What Tokyo's Cycling Infrastructure Can Learn From Rail

Tokyo is a paradox in that cyclist numbers are outrageously huge yet quality cycling lanes are few and far between.

It all comes down to how the Japanese public use bicycles which I’ve covered before, but to summarize most Japanese use their bicycles for short trips around their neighborhoods where almost all daily conveniences can be found within a kilometer or two of their local station. In addition to this many use their bicycles to cycle to the station where they park and take a train to their final destination.

Suburban Tokyo streets are naturally calmed as they’re often so narrow it’s difficult for two cars to pass, few are straight, blind corners abound and sidewalks are uncommon meaning the road space is shared between pedestrians, cyclists, and automobiles. Under these road conditions and with strict liability laws, which hold the larger party financially responsible for accidents, motorists tend to drive cautiously once they deviate from the main roads.

So while cities around the world are fighting for bicycle lanes cycling continues to grow in suburban Tokyo where nobody gives cycling infrastructure a second thought.

Cycling in the suburbs of Tokyo is a wonderfully relaxed, stress-free affair, but I can’t help but feel that while bicycle usage is HUGE bicycle utilization lags behind.

By this I mean that sure 14% or all journeys made in Tokyo per day are made by bicycle, but those journeys represent but a fraction of the total possible journeys which could be realized by bicycle with a little planning and cycling infrastructure.

Longer journeys such as heading into the city for some shopping, commuting to work, or visiting a centrally located museum, art gallery, cafe or park for a family picnic are almost exclusively taken by train. Sure the first leg to the station may be by bicycle, but while the destination may be less than 5 or 6km distant why stop cycling at the station, why not go all the way?

The reason most residents of Tokyo do not cycle longer distances is that the main roads and arteries are decidedly unfriendly so while a 1.5km journey on a traffic calmed suburban street is pleasant, a 4km journey on a hostile road or narrow crowded sidewalk shared with pedestrians is an unnecessarily stressful experience one would rather avoid.

Citizens of Tokyo are already accustomed to walking. When visiting a far-flung shopping district or going to work for example people logically take a train to the closest station and walk to their final destination. If they make a trip during the day they simply repeat the process as almost anywhere in Tokyo is reachable by train followed by a short walk.

Using this already ingrained behavior to their advantage Japanese urban planners should focus on providing a network of bicycle lanes, not on every street, but that replicate Tokyo’s famously efficient and convenient rail network.

Imagine a network of safe, separated bicycle lanes connecting the naturally traffic calmed suburbs to a secure bicycle parking facilities located near Tokyo’s many major train stations. Imagine those major centrally located train stations in turn are linked together by a network of bicycle lanes. Given this, coupled with the Japanese people’s acceptance that there are few direct door to door journeys and that walking is a natural part of any trip, you begin to understand that Tokyo does not need bicycle lanes on every street. What Tokyo needs is a carefully planned network of bicycle lanes that link up the suburbs with major city stations which are themselves connected to other stations around the city.

While cyclists in the suburbs demand the right to be able to park immediately outside the store they are visiting this is an unreasonable and unsustainable in a busy downtown pedestrian district such as Shibuya or Ginza given the staggering number of people sharing such a limited space. But if parking facilities were conveniently located I believe the Japanese practice of “walking the last mile” would translate easily from the current public transport situation to a cycling context.

With such a “rail-like” cycling network of separated cycling lanes cycling longer distances would be considered far safer, more comfortable and convenient than the existing situation and the bicycle would grow from being an easy way to get around the local neighborhood to a city-wide transport revolution.




コペンハーゲナイズ・デザインカンパニーが隔年で開催している自転車に優しい都市インデックスで、2015 年にランク外に押し出されていた東京が今年、9位に返り咲いた。

2011年に4位、2013年に12位だった東京は、主に自転車政策に対する地元当局の後退的な姿勢が理由で、 2015年にランク圏外に転落した。世界各都市が自転車利用の後押しに意気込み、政策課題として確固とし た位置付けをする中、東京は、脅威的な数の日常的な自転車利用者の為の施策を、文字通り何一つ打ち出せ ていなかったのだ。

それどころか2013年から2015年に掛けては、地元メディアにおける自転車の扱いが、ある事故が注目を集 めて以後、徐々に悪くなっていった。67歳の女性を死亡させた自転車利用者の母親が神戸地裁から賠償金 9500万円を被害者家族に支払うよう命じられた事故だ。この一件からメディアは自転車を敵視する姿勢を 取るようになり、自転車事故の「急増」や、自転車利用者を取り締まる法律の強化を訴える記事が毎週のよ うに出る状況が続いた。

皮肉に聞こえるのは承知の上で言うが、私はこの事故が、それまで目を向けられていなかった自転車保険と いう市場を旨味のあるものにし、「危険な自転車」の報道がやまない状況に保険会社が大きな関心を寄せる きっかけになったのではないかと思っている。当時、多くのニュースが弁護士と保険会社を儲けさせる宣伝 番組のような内容だった。

手を拱いていると見做されるのを嫌った警視庁は自転車利用者に対する集中取り締まりを開始する。2012 年2月から毎月10日、通りに立って自転車の行く手を遮り、ヘッドフォン装着やブレーキ不良、二人乗り といった数々の違反行為を取り締まった。ツー・ストライク条項が施行され、常習違反者は自費での安全講 習会参加を義務付けられた。ヘルメット論争が再燃し、「有識者委員会」は非現実的で悪名高い自転車ナン バープレート制の検討で紛糾した。

2013年9月に東京が2020年の五輪開催と自転車ネットワークの整備計画を発表しても、自転車に敵対的な 報道の潮流は覆せなかった。この時期は東京だけでなく日本中で、自転車にとって暗雲の垂れ込める時期だった。

これらの出来事や当局の行動の欠如にも関わらず、自転車交通分担率が15%(一部地域では最大30%1)で あるという事実は、清潔、安全、正確さで世界有数の鉄道ネットワークを誇るこの巨大都市東京にとって 堂々たる統計であることは疑いない。

また、自転車道を欠いていても優れた都市デザインであれば、自転車レーンすら無くても自転車利用者の数 を大きく伸ばせることを東京ははっきりと証明している。東京のコンパクトな生活圏には日々の暮らしに必 要な店や施設が集まっており、それらが家から自転車ですぐ行ける範囲に収まっている。遠く離れた郊外の ショッピング・モールではなく、車の流入を遮断した狭い商店街が身近にあることで、自転車は最も合理的 な移動手段になっているのだ。事実、東京では自転車の平均トリップ距離は2.5km未満2である。これは、 自転車が短距離移動という理に適った形で使われていることや、鉄道とは競合関係ではなく補完関係である ことを示している。また、過半数が車を所有しない3東京の住民の足は、中・長距離移動では自ずと鉄道に 向かう。

[当局の]怠慢や、自転車を悪者に仕立てるメディア、自転車インフラの欠如や高圧的な取り締まりにも関 わらず、東京では自転車の盛んな利用が続いている。東京で自転車利用が盛んなのは、それが短距離移動で 最も理に適っているからであり、生活圏がコンパクトで必要なものがそこに揃っているからであり、マイ カーを所有する費用が、その体感的な利便性を遥かに上回っているからであり、既存の公共交通網を補完す るからである。しかし何より、東京では自転車が文化の一部で、出かける時に靴を履くような当たり前の、 ほとんど無意識な活動だからだ。

幾つかの都市は将来を見据えた自転車政策を評価されてランクインしている。様々な自転車インフラを整備 してランクインした都市もある。自転車の利用促進活動の盛り上がりを評価された都市もある。これらに比 べれば東京のランクインは理に合わない。他都市のような努力が何一つ見られないのに、自転車の交通分担率は異様に高い。しかもその数字は女性や子供も含めた全ての利用者層で高いのだ4。ここ東京では、自転 車は単に便利で安全なだけの乗り物ではない。地元民と同じように使い始めれば、これほど気楽5で楽しい ものかと驚かされる。

世界各地の都市とその住民は、それぞれが目を見張るような独自性を持っている。ある都市で自転車文化を 大きく発展させるのに必要な手法が、別の都市では不必要ということもあるだろう。東京ではそのまま6で も自転車文化が栄えている。それこそが、コペンハーゲナイズ・インデックスで9位に値する理由なのである。

1 According to Census 2010 the highest bicycle modal share (commutes by {bicycle only + train and bicycle} / {total – not reported} ) within Tokyo is 29.47% (Mitaka City). When calculated based on destination (workplace / school), bike share easily exceeds 30% in some municipalities.

平成22年国勢調査に拠れば、東京都内で自転車の交通分担率(通勤通学手段として{自転車のみ+鉄道と自転車}÷{総数−不詳}) が最も高かったのは三鷹市(29.47%)。通勤通学先で集計した場合は自転車の交通分担率が30%を軽々と超える自治体もある。

2 The translator cannot find any source, but a relating graph that Bicycle Safety Committee presents shows the most frequent bicycle trips are below 1 km.

訳者はこの出典を発見できなかったが、自転車の安全利用促進委員会が公開しているグラフに拠れば自転車トリップの最頻値は1 km以 下の範囲に分布している。

3 According to the national survey of family income and expenditure 2014, the private car penetration rate for households in Tokyo is 43.1%.


4 The problem of biking gender gap e.g. in UK and in US is not well known in Japan.


5 People get nervous while on bicycle in cities where sidewalk cycling is prohibited and there is little protected cycling facility, so they have no choice but to ride mixing with fast and heavy traffic unlike in Tokyo. So cycling is considered a dangerous activity and marginalized.

自転車の歩道通行が禁止され、自転車道もないような都市では、自転車は激しい交通に混じって走らざるをえず、東京と違って緊張が 強いられる。この為、自転車は危険な活動と見做され、社会の周縁的な地位に追いやられている。

6 Of course local municipalities have been working hard to improve their cycling environment mainly in the aspect of parking. But street design is still very poor, which the translator think far from ideal and should be redesigned to mitigate conflicts between road users.

もちろん市町村レベルでは主に駐輪場の整備で自転車の利用環境改善が精力的に行なわれてきている。しかし道路空間のデザインは依 然として極めて劣悪で理想には程遠く、利用者間の対立を緩和する為に再構築が必要であると訳者は考えている。

This article has been translated from the original English version by ろぜつ.



How Can Tokyo Be Ranked the 9th Most Bicycle Friendly City?

Tokyo has returned to the biennial Copenhagenize Bicycle Friendly Cities Index in position 9 after having been ejected from the 2015 ranking of the most thriving cycling cities around the world.

Ranked 4th in 2011 and 12th in 2013 Tokyo slipped from the rankings in 2015 primarily due to local authorities regressive stance regarding cycling policy.  While cities around the world had embraced cycling and placed it firmly on the agenda Tokyo literally failed to do anything to support the city's astonishing number of everyday cyclists.

Conversely during the period from 2013 to 2015 cycling was painted in an increasingly bad light by local media after a high profile accident in which a 67 year old woman was killed by a cyclist after which the cyclists mother was then by the Kobe District Court to pay a record 95 million yen in compensation to the victims family. This single incident firmly set the media against cycling for an extended period with articles appearing almost weekly claiming an "alarming increase" in cycling accidents and demanding that cyclists be bound by stronger laws.

Call me cynical but I believe this incident opened up a lucrative market for cycling insurance, hitherto unheard of, and that insurance companies had a vested interest in seeing that this and other "dangerous cyclist" stories never disappear from our newspapers. Many articles appearing at the time read like infomercials for lawyers and insurance companies.

Not wanting to be seen as sitting on their hands the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department began a shocking series of crackdowns on cyclists. Beginning in February 2012 police took to he streets on the 10th of each month, setting up effective roadblocks targeting cyclists for numerous offences including cycling with headphones, without brakes, and carrying passengers. A two strike policy was implemented which would see repeat offenders sent to cycling safety courses at their own expense. The helmet debate was reignited and an "expert panel" was charged with investigating the notoriously impractical idea of bicycle number plates.

Even the announcement in September 2013 that Tokyo would host the 2020 Olympics and that a network of cycling paths was being planned for the city could not turn the negative tide of publicity against cycling. It was indeed a bleak time for cycling not only in Tokyo, but all around Japan.

Despite the events of those years and the lack of action by Japanese authorities it is undeniable that Tokyo's 15% modal share for cycling (Up to 30% in some neighborhoods) is a monumental statistic for a modern mega city which already boasts one of the worlds greatest networks of clean, safe and punctual trains and subways.

Also despite the lack of dedicated cycle paths Tokyo proves once and for all that good urban design, even without cycling lanes, can greatly increase the number of cyclists. Tokyo's compact neighborhoods contain all the shopping and amenities for daily life all within a short ride from home. Narrow shopping streets closed to traffic rather than sprawling distantly located shopping malls make cycling the most logical form of transport for short journeys around the neighborhood.  In fact the average trip distance by bicycle in Tokyo is under 2.5km which demonstrates how the bicycle is used for shorter journey's where it makes sense and that cycling complements rather than competes with the rail network to which Tokyo's residents, the majority of whom do not own cars, naturally turn to for longer journeys.

Despite inaction, demonizing of cycling in the media, a lack of cycling infrastructure and authorities heavy handed treatment cycling in Tokyo continues to thrive. Cycling thrives in Tokyo because it makes sense as the best form of transport for short journeys, it thrives because neighborhoods are compact and self contained, it thrives because the cost of private car ownership far outweighs the perceived usefulness, it thrives because it complements existing transport networks, but above all it thrives because it is part of the culture, an almost subconscious activity as normal as putting on your shoes.

Some cities have been ranked in the survey because of their forward thinking cycling policies, some because they implementing wide ranging cycling infrastructure, others because of a rising wave of cycling activism. Tokyo on the other hand is a paradox, without any of these things cycling numbers are insanely high among all sectors of the population including women and children. Cycling is not only practical and safe but also surprisingly easy and enjoyable when you start riding like a local.

All cities and their residents are wonderfully unique, and what is required to cultivate a great cycling culture in one may not be necessary in another. In Tokyo, cycling just works which is why it's 9th place in the Copenhagenize Bicycle Friendly Cities Index is well deserved.