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Cycling in Tokyo

A great new video from Streetfilms on cycling in Tokyo which achieves an impressive 14% modeshare despite almost no bike infrastructure.

23 comments to Cycling in Tokyo

  • Matt P

    Having lived in Japan I look forward to that. I assume density is pretty key. Its a lot easier to get to shops and services over short distance. Parking is expensive too so that limits car ownership.

  • Doug

    And the bikes all have bells, which they use

    • Doug

      Despite what my namesake says in order to confect an implied gripe about etiquette, I just spent the day walking around Osaka and never heard a bell once. There were utility cyclists everywhere, from young children to very old. Riders were consistently aware and careful around pedestrians, as were drivers. The biggest problem is insufficient parking space for all the bikes.

      I’m currently drinking some Japanese whisky to help forget about the likes of Sydney and Auckland…

  • Don

    Hold on just a brain snap. no cycling infrastructure and they are at 14% mode share.
    We have spent a fortune on cycling infrastructure and are years from being anywhere near that figure. The rate payer has been duped again.
    Perhaps the key as Matt observes is increasing the price of parking significantly so folks leave their cars at home and take PT and or the bike.

    • Matt P

      I should clarify:
      – Yes price of parking in Toyko can be expensive and is a factor
      – But what I meant to emphasise more is that the price of land and housing is so high that most people don’t have the space for many cars!

      AND the PT is so good.
      bbqroast raises some excellent factors too. The narrow roads are probably quite a big factor

      I think the respect thing is really important. Here in NZ, it often seems that motorists are pretty impatient and disrespectful for the needs of other road users.
      Although having just moved from Queenstown to Auckland, the drivers up here are…believe it or not, much more courteous than in Qtown! (which is a real dog eat dog driving environment)

      From my experience drivers are MUCH much more courteous in Japan – not only to other drivers but also cyclists / pedestrians

    • Sailor Boy

      “We have spent a fortune on cycling infrastructure ”

      Who is we? Obviously not Auckland.

    • Chris R

      They appear to have achieved it by spending the last 50 years focusing on public transport and walking rather than on convenience and speed for SOVs. Result: fewer car owners, less driving (12% mode share), narrower roads, safer intersections, drivers who understand how to share the road.

      We could probably achieve >14% cycle mode share with no further dedicated infrastructure by drastically reducing car priority, increasing the price of parking everywhere, investing in PT and getting private vehicle mode share down to 12%. Shall we try that? I’m game.

      • Dave B (Wellington)

        +1 Agree.
        The biggest benefit to cyclists is not achieved by isolating them from traffic on separated cycle networks, but by shifting the whole societal culture away from car-dependency to comprehensive public transport.
        Note for nit-pickers: I am not saying ‘Ban all cars’! Just cease being so top-heavy on prioritising them over public-transport alternatives.
        Simple.

  • My observation from a recent visit to Japan: they clearly have no dedicated cycle infrastructure, however every local street and road is a slow speed shared space, and on the few major multilane arterials, the footpaths are the shared zones.

    • I’d agree; when Matt says “almost no bike infrastructure” he means “no traditional formal cycling infrastructure”. But people forget about all the “invisible infrastructure” that makes cycling a viable option, including quiet, slow local streets. It’s the same in The Netherlands; people go on about the separated cycleways you find alongside busy roads but they would count for little without the connections to the local streets that are 30km/h and very restrictive for motor traffic (or even car-free). We ignore this at our peril if we want to truly create cycle-friendly cities.

  • I think there are some pretty obvious reasons for this:

    – Most of Tokyo’s suburban streets are very narrow and often one way. This makes cycling much safer (slow cars) and more convenient than driving (you can go against the direction of permitted car travel). A suburban side road in Auckland might be 10+m wide + pavements and greenspace, in Tokyo most residential streets are like 4-5m INCLUDING pavement/greenspace.

    – Tokyo favours highly connected meshes of streets, whilst outer suburbs in Auckland are hyper fragmented (lots of dead ends).

    – Japanese people are generally more respectful, even walking on pavements can be scary in Auckland (some drivers love to rev engines or toot aggressively as they pass, especially at night).

    – Japanese cyclists are allowed on pavements, which makes a big difference, I’m not sure how well this would work in Auckland – same thing again, I’d expect Auckland cyclists to be less respectful to pedestrians. Although I think it’s worth trying out in suburbs with little pedestrian traffic.

    • Tokyo also has close to zero on-street parking, and on all but the largest of roads, no separated footpaths. (“Largest” in Japan being wider than about 5 metres).

      Instead, businesses and homes will gradually encroach out onto the street to narrow the thoroughfare to no wider than necessary for a single car to pass. People end up walking straight down the middle of the street, so it’s natural for bikers to do the same.

      “Cyclists”, as we use the term, are just as rare there as here. By which I mean you will almost never see someone wearing lycra and a helmet, riding an expensive narrow-tyred many-geared bike at speeds close to what a car would do. There are lot of normal people on bikes going slowly, though. And even more normal people on foot.

      I don’t know how applicable any of this is to New Zealand, though. We don’t have the same culture of being considerate on the roads, and most of our streets are way too wide for the no-infrastructure layout to work. The footpath cycling is something we can borrow, but it requires much wider footpaths, and if we’re going to do that, we might as well have just put in separated cycle lanes.

      • DB

        Ideally we’d just move to replicating the same street layout that they have in Japan: narrow, mixed use, but that could be a long time coming (or never at all). We shouldn’t just be trying to cross distances faster; we should also be placing destinations closer together.

        We really need to stop building our roads so wide; we’re just re-enforcing automobile based sprawl (and costing us big) every time we build new roads

  • Matt P

    Interesting discussion.
    Here’s another thought. In many urban areas in Japan, the built fabric is often pretty rundown and ‘ugly’.
    Yet, some of these urban areas are really very functional, vibrant and interesting.
    the basics are all good.

    I’m not advocating that we shouldn’t care about built fabric (personally I love it when I encounter a nice built environment in Japan!), but what I am suggesting is there can be too much angst about the built environment (aesthetics) at the expense of other things that, I would argue, matter more

    Why the Japanese don’t care as much about the built environment, generally, is a really interesting topic into itself….earthquakes (why invest heavily in things that could be destroyed at any moment), religion (buddhism / shinto – the transience of things), land economics

  • bjfoe

    The big big big difference: culpability and punishment that reflects the risk factor. The driver of the bigger vehicle is nearly always presumed guilty and japanese prisons are a more punitive environment. Contrast with the excessive empathy shown to drivers here – Little or no punishment for many reasons including “if disqualified he might lose his job”, “the victim contributed to their own death by being a little bit careless”, “the road design wasn’t safe but we wont be able to nail anyone who was responsible so we have to give up”, “it could have been me because i and everyone else drives too”. Relatives of the victims exhibit depressing levels of stockholm syndrome here

  • Jessica

    Although it’s great that Tokyo has so many cyclists. You don’t see “normal” cyclists. Only MTB cyclists which doesn’t make it really attractive for woman to pick up cycling. The movie really reminded me of this video they made in Holland: https://youtu.be/sEON08d76oE

    • ?? Did you watch this video? “Normal” people riding bikes were everywhere in Tokyo. This is the home of the “mamachari” bike after all! The only ones I saw with helmets were the three or so they interviewed and most bikes looked pretty ordinary, not sporty.

  • Aaron Schiff

    Tokyo may lack “hard” infrastructure for bikes but the “soft” infrastructure is great — car drivers are slow and courteous and respect cyclists. I lived there for a while and cycled every day and always felt perfectly safe. Even with no helmet and one hand holding an umbrella or cellphone 🙂

  • jingyang

    One of the reasons parking in Tokyo is so expensive too, is that as I understood it (when I lived there 20 years ago) to own and register a car in the first place you had to prove you had an offstreet parking spot for it (since the majority of streets other than major arterials are barely more than one way, and “footpaths” are often merely a line painted on the side of the road) – hence parking spaces have a value in their own right – you can own a house and rent out parking – my flatmate paid 45000 Yen rent for his room (cheap!) and 8000 yen for his parking space! (on a salary of 225,000 yen).

  • RJ

    Whats more is helmets are not compulsory there

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