department’s Fuchu Police Station 2007 and 2008 saw 23 accidents – two serious ones in 2008- involving pedestrians. The main cause was the excess speed of cyclists, who were unable to get out of the way in time and collided with pedestrians.
Fuchu spent about 12 million yen ($134,830) through last year building speed bumps into roads with frequent accidents. This fiscal year, the city plans to install signs along the route that appear like the road is narrowing to encourage slower speeds. A 53-year-old man who commutes by bicycle said, „The only way to tackle this is for cyclists to reduce their speeds.“
Machida city recently renamed the 14.5km stretch used by both cyclists and pedestrian known as the Sakaigawa cycling road. Complaints from pedestrians about cyclists – from rudeness to accidents – have increased in recent years. The city said the name erroneously led cyclists to believe the road was for them only. The name, Sakaigawa Yukkuri Road, reflects the fact that pedestrians have the right of way, city officials said.
Bicycle accidents involving pedestrians are on the rise even in the city. According to the National Police Agency, there were 2,942 bicycle accidents in 2008, a 4.5-fold increase from a decade earlier. Part of the increase stems from the fact that a growing number of cyclists are riding faster, sports-type models.
According to a nationwide survey of 100 bicycle shops conducted by the Tokyo-based Japan Bicycle Promotion Institute, sports-bicycle sales per store jumped 45% in fiscal 2008. In the last three years, sales of other types of bicycles have stagnated, while sports-type bicycles are rising 30-45% compared with previous years.
Many people are buying sports-type bicycles for the first time to combat the onset of metabolic syndrome and save on gas costs, observers said. Most of the sports-type bicycles are racing bikes, which can easily hit speeds of 30-40kph. If the pedestrian walking ahead makes a sudden turn, cyclists have a hard time avoiding a collision. The bikes are quiet and pedestrians may have trouble noticing them.
Arakawa emergency riverside road, also known as Arakawa cycling road, has adopted speed limits. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, which manages the road, has called for a speed limit below 20kph – the speed at which a cyclist can easily stop. Signs warning speeders have been placed at 91 locations on the road.
Good manners count
Residents of local municipalities are pushing for separate roads for pedestrians and cyclists, but officials say roads do not have enough shoulder space nor can they be widened to create separate paths for both. The reality is urbanites on foot will just have to count on the good manners of cyclists for peaceful coexistence.
Masahiro Mashimo, former racer and leader of a hobby cycling team, acknowledged that it would be ideal if pedestrians could be separated from cyclists, but said in tight spaces, „speeding is a bad idea.“