Is Tokyo's Fractured Cycling Policy On The Mend?

Byron Kidd
Tokyo Governor Yoichi Masuzoe announced last week that the heads of the four central Tokyo wards of Chiyoda, Minato, Chuo and Koto have reached an agreement which will finally see their, until now illogically separate, bicycle sharing programs integrated.  Beginning in 2012 each of the wards have gone about individually implementing their own bicycle sharing systems in cooperation with NTT DoCoMo yet until now each of these systems had been independent. 

Until this announcement, it had been impossible to borrow a bicycle in one ward and return it to another. Anyone wishing to do so would have to pay for separate memberships in each of the wards and change bicycles at the border, rendering the entire system comically useless compared to the citywide bicycle sharing schemes of Paris, London and New York. Under this new agreement bicycle share users will finally have the freedom to travel between wards without the need for multiple memberships or changing bicycles.

But now Governor Masuzoe must turn his attention to an even more difficult problem as the autonomy of Tokyo's wards is also taking its toll on city-wide cycling infrastructure.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is responsible for just 2,000km of Tokyo's public roads, with the remaining 18,000km under the control of local governments.  Each local government has its own standards and policies for cycling infrastructure with some championing protected bicycle lanes while others opt for blue paint or sidewalk level bicycle lanes.

In addition to this the Governors plans for a citywide network of bicycle lanes before the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games are also hampered by the fact that a lack of coordination between local governments means that while they may be working hard to improve cycling infrastructure in their individual wards these networks may not necessarily link up to the network in the neighbouring ward.

Not only is this a headache for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, but this lack of uniformity across the city also adds to the confusion of cyclists and will ultimately make the cycling environment more dangerous despite good intentions.

Going forward it is positive that bicycle sharing systems and cycling infrastructure are being considered at such a high level of government and that there appears to be a commitment to making improvements.  We can only hope that Tokyo looks towards countries such as The Netherlands and Denmark for inspiration and doesn't choose to go it alone making all the mistakes we've seen in the past.

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