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A cyclist waits for a traffic light to change on a busy street in Tokyo on Nov. 10, 2022.

A cyclist waits for a traffic light to change on a busy street in Tokyo on Nov. 10, 2022. (Akifumi Ishikawa/Stars and Stripes)

TOKYO — The freewheeling days of bicycling on the streets and sidewalks of Japan’s capital city are apparently over.

Tokyo Metropolitan Police, citing a rise in traffic accidents, announced a crackdown on four of the most common cycling violations, according to a statement emailed Wednesday to Stars and Stripes.

“We are promoting guidance and crackdowns of cyclists, putting increased emphasis on violations that directly link to serious traffic accidents,” according to the statement.

The police are now focusing on cyclists who run through red lights, fail to heed stop signs, ride against traffic or ride fast on sidewalks, metro police said.

Tokyo Metropolitan Police stop a bicyclist on a street in Tokyo on Sept. 1, 2020.

Tokyo Metropolitan Police stop a bicyclist on a street in Tokyo on Sept. 1, 2020. (Akifumi Ishikawa/Stars and Stripes)

A cyclist navigates a crowded sidewalk in Tokyo on Nov. 10, 2022.

A cyclist navigates a crowded sidewalk in Tokyo on Nov. 10, 2022. (Akifumi Ishikawa/Stars and Stripes)

Lawbreaking cyclists are now more likely to be issued traffic tickets rather than warnings, according to a Kyodo News report on Tuesday.

Running a traffic light, failing to stop at a stop sign or riding against motor vehicle traffic carries a maximum three months in prison or a maximum fine of 50,000 yen, about $360, police said. Riding fast on sidewalks could cost offending cyclists up to 20,000 yen, or $143. 

Traffic accidents involving bicycles in Tokyo have increased in recent years. As of Sept. 30, bicycles were involved in 10,271 accidents so far this year, about 1,700 more incidents over the same period last year, according to a Nippon TV report Oct. 31.

Also, accidents involving bicycles made up almost half, 43.6%, of all accidents in 2021, an increase from 32.1% in 2016, Kyodo News reported.

Bicyclists’ numbers grew during the COVID-19 pandemic as people turned to two wheels to avoid close contact with others or ordered meals through delivery services like Uber Eats.

Survey results released in April by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government found that 22.3% of city residents are using bicycles more often since the pandemic began, Kyodo News reported.

author picture
Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

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