Cycling Infrastructure Tours in Tokyo

Byron Kidd
Over summer I had the pleasure of hosting a number of cycling infrastructure study tours around Tokyo, the largest of which consisted of 16 students from the University of Copenhagen.

As we know cycling in Tokyo enjoys a 14% modal share, yet Tokyo's cycling infrastructure has been sadly neglected which is a strange paradox indeed. Given the lack of infrastructure the majority of cyclists choose to cycle on the crowded sidewalks as they regard the roads as unsafe. Japanese cyclists also tend to ignore cycling laws instead relying on an unwritten understanding of how cyclists should behave.

Given all that it seems that cycling could not survive on Tokyo, one of the biggest and busiest mega-cities in the world, but it not only survives, it thrives. The only way to truly understand just how cycling works in Tokyo is to jump on a bicycle and try it for yourself.

During the course of the tour we cycled newly developed bicycle lanes on the islands of Tokyo Bay, along with new lanes along Shintora-dori near the new Toranamon Hills development. We cycled some sidewalk level bicycle lanes between Ueno and Asakusa and negotiates a particularly complicated intersection on some unprotected "blue paint" lanes in Odaiba. At one point on the tour we walked our bicycles over Tokyo's Raindbow Bridge which is an interesting experience in itself.

But to keep it real, and experience cycling from a locals point of view we often rode the sidewalks among the pedestrians, to which one of the tour participants remarked "I feel like a criminal, you can't cycle on the sidewalk in Denmark".  When asked the rules for cycling on the sidewalk all I could offer was "Don't hit anyone." It wasn't long before the group were cycling like they'd lived here all their lives.

During the tour we observed how older parts of the city are much more walkable and cycleable than newly developed areas, and that backstreets offer a much better cycling experience not only in terms of traffic, but that they offer a lot more surprises and interesting experiences, yet unfortunately, in Tokyo, they're notoriously difficult to navigate.

The ride wasn't all work and no play as the route took in a number of sights such as the Odaiba waterfront, Tokyo Tower, Zozoji Temple, the Imperial Palace, Ginza and Asakusa.

After a full day of cycling the participants felt they had a better understanding of cycling in Tokyo but generally agreed that newly developed cycling lanes around the city are of substandard quality compared to those in Denmark, being much too narrow and disappearing at intersections allowing pedestrians and cyclists to mingle uncontrolled.

But I think it was I who learned the most about cycling in Tokyo by observing my guests. I imagined a group of young university students who cycle every day would be as confident as me cycling on the roads, but the opposite was true. I learned that I've become accustomed to Tokyo's roads to the point where what I consider to be safe is actually very far from it. Sure, compared to cities in the US and Australia for example cycling the roads of Tokyo is a lot safer but compared to the Netherlands and Denmark Tokyo's roads are really not safe at all.

If you're visiting Tokyo and would like a better insight into just how cycling works in this amazing and unique city, would like to visit some of the newly developed bicycle infrastructure around the city and even take in some sights please do not hesitate to contact me.

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