I read in the paper the other day that in Osaka, it might soon be legal to ride your bike on the sidewalk (at 5km/hr). This genuinely surprised me, for the simple fact that I didn’t even know it was illegal in the first place. No Osaka cyclist in his right mind would consider riding anywhere else. The speed limit in the city for motor vehicles is 60km/hr, and if an unintoxicated driver hits a bike going at that speed (which can inflict quite a bit of damage, you will concede), he’s not charged with much more than negligence. In fact, the same article mentioned a driver who struck and killed a cyclist and was acquitted of any wrong-doing because he was driving within the speed limit.
When I say “cyclist”, I’m not referring to the guys who zip by (on the road) dressed like they’re in the Tour-de-France (and if you own a racing bike here, you will wear that uniform if you’re going down to Lawson‘s to buy a litre of milk). The vast majority of city folk run their errands on a mamachari (“Mother’s Chariot,”), an unglamourous, utilitarian thing with a basket (and often child’s seat) in front, a rack (or often child’s seat) in the back. Any mother would get arrested for riding one in Toronto, but it’s the most convenient way here to do the shopping, pay the bills, go to the bank. The city government is under the delusion that all Osakans drive cars (because everyone in a city councillor’s acquaintanceship does – big ones), and so they make nearly no concessions for legally parking your bike near a station without paying. No one is directly fined, but on random days, at 9 o’clock a.m., when most people have left for work, the city workers drive up in flatbed trucks and haul bikes away (and it costs $35 to get them back from the inconveniently-located lock-ups throughout the city). Luckily, I clock in at 10 o’clock, so I get to park by Nagai Station after the trucks have gone. I’ve not always been so lucky over the years, though.
I saw a kid wearing a bicycle helmet the other day. Then I saw another. Possibly their school insists on it. Nobody else does.