Bicycle Lane Outbreak in Tokyo

Byron Kidd
Bicycle lanes have burst onto the urban landscape of Tokyo almost overnight, its astonishing the speed at which new lanes are appearing in newly developed areas of the city.

On a recent night ride with Night Pedal Cruising we decided to visit "New Tokyo" or those areas that are undergoing rapid reconstruction and redevelopment for the Tokyo Olympics, namely the man made islands of Tokyo Bay. On the way we stopped at the newly opened Toranamon Hills building for a short break before setting off towards Tokyo Bay.

When cycling away from Toranamon hills I was surprised to find kilometres of this :

A bicycle lane, real live protected bicycle lane .. 

Protected left and right.

Continuing the Japanese bicycle lane tradition these lanes are at sidewalk level rather than road level which means that when the  red and white construction barriers are removed bicycles will be protected from cars by the kerb, although I assume railings will be placed along the side of the lane.

It appears a garden will separate pedestrians and cyclists as there is a 1m wide unsurfaced space between the sidewalk and bicycle lane.

Sorry I was shooting while riding!
While I'm extremely pleased to see some infrastructure popping up in Tokyo I have two concerns about this particular lane. 

Firstly, the lanes are much too narrow to be two way lanes despite the fact that the pedestrian space beside them is HUGE. There is barely enough space for two bicycles to pass each other safely rendering the dangerous and sadly, almost useless.

Two way?!? Really?

The second problem occurs at intersections where the lanes disappear meters from the crosswalk only to reappear a few meters away on the other side. No consideration has been given to these areas where pedestrians and cyclists will mix.

Narrow huh?

From Toranamon hills we headed over Harumi Bridge and on the other side we were greeted with similar lanes to the ones outside Toranamon Hills, protected from traffic, and ready to be isolated from pedestrians.  The lanes here were the same width as those outside Toranamon Hills despite the fact that the pedestrian space was obscenely wide. It certainly seems the lanes could have been wider here, but some bureaucrat with his tape measure must be fixated on the idea that lanes should be of uniform width.

Yes, narrow, but still welcome.

Occasionally the lanes took on a different format, where the surface was paved and the lane separated from pedestrians by a low concrete barrier, which conveniently had lights mounted atop so nobody accidentally crashed into them on our night ride.

Wider, and protected.

These lanes stretched from Harumi Bridge to just before the established area of Odaiba leading me to believe the plan is to introduce bicycle lanes to areas as they're developed land leave existing areas alone.  But that's not bad news as between Toranamon Hills and the new bridges connecting the islands of Tokyo bay is the Tsukiji Fish Market which is scheduled to be redeveloped in the near future and when that happens I'm sure cyclists will be able to cycle from Toranamon Hills all the way to the Odaiba Waterfront.

Yes, that really is a two way lane. I better lose some weight.

Sure on the world scale these lanes aren't perfect, but they're a welcome start and lets hope they become a permanent feature after the 2020 Olympics are over.

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  1. Everything's too damned narrow in Japan: roads, sidewalks, what few bike lanes there are, and most terrifyingly, pedestrian/cyclist pavements across bridges with railings as low as my top tube. Also, what few bike lanes there are up on the sidewalks exist solely to move cyclists out of the way of cars, making it that more dangerous for the few of us who move faster than 10km/h who need to stay on the avenues to do it. I'm leaving Japan and so glad of it.

    Japan needs to put bike lanes on the avenues and get them off the sidewalks, giving more room to both pedestrians and cyclists. The cars? More of the streets turned to one-way will improve the flow, and make intersections safer for all. Most of the streets here are too narrow to be two-way anyway.

    Goodbye, Tokyo!

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