When you refer to cyclists in Japan you're referring to everyone as everyone rides a bicycle regardless of age, sex or income bracket. How can a country as densely populated as Japan, home to the worlds biggest auto makers, and most efficient public transport networks, possibly main such a healthy culture of everyday cyclists?
|Sidewalk cycling. Even the police do it!|
When investigating what makes cycling work in Japan there are a number of factors at play including the cost and inconvenience of owning a motor vehicle, the compact self sufficient suburbs where everything required for daily life is a short walk or ride away, and clean efficient public transport which renders private car ownership obsolete for the vast majority of city dwellers.
|Cycling with an umbrella. Against the law, generally accepted practice|
by Japanese cyclists.
But above all, the one factor that makes cycling work in Japan is the attitude of the Japanese people. Polite to a tee and possessing an almost psychotic desire to avoid confrontation Japanese pedestrians, cyclists and motorists respect each others right to the road and share the space with minimal fuss.
In late 2013 Scotland's road safety campaign labelled the "Nice Way Code" encouraged motorists and cyclists to simply "get along" and share the road. It was publicly lambasted by cycling safety experts and the campaign came to an early end as it seems good manners are too much to expect on Scottish roads. Surprisingly, it is an unwritten, unspoken, culturally accepted "Nice Way Code" that maintains order on what would otherwise be dangerously chaotic Japanese roads and sidewalks.
|Japanese parents overturned a ban on cycling with two children.|
What a disaster!
Cycling in Japan should not work, but it does, because the Japanese people have taken ownership of cycling and turned it into something that works for them as it has been neglected by the Japanese government for too long.
Japanese people cycle according to a set of culturally accepted rules they've honed themselves over time that sometimes run counter to the law. When new cycling laws are introduced that make cycling, and thus the lives of the Japanese people, more inconvenient the laws are largely ignored. Japanese cycle where they feel safe regardless of the law. Because Japanese officials don't understand cycling, and its importance in the daily lives of the Japanese people, because they don't provide the facilities and infrastructure to support their enormous population of cyclists, cyclists largely ignore officialdom and just get on with it.
|Lack of cycling infrastructure in Japan sees sidewalks used for|
walking, cycling and bicycle parking.
Cities are unique, their citizens and culture all different and what works to promote cycling in one city may fail in another. Therefore I believe it is important to gather ideas from cities all around the world, learning from those with experience and success, but also picking up new, sometimes disruptive ideas from emerging cycling cities, and those that do it just a little differently.