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!



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.