Fukuoka Targets Illegally Parked Bicycles

Byron Kidd
Japan, a country where 85% of the 127 million population own a bicycle, has a national shortage of bicycle parking resulting in the growing problem of illegal bicycle parking.

Under the current system city workers tag illegally parked bicycles giving the owners notice that their bikes will be impounded if not relocated to a legal parking location within a specified time period. Once the period of notice expired workers return and remove only the bicycles that have been tagged.

This system effectively clears the area of bicycles that can reasonably be assumed to have been abandoned by their owners, but does nothing to curb illegal parking as officials can only remove tagged bicycles and most bicycle owners simply remove the tags and continue to park in the same spot illegally.

Illegally parked bicycles being removed.
Officials in Fukuoka announced last week that they've changed the rules to allow illegally parked bicycles to be removed immediately, without warning, from streets around Akasaka subway station.

According to a study conducted last October officials claim 1,241 bicycles are perked around the station daily of which 658 are parked illegally, in some cases blocking sidewalks and obstructing braille pathways used by the visually impaired. The station bicycle parking facility has space for 1,060 where cyclists can park for just ¥100 per time but 40% of the spaces go unused.

On the surface given ample parking spaces, and plans to increase those by another 290 in June, officials see justified in what some would consider hard stance against bicycle parking but this is about more than numbers, its about people.

Area within which illegally parked bicycles
can be removed without notice.
People in Japan rely upon the bicycle as one of their major forms of daily transport, any move that makes cycling inconvenient makes life inconvenient for millions around the country.

Large centralised parking facilities are inconvenient. Given the nature of the average Japanese neighbourhood shoppers tend to cycle from shop to shop, parking outside for a few minutes each time as they go about their business. Forcing people to park in a central location greatly restricts their mobility, restricts the number of shops they can conveniently visit to those in the immediate area, and turns what would normally be a short trip to the shops into an inconvenient and time consuming journey.

Spare a thought for the elderly in Japan's rapidly ageing society for many of whom the bicycle is their main form of transport and their only link to the community, without which they'd be unable to go about their daily lives.

Parking is expensive. Sure ¥100 isn't a lot if you're parking your bicycle at the station for the day while you work but if you're just popping out for a ¥100 loaf of bread, add parking and the cost of your trip has doubled! Make two or three trips in a day and you're substantially out of pocket.

What Japanese neighbourhoods need isn't expensive centralised parking, but many, small free parking lots and racks scattered around the neighbourhood allowing them to cycle from shop to shop as they currently do. If officials continue to insist cyclists use centralised facilities, I can see business that provide free bicycle parking gaining many, many more customers.

As we see all too often city officials are too out of touch with society to provide the facilities that society needs. As far as officials are concerned there is a large underutilised parking facility with ample space to hold all the illegally parked bicycles so cyclists should park there under the threat of having their illegally parked bicycles removed. The numbers stack up, end of story.

But society isn't made up of numbers, its made up of people and I'm amazed that the people who make these decisions are so out of touch with the needs of society.

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  1. "If officials continue to insist cyclists use centralised facilities, I can see business that provide free bicycle parking gaining many, many more customers."

    If those shops are near a station, their parking would quickly fill w/ people cycling in from a few kilometers away to take the train (bike-to-rail folks). Hence, their real customers will have no place to park their bike or they take on the additional burden of removing bikes illegally parking in their shop's rack. Bike-to-rail commuters should be using the centralized parking. My guess (and it's only a guess) is that Fukuoka is targeting people who are parking for long periods of time in the same place but don't want to use the centralized parking facility due to the 100 yen charge.

    Also, if you're just riding to a shop to briefly buy something, there's no problem parking for a few minutes nearby; legal or not. Even the "one hour" rule will not get you into trouble because you'll be long gone and off to the next shop.

    Further away from a station, I think this plan may very well work.

    1. The way to address the commuter-cyclists cluttering up all the free parking better used for shoppers is to simply have a two-hour grace period. Send one team out to put time-stamped tags on bikes, and another to follow two hours behind to take away all of the tagged bikes. Do a cycle morning and afternoon.

    2. In order to accommodate shoppers but stop all day freeloader parking a two hour limit is more suitable than immediate removal. Immediate removal reduces the convenience of shopping by bicycle to zero and that has a big impact on peoples lifestyles.

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