How Suburban Tokyo Promotes Cycling (without even trying)

Cycling enjoys a 14% modal share in Tokyo one of the worlds largest mega-cities. While other cities can boast higher figures the fact that, in one of the largest and most densely populated cities in the world, 14% of all trips made in a day are made by bicycle is really something Tokyo should be proud of.

Despite this high figure, bicycle commuter numbers are low primarily due to the cities fast, clean and efficient public transport system which allows commuters to cross the city more conveniently than other transport options. In the west daily cycling is often closely linked to bicycle commuter numbers, but this is not the case in Tokyo where employees are actively encouraged not to cycle to work and where the average trip distance by bicycle is less than 2km.

How is it then that cycling thrives in a city where the majority of citizens commute by train? Where are the daily cyclists and how can they possibly make up 14% of trips in the city? In short, Tokyo's cyclists are concentrated in the suburbs where they make many utilitarian trips by bicycle every day and  rarely venture much further than a few kilometres from their homes. Rather than using their bicycles to cycle into the city, a route already well serviced by public transport, citizens of Tokyo cycle almost entirely within the confines of their local neighbourhood. To understand why, you have to understand the structure of a typical suburban Japanese neighbourhood.

Tokyo's neighbourhoods resemble small, self contained, villages from a bygone age. At the centre of the village is the train station which is the focus of all village activity. As the majority of residents are reliant on rail transport anyone entering or leaving the village must pass through the station making it the heart of the suburb. Over 20% of Tokyo's 20 million daily rail passengers cycle from their homes to the local station and the provision of bicycle parking close to the station to keep up with cyclist numbers is a major challenge for local councils. Due to a lack of car parking facilities at suburban train stations the remaining 80% of passengers walk to the station.

With such high numbers of cyclist and pedestrian traffic converging on the station daily, merchants keen to ply their trade establish their businesses in a ring around the station and on roads leading radially out from the station secure in the knowledge that the high level of foot traffic will will bring in lucrative business. Within this commercial ring exist all the necessities for daily life including bakeries, vegetable stores, a butcher, fish monger, doctors, dentists, banks, restaurants, dry cleaners, hair salons and supermarkets.

The area within a 250m radius of Sengawa Station in Western Tokyo contains a multitude of supermarkets, restaurants, clinics, convenience stores, banks, post offices and small businesses. 
Local businesses and cycling share a symbiotic relationship in the suburbs of Tokyo. Due to the fact that small local businesses abound, and that sidewalk bicycle parking is tolerated, cycling thrives. Conversely, because so many people are willing to cycle from business to business on their shopping trips (trip chaining) small businesses flourish. This is a fact that other cities around the world are now just to realise with recent studies showing a direct relationship between higher cyclist numbers and stronger sales for small businesses.

Residential zones within 1 kilometre of Sengawa station overlap with neighbouring zones giving residents the opportunity to cycle easily to neighbouring "village centres".
Forming a larger ring around the commercial district is the village residential area. Primarily homes an apartments, the residential areas are also dotted with convenience stores, medical clinics, schools and kindergartens not to mention playgrounds and parks. Given the high density of train stations residents often have the option of cycling to two or more village centres for their shopping. Distances that would be a chore by foot evaporate under the wheels of a bicycle.

The convenience of cycling in Tokyo becomes apparent when the 1 kilometre zone around each village is plotted on a map of the 23 wards. Each neighbourhood is serviced by convenient public transport which is used for trips of more than a few kilometres. But as distances from homes to the local station, or neighbouring station all of which contain a multitude of local businesses nothing beats the bicycle for trips of just a few kilometres.

In conclusion everything a villager of Tokyo could possibly need for day to day living is within a short walk, or even shorter ride from their home close to their local station, or the next one along the line, and this is how suburban Japan promotes cycling use without even trying. The speed of cycling over walking, the convenience of cycling over automobiles, and the availability of almost everything within cycling distance makes the bicycle the most obvious form of transport in the suburbs of Japan.


night pedal cruising

Night Pedal Cruising Christmas Ride Deluxe 2014 in Tokyo

Ho Ho Ho! festive cyclists! Its time to dust off your Santa outfit (or obtain one if you don't own one already, shame on you!) and decorate you bike with lights, tinsel, mistletoe and whatever else you can think of because the annual Night Pedal Cruising Christmas Ride Deluxe is taking plce in Tokyo on December 23rd and naughty or nice you're all invited to come along and join in the fun!

Jolly cyclists will gather on December 23rd at the Aoyama United Nations University Farmers Market from 17:00 and the ride scheduled to start at 17:30. The distance won't be that great, and cycling is at a low pace so you can drift up and down the pack and enjoy a leisurely chat. Its a social ride with emphasis firmly on "social". Cyclists if all creeds, and bicycle of all style most very welcome.

There is no obligation to get dressed up to attend the ride, but hey, its only Christmas once a year so why not?! Santa Clause costumes can be had at your local Daiso or other ¥100 shop for ¥400, but feel free to come as a reindeer, elf, snowman or whatever! Got an Easter Bunny costume instead? We don't care! Hell, in the summer we rode (almost) NUDE! Just get it on and join the fun!

Suggested Ride Items:

  • A costume. Santa Clause preferred but its up to you.
  • Lights, lots of lights, the more flashy and annoyingly Christmasy the better!
  • Decorated bike. Tinsel, mistletoe, Christmas decorations, lights, inflatable reindeer, anything goes. The more outrageous the better. 
  • A beverage or two, remember you have to ride home, but we ARE celebrating.
  • A sound system. This will not be a "Silent Night".
  • A means of making it snow, failing that, a means to blow bubbles!
  • Christmas cheer, and lots of it!

I will be attending and would like to invite all Tokyo By Bike readers to come along and join in the fun. I've not met nearly enough of you!

If you do plan to participate let me know, or shoot me a message on Twitter so I can look out for you. You may think it easy to spot a man in a Santa suit, but its not when EVERYONE is dressed as Santa!

Still not sure of you want to join? Check out this ride report from last years event. I hope to see you there.

What : Night Pedal Cruising Christmas Ride Deluxe 2014

When : December 23rd, 17:00 for a 17:30 start.

Where : Aoyama United Nations University Farmers Market

Details : Night Pedal Cruising Christmas Ride Deluxe Event Page


Inokashira Park Declares War on Bicycles (for a few weeks)

Tokyo's Inokashira Park has always been a popular cycling destination for families but it seems authorities are hell bent on putting an end to that.

Over the summer months my family and I would often cycle along the Kanda River to its source, the lake in the middle of Inokashira park. We'd park our bikes among hundreds of others in what appeared to be the designated bicycle parking area and enjoy an afternoon viewing the weekend market, watching the kids play in the playgrounds and even enjoy a boat ride on the lake itself.

Imagine my surprise in September when we cycled up to the parking area to find it roped off, devoid of bicycles and being watched over by 2 security guards. What the hell? One of the guards began walking towards us waving us away, but rather than politely walk away I confronted him. What the hell? Where are we supposed to park?

He unfolded a map that he had in his pocket indicating the location of paid bicycle parking lots, not one of which was in convenient distance from the park and a number of which were already full when we arrived.

I was fuming. For as long as I can remember people have always parked their bikes in that spot without authorities giving two hoots. Why now? What the hell? Where would we park on future visits? Would the inconvenience of not having bicycle parking force us to take the train to the park instead? Having a coffee while my daughters rode a swan boat I was getting angrier by the minute.

It was then I remembered something about Japan, this was a campaign, just like thousands of others held around the country each year, and that all campaigns come to an end. There is no way authorities would keep security guards on site for any longer than a couple of weeks and once the barriers and security guards disappeared the otherwise law aiding Japanese public would simply go back to parking in exactly the same spot and things would return to normal.

So imagine my smugness when we returned to Inokashira Park weeks later to find that bicycles were slowly returning to the park. Barriers are still up, and signs abound warning visitors not to park in the park grounds, and there are maps everywhere showing the location of inconvenient, over capacity and expensive parking lots, but these are being largely ignored and bicycles are returning.

Authorities must learn that the bicycle is an incredibly efficient and important form of transport for millions of people around Japan and accelerate the development of cycling infrastructure rather than impose insane parking bans without providing suitable alternatives.  Whenever they step in and make cycling more inconvenient, they're really inconveniencing everyone that cycles, and in Japan that is just about everyone.

Non cyclists may never understand, but I love the lawlessness that exists around cycling in Japan. More power to the pedal pushers!


Rainy Afternoon Cycling in Tokyo

So it rained in Tokyo last Saturday which gave me a chance to fit a new set of Tioga Factory FS100 tyres to my Giant STP. Of course when the job was done I couldn't resist the opportunity to try them out in the wet conditions.

While out and about I stopped by the Omiya Hachimangu Shrine in Suginami-ku where I had hoped to photograph some of the beautiful autumn colors, but given the nature of weather that was not to be. Instead I got a couple of great shots of my bike in the temple grounds.

The Giant STP is my play bike. In my younger years I spent a lot of time mountain biking in the mountains surrounding Tokyo, but now I have a family I can't justify spending all that time on myself. Luckily we live near a river that has parklands on each side, areas of which have been left rather wild that provide fun off road challenges so I can get out for short quick rides that don't take up the whole day.

In addition to this the urban landscape of Tokyo offers some pretty interesting challenges itself, especially the business districts if you tackle them at night when there is nobody around apart from skateboarders. This makes the Giant STP a great choice of bicycle for the city bound rider who still yearns for the hills.



Tokyo to Promote Cycling Ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government announced this week that it aims to encourage more people to cycle and that it will double the length of bike lanes in the city before the 2020 Summer Olympics. As always they released no details of exactly how they expected to achieve this.

It turns out that creating a network of bicycle lanes may be easier said than done as the Tokyo Metropolitan Government regulates just 2,000 km of roads in the capital with the remaining 20,000 km being regulated by municipal governments such as wards, cities and towns. Many observers believe the Governments vision is doomed to failure as it has already been stated that the planned bicycle lanes will not be contiguous. They will start and end when a road becomes the responsibility of a different authority. Not only that but each authority has its own standards for cycling infrastructure meaning there will be no consistency in lanes around the city.

As we know Tokyo's Governor Yoichi Masuzoe is fresh back from a visit to London where he met with Mayor Boris Johnson and examined the city’s Olympic legacy noting that the city’s roads were “narrow and very similar to those in Tokyo,” making London a useful reference. An interesting reference indeed but I fail to understand why the Governor of Tokyo, a city in which cycling enjoys a 14% modal share, is looking towards London, with its modal share of just 2%, for inspiration regarding the use of bicycles for transport.

Has Governor Masuzoe not heard of The Netherlands and Denmark? Is he not even aware how citizens of Tokyo already rely on the bicycle for transport in their daily lives? Why is he not the one giving advice to London? If you're going to get advice on cycling from another city at least pick a city that does cycling better than your own, not worse.

It is wonderful that the 2020 Olympics has raised the issue of cycling infrastructure to a national level, but until Japan's leaders understand the widespread use of bicycles and the needs of cyclists in their own country I believe it is fruitless to go looking for ideas from overseas.

In addition to this I have come to believe that cycling infrastructure for the Olympics and cycling infrastructure for the people are two separate issues and should be treated as such.

Once again this appears to be a case of politicians racing around to fulfil an agenda with little understanding of the issues, and next to no public consultation. It is sad so see such a chance to make a positive difference potentially go to waste.



11 Tips for Cyclists New to Tokyo

If you've recently arrived in Tokyo and are about to venture out on the road on your bicycle, here is a list of quick tips to get you up to speed and cycling safely.

  1. When cycling on the road always cycle on the left, don't argue just do it.
  2. Obey the rules of the road as if you were driving a vehicle.
  3. Don't run red lights but expect cars to rush through the intersection on orange and fresh reds, especially taxis.
  4. Don't get doored. Ride a safe distance from parked cars taking the lane if necessary. Beware of delivery vehicles whose drivers often exit their vehicles in a hurry without looking.
  5. Beware of taxi's as they tend to pull into and out of traffic giving little or no warning. Also look out for automatically opening taxi doors.
  6. Wet manhole covers and freshly painted road markings are slippery, as are rail lines and metal plates used to cover road works during the day.
  7. Don't jump from the road to the sidewalk and back without looking. Choose where you're comfortable riding and stick with that choice.
  8. If you choose to ride on the sidewalks ride slowly and respect pedestrians.
  9. When parking your bicycle on the sidewalk do not let it block pedestrians.
  10. Register your bicycle, its compulsory but there are no penalties for not doing so. Being registered will help you avoid awkward situations with the police and helps you prove ownership if your bicycle is stolen or impounded.
  11. Lock your bicycle no matter its worth. Japanese bicycle thieves are opportunistic and go for easy, unlocked, targets.

The best way to learn how to cycle in Tokyo is to observe the cyclists around you, you'll soon learn what is socially acceptable and what isn't. But I advise you pass your own common sense filter over your observations because there are many practises in which Japanese cyclists engage that they deem acceptable, but may challenge your own view on personal safety.

When all else fails simply exercise some common sense, and ride safely.



Anger and Intolerance are the Enemies of Correct Understanding

Recently a friend of mine was cycling to work in Adelaide, South Australia. A motorist passed him closely and at speed before slowing rapidly and turning across his path and into a side street. My friend grabbed a fist full of brakes and swerved to avoid what could have been a nasty collision.

At this point he had two options, lose his temper and go thermonuclear on the driver, shouting and swearing at him for his dangerous incompetence risking escalating the situation to even more dangerous levels, or acknowledging to the driver that he was OK and wave him on his way.

The driver had stopped, and had his head out the window, adrenalin pumping, muscles tensed and his blood pressure rising he was preparing for the shouting match (and chance of violence) that inevitably follows such an incident with angry suicidal cyclist. Instead of confrontation my friend waved him on his way with a smile and the simple comment "I'm OK". Tense situation defused the driver responded with "Sorry mate, I should have slowed down and waited for you." To which my friend responded (in a typically Australian manner) "No worries mate, have a good day." At which point the motorist waved out his window and drove off.

When I heard my friends story I had to congratulate him for his self control, and let him know what a great boost he had given the image of cyclists in South Australia.

By responding with a friendly gesture the motorist suddenly saw my friend as a living breathing human being, not "one of those" Lycra clad, insane, foaming at the mouth, feral cyclists. My friend had made the situation personal and the motorist could no longer view this as another random encounter with a self important, hipster, road hogging cyclist.

Had my friend turned abusive, or angry and escalated the situation all the motorist would remember after arriving at work would be a frightening and dangerous encounter with one of those crazy, suicidal cyclists with no respect for the rules of the, and that's how he'd share the story with his co-workers, gaining support from them all. The image of the frightening, rabid cyclist would completely overshadow all other details of the accident.

But by staying level headed and making it personal, my friend ensures that when the driver recalls the situation they remember it as the time they almost knocked that friendly chap who smiled, waved and wished them a good day, off his bicycle. They remember the details that led to the accident, and that they were at fault, and they remember the person rather than the aftermath and the faceless inhuman monster that thumped the trunk of his car with his fist while shouting abuse.

When cyclists get angry and abusive at drivers the situation is no longer about the cause of the accident, to the motorist it is about escaping a frightening encounter with "one of those" dangerous, unhinged, maniac cyclists. Its all the motorist remembers and cyclists are further dehumanised.

Now you may disagree, but I applaud my friends conduct in this case. With one simple gesture he had humanised all cyclists in the eyes of the driver, and possibly removed years of hatred and bias the motorist had towards cyclists in general. Next time that motorist sees a cyclist he sees a person and one thing we need on our roads is more motorists who can identify with cyclists.

I encounter dangerous acts by motorists (and fellow cyclists) on a daily basis, dangerous, but not all of them life threatening. If I were to get angry over each and every one of them I'd have a pretty stressful ride, and become an insanely bitter person. Today I tend to practise a more peaceful, turn the other cheek, style of cycling, Gandhi-like if you will for it was Gandhi who said "Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding".

I'm not saying that cyclists don't have the right to get angry and stand up for their rights on the road, but not all battles are worth fighting. Pick your battles carefully and we will win the war.



Hyogo Governor Calls for Mandatory Cycling Insurance

On October 20th Hyogo Prefecture's Governor Toshizo Ido (69) proposed introducing a new law that would make it mandatory for all cyclists to purchase accident insurance, making it the first Prefecture in the country to take such an outrageous and logic defying step.

The government will approach insurance companies encouraging them to offer cycling accident insurance policies with premiums of just ¥1,500 to ¥2,000 per year to compensate parties injured in accidents involving cyclists. His plan calls for bike stores to sign cyclists up to an insurance plan as part of the service they offer when selling a bicycle in much the same way that dealers currently register new bicycles for customers nation wide (A service that already adds an additional Y500 to the cost of a new bicycle.)

Considering 85% of the population in Japan own a bicycle this ruling is likely to impact on the finances of almost every household in Hyogo Prefecture, and the impact will be felt more strongly by low income families, each member of which will be required to take out cycling insurance. The cash strapped elderly who rely on the bicycle not only as their main means of transport, but as their lifeline to the community and an active social life will be forced to pay up or remain housebound. Children of low income families will lose their independence, another form of healthy play, exercise and social interaction will be denied them leaving them at much greater risk of becoming overweight or obese.

In addition to all that, it is not inconceivable that insurers may add clauses to their bargain basement policies requiring that all cyclists wear helmets which would be another blow for family budgets, and reduce cyclist numbers even further.

In a country where a basic shopping bicycle can be purchased for as little as ¥8,000 the addition of a ¥2,000 insurance policy, a ¥500 registration fee and the prospect of having to purchase a helmet to comply with an insurance policy you didn't even want in the first place is just outrageous.

If this law comes to be, and can be policed, which will be expensive in itself, it will do nothing but drive down cyclist numbers thus placing a larger burden on already congested roads and public transport systems.

In all seriousness I can see no benefit to such a new law and am left astounded that someone in such a position of authority is prepared to completely wipe out a healthy environmentally friendly form of transport that his citizens rely upon in their daily lives, and one that is costing his government next to nothing to maintain. Its insane.

But Governor Toshizo Ido isn't the only lunatic who has escaped the asylum. This announcement comes just weeks after the Mayor of Kamo City in Niigata Prefecture, Kiyohiko Koike (77), wrote to his constituents encouraging students to cycle "as little as possible" and to "always wear a helmet".

He noted nostalgically in his letter that he and his friends enjoyed the freedom of the bicycle as a child, but now the roads are crowded with automobiles and no longer safe for cyclists. As a result he concluded that children should avoid cycling at all cost.

So, lets get this straight; The Mayor enjoyed cycling as a child but today's children can't because he, as Mayor with all his mayoral powers, doesn't have the balls to reclaim the streets from motorists and implement lower speed limits nor does he have the imagination to develop a sustainable transport policy which will make the roads safer for all.

At least the Mayor Koike is simply expressing his ill informed opinion, Governor Ido's mandatory insurance plan was developed by a "panel of experts", likely the same "panel of experts" that recommended license plates for cyclists in 2012, or that which believes nuclear power plants on active fault lines are a smashing idea.

This is the level of idiocy we are fighting: To make cycling safer we must make it more expensive and inconvenient for all, but to achieve truly outstanding results we should simply "cycle as little as possible". These are your elected officials in action folks ...


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.


night pedal cruising

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.


A great ride was had by all, here are some pictures from the night (as always most turned our blurry as shooting from the bike at night is HARD.)


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.


night pedal cruising

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.



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!