A Tour of Tokyo's Newest Bicycle Lanes

New bicycle lanes are appearing all over Tokyo, and thats great even if the lanes aren't so great themselves! We cycled as many as we could and here are our observations.

Fitness isn't a goal, it's a side effect

If you or a friend are cycling to get fit and not enjoying it then cycle to the shops instead. Before you know it you'll be fit, car free and better off financially.

How to Turn Your Old Mountain Bike Into a Tidy Commuter

Need a new commuter bike? Maybe not, because with a few cheap and easy modifications you can convert your mountain bike into a lighter faster commuter bicycle. Here's how ...

Japan's National Bicycle Commuting Ban

Strict government regulations and inflexible insurance rules effectively force companies in Japan to ban their employees from cycling to work. It's time for a change.

Cycling at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games

We're excited that Tokyo is hosting the 2020 Olympic Games! Read on to learn what we know of the cycling events and facilities planned for Tokyo.

Cycling My Fuji and Fuji's Five Lakes

Climbing Mt Fuji by bicycle is a ride you have to put on your bucket list. The Pro's do it every year at the Tour of Japan, but us mortals can do it anytime we like.

October 17, 2014

Common Complaints about Japanese Cyclists Refuted

If you're looking to push a persons buttons here in Japan just ask their opinion of cyclists. More than politics or religion, when it comes to the issue of cyclists almost everyone has an extreme negative opinion and can not be persuaded from their views.

And why wouldn't you have a negative opinion of cyclists? When they're on the sidewalks they're cycling too fast, on the roads they're too slow, everywhere they ride they're swerving unpredictably, ringing their bells and frightening the children.

Admittedly the customs and manners of some cyclists leave a lot to be desired, yes some do speed, some are dangerous on the roads, some claim the sidewalk as their own exclusive domain but lets not judge the group by the bad actions of a few. After all we rarely notice the law abiding cyclists around us, it is only the dangerous, impolite and reckless ones that stick in our mind leading to the impression that all cyclists are dangerous.

How many "good" motorists do you pass every day? Do you remember them? No, you only remember the bad ones, but you'd never conclude that all motorists are dangerous. Why not? Because chances are you're a motorist and you're one of the "good" ones right? Therefore not all motorists are dangerous. If you don't cycle and you witness dangerous acts by cyclists around you (yet subconsciously ignore the vast number of safe cyclists) then its easy to conclude that all cyclists are dangerous.

Statistically speaking 85% of Japan's population of 127 million own a bicycle, every day 16% of all trips in Tokyo are made by bicycle. However you cut it that's a lot of bicycles moving a lot of people around the city every single day. If everyone of those cyclists were as dangerous as the anti-cyclists claim then you'd have to question how anyone in Japan lived long enough for the population to reach 127 million!

Here are some common complaints made against cyclists in Japan

Cyclists should get off the sidewalks.

Under the Japanese Road Traffic Act bicycles are classed as a light vehicle and thus are required to travel on the road. This act was amended in the 1970's after a sharp rise in bicycle accidents, which coincidentally coincided with a sharp rise in private car ownership, to allow bicycles to travel on specially marked sidewalks. This amendment effectively forced bicycles off the road to make space for automobiles as Japanese society became more affluent.

Under the current version of the Road Traffic Act cyclists are allowed to cycle on specifically marked shared use sidewalks, sidewalks over 3 meters in width, and when they deem road conditions to be unsafe for cycling. Children under 13 and those older than 70 can cycle on all sidewalks.

Given the lack of cycling infrastructure on Japanese roads, and no definition of what are regarded as "dangerous road conditions" the vast majority of Japanese cyclists and choose to cycle on the sidewalks as they believe the roads are too dangerous for them.

The Japanese constabulary know that Japanese cyclists aren't ready for the roads, and Japanese roads aren't ready for Japanese cyclists so let the practise of sidewalk cycling persist lest they face carnage on the streets.

Cyclists should wear helmets.

There is no legal requirement for cyclists in Japan to wear helmets. Children under 13 are encouraged to do so, and manufacturers of bicycles designed to carry small children in child seats do include a children's helmet at the time of purchase, but there is no legal requirement for anyone to wear a helmet.

An why should there be? Only 2 countries in the world, Australia and New Zealand, have mandatory helmet laws and you only have to look at the low cyclists numbers in those countries to determine what a detrimental effect those laws had on cycling.

Cycling to the supermarket, or to pick children up from school is not, and should not be, an extreme and dangerous activity requiring the use of specially designed safety equipment, helmets, or pads. Governments forcing people to wear helmets are reinforcing the idea that cycling is dangerous. What governments should be forcing instead is the creation of cycling infrastructure capable of supporting Japan's millions of currently under catered for cyclists.

Helmets don't keep cyclists safe, well designed cycling infrastructure does.

Cycling with children is dangerous, those parents are irresponsible.

Statistics are clearly against this argument. Millions of children are transported around their town or neighbourhood by bicycles every day yet the number of deaths and injuries resulting from this practise remain low.

When police tried to implement a ban on carrying two children per bicycle parents refused to comply citing inconvenience as a major factor. Proving that when you make cycling inconvenient you make life inconvenient for those that rely on bicycles as transport.

Not surprisingly I most often here this argument from people who don't have children or have never enjoyed cycling with their child. Sure it takes some getting used to the extra weight and affected handling, but nothing is more fun than cycling down the street with your child in front of you, feeling the breeze in your hair an singing together loudly at the top of your voice.

If I can ride on the streets of Japan so can everyone else.

This is an argument I hear a lot from bicycle commuters, recreational and "sports" cyclists in Japan, and is one I used myself in the past when I was young, fit and arrogant. I cycle on the road, I consider Japanese roads to be some of the safest I've cycled on around the world, but I am not representative of the average Japanese cyclist, I'm a bike commuter, a cycling enthusiast, therefore most unlike the average Japanese cyclist.

What commuters, recreational and sports cyclists fail to realise is that they represent a tiny fraction of the total number of cyclists in Japan.  Not all cyclists have their confidence on the roads, most are mothers, the elderly, businessmen, and children who simply want to get from point A to B without exposing themselves to unnecessary danger.

You may feel safe cycling on Japanese roads, but would your wife, mother, grandfather or child? Consider that.

When a cyclist and car collide its always the cyclist fault even if he was being an ass.

Its called Strict Liability Law and in short it attributes financial responsibility for the accident (not criminal responsibility) to the driver of the motor vehicle in the event of a crash with a more vulnerable road user. Thus when a cyclist is hurt in an accident they are compensated by the driver of the heavier, faster and more dangerous vehicle.

It can be argued that this instills bad behaviour in cyclists but the same law applies to them in the event of an accident with a pedestrian, the more vulnerable party. In such a case the cyclists is financially liable for the property damage and medical costs of the pedestrian, yet we don't hear anyone claiming limited liability promotes dangerous walking.

Cyclists should be licensed, it'll make them safer.

Yeah, like that worked for automobiles. Statistics from around the world show that over two thirds of accidents between bicycles and cars are due to negligence on the part of the driver. Explain to me again how licensing cyclists will make them safer?

Japanese cyclists are still dangerous.

Japanese cyclists aren't dangerous, Japanese roads are dangerous as they're not designed with cyclists in mind. Make a safe place for cyclists to ride separated from both pedestrians and traffic and you'll see a drastic reduction in accidents involving bicycles. It works work in The Netherlands and Denmark and will work in Japan too but only if the government takes measures to prioritise people over automobiles when designing infrastructure. Until then, you'd better get used to cyclists on the sidewalk.

When it comes to complaints about cyclists in Japan I often find the ones complaining don't cycle and hence conclude that they can not identify with cyclists. They walk, they drive so they can identify with those activities and as they consider themselves are good drivers and attentive pedestrians they believe the majority of others are as well. When they see a motorist make a mistake they know that "sometimes happens" and "can't be avoided". But when they can't identify with cyclists they see only the bad behaviour.

I believe that if the roads in Japan were built with cyclists in rather than solely for motor vehicles you'd see complaints about cyclists decrease dramatically. Until the infrastructure is improved spare a thought for cyclists, the refugees of the transport world and recognise that the bad behaviour of a few is far outweighed by the good behaviour of the vast majority.

October 16, 2014

Night Pedal Cruising Halloween Ride 2014

If you only get to one Night Pedal Cruising Ride this year then you should get out more often.

Wait, thats not right. If you only get to one Night Pedal Cruising ride this year then it has to be the Night Pedal Cruising Halloween Ride 2014 which will be held Saturday October 25th.

Like the famous Night Pedal Cruising Christmas Ride the Halloween Ride is a chance to climb into your spooky costumes and decorate your bicycle for a frightful fancy dress ride the likes of which Tokyo has never seen before.

To add to the mystery of this months ride neither the route nor the destination has been announced leaving you at the mercy of the psychotic ride leader Naohiro Kiyota. Where will he take us and will we make it back alive??

Ghoulish fiends will descend upon the Aoyama United Nations University Farmers Market at 5:30pm for a 6pm start under the cover of darkness.

Night Pedal Cruising rides are social rides at a slow pace for relatively short distanced with the emphasis on having a good time with bicycle lovers from all walks of life. No matter your level of experience you can complete a Night Pedal Cruising Ride with ease.

As this is Halloween please do come in costume (or not!) and decorate your bike, bring lights, your camera and if possible a sound system with music fitting for the occasion. (Just what is fitting for a Halloween night ride around Tokyo? I'll let you decide.)

For more information please visit the official Night Pedal Cruising Halloween Ride 2014 page.

October 15, 2014

Exercise bikes use technology to better simulate your biking experience

There’s still nothing quite like the real thing, though!

Cycling isn’t just an activity; it’s an experience. Every time you take to the road or ride on a trail, you experience a new part of the world around you. Yes, even if it is just the cacophony of traffic in Tokyo. Of course, not everybody has the time or the drive to commit to a regular cyclist’s lifestyle. Thankfully, there is a good alternative for those who, for one reason or another, can’t really go out and burn through calories on the open road: exercise bikes.

The thing is, it seems that over the years exercise bikes have started to get not only more and more high-tech, but more and more unusual as well. One prime example would have to be the slot machine exercise bike. Yes, this is a real thing; or at least it was. Back in 2000, a company called Fitness Gaming Corp came up with the idea of encouraging casino patrons to exercise by hooking up a slot machine to an exercise bike. The exercise bike can only be pedaled if you use the slot machine, which is controlled using buttons on the handlebars. There’s even a cup holder for your quarters. Casino gaming is a very hot topic in Japan today, what with talks about passing a bill this month that would allow the nation to build its very first brick-and-mortar gambling establishment. If the bill becomes a law, perhaps the next step would be for big casino providers like Cryptologic – the operator of the world’s first online casino site InterCasino – to follow the Wii peripheral boom a couple of years ago and outfit its online gambling portals with its very own bike peripheral.

Now, designers have moved on to making stationary bikes feel more like the real thing. The open-source Smartbike project, for example, is a game you control with your bike and monitors everything from your real pedal speed and handlebar movement to heart rate and calorie burn rate in real time. Others like Citytrip pair the Oculus Rift VR headset with a stationary bike to simulate actually getting out on the road and pedaling, even through fantastical alien worlds!

While the technology behind these innovations are quite impressive, it feels like there’s still a ways to go until you can successfully replicate the real feeling of cycling in your living room. After all, you can’t really feel the wind and the bumps you ride over when you’re stuck pedaling a stationary bike.

September 11, 2014

Autumn Traffic Safety Campaign Ride

This months Night Pedal Cruising Ride in Tokyo falls right in the middle of Tokyo's Autumn Traffic Safety Campaign on Saturday, September 20th, and therefore the theme of this months ride will be road safety. By getting out on the roads in a big group and at night we hope not only to teach cyclists how to be safe on the roads, but make an impression on motorists too.

While we always endeavour to ride safely this months ride will begin with a short talk about how to stay safe on the roads of Tokyo, especially at night, from our very experienced riders.

We will meet at the Aoyama United Nations University Farmers Market from 5:30 with the aim of setting off at 6:00. We'll cycle down Aoyama Dori towards Tokyo Station which is brilliantly lit up at night. From there we will head to Shiba Koen (possibly cycling the bicycle lanes of Shintora Dori) to take in another lively night view, the brightly lit Tokyo Tower. The ride will swing by Roppongi Hills before finishing up at Yoyogi Koen where I'm sure a few beverages will be consumed in a manner fit for the Autumn Road Safety Campaign.

I'll be there handing out free copies of last weekends Asashi Shimbun "The Globe" insert which included a 6 page special on cycling in Japan and around the world, so come enjoy the ride and pick up a copy.

As always, bring lights, and if you can, a stereo, speakers, or even an FM radio as the ride is much more enjoyable with a few tunes. Also don't forget your camera.

Night Pedal Cruising Rides are a social affair. The pace is slow, the distance is short, the music is cool and so are the people.

Complete details of the ride can be found on the Night Pedal Cruising page.

If you're planning to join the ride or have any questions please don't hesitate to drop me an email.

Japanese Bicycle Theft Statistics

Japan has a reputation for having a low crime rate, so much so that it is not uncommon for people to leave their bicycles unlocked when parked on the street or in parking garages. But despite the belief of many that leaving a bicycle is unsafe Japan does have bicycle thieves and hundreds of thousands of bicycles are reported stolen each year.

In 2013, according to police statistics, 305,033 bicycles were reported stolen. Osaka had the highest rate of bicycle theft with 4.65 bicycles stolen per 1000 residents, followed by Tokyo and Saitama. Cities with the lowest incidents of bicycle theft were Akita and Nagasaki with just 0.57 reported thefts per 1000 residents.

As registering your bicycle as a theft deterrent is compulsory for all bicycles purchased in Japan it would be great to see statistics from the Tokyo Metropolitan Police as to how many of these stolen bicycles were recovered and returned to their owners.

Table: Number of Stolen Bicycles and Rate per 1000 Residents by City, 2013

Reported stolen bicycles in 2013 Population (unit:1000) Rate per 1000 residents
Osaka 41,191 8,856 4.65
Tokyo 50,859 13,230 3.84
Saitama 23,506 7,212 3.26
Hyogo 16,329 5,571 2.93
Kyoto 7,632 2,625 2.91
Chiba 17,791 6,195 2.87
Fukuoka 14,516 5,085 2.85
Okayama 5,026 1,936 2.60
Shiga 3,562 1,415 2.52
Aichi 17,832 7,427 2.40
Kochi 1,667 752 2.22
Kanagawa 19,900 9,067 2.19
Mie 3,810 1,840 2.07
Saga 1,702 843 2.02
Miyazaki 2,123 1,126 1.89
Ehime 2,654 1,415 1.88
Gifu 3,798 2,061 1.84
Hiroshima 5,074 2,848 1.78
Tokushima 1,363 776 1.76
Nara 2,364 1,390 1.70
Wakayama 1,664 988 1.68
Kagawa 1,658 989 1.68
Shizuoka 6,058 3,735 1.62
Ibaraki 4,751 2,943 1.61
Miyagi 3,722 2,325 1.60
Tochigi 3,130 1,992 1.57
Yamaguchi 2,215 1,431 1.55
Tottori 898 582 1.54
Kumamoto 2,711 1,807 1.50
Ishikawa 1,724 1,163 1.48
Hokkaido 7,965 5,460 1.46
Gunma 2,890 1,992 1.45
Yamanashi 1,223 852 1.44
Niigata 3,298 2,347 1.41
Nagano 2,854 2,132 1.34
Kagoshima 2,114 1,690 1.25
Fukui 996 799 1.25
Toyama 1,344 1,082 1.24
Oita 1,420 1,185 1.20
Fukushima 2,263 1,962 1.15
Okinawa 1,603 1,409 1.14
Shimane 778 707 1.10
Iwate 1,233 1,303 0.95
Aomori 1,267 1,350 0.94
Yamagata 971 1,152 0.84
Akita 758 1,063 0.71
Nagasaki 796 1,408 0.57

Table: Number of Stolen Bicycles by Prefecture in 2013, 2012

2013 2012
Total 305,003 303,745
Hokkaido 7,965 8,810
Aomori 1,267 1,434
Iwate 1,233 1,442
Miyagi 3,722 3,837
Akita 758 844
Yamagata 971 909
Fukushima 2,263 2,410
Tokyo 50,859 53,184
Ibaraki 4,751 4,819
Tochigi 3,130 3,046
Gunma 2,890 2,806
Saitama 23,506 24,706
Chiba 17,791 18,890
Kanagawa 19,900 20,643
Niigata 3,298 3,256
Yamanashi 1,223 1,337
Nagano 2,854 3,109
Shizuoka 6,058 6,383
Toyama 1,344 1,419
Ishikawa 1,724 1,811
Fukui 996 965
Gifu 3,798 3,951
Aichi 17,832 18,823
Mie 3,810 4,363
Shiga 3,562 3,593
Kyoto 7,632 7,359
Osaka 41,191 30,191
Hyogo 16,329 15,930
Nara 2,364 2,514
Wakayama 1,664 1,760
Tottori 898 862
Shimane 778 835
Okayama 5,026 5,477
Hiroshima 5,074 5,307
Yamaguchi 2,215 2,234
Tokushima 1,363 1,496
Kagawa 1,658 1,652
Ehime 2,654 2,545
Kochi 1,667 1,736
Fukuoka 14,516 14,216
Saga 1,702 1,697
Nagasaki 796 881
Kumamoto 2,711 2,693
Oita 1,420 1,516
Miyazaki 2,123 2,220
Kagoshima 2,114 2,267
Okinawa 1,603 1,567

Source: Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department.

September 06, 2014

The Varied Designs of Tokyo's Bicycle Lanes

Cycling lanes and infrastructure is popping up all over Tokyo at an alarming rate. It's surprising and encouraging to see such a commitment to implementing bicycle lanes around the city, but unfortunately the lanes being developed are poorly designed and opportunities (not to mention money) are being wasted on what otherwise could be some of the best cycling infrastructure in the world.

Below is a round up of some of the cycling lanes you'll find around Tokyo.

Tokyo Bay

The jewel in the crown of Tokyo's cycling infrastructure undoubtedly has to be the islands of Tokyo bay. Currently under redevelopment to host the 2020 Olympic Games Tokyo Governor, Masuzoe Yoichi has pledged to make the area more friendly to cyclists by including cycling infrastructure in the redevelopment plans right from the start. But will this opportunity be wasted on bad design?

The new lanes, at sidewalk level are smooth and a pleasure to ride until one notices they're bidirectional making them much too narrow to be practical. Rather than making cycling safer and more pleasurable cycling these lanes will be a stressful and even dangerous experience if used by cyclists travelling in both directions.

According to a source close to the minister responsible for transport at the 2020 Olympic Games the lanes currently in place are temporary and the final design for Tokyo's cycling lanes has yet to be finalised, but as they are an almost exact match for the new permanent bicycle lanes on the newly redeveloped Shintora Doori near Toranamon Hills it is easy to image that these are the lanes we will be stuck with.

Shintora Dori

It seems the Tokyo Metropolitan Governments policy towards cycling infrastructure it to take advantage of redevelopment projects to widen sidewalks and implement sidewalk level bicycle lanes.  The redevelopment in Toranamon, including the new Toranamon Hills complex gave officials the perfect opportunity to place bicycle lanes either side of Shintora Dori.

The planning for this redevelopment goes back decades, but it appears bicycle lanes were a late addition to the plans. Like the lanes on the islands of Tokyo Bay these lanes are sidewalk level, separated from the road by barriers, and from pedestrians by both barriers and gardens. These lanes too are bidirectional once again making them too narrow to be practical meaning if they're crowded, slow and perceived as dangerous people will choose to cycle on the much wider sidewalks as they do now.

While gardens between cyclists and pedestrians are a wonderful idea, providing both separation and a splash of colour and life to an otherwise concrete wasteland, they currently do little to keep pedestrians out of the cycle lanes. The lanes also disappear meters before pedestrian crossings and magically appear meters after meaning pedestrians and cyclists mix uncontrolled at intersections.

Even more alarming is that these lanes have been open just months and already sections have been removed to allow motorists easier access to parking.

If this is the future of cycling infrastructure in Tokyo you'll find me out on the roads.

Yamate Dori

Tokyo's inner ring road Yamate Dori is another redevelopment project which as been underway for decades and the sidewalk level bicycle lanes on either side of the road are of a different (possibly much older) design than those of Tokyo Bay and Shitora Dori.

Separated from the road by barriers and lush green gardens, these lanes feature no centre line or directional markings making them appear wider than lanes elsewhere in the city. Pedestrians and cyclists are not separated by a physical barrier, rather the pavement stones of the pedestrian and cycling areas are of a slightly different colour and the barrier is marked with a stripe of white paint.   Needless to say the bicycle lane is often filled with pedestrians and cyclists commonly cycle in the pedestrian areas.

As areas of Yamate Dori have no on street parking motorists often choose to take advantage of the wide sidewalks for a quick parking stop, making the environment dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists alike.

These lanes not only disappear at pedestrian crossings, forcing pedestrians and cyclists to mix, but also completely disappear at bus stops, and at random driveways, including those of gas stations and convenience stores.  The stop/start nature of these lanes, the fact they're too narrow to be bidirectional, and the lack of separation make cycling these lanes little different than cycling on the sidewalk.

Given the abundance of space, and seeming commitment to implement bicycle infrastructure on Yamate Dori from the beginning it is a shame more thought wasn't put into the design. This certainly was a wasted opportunity to bring world class infrastructure to Tokyo.

Suido Doro

Tokyo's Route 20 runs from the western suburbs of Tokyo into Shinjuku, it is notoriously busy, and dangerous, added to which it is overshadowed by an expressway for much of its length which traps pollution and noise on street level. It is most certainly not a pleasant cycling experience.

Fortunately running alongside Route 20 is Suido Doro a long, straight, flat section of road that offers a much better cycling experience. In an effort to lure commuter cyclists off Route 20 in peak traffic times the Tokyo Metropolitan Government painted bicycle lanes either side of Sudo Doro.

A valiant effort, but as we all know painted lanes offer cyclists little protection and actually make cycling more dangerous when they're littered with parked vehicles as the lanes of Suido Doro often are.

These lanes also inexplicably suddenly end just a few hundred meters before the cycling infrastructure of Yamate Dori leaving cyclists the option of continuing on the unpainted road surface or heading onto the insanely narrow sidewalks.

While the implementation leaves much to be desired, Tokyo needs more cycling infrastructure from the suburbs to the city if it wants to encourage bicycle commuting.

Asakusa Dori

Stretching from Ueno to almost to Asakusa is a surprising new bicycle lane development.  Separated from the road by a fence, and from pedestrians by delightful gardens and planter boxes this lane is a pleasure to ride, but suffers from the same failings of all sidewalk level lanes in Tokyo. The lane disappears at intersections forcing pedestrians and cyclists to mix, and due to a lack of education the planters do little to keep pedestrians out of the bicycle lane.

While there are no directional markings on these lanes, the very nature of Japanese sidewalk cycling means that these lanes will be used bidirectionally.

While not perfect these lanes are most welcome in Asakusa which is a popular tourist district and one which has a cheap bicycle hire scheme.

Shinjuku Dori

A line painted down the middle of a sidewalk does not magically create a bicycle lane. Not only is this lane too narrow, it is dotted with telegraph poles, littered with recycling crates on garbage day, and in places is blocked by phone boxes.

It is better we don't think of these as bicycle lanes, but more of a reminder for cyclists to stick to the roadside of the sidewalk.

In conclusion, it is encouraging that efforts are being made around the city to implement cycling infrastructure in Tokyo, yet the designs are less than ideal. The fact an effort is being made is truly wonderful, but without good design and coordination between all the responsible municipalities the opportunities to implement world class cycling infrastructure will disappear.

I don't want to be negative in the face of the poor cycling infrastructure in Tokyo, on the contrary I am excited that efforts are being made to accommodate cyclists around the city and that cycling is on the Governors agenda. But I'd like to encourage our officials to look abroad at what works in other cities around the world, to go on fact finding tours, gather information and implement stellar cycling infrastructure in Tokyo. I truly believe that if cycling infrastructure is implemented correctly Tokyo will rapidly become one of the most bicycle friendly cities in the world.

Don't let us don't Governor Masuzoe!

September 02, 2014

Cycling Infrastructure Tours in Tokyo

Over summer I had the pleasure of hosting a number of cycling infrastructure study tours around Tokyo, the largest of which consisted of 16 students from the University of Copenhagen.

As we know cycling in Tokyo enjoys a 14% modal share, yet Tokyo's cycling infrastructure has been sadly neglected which is a strange paradox indeed. Given the lack of infrastructure the majority of cyclists choose to cycle on the crowded sidewalks as they regard the roads as unsafe. Japanese cyclists also tend to ignore cycling laws instead relying on an unwritten understanding of how cyclists should behave.

Given all that it seems that cycling could not survive on Tokyo, one of the biggest and busiest mega-cities in the world, but it not only survives, it thrives. The only way to truly understand just how cycling works in Tokyo is to jump on a bicycle and try it for yourself.

During the course of the tour we cycled newly developed bicycle lanes on the islands of Tokyo Bay, along with new lanes along Shintora-dori near the new Toranamon Hills development. We cycled some sidewalk level bicycle lanes between Ueno and Asakusa and negotiates a particularly complicated intersection on some unprotected "blue paint" lanes in Odaiba. At one point on the tour we walked our bicycles over Tokyo's Raindbow Bridge which is an interesting experience in itself.

But to keep it real, and experience cycling from a locals point of view we often rode the sidewalks among the pedestrians, to which one of the tour participants remarked "I feel like a criminal, you can't cycle on the sidewalk in Denmark".  When asked the rules for cycling on the sidewalk all I could offer was "Don't hit anyone." It wasn't long before the group were cycling like they'd lived here all their lives.

During the tour we observed how older parts of the city are much more walkable and cycleable than newly developed areas, and that backstreets offer a much better cycling experience not only in terms of traffic, but that they offer a lot more surprises and interesting experiences, yet unfortunately, in Tokyo, they're notoriously difficult to navigate.

The ride wasn't all work and no play as the route took in a number of sights such as the Odaiba waterfront, Tokyo Tower, Zozoji Temple, the Imperial Palace, Ginza and Asakusa.

After a full day of cycling the participants felt they had a better understanding of cycling in Tokyo but generally agreed that newly developed cycling lanes around the city are of substandard quality compared to those in Denmark, being much too narrow and disappearing at intersections allowing pedestrians and cyclists to mingle uncontrolled.

But I think it was I who learned the most about cycling in Tokyo by observing my guests. I imagined a group of young university students who cycle every day would be as confident as me cycling on the roads, but the opposite was true. I learned that I've become accustomed to Tokyo's roads to the point where what I consider to be safe is actually very far from it. Sure, compared to cities in the US and Australia for example cycling the roads of Tokyo is a lot safer but compared to the Netherlands and Denmark Tokyo's roads are really not safe at all.

If you're visiting Tokyo and would like a better insight into just how cycling works in this amazing and unique city, would like to visit some of the newly developed bicycle infrastructure around the city and even take in some sights please do not hesitate to contact me.

August 30, 2014

Tokyo Governor Explains His Vision for Cycling in the City

At a press conference held on August 29 Tokyo Governor Yoichi Masuzoe responded to questions regarding his vision for cycling in Tokyo in the lead up to the 2020 Olympics. His answers were interesting to say the least.

In principal the Governor supports the installation of street level bicycle lanes, over sidewalk level lanes and is committed to expanding Tokyo's network of bicycle lanes across the city. This sounds like wonderful news until he elaborated on his answer.

During his elaboration things became a lot less clear as he indicated that Tokyo's widely accepted practice of sidewalk cycling would not be stamped out even in areas where bicycle lanes are widespread. In particular he singled out mothers who carry one or more children on their bicycle who may not be comfortable cycling on the roads may prefer to cycle on the sidewalks which he described as "safer".

Defending this stance he expanded by saying that he believes that forcing roadies, bicycle commuters (both of whom make up a tiny percentage of Tokyo's cyclists), the elderly and mothers (who account for a much larger percentage) to mix is a bad idea.

He acknowledged that the common practice of cycling in both directions on the sidewalk is a dangerous but is one so common that to prevent it would make cycling a much less convenient form of transport for all.

By allowing sidewalk cycling to continue in the presence of new bicycle lanes one must ask just how committed Tokyo's Governor is to providing safe, world class, cycling infrastructure?

From the very beginning Masuzoe admits that he plans to build bicycle lanes which he himself believes will be too unsafe to accommodate mothers and children.  A bicycle lane too unsafe for mothers and children is by its very nature too unsafe to accommodate anyone. Why waste taxpayers money on infrastructure he acknowledges is flawed from the start?

The Governor has also fallen into the trap of trying to accommodate the needs of everyone over the needs of the majority. The majority of Japanese cyclists are "regular people" riding mamachari's on the sidewalks at speeds less than 30km/h for distances of less than 2km each trip, compared to these cyclists the roadies, mountain bikers and bicycle commuters make up just a small percentage of the total number of cyclists.

Masuzoe really should be focusing on the needs of the majority as in the press conference he acknowledged Japan's ageing population and declining birth rate will eventually mean less mothers and more elderly cyclists, yet his policy seems to be to provide lanes (which I assume will be little more than blue paint on the roadway) for young, active and fearless cyclists (of whom there are few) while allowing everyone else, including mothers and the elderly to continue cycling on the sidewalks. As a result his proposed cycling infrastructure will do little to change the current situation.

If Governor Masuzoe is not fully committed to protected road level bicycle lanes which are safe enough for everyone in the community to cycle in, he is not committed to cycling in Tokyo.

Personally I believe Masuzoe's policy needs a rethink.