Could one bad decision ruin cycling in Tokyo forever?

During the 1990's the streets of Tokyo were teeming with 50cc scooters but now they're gone. Their price, convenience, and easily obtainable licenses them a desirable form of transport among university students and young workers alike. Resembling swarms of angry bees they would weave in and out of traffic and squeezing between cars and the sidewalk to get pole position at the traffic lights. As a cyclist riding with scooters was an interesting challenge, but now they're gone.

Historically there were no rules around parking scooters and due to their sudden popularity the sidewalks of Tokyo became choked by the cumbersome machines. The breaking point came in 2003 when the Tokyo Metropolitan Government drafted a new law making it illegal to park scooters on the sidewalk.  With no alternative parking available scooters suddenly became inconvenient and expensive rendering them an endangered species almost overnight. Many a motorcycle shop saw their earnings drastically cut, and more than a few went out of business completely.

One simple decision by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government killed scooters as a cheap convenient mode of transport in Tokyo, could the same thing happen to bicycles?

Cyclists in Tokyo currently enjoy a great amount of freedom when it comes to interpreting the law. Cyclists are supposed to ride on the roads, but sidewalk cycling is the norm. Cycling while holding an umbrella, operating a mobile phone and even cycling with a bag of groceries hanging from your handlebars can land you with a fine (or imprisonment) yet doing so right before a police officer rarely elicits a response. In Japan cycling laws generally go unenforced until such time as an accident occurs.

But imagine for a moment that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government took a hard line on cycling laws as they did with scooters, could such a decision kill cycling in the city?

Imagine cyclists were banished from the sidewalks and forced to cycle on the roads without the necessary cycling infrastructure, immediately millions of cyclists not confident cycling in traffic would be forced to stop riding. The elderly who rely on bicycles to increase their mobility, adding to their quality of life, would be forced off their bicycles and back into their homes. Parents who carry their children around the neighbourhood by bicycle would choose to walk rather than expose their little ones to the dangers of the road. Forcing cyclists to cycle on the road without appropriate cycling infrastructure would not only be a disaster in terms of cycling numbers, it would have a huge social impact, and possibly even reshape society.

Of particular concern at the moment are the new bicycle lanes that are appearing around the city. At great expense protected sidewalk level bicycle lanes that effectively separate cars bicycles and pedestrians have been put in place. This sounds wonderful except that these two way lanes are so narrow they wouldn't be considered wide enough for a single one way lane in many European countries. With barely enough room for cyclists travelling in opposite directions to pass and the way in which they disappear at intersections forcing pedestrians and cycles to mix, their design is flawed to the point of being dangerous.

My fear is that once these substandard lanes are in place the rules will be changed forcing cyclists to use the lanes at all times. Not only sidewalk cyclists, but I can imagine road cyclists could also be forced into these narrow little deathtraps. If these poorly designed lanes were to spread, and all cyclists were forced by law to use them I can imagine bicycle gridlock, an increase in accidents and a subsequent decrease in cyclists numbers as cycling becomes less convenient for all.

But would Tokyo's cyclists stand for it?

In 2006 Japan's National Police Association decided to outlaw the common practise of cycling while carrying two children as passengers, a move which adversely impacted on the daily lives of millions of families around Japan who use the bicycle for short trips around their neighbourhoods. Under the new law parents unable to carry two children would be forced to walk to kindergartens, schools, and after school activities. They'd be forced to walk to supermarkets, dry cleaners, the doctors or dentists. Not only that, they'd be forced to walk at a child's pace making even the quickest journey by bicycle an epic journey on foot.

In short the impact of the ruling was too much for parents to bear so they simply refused to comply. After months of campaigning the NPA eventually backed down and withdrew the ruling instead deciding on a new law stating that only bicycles certified by the Bicycle Association of Japan displaying a BAA (Bicycle Association Approved) sticker could be used to transport more than one child.

As none of the bicycles currently in use were BAA approved, and asking parents to purchase new bicycles was impractical, the new law came into effect only on bicycles purchased after 2006. Yet another law was born, another that would go unobserved and unenforced for eternity.

Given the sheer number of people in Japan who rely upon bicycles in their everyday lives, any decision which impacts on the convenience of cycling impacts directly on peoples lives. Any new law that dramatically changes the cycling landscape for the worst would have a dramatic impact on the lives tens of millions of people, and possibly even change the dynamics of Japanese society.

In the past Japanese citizens have stood firm in the face of authority to have nonsensical laws revoked and we can only hope that they continue to do so lest everyday cycling be rendered extinct by thoughtless decisions and impractical new laws.


Street Girls Ride Presented by SUGAR BOY

SUGAR BOY organise a monthly skate school and other events for the women who love Tokyo's street culture. As part of Tokyo's Pedal Days of Summer they will be hosting a ride for the ladies of Tokyo.

Beginning at the Aoyama Farmers Market at 4pm on Saturday August 9 this relaxed 15km ride will take female riders to a variety shops around the young fashionable areas of Tokyo including Harajuku, Shibuya and Meguro.  Cycling the backstreets and alleys riders will visit selected thrift shops, galleries, and the famous WBASE Bicycle store finishing up at Baja, a Mexican Bar/Cafe in Naka-Meguro.

In detail the planned route is as follows:

1, Aoyama Farmers Market
2, W-BASE (bicycle shop)
3, BLUEWORKERZ (thrift store)
4,2 [Ni] (Alexander Lee Chang shop)
5, VOILLD (Exhibition Gallery Ken Kagami)
6, SUNDAY'S BEST (shop)
7, Baja (Mexican BAR)

The ride is limited to 10 people and costs ¥3,500 per person. More details can be found here.



3 Big Events to Kick Off Tokyo's Pedal Days of Summer

Tokyo's Pedal Days of Summer get underway in ernest this weekend with three big events so come along and get involved.

Bunny Hop & Trial School

Learn to bunny hop like a pro at this the first event of the Pedal Days of Summer. Beginners and intermediate riders alike can learn to get more height and distance, invaluable experience for anyone planing to take part in the Pedal Day Bunny Hop competition in August.

In addition to bunny hop skills riders may also choose to brush up on the basics of trials riding under the eye of expert instructors.  The Bunny Hop School will take place at the Aoyama Farmers Market from 3 until 5pm on July 19th and is open to anyone with a BMX or mountain bike and a sturdy helmet! More details can be found here.

Night Pedal Cruising Umi No Hi Ride

As it is the Ume No Hi (Marine Day) long weekend the Night Pedal Cruising Crew will host a summer/beach themed ride from the Aoyama Farmers Market to the waterfront at Tennozu Isle. Gather at the Farmers Market from 5:30pm on Saturday July 19, for a 6:00pm start and remember to get into the spirit of the ride by wearing an Hawaiian Short, board shorts, hat and sunscreen. Full details can be found here.

Old Tokyo Sightseeing Ride

Sunday July 20th the Night Pedal Cruising Crew will host another ride from 14:30. A slightly longer ride the route will pass through  Aoyama Ichome and Akasakamitsuke before swinging by the Imperial Palace to Tokyo Station where riders can enjoy a short break and great photo opportunities.  From there the ride will continue through Akihabara to Ueno Park and Ueno Station before ending up in front of Kaminari-mon in Asakusa.

If you're new to Tokyo or just visiting this is a great way to take in the sights of the city, from the vantage point of your bicycle which allows you to really experience the city, not just observe it from behind the window of a car or bus.

Gather at the Aoyama Farmers Market from 14:00 on July 20th for a 14:30 start. More information here.

I will be at the Bunny Hop School, observing, not competing and will be along for the Umi No Hi Ride, so come along, and say hello. As always it promises to be a great social ride with a wonderful bunch of bicycle loving people. See you there!


night pedal cruising

Umi No Hi Ride - Let the Pedal Days of Summer Begin!

The 71st Night Pedal Cruising ride once again heads towards Tokyo Bay over the Marine Day long weekend break, but this time will finish at Tennozu Isle rather than the beach and parks of Odaiba.

This ride will mark the beginning the Pedal Days of Summer, one and a half months of organised rides around Tokyo in celebration of the 5th Pedal Day Festival which will be held on August 16 and 17 at the United Nations University Farmers Market, and August 18 in Yoyogi Park.

Riders will gather at the Aoyama United Nations University Farmers Market at 5:30pm on Saturday July 19, and will set off at 6:00pm.

The ride will proceed along 246 from Aoyama to Roppongi Midtown, through the Roppongi Crossing and on to Tokyo Tower before taking a break in Shiba park. From there we will continue past Tamachi Station and along the old Shibaura Waterfront before ending on Tennozu Isle.

As this is the first of the Pedal Days of Summer rides its the perfect opportunity to slap on a Hawaiian shirt, board shorts and a pair of flip flops to celebrate the ride and the spirit of summer.

As always bring lights, sound systems, a camera the means to blow bubbles, streamers and whatever else you think will add to the party atmosphere of the ride. I've just bought a new bike speaker and am already contemplating a summer soundtrack for the ride consisting of The Beach Boys, Tube and Southern All Stars so be prepared.

The pace is slow, the distance is manageable, and the company is excellent. The number of regular riders is increasing and we're attracting a great mix of riders not only from Japan, but from all around the world.

If you do post pictures from the ride to social media please do tag them with #NPC71 to share with us all.

Full details about the ride can be found here.



Pedal Day Tokyo 2014 - Pedal Days of Summer

Pedal Day Tokyo is an annual celebration of cycling in the city and is celebrating its 5th anniversary in style over an entire month and a half of organised rides culminating with the Pedal Day Festival on August 16, 17 and 18th.

The celebrations kick off on July 19 with a Bunny Hop School at the Aoyama Farmers Market followed by the monthly Night Pedal Cruising Ride. Between July 19th and the Pedal Day Festival starting August 16 a number of themed rides are being planned, rides that take in beautiful parks, others that sample great food, rides touring temples, picnic rides and rides just for fun.

If you have a suggestion for a themed ride we'd love to hear it.

I'm planning to lead a ride to Kichijoji's beautiful Inokashira Park where we can enjoy a picnic in the sun.

Watch this space for the complete ride schedule once we have it cast in stone.

On the 16th and 17th of August Pedal Day festivities will be held at the Aoyama Farmers Market and will include stalls with food and the opportunity to meet and speak with bicycle lovers from around the city, and indeed around the globe not to mention bicycle store owners and other cycling organisations from around the city.

On August 18th the celebration will move to Tokyo's Yoyogi Park where a number of activities and events are organised.

Pedal Day is an event organised by Tokyo's cycling community for Tokyo's cycling community, please do come along on a ride and join us at the Tokyo Pedal Day 2014.



Bicycle Lane Outbreak in Tokyo

Bicycle lanes have burst onto the urban landscape of Tokyo almost overnight, its astonishing the speed at which new lanes are appearing in newly developed areas of the city.

On a recent night ride with Night Pedal Cruising we decided to visit "New Tokyo" or those areas that are undergoing rapid reconstruction and redevelopment for the Tokyo Olympics, namely the man made islands of Tokyo Bay. On the way we stopped at the newly opened Toranamon Hills building for a short break before setting off towards Tokyo Bay.

When cycling away from Toranamon hills I was surprised to find kilometres of this :

A bicycle lane, real live protected bicycle lane .. 

Protected left and right.

Continuing the Japanese bicycle lane tradition these lanes are at sidewalk level rather than road level which means that when the  red and white construction barriers are removed bicycles will be protected from cars by the kerb, although I assume railings will be placed along the side of the lane.

It appears a garden will separate pedestrians and cyclists as there is a 1m wide unsurfaced space between the sidewalk and bicycle lane.

Sorry I was shooting while riding!
While I'm extremely pleased to see some infrastructure popping up in Tokyo I have two concerns about this particular lane. 

Firstly, the lanes are much too narrow to be two way lanes despite the fact that the pedestrian space beside them is HUGE. There is barely enough space for two bicycles to pass each other safely rendering the dangerous and sadly, almost useless.

Two way?!? Really?

The second problem occurs at intersections where the lanes disappear meters from the crosswalk only to reappear a few meters away on the other side. No consideration has been given to these areas where pedestrians and cyclists will mix.

Narrow huh?

From Toranamon hills we headed over Harumi Bridge and on the other side we were greeted with similar lanes to the ones outside Toranamon Hills, protected from traffic, and ready to be isolated from pedestrians.  The lanes here were the same width as those outside Toranamon Hills despite the fact that the pedestrian space was obscenely wide. It certainly seems the lanes could have been wider here, but some bureaucrat with his tape measure must be fixated on the idea that lanes should be of uniform width.

Yes, narrow, but still welcome.

Occasionally the lanes took on a different format, where the surface was paved and the lane separated from pedestrians by a low concrete barrier, which conveniently had lights mounted atop so nobody accidentally crashed into them on our night ride.

Wider, and protected.

These lanes stretched from Harumi Bridge to just before the established area of Odaiba leading me to believe the plan is to introduce bicycle lanes to areas as they're developed land leave existing areas alone.  But that's not bad news as between Toranamon Hills and the new bridges connecting the islands of Tokyo bay is the Tsukiji Fish Market which is scheduled to be redeveloped in the near future and when that happens I'm sure cyclists will be able to cycle from Toranamon Hills all the way to the Odaiba Waterfront.

Yes, that really is a two way lane. I better lose some weight.

Sure on the world scale these lanes aren't perfect, but they're a welcome start and lets hope they become a permanent feature after the 2020 Olympics are over.