March 31, 2015

Tokyo Olympic Cycling Infrastructure. Is that it?

The moment it was announced in September 2013 that Tokyo would host the 2020 Summer Olympics cycling activists set to work on bringing cycling and cycling infrastructure to the attention of the Governor and the Tokyo Olympic Committee. Citing examples of how cycling infrastructure grew in London as a result of the Olympics in 2012 advocates seised the opportunity to use the Tokyo Olympics for similar gains.

Is this the final design of Tokyo 2020 Olympic bicycle lanes?
In the blink of an eye a new bicycle lane stretched across the Ariake area on the islands of Tokyo Bay where construction of Olympic venues was just beginning. It was with mixed feelings that I cycled the first of the proposed Tokyo Olympic bicycle lanes. Of considerable length the sidewalk level lane was a pleasure to ride, but was essentially a two meter strip painted on the sidewalk which was expected to accommodate bicycle traffic in two directions.

Feeling both excited about the new infrastructure, but disappointed that considering the space set aside for pedestrians at the site that more space was not allocated for cycling I approached a contact on the 2020 Olympic Marketing team for some answers. My contact spoke with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government official responsible for transport planning around the Olympics who assured us that the existing lanes at the site of the Olympic venue construction were merely temporary and that the final specifications for cycling infrastructure had not yet been decided. Encouraging for sure, but given that these so-called temporary lanes were an exact match of new lanes on Shintora-dori I wasn't entirely convinced.

Two meters is awfully narrow for a two way lane.
So imagine my surprise when hosing a Cycling Infrastructure Tour of Tokyo over the weekend the temporary bicycle lane suddenly stopped at a barrier beyond which appeared to be more permanent form of bicycle lane than mere paint on asphalt.

A 200m section of the existing asphalt bicycle lane, and sidewalk, close to the Ariake Sports Centre is currently being replaced by paving bricks. Continuing on from the existing painted bicycle lane is a 2 meter wide section of darker paving stones separated from the road and pedestrians by what will hopefully become hedges of flower beds.

Given the more permanent nature of this lane can we assume that this is the infrastructure that has been decided upon for the site of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics? While more permanent and more effectively separated by a physical barrier preventing cyclists and pedestrians from mingling, the lane is still much too narrow for travel in both directions. But from a survey carried out over the weekend it appears that all around Tokyo 1 meter is the accepted width for a bicycle lane regardless of the differences in design or location. One meter is barely acceptable for one way travel. By allocating just 2 meters for two way travel between physical barriers which prevent cyclists from being able to swerve out of the way of inattentive oncoming cyclists is a recipe for disaster.

Existing "temporary" lane.
So once again we're left wondering is this the style of bicycle lane that has been decided upon for the 2020 Olympics?  We also have to ask why Japanese planners and engineers are not looking towards cities such as Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Utrecht where cycling infrastructure has been perfected and is a proven success for ideas rather than repeating the mistakes of the past?

Cycling infrastructure isn't rocket science, the answers, the design, the expertise is already out there. There simply is no excuse for getting it this wrong.

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