As a cyclist in Fukuoka City, drivers are dangerous idiots. But as a driver in Fukuoka City, cyclists are dangerous idiots.
I ride a pretty fast hybrid bicycle (mountain bike handle bars and gears with the weight and tyres of a touring bike). I don’t ride on the sidewalk, because pedestrians walk every which way, often unexpectedly changing course to pop into a shop. Pedestrians are like targets in a game of Frogger. Old ladies with incontinent dogs – 50 points. Senmon-gakko students with a sluggish pace, reflective of their reluctance to grow up – 100 points. Distracted school kids ruled by the Heisenberg Principle. You can know their location (squatted on the ground, examining a worm), or their momentum (chasing a cat), but not both – 200 points.
The road is safer than the sidewalk. The vehicles are travelling in the same direction. I ride fast enough to keep near pace with cars and buses. But, drivers pass too close, nearly clipping your handlebars with their side mirrors. Truck drivers forget how long their vehicles are and nearly force you off the road as they pull back to the centre of the lane. Drivers turning onto the main road will look right through cyclists. The visual motion detectors are only sensitive to cars. Seeing no cars, they will turn directly into a cyclist. Drivers waiting to turn across oncoming traffic will misjudge your speed, confusing your touring cycle travelling at 40 km/h with a mamachari. When challenged, drivers respond with some variation of “Get off the f@#king road.” It’s surprising how knowledgeable Japanese drivers are of English expletives.
As a driver, cyclists are the most dangerous things on the road. Wakamono bakamono ride right through stop signs, happily text messaging. Late-for-work salary men, single-handedly pedaling like mad men in the rain, with their other hand holding an umbrella. Bow-legged deaf babachans leisurely ride mamacharis in the middle of the road. High school boys returning late at night from jyu-kyu, oblivious to the practical demonstration of Darwinism that they risk. What colour are black-haired high school boys riding 3 abreast, in black school uniforms on black bicycles late at night with no lights? Black! “Get off the f@#king road”.
The law says bicycles are categorized as mini-vehicles. Riding on the sidewalk is punishable by up to 3 months imprisonment and a fine of up to ¥50,000. Though, as anyone can see, this law is ignored.
For the last few years, Fukuoka City has been converting wider sidewalks in to half walkways and half bikeways, such as along Meiji-dori by Heiwadai park. This does make cycling safer, provided that cyclists and pedestrians keep to their path. But this only covers a small area of the city.
I propose a license fee of ¥1000 on each bicycle sold in the city, with the money used to mark off bike lanes on roads and sidewalks. This will keep cyclists from playing frogger with pedestrians.
And, I propose the police enforce traffic rules on cyclists – stops at red lights, signaling turns, and lights at night. By obeying the rules of the road, cyclists will be seen as rightfully belonging on the road.
I know these sound utopian. In the meantime, if you are a cyclist and ride on the roads, wear bright clothing and ride with a flashing light on, even during the day. You’d be surprised how more frequently drivers will notice you and not cut out in front of you. Fukuokan drivers are famously bad drivers, so stop at red lights and stop signs. Use hand signals to show your turns or if you’re going to pass a parked truck. You’d be surprised how many drivers acknowledge your intentions and give you room. Have a mirror on your handlebars. It lessens the surprise when cars pass, especially Priuses. If you notice a truck stuck behind you, wave a signal to him when you are ready for him to pass. Use your bell with pedestrians. Remember, bicycles are pretty quiet. Just a short ring lets old people and mothers with children know that you are coming.
When you are driving and passing a cyclist, give them at least one-and-half metres. It’s extremely unsettling feeling a side mirror just miss your shoulder. Also, cyclists sometimes have to make quick dodges for crushed pop cans. When turning, check for oncoming cyclists near the curb too. Basically, treat a bicycle as you would a small car.
More courtesy = less idiocy.
Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn175, July 2013)
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