Tokyo Ranked 16th Bicycle-friendly City in 2019

Byron Kidd
Tokyo was recently ranked 16th in the 2019 Copanhagenize Index of bicycle-friendly cities. With a multitude of cities around the globe with forward-looking mayors and planners taking positives strides towards emulating the outstanding success of cycling in The Netherlands and Denmark and investing in safe, well-designed cycling infrastructure, I was surprised that Tokyo had not disappeared from the top 20 altogether.

The Copenhagen Index is a biannual ranking of the worlds most progressive cycling cities which was first released by the Copenhagen Design Co. in 2011 and has since become a, occasionally somewhat controversial, yardstick for measuring cycling cities against one another. Utilizing their curated database of over 600 cities with populations over 600,000 inhabitants those cities where cycling enjoy a modal share over 2% are selected and given a score in 14 separate categories. The top 20 are ranked and revealed in the report.

So, as I asked in 2017, how did Tokyo, a city making little, if any, progress towards becoming bicycle friendly, without leaders who acknowledge cycling's unique place in the cities transportation network and seemingly without a comprehensive infrastructure plan that would bring safe, continuous and consistent cycling infrastructure to the Greater Tokyo Metropolitan Area achieve such a high ranking against literally hundreds of cities where cycling is being actively supported?

People did this, not governments.

This award belongs not to the city of Tokyo, not to the Mayor nor the urban planners. This award belongs to the residents of Tokyo who, despite no support from their leaders, continue to cycle daily in mind-boggling numbers. This award belongs to the people who cycle daily in dangerous conditions on the sidewalk with pedestrians or unprotected on roads never designed with cycling in mind along with automobiles hurtling along at speed. This award belongs to parents who cycle their children to school, sometimes with two children per bicycle, to the elderly who remain social and connected to their neighborhood because of the bicycle. This award belongs to the businessmen in suits commuting, to their local train station, to the delivery people who use bicycles to cover that last mile. This award belongs to everyone who cycles to the supermarket, the dry cleaners, dentist, doctors, cafe's or hairdressers. If I missed your cycle-to business of choice, I'm sorry, but this award still belongs to you.

This award belongs to everyone in Tokyo who continues to cycle on despite a lack of commitment to cycling by the city's authorities.

Tokyo has literally millions of cyclists, a cycling culture so deeply embedded in everyday life that the majority of citizens do not identify themselves as cyclists. The bicycle is just another tool that Japanese families use in their daily life, most Japanese think about bicycles and cycling as much as we think about marathons and running when we pull on a pair of joggers to walk to the shops.

Cycling in Japan flies so far under the radar that nobody here recognizes how widespread and important it is, nobody considers the benefits it brings society, health, economic, and environmental benefits of cycling in Tokyo alone are enormous.

This is both wonderful and a curse for cycling in Tokyo. Cycling is such a natural act that despite some of the worst examples of cycling infrastructure in the world cycling is central to the lives of Japanese citizens that it continues on unnoticed. But, because it is unnoticed, even by the people partaking of it Japanese people do not realize how important cycling is to them and to everyone living around them and if they did I am sure they would demand better cycling infrastructure.

So, where are Japanese authorities in all this? Rarely are they seen and rather than supporting cycling in Tokyo Japanese authorities consider cycling to be something that needs to be controlled, regulated. Each time authorities step into the cycling space and try to change the rules or the environment it shows that they've not done their research and their ill-advised decisions have a negative impact on cyclists around the city.

Cycling is so important to residents of Tokyo that when a poor decision has a negative impact on cycling it has a negative impact on their lives.

Therefore Tokyo ranks so highly not because the city is supporting cycling, but because people are and continue to cycle in numbers that can't be matched. Imagine a Tokyo Metropolitan Government educated in all the benefits cycling brings to society, imagine the HUGE untapped potential for cycling in a city where cyclists already thrive without support. Imagine the largest city in the world embracing cycling in a similar manner to Amsterdam or Utrecht and demonstrating to cities around the world, no matter the size of the city cycling can and will work.


OK, I'll admit it, a lot of my articles have a negative vibe, and this article could have easily gone in that direction, but despite my constant complaints I really do I see great potential for cycling in Tokyo. If not I would not be banging out these endless words on my laptop.

As cycling advocates in Japan, we face an unusual problem. Advocates around the world are working hard trying to get people to cycle more and enjoy the resulting benefits. But in Japan, we already have a huge cycling population, yet it is a population that hasn't really thought about the benefits to themselves or society too deeply. Cycling is just something they do like walking.

Here in Japan, we need to begin educating the public and decision makers of the benefits of cycling. We need to raise awareness that Tokyo is already way ahead of the world in everyday cyclists numbers, and the number of trips being made per day by bicycle is what other cities around the world can only dream of.

I know Tokyo does not routinely canvas public opinion, hold "town meetings" nor does it react well to "public protest" and that accessing officials is like trying to get an audience with the Queen, but getting our message to the ears of the decision-makers in Tokyo is the tough nut we have to crack. Who's with me?

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