Kanazawa, its better by bike.

Byron Kidd
I don't get out much, out of Tokyo that is, and that has blinkered my perspective of cycling in Japan. Sometimes its hard to remember that Tokyo is not representative of Japan as a whole.

On a recent family trip to Kanazawa I was astounded by the fact that Kanazawa city has embraced cycling with its highly accessible Machi-nori bicycle share system, and its commitment to developing new bicycle infrastructure.

The Machi-nori bike share scheme was established in 2012 with 155 bicycles and 18 parking stations scattered around the city.  Bicycles can be hired for just Y200 per day. The schemes administrators provide convenient maps (in Japanese, English, Korean and Chinese) which not only show the location of docking stations, but also routes to Kanazawa's numerous tourist attractions.
Machinori bicycles in Kanazawa City
Machi-nori bicycles in Kanazawa City

Where space permits, the sidewalks around Kanazawa Station are wide with areas marked for pedestrians and cyclists alike. As the majority of Japanese bicycle users are sidewalk cyclists many find this style of bicycle lane much more comfortable than bicycle lanes on the road.  Where the sidewalks are too narrow for bicycle infrastructure, bicycle lanes have been established on the roads, and even where the roads narrow to the point where separate bicycle lanes are no longer feasible there are still road markings encouraging cyclists to keep to the left and reminding drivers that bicycles do have a place on the road. Most of the routes to tourist sites on the Machi-nori map are accessible via roads with bicycle lanes or keep left markings.
Spacious bicycle lanes and pedestrian facilities in Kanazawa City
Spacious bicycle lanes and pedestrian facilities.

Beneath central Kanazawa City is a complex series of passages and arcades which provide warm routes around the city for pedestrians in Kanazawa's extreme winter months. While cycling in these passages is prohibited, underpasses provide a convenient way for pedestrians and cyclists to cross busy streets without needlessly interrupting the traffic flow.  To give cyclists easy access to the underpasses and underground arcades planners have provided ramps on the stairs. Some elevators also accept passengers with bicycles.
Easy access to underground bicycle parking in Kanazawa City
Easy access to underground bicycle parking.

Directly beneath Kanazawa Station and scattered through out the vast network of underground passages are numerous bicycle parking lots, so many in fact that it is rare to see a tangle of illegally parked bicycles on Kanazawa's main streets.
Ample underground bicycle parking at Kanazawa Station
Ample bicycle parking.

When it comes to bicycle usage Kanazawa city just gets it. Local government is providing residents with world class bicycle infrastructure and more importantly is boosting the local tourist industry by enabling tourists to easily access more tourist sites by bicycle in a day than they could manage on foot or by using public transportation, effectively driving more tourist dollars into the economy.

By investing in cycling Kanazawa is investing in the future of its growing tourist industry.
Cycling routes to tourist sites well marked around Kanazawa
Cycling routes to tourist sites well marked.

Kanazawa pleasantly surprised me, as there seem to be no such coordinated efforts to provide comprehensive cycling infrastructure in Tokyo.  I encourage anyone visiting Kanazawa City to rent a Machi-nori bicycle and take in the beautiful sights of this historic city. Also when visiting any new city I encourage you to seek out a bicycle share program, because cities all over the world are better by bike.
Even locals are using Machinori bicycles for shopping runs in Kanazawa
Even locals are using Machi-nori bicycles for shopping runs.

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  1. I live in Utsunomiya which is experimenting with new signage for bikes and is trying an experiment with straight across crossing markings at intersections instead of crossing next to the pedestrians. It's a mixed bag. The bicycle lanes are green here, blue there, some are in the street, others on the sidewalk, they aren't connected in any unified way and there is a lot of illegal parking on them. I'd like to see bicycle symbol markings placed consistently here to remind folks that bicycles actually belong in the road, but it's a conservative car-centric city.

  2. Peter, I've been following the "Utsunomiya experiments" for a while and have concluded that they've come up with an inconsistent and confusing network of bicycle infrastructure ( if it can be called that). Sadly there is no overreaching body coordinating efforts to bring consistent infrastructure to the entire country, so we see city after city going it alone wasting money on the same research and same mistakes over and over. It needs better management than this.

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