MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Bicycle enthusiasts are rejoicing: Two wheels no longer are an outlawed winter mode of transportation at this northern Japan base.

Brig. Gen. Bill Rew, 35th Fighter Wing and Misawa installation commander, announced at Thursday evening’s town hall meeting at Tohoku Enlisted Club that he plans to rewrite the community standard prohibiting residents from riding bicycles on base between Nov. 15 and March 31.

“I’ve always had trouble with the ‘15 November thou shall not ride bikes anymore until I say so’ kind of thing,” said Rew, who served a previous tour at Misawa as 35th Operations Group commander from 1998 to 2000. “I’ve always said if I’m king, I want to change it. And so today, I’ve changed it.”

The winter bike ban has been a prickly topic among base residents, especially because Japanese who live and work on the base are permitted to ride their bicycles year-round. Rew said the topic was raised again this week at mandatory winter awareness briefings.

Many adults and children like to ride bikes for fun, fitness or “just for transportation,” he said. Sometimes winters are late, sometimes spring comes early, and often sidewalks may be passable for weeks after the snow is cleared, he added.

“Those kind of inconsistencies I want to address as the wing commander,” Rew said. “I hate legislating judgment down to the level that irritates people.”

Base residents still won’t have carte blanche to ride bicycles in winter time; some rules will still apply. Rew said he’s instructed wing safety personnel to add a bicycle symbol daily to the commander’s access channel, depicting when the roads and sidewalks are and are not OK for bicycles.

Those who prefer motorized two-wheel transport aren’t as fortunate: The Nov. 15 to March 31 motorcycle ban still holds.

“I am legislating that judgment and I’m not going to apologize for it,” Rew said. “The weather changes very quickly here in the winter and you can very easily get yourself in a very dangerous situation. We’ve had a number of motorcycle accidents this year; we’ve hurt some airmen and some Japanese folks.”

With Rew at the meeting to answer questions was a panel of base military and civilian leaders — subject matter experts and those representing various units. Questions were taken via e-mail before the meeting and in person and by phone during the two-hour session. The event was televised on base and broadcast on EDGE Radio 1575 AM.

About 100 people did not get their questions answered, base officials said. Some of those unanswered queries were to be addressed Friday morning during the Commander’s Open Line Radio Show and in the base publication “Northern Light.”

Topics that did receive air time Thursday included speeding — too much — and parking — not enough. Rew was asked what can be done about drivers who speed through the parking lot in front of the Potter Fitness Center. The commander agreed the issue needs to be addressed and said base leaders will consider temporary speed bumps and other possible remedies.

Rew said he plans to start holding meetings next week about inadequate parking for the housing towers due to recent force protection landscaping.

“I’m not convinced we’re maximizing the parking spaces that we have,” he said.

One caller complained about Potter Fitness Center rules he thought too restrictive; they prohibit his son from playing basketball there without adult supervision.

“I want him to stay active instead of playing video games,” the man said.

Rew agreed, adding that after reviewing Air Force Instruction, he changed the policy. The same rules that apply to 14- and 15-year-olds at Potter now also apply to 13-year-olds: They can use the basketball and racquetball courts without supervision but must be with an adult when using the weight room or cardiovascular machines.

Other topics raised throughout the evening included the gas prices at Misawa’s Army and Air Force Exchange Service station. Misawa Naval Air Facility Command Master Chief Michael McCarthy noted that gasoline is 20 cents less per gallon at Navy bases in Japan.

Another caller complained about lack of maternity clothes at the base exchange. AAFES general manager Wayne Hansen said the store doubled its maternity merchandise from last fall and will do so again this spring.

“We now have four sales fixtures on the floor” plus holiday wear, he said.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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