Reports by a National Police Agency study group that bicycles should be allowed on the footpath have generated a fair bit of chatter in Tokyo. Many faster on-road cyclists read "allowed" as meaning possibly "must" and so have kicked up a fair bit of stink - for example here. This is natural enough because these cyclists - almost exclusively adult men, prefer to ride on the road, which, while more dangerous, is faster, smoother and easier as long as you don't get hit. I ran the Tokyo Marathon back in February and it really hit home to me just how nice it is to use the middle of the road. Cars have a sweet deal. The gutter on the outside lane is a far cry from having the middle of the road to yourself, but it is smoother, faster, and less obstructed than the pavement, and you generally get an unobstructed view, so these guys prefer to use it despite the danger from cars. So it is understandable they are worried that bikes off the road might become the default.
But many seem to think that the NPA wants to somehow ban bicycles altogether, or at least somehow make them less popular. Now the way that traffic police sometimes like to stand at intersections seemingly protecting the cars from the pedestrians I sometimes wonder about this myself. Interestingly, I think I found the list of members of the NPA study group that kicked off all this fuss on the NPA website, and it appears that the panel includes none other than the editor in chief of the Japan Automobile Federation magazine. Hmmm. An affiliate of the automobile association on a panel to make proposals for regulating cycling. Slightly dubious.
But really, in this day and age when even George Bush is talking up his plans to deal with global warming, the tide is flowing against such archaeic ideas as these. Banning bikes, or even banning bikes on roads is a pretty hard sell in Japan. Women, children and elderly people use bicycles more than cars, and these groups in particular need all the protection that society can afford them. Sidewalks are scant protection from cars as it is - the kerb is more psychological than anything else. I have seen an out of control car go over the sidewalk, and the kerb didn't even slow it down.
But like I say, people all around the world are rapidly starting to realize all this, and do something about it. So if anything we will inevitably see more roads go the other way - wider sidewalks, less car lanes, and more car free streets popping up in various places.