Police Systematically Removing Bicycle Crossings Around Tokyo

Byron Kidd
Over the past few days I've been informed by many concerned readers that they have witnessed workers removing bicycle crossings from streets all around Tokyo and they want to know whats going on.

This comes as little surprise as in May 2012 the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) released a statement which revealed they were planning to remove over 10,000 of Tokyo's 15,000 bicycle crossings from intersections by 2014 to encourage cyclists to use the streets. Over summer crossings slowly began to disappear, but with the end of the year little over a month away, work crews hit the streets in November and crossings all around the city are being removed at an alarming rate.

What was once a bicycle crossing in Tokyo.
Photo: Scout Hatfield
I'm astounded by the reasoning of the police. A representative of the Metropolitan Police Department actually said "We want to quickly start removal so that bicycles can travel roads safely,". What? Removing cycling infrastructure from the sidewalks will somehow make cycling on the roads safer? Sounds to me like someone at the MPD has been into the confiscated drugs.

The stated aim of removing bicycle crossings is to get more cyclists off the sidewalks and onto the streets, but if you've observed any Tokyo intersection you'll notice that the bicycle crossings are currently ignored by cyclists and pedestrians alike. What affect will removing them have if they're already universally ignored? How is anything change cycling on the sidewalks supposed to make the roads safer?

Cyclists in Japan will continue to cycle on the sidewalks until such time as there is alternative, safe infrastructure on Japan's roads and they fully understand how to utilise it. I've stated it a million times in the past "Japanese roads are not ready for Japanese cyclists, nor are Japanese cyclists ready for the roads".

On May 17 2012, the MPD announced that 5,685 accidents involving bicycles occurred in Tokyo from January to April (2012), 12 percent fewer than during the same period the previous year. There were 20 percent fewer accidents on sidewalks and 23 percent fewer at intersections, but accidents on the road increased by 7 percent. As to whether the changes were due to the department's announcement that cyclists must generally ride on the street, a traffic affairs department official said, "More analysis is needed."

Workers erase a bicycle crossing in Tokyo.
Photo: John Crossley
So according to the Police Department's very own data, accidents involving bicycles are going down, accidents on the sidewalks are going down, and accidents at intersections are going down, but since the MPD began recommending cyclists ride on the road accidents on the road have increased by 7%. Astonishingly the police refuse to recognise the spike in on road accidents directly relates to their efforts to get cyclists off the sidewalks!

If, after the removal of the crossings, police decide to take a hard line on sidewalk cyclists one of two things will happen. 1) Without alternative safe cycling infrastructure the general populace will simply ignore the police as they have on a number of past ill informed rulings and nothing will change, or 2) The number of on road accidents between cyclists and motor vehicles will soar because there is no safe cycling infrastructure in Tokyo.

What is it that the Metropolitan Police department don't get? When will they understand that while they faff about making new laws, which they never enforce, the Japanese public are getting on with life cycling under their own, culturally accepted, set of rules which have evolved from decades of practical bicycle usage. Whenever the police get involved they confuse the issue by enforcing laws nobody has observed for decades because they're irrelevant, impractical, and don't meet with society's needs.

When it comes to cycling laws the policy makers are so out of touch with reality they're totally irrelevant.

Educate the public, provide them with safe cycling infrastructure, develop cycling laws designed to protect not punish cyclists and enforce those laws consistently. Admittedly I haven't given it a lot of thought, but surely that would go much further towards making our roads safer than removing already irrelevant bicycle crossings.

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  1. So why is it that the Police themselves ride on the footpath?
    I believe it is illegal for cyclists to do a right turn using the road signals (I've been stopped by police for doing this), and now cyclists are being told not to use pedestrian crossings. So how must a cyclist negotiate a right turn? Go figure!

  2. From Sky News on 18 November 2013 reporting on London, where cycling on pavements is not allowed - "The latest death means 14 cyclists have died on London's roads so far this year." There is a risk such carnage will be repeated anywhere cyclists are pushed onto the roads

  3. I'm glad they're being removed. Basically, they were a trap. - they were too dangerous to use because pedestrians ignore that they're separate than the crosswalk, and still have the right-of-way when they do, and then cars can point to them when they kill a bicyclist and say, "It wasn't my fault! He wasn't in the bicycle crossing!"

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