Tokyo Governor Explains His Vision for Cycling in the City

Byron Kidd
At a press conference held on August 29 Tokyo Governor Yoichi Masuzoe responded to questions regarding his vision for cycling in Tokyo in the lead up to the 2020 Olympics. His answers were interesting to say the least.

In principal the Governor supports the installation of street level bicycle lanes, over sidewalk level lanes and is committed to expanding Tokyo's network of bicycle lanes across the city. This sounds like wonderful news until he elaborated on his answer.

During his elaboration things became a lot less clear as he indicated that Tokyo's widely accepted practice of sidewalk cycling would not be stamped out even in areas where bicycle lanes are widespread. In particular he singled out mothers who carry one or more children on their bicycle who may not be comfortable cycling on the roads may prefer to cycle on the sidewalks which he described as "safer".

Defending this stance he expanded by saying that he believes that forcing roadies, bicycle commuters (both of whom make up a tiny percentage of Tokyo's cyclists), the elderly and mothers (who account for a much larger percentage) to mix is a bad idea.

He acknowledged that the common practice of cycling in both directions on the sidewalk is a dangerous but is one so common that to prevent it would make cycling a much less convenient form of transport for all.

By allowing sidewalk cycling to continue in the presence of new bicycle lanes one must ask just how committed Tokyo's Governor is to providing safe, world class, cycling infrastructure?

From the very beginning Masuzoe admits that he plans to build bicycle lanes which he himself believes will be too unsafe to accommodate mothers and children.  A bicycle lane too unsafe for mothers and children is by its very nature too unsafe to accommodate anyone. Why waste taxpayers money on infrastructure he acknowledges is flawed from the start?

The Governor has also fallen into the trap of trying to accommodate the needs of everyone over the needs of the majority. The majority of Japanese cyclists are "regular people" riding mamachari's on the sidewalks at speeds less than 30km/h for distances of less than 2km each trip, compared to these cyclists the roadies, mountain bikers and bicycle commuters make up just a small percentage of the total number of cyclists.

Masuzoe really should be focusing on the needs of the majority as in the press conference he acknowledged Japan's ageing population and declining birth rate will eventually mean less mothers and more elderly cyclists, yet his policy seems to be to provide lanes (which I assume will be little more than blue paint on the roadway) for young, active and fearless cyclists (of whom there are few) while allowing everyone else, including mothers and the elderly to continue cycling on the sidewalks. As a result his proposed cycling infrastructure will do little to change the current situation.

If Governor Masuzoe is not fully committed to protected road level bicycle lanes which are safe enough for everyone in the community to cycle in, he is not committed to cycling in Tokyo.

Personally I believe Masuzoe's policy needs a rethink.

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  1. good stuff:
    a) Governor Masuzoe has a vision of the future that includes lots of cycling
    b) He recognises that "different strokes" suit different folks, and thus rejects the "one size fits all" mentality
    c) He seems to be offering ADDITIONAL infrastructure WITHOUT stopping folks doing what they are doing at the moment. Opportunity without challenge.
    d) Folks choose to ride at different speeds and have different preferred options for cycling. While in part of Holland the idea of "roadies" and "mums" mixing is the norm (and in many places bicycles are BANNED from the road, so the "roadies" HAVE to use the off-road path), in other places cyclists like to separate themselves when given a choice.
    If given a choice between a road route and a "pavement" cycle route next to it, at least in England I have noticed that about 75% of men use the "road route", while at least 75% of women use the "sidewalk route". Both routes are, from a legal point of view, pretty much equal, and the "sidewalk routes" are clearly signposted for bicycle use. About half of men wear helmets, but few women do.
    The major gain from the "road route" (and these are not segregated lanes!) is speed, and not having slower cyclists clogging up the route. This is the one for "Strava" segments!
    The major gain from the "pavement route" is not having traffic (including other cyclists!) flying past you.
    As for safety, I leave that argument alone.
    the roads of Britain are, compared with many nations, moderately safe for cycling anyway, particularly if sensible route planning is undertaken (i.e. avoiding large roundabouts at busy times - a well-known "danger" zone) and suitable visibility aids are employed.

  2. requesting "safe" and possibly "protected" (protected? from what? ze germans?" -Turkish) bike infrastructure obvviously has become a obsession with some people, especially from countries where no cycling culture is present.
    The current model obviously works, see "biggest city in the worlds 3rd biggest cycling nation".
    So adjust to the local style.

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