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.


Hyogo Prefecture Passes Mandatory Bicycle Insurance Law

Last week Hyogo Prefecture passed a new ordinance requiring bicycle owners to purchase liability insurance making it the first (and hopefully last) prefecture in Japan to make such a misguided decision. The new law, which comes into effect on October 1st, applies to all cyclists regardless of the purpose of their bicycle journeys and is said by the Governor to be a response to a rising number of incidents where cyclists have injured and in some cases killed pedestrians. 

Bicycle retailers will be asked to confirm if customers have liability insurance at the time of sale and encourage those that don't to acquire an insurance policy. Parents and guardians of underage bicyclists will be required to purchase insurance for them, and companies will be encouraged to cover the cost of insurance for employees who ride for business purposes.

The Hyogo Traffic Safety Association will begin accepting insurance applications, which range in price from ¥1,000 to ¥3,000 and provide maximum compensation from between ¥50 million and ¥100 million, from the beginning of April.

But similar to the nationwide bicycle registration laws, there is no penalty for violating the new ordinance which makes one wonder just why the Hyogo Prefectural Government went to such lengths, and indeed expense, to implement a law that nobody will feel the need to obey. 

Despite being a "mandatory cycling insurance" law most cyclists will opt out without punishment. The government can "ask" retailers to "encourage" people to purchase insurance all they like, but at the end of the day retailers will still sell bicycles to uninsured customers. They can "suggest" companies cover employees who cycle till they're blue in the face, but can't actually enforce anything because the law carries no penalties.

What an epic waste of taxpayers money. How much did it take to plan, write, pass and implement such a stupid ordinance? How much will be spent promoting this "requirement" that isn't a "requirement" at all?

Since a landmark case in 2013 when the Kobe District Court ordered a mother pay the extra ordinate amount of ¥95 million in damages after her son struck and killed an elderly pedestrian, not a week has gone by without a newspaper article playing up the danger that cyclists pose to pedestrians, and pointing out that in such cases the cyclist is financially liable. This sudden media attention has made it easy for politicians to claim "increasing bicycle accidents between cyclists and pedestrians" without having to back these claims with hard facts. The insurance industry has been whipped into a frenzy at the possibility of expanding into an emerging market and have no doubt been fanning the fire by lobbying local Governments to pass laws that would make bicycle insurance mandatory.

So rather than provide infrastructure that would see pedestrians, cyclists and motorists all safely separated, and result in fewer accidents the Hyogo Prefectural Government have chosen to maintain a dangerous environment and place an additional financial burden on cyclists in the form of mandatory insurance which isn't really mandatory at all. 

This is the kind of idiocy we as cycling activists in Japan have to deal with on a daily basis.

How long before some misguided Prefectural Government implements a mandatory helmet law reducing cyclist numbers forever? I dread the day.


Bikevibe Tokyo - Semiannual City Journal

Bikevibe Tokyo is the first edition of the highly awaited Bikevibe Semiannual City Journal Series edited by Norway based writer, designer and photographer Mari Oshaug.

This beautifully produced softbound book consists of 200 pages packed with full colour photographs and enlightening articles that celebrate Tokyo's cycling culture and Japanese bicycle design.

Within its pages you'll discover a range of articles and interviews about cycling in the mega-city of Tokyo including stories about Tokyo's vintage bicycles, the first graduates of Shibuya's frame builders school, a look at the history and future of Tokyo Bike belong with an overview of Japan's famous (and not so famous) cycling brands which reveals a number of facts even I wasn't aware of.

Among the interviews is a short interview with me, how I arrived at where I am today, and my thoughts on cycling in this wonderful city of ours. For the infrastructure addicts out there I penned an article for the book on Tokyo's recent efforts to improve cycling infrastructure in the lead up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

But by far one of the biggest attractions of this book is the hundreds of full colour photographs of bicycles and cyclists accurately documenting the current state of cycling in Tokyo, Japan.

As the Bikevibe Tokyo has been self published there are only a limited number available so be sure to get yours before they run out!


Help Me Support Down Syndrome Tasmania.

I grew up with a close cousin 4 years older than myself, his name was Michael and he was born with Down Syndrome. In our family he was never "disabled", instead he was "special". OK, so "special" was merely a poorly disguised cover word for "disabled", I know that now, but now I also know Michael truly was special.

Michael was gifted with a photographic memory. He stored away every moment he experienced and constantly reminded us of family events, who was present and what was said long after everyone had forgotten. He used this amazing memory to effortlessly remember names of players and statistics for his favourite sports of Australian Rules Football, cricket, tennis and golf. His favourite food alternated between a solid roast meal and a simple Vegemite sandwich. When sick, as he often was as a child, Vegemite sandwiches were the only thing that kept him alive.

Growing up with Michael helped shaped me into who I am today, he taught me compassion in a way nobody else could and for that I'm grateful. At an age when children point, stare and make rude comments about anyone "different" I had already learned to accept people based on more than their appearance or abilities and defended him fiercely. Often I'd cry "He's not dumb/stupid/fat/weird, he's special!" before getting into a vigorous childhood scrap.

As an adult Michael was entitled to a Disabled Pension, yet he spent his days painting surveyors pegs and sorting bottles at a local recycling facility. His payment was the pension he was entitled to all along. I've always been proud that he worked rather than simply accepted a handout.

As we grew up my life moved on, while his routine barely changed, and we saw less of each other. At the time he passed away I had been living overseas for over a decade with a family of my own and had not spoken to him for years. It pains me that I did not do more for him, a simple phone call, a present from Japan in the mail, anything.

He was special. He shaped me. I owe him.

In 2010 I ran the Tokyo Marathon successfully raising over $650 for Down Syndrome Tasmania who surprisingly asked if there way a particular way I'd like the money to be used. Being a parent of two children myself nothing brings me more pleasure than seeing them having a good time. A trip to the ice rink, an afternoon of horse riding, the chance to jump on a trampoline, small things to us, but to a child they're happy memories that will be treasured forever.

Some choose to support research, I choose to support fun times.

Frivolous? Maybe. Worthless, most certainly not.  

March 21st, 2015, is World Down Syndrome Day and I'd like to ask that if you're a regular reader who appreciates the time and effort I put in to Tokyo By Bike, or you've occasionally stumbled upon the odd article that struck a chord, then please support me by supporting my favourite charity, Down Syndrome Tasmania. Nothing will encourage me to serve you better than seeing the donations rack up and imagining the smiles those donations will bring to kids who deserve a good time.

This donations page will be active for 2 months, and I think $1,000 is a modest goal, so please give as little or as much as you can afford. Its all appreciated.

I will tweet my heartfelt thanks for all non anonymous donations.


urban design

Is Tokyo's Fractured Cycling Policy On The Mend?

Tokyo Governor Yoichi Masuzoe announced last week that the heads of the four central Tokyo wards of Chiyoda, Minato, Chuo and Koto have reached an agreement which will finally see their, until now illogically separate, bicycle sharing programs integrated.  Beginning in 2012 each of the wards have gone about individually implementing their own bicycle sharing systems in cooperation with NTT DoCoMo yet until now each of these systems had been independent. 

Until this announcement it had been impossible to borrow a bicycle in one ward and return it to another. Anyone wishing to do so would have to pay for separate memberships in each of the wards and change bicycles at the border, rendering the entire system comically useless compared to the city wide bicycle sharing schemes of Paris, London and New York. Under this new agreement bicycle share users will finally have the freedom to travel between wards without the need for multiple memberships or changing bicycles.

But now Governor Masuzoe must turn his attention to an even more difficult problem as the autonomy of Tokyo's wards is also taking its toll on city wide cycling infrastructure. 

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is responsible for just 2,000km of Tokyo's public roads, with the remaining 18,000km under the control of local governments.  Each local government has their own standards and policies for cycling infrastructure with some championing protected bicycle lanes while others opt for blue paint, or sidewalk level bicycle lanes.

In addition to this the Governors plans for a city wide network of bicycle lanes before the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games are also hampered by the fact that a lack of coordination between local governments means that while they may be working hard to improve cycling infrastructure in their individual wards these networks may not necessarily link up to the network in the neighbouring ward.

Not only is this a headache for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, this lack of uniformity across the city adds to the confusion of cyclists and will ultimately make the cycling environment more dangerous despite good intentions.

Going forward it is positive that bicycle sharing systems and cycling infrastructure are being considered at such a high level of government and that there appears to be a commitment to making improvements.  We can only hope that Tokyo looks towards countries such as The Netherlands and Denmark for inspiration and doesn't choose to go it alone making all the mistakes we've seen in the past.