Bicycle lanes. Don't bring them to Japan.

Byron Kidd
Dear bicycle infrastructure planners (if such people even exist in Japan), Please don't increase the number of bicycle lanes in Tokyo, please.  

Currently the laws concerning cyclists are poorly understood and even more poorly enforced, as are most cycling laws in Japan.  This gives cyclists the freedom to ride where they're comfortable, at a pace which they are comfortable.  

I'm comfortable cycling on the road, in traffic, riding at speed.  Others are more comfortable cycling at a more refined pace on the sidewalks.  That’s great, I appreciate the fact that as cyclists we're allowed to choose between the two.

But if it comes to pass that bicycle lanes abound in Japan I predict that the law will change to decree: "Thou shalt cycle in the bicycle lane where such a lane is provided. Thou shalt not ride upon the sidewalk, nor the road."

If the law does change as such we will end up with the road cyclists and the sidewalk cyclists all being forced to share a single bicycle lane and that’s going to be a recipe for disaster.

I don't know how much cycling you've done in Japan, but if you've ever been forced to ride on the sidewalk with salarymen, mothers, the elderly, and drunks, then you learn to appreciate the safety of a busy metropolitan road during peak hour.

It may not be a popular view but I, for one, am happy with the situation as it is.  So instead of bicycle lanes, lets pump some of that money into bicycle parking, and bicycle safety campaigns for both cyclists and motorists instead.

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  1. Great post! I agree completely.
    I really hope it stays at it is.

  2. I see your point, but I don't agree.
    I personally would love to see more bike lanes in Tokyo and all over Japan. Even if that meant that I would have to ride slower at times. In places like Copenhagen and Amsterdam which have great bike infrastructure, you still can't ride as fast as you might like there either, but it didn't really bother me. For faster paced riding, all you have to do is go outside of the city. Maybe that's not so easy if you live in central Tokyo, but my point is that I would welcome any change that might get people riding bikes even if most of them ride really slow.

  3. You are completely on the money. Traffic death rate is half here, with much more crowded streets. Whatever N.America is doing ain't right, obviously. Bike lanes are stupid for many reasons, but the biggest one is that most traffic deaths happen at INTERSECTIONS!

    @Mumbleboy, "I would welcome any change that might get people riding bikes": way more ride here than in N.America, so don't change it to a N.American way, clearly.

  4. Yep, more cycle parking and just a few running repairs to some of those bicycle paths that have a start but don't really go anywhere.

  5. I don't think there is much risk of an increase in bike paths in Tokyo. Perhaps, in more rural areas we may see them but not in Tokyo. I have only encountered two bicycle lanes. One in Setagaya that didn't seem to be anymore than paint on the road but not bad and another one on Dai-ichi Keihin that was just a line down the middle of a very wide sidewalk which pedestrians completely ignored.

  6. I disagree. One builds cycling infrastructure to serve the majority not minority....there will not be as many fast cyclists vs. slower cyclists.

    My experience riding in Copenhagen last year. I was there for over 5 days since my partner attended the 2012 Velo-city Global conference which drew in 1,000 delegates internationally on cycling infrastructure planning and cycling programs.

    Velo-city conference will be in Vancouver, British Columbia in 2012. Velo-cityy is sponsored by the European Cycling Federation which is made up of folks involved in cycling infrastructure planning. Hope to see someone from Japan!

  7. Jean, You do make a very good point about bicycle lanes being for the majority and I must agree. But here in Japan I believe that the majority are happy with things the way they are.

    People cycling on the sidewalks (the majority, mothers, grandmothers, businessmen and children) are comfortable doing so. If they were forced by law to use a bicycle lane where provided they would probably feel less safe than they do now.

    The minority who cycle on the roads have chosen to do so over riding on the sidewalks, and its only my opinion, but I believe they must be relatively comfortable with doing so. If they too were forced by law to share bicycle lanes with the majority (who would rather be on the sidewalk) then nobody is satisfied.

    So while your point that cycling infrastructure should be for the majority is valid for a lot of countries and cities trying to accommodate cyclists. In Japan cycling is the norm, it has been for decades, and it has worked this way for decades. The public are comfortable with the status quo and the introduction of poorly thought out bicycle infrastructure will server no one well.

    For a closer look at Tokyo bicycle lanes be sure to check this article by Linus Yng:

  8. Nice one! I agree, it's so wonderful riding in Tokyo as is!
    Love Sandwich

  9. There should be more regulations on biking in Japan.

  10. Fifteen years ago I would have at least partly agreed with you, but not now. There are so many cyclists riding so fast on the sidewalks that they are a really dangerous menace both to themselves and to other cyclists. My young son has been hurt badly twice, and I have lost track of all the times that I have been bumped. For example, this morning by a guy rushing to catch the lights, with an ipod stuffed in his ears.
    The worst thing is when cyclists on the road come up to a traffic light or congestion, and then jump up on to the sidewalk without reducing speed, and just expect pedestrians to jump out of the way. No, sorry, that is not the worst thing: the worst thing is speeding down the sidewalk at night, without lights, with one hand holding a keitai to his ears. Nope, as a biker myself I regret to say this, but bikers have to be taken off the sidewalks. If the roads are too dangerous for them, then build bike paths.

  11. Tom, I agree. I am an avid cyclist, and bikes have no business bing on the sidewalk. Tokyo's bike riders are 90% mamacheri types who will run down an old lady or child, say "sumimasen" and leave. The writer has a very selfish point of view. Bikepaths are good for everyone.

  12. The bike lanes in Tokyo are murder for cyclists, Anon. They collect illegally parked cars, with no parking enforcement or tow trucks in sight. Which means they're useless except when a taxi runs you down, and then claims that you're at fault for not using the (impossible to use safely) bike lane.

    They also start and end randomly, and at many intersections, forcing the bicycle to merge with cars who don't give a rodent's rear end.

  13. Perhaps it is more about bringing a change to the bike lanes, making them more convenient for everyone. However, I would definitely agree with Tom and Anon: cyclists should not be riding on the sidewalks. Edinburgh, Scotland, for instance, while being a rather bicycle-friendly city, does not allow that. It is dangerous for pedestrians, who may be listening to iPods and not paying attention to what goes on behind them, or they might be very old, or young, or be physically impaired. They should not keep suffering the threat of being run over on the sidewalks, which are, after all, meant for pedestrians to use.

  14. Bikes should not be on the sidewalks in a city as crowded as Tokyo. It is impressive how quickly Japan has embraced third world standards. I step out of my building and look right and left before stepping on to the sidewalk! Takyubin mobiles go flying by, scooters fly up on the sidewalk, electric bikes, people texting and carrying umbrellas.. its nuts... yes to bike lanes and yes to fewer cars inside the yamanote..

  15. No more riding on Tokyo's sidewalks:

  16. Great read! I used to cycle in New York City. It was against the law to cycle on the sidewalk. In Japan, even when I had a mamachari I rode in the street. I always felt like it was dangerous to ride on the sidewalk.

    I agree with the respondent who said that people are riding with ipods, texting and talking on keities. It's dangerous! However, senior citizens generally ride slower than most. But they don't have a problem knocking you down. I think they should get in the street. Moms who have their children strapped to the front and back are especially dangerous. They will plow right through a crowd of people. Usually they have a motorized bicycle and they don't care who is in their way. It's as if they deserve special treatment because they are a mother.

    Whenever I walk, I always look both ways because a lot of "cyclists" are ruthless. I know I am one of them. That's why I feel it's best to ride in the street.

    I think the respondent that suggested changing the bike lanes was on to something. Sometimes you can ride along and then you are cut off by taxis and bus drivers. I have to say the worst offenders seem to be the bus drivers. They will gun you down and try and pass you up or even cut you off with their bus.

    I also hate being pulled over constantly by the police. I hate a police car follow alongside of me for about 100 meters and then swerve his car in my path. I felt like I was in a bad cop movie. Why pull me over when I am not speeding, I have a light on and I am riding in the street?

    Just a note:
    I wrote a song called Mamachari. It's not the best and it won't win me any awards, but I really do love riding!

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