- a collection of notes and reflections on urban living from the perspective of a family of five in Tokyo. My epiphany was many years ago, but being hit by a motorbike and seeing my life flash before my eyes caused a sudden change that slowly made me reflect on whether American style auto-centric urban transportation of the Roosevelt era really is a capital G "Good Idea" for civilized modern cities in the 21st Century. This blog explores the good and the bad in urban planning and design, here and elsewhere. The goal is simple - not "death to all cars," just more walkable communities, quiet tree-lined streets, good public transport, traffic calming, Velib style bicycle sharing and a bit of common sense. The bolg is mostly theraputic, so I don't go wanting to throttle every dangerous driver I come across, but partly also out of a real desire to see positive change. This blog explores how it can be done, the people who do it, and how, in many small ways, this very old idea may at last have found its zeitgeist. Comments and suggestions welcome.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Car-free and care-free

Not quite exactly what I might have said in places, but the following link is a pretty good example of a typical discussion with the type of person who still cannot understand why someone would want to actually use their own physical energy to get somewhere...

Free at Last: a Carfree Q&A by Karen Sandness on the New Colonist.

I don't think there is anything else for me to add.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Trike design

Australian Cyclist magazine recently alerted me to the new ICE folding recumbent trike.

This is a truly inspiring design. I wish I could get my hands on one for a test ride in Tokyo. Must speak with LORO guys and see when they are planning to bring one in.

Had dreams the other night of a recumbent design with a kind of hand pull assist, just for the hills. I guess inspired by having seen handcycles and the rowbike. Trikes seem fairly stable at low speeds. And on hills, they tend to be a touch slower than regular bikes, mostly because of the extra few kilos in the frame and seat. I wonder if there isn't some way to incorporate a rowbike kind of upper-body assist for the hills, whereby you could continue pedaling as well - at least on steep hills.

All this thought of hills must be inspired by thoughts of the Utsukushigahara hill climb race in June. Guess there is no easy way out for me this year - must drop a few kilos!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Snow and cycling

The other day it snowed in Tokyo. It snowed a lot - more than it has snowed in 8 years, according to the weather news. I love it when it snows. Tokyo is full of narrow back streets that in old times were equivalent to back-yards only better and more fun because they are shared. These days, in normal weather drivers like to treat as short cuts and fangin hoon down. Kids do still play on these streets, but parents have to be reasonably vigilant in case one of these maniacs suddenly appears on their particular side street, horn blaring and engine revving. But when it snows, oh when it snows, the back streets at least are returned to the kids, and they absolutely love it - we all do. I used to think it was just the snow, but it is so much more than that - it is the feeling of safety, peace and quite - of reclaiming the streets for the kids. I can only imagine this is how it feels on the car free days in other countries and cities. An experience to treasure, definitely. I for one will be pushing this city to establish proper car-free days.

Tales from Tokyo

I doubt that the Cycling Promotion Fund is ever likely to read my blog, but I thought I would put my observations of the Tokyo cycling scene out there in cyberspace.

My first thing I would like to mention is very simple - my favourite parking facility. To give a bit of background, Japan, in case you didn't know, has a lot of cyclists - it seems like everyone here rides a bike. You do not feel if you are some sort of fanatic if you ride a bike, it's more likely people would treat you as either a snob or a hoon if you don't. For many years bicycle parking has been on street and fairly ad-hoc. As everyone wants to be the closest to the train stations, sometimes footpaths get full of bicycles and it can get hard to walk. TV commercials (created by advertising associations of agencies and television stations funded by car advertisements) portray this as a cardinal sin. Slowly main roads departments (staffed by people who love cars) have been building bicycle parking facilities, sometimes convenient and free, but for the most part inconvenient, dark, and expensive. Another factor is that these friendly main roads departments have been relentlessly widening roads, making the footpath drastically narrower. In addition to creating noisier and more dangerous roads, this has the interesting result of, not creating an extra lane of flowing traffic, but simply creating somewhere for the cars to park and removing space on the footpath for bicycles to be parked, making the chronic shortage of on-street bicycle parking even worse. This is a disgraceful trend going on throughout Japan and possibly intensifying since the backlash against highways has meant the road gangs need something new to keep themselves in work.

In the midst of this, there are some fantastic exceptions spearheaded by those committed to sustainable, liveable communities. LaQua in Tokyo is one example. Smack bang in the middle of town, next door to Tokyo dome, is a large shopping centre/theme park/hot spring relaxation spa. And the bicycle parking there, while smaller than it could be, is convenient, being conspicuously positioned right in front of an entrance to the centre; it is free; it is well lit, and; it is staffed by friendly guards from 8am to 10pm every single day of the year. As a final touch, the building's air conditioning ducts flow into the bicycle parking space, keeping it nice and warm through Winter. Every time I go there it feels like being treated first class. Fantastic way to promote cycling.

The other day I visited the centre with some friends. I cycled and they drove a convertible porsche. I waited for quite a while as they parked. On the way home, they had to go upstairs, get their parking ticket paid, go down a special elevator to the basement and get the car. I on the other hand, strolled to the front entrance, said thank you to the guard for looking after my bike, and was probably half way home before they left the building.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Waterproof suit bag?

Here is another idea. A waterproof Ortleib style suit bag. Panniers are not an optimum size for a suit, so for someone who rides to work everyday, it would be handy to have a good way to carry your suit.

Two possibilities:
1. The suit backpack/messenger
Suit bags are generally pretty lightweight, so this seems feasible.
Features: slightly larger than a messenger bag, unzips and folds out for hanging like regular suit bag; perhaps slightly harder walls, so that the suit did not get crushed (but weight main priority); waterproof - obviously a vital necessity; clips for LEDs and some other pockets and general messenger bag features.

2. The pannier style suit bag
This could be a little more substantial perhaps. This idea stemmed from my use of a regular (somewhat waterproof) suit bag sitting on top of the bikerack, with the coat hanger hooked onto the seatpost, and the plastic of the suit bag clipped onto the panniers to stop it from moving. It is a good way to carry the suit, but a commercial version could be so much better - properly waterproof, easier attachment, clips for LED lights -I'm thinking something like one of those great big folders that artists use to carry their work around - but when you unzip, it is a folding suit bag. It could be lovely.

Responsibility for "accidents"

Interesting article on the net:
"Drivers, bikers equally to blame for accidents"

The County figures quoted here in relation to the apportioning of blame between cyclists and drivers just go to show how much the US really is stuck in the car-culture rut. Man, they are in so deep, they can't see out. In Japan, you cannot hit a pedestrian or cyclist while driving without being stuck with at least some of the blame, if not all of it. Car vs car? The police will think about it - were you awake? drinking? distracted? But car vs bicycle or car vs pedestrian - no way. You're responsible.

I can only hope that as people in other countries begin to realise that cars are (duh!) maybe not ideal from an environmental/lifestyle perspective, they will also awaken to the fact that the mere act of driving a car is in itself an inherrently dangerous activity. That makes all drivers culpable in the event of an accident with pedestrians and cyclists. Why? The simple fact that walking and riding your bicycle do not have the potential to kill like cars do.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

bike case concept

Here's a new concept - hard bike panniers that actually connect together like the ends of the Tri-all-three bike case, to make a small suitcase/bikecase. Obviously it would be much smaller than a regular bike case, so what is the point? Well in two words - folding bikes!! Think BikeFriday, by Green Gear with that big suitcase pulling behind it. This concept would allow us to ditch the suitcase trailer, and convert to PANNIERS. In transit, you have a case with bike inside. On the road- you have a bike + hardcase panniers! Lovely.

25 January

While I am here, I should tap out a little rant about cars. I have a theory - many car drivers behave badly/dangerously because drivers are so thoroughly enveloped in their sound-proof machines, there is no opportunity for the rest of us to give them a good clip around the ears when the do something really dangerous - like get agro at someone. You can't even give them a proper piece of your mind when they are hiding away in their little steel coffins pretending not to notice you flip them off. So they do it again next time, do something stupid again like tailgating, they get away with it, it makes them feel tough, and the cycle continues till they kill someone. Damn fools.

Is there a national database of bad drivers? It should be advertised on TV, if there is. Seems like we could develop an "X strikes and you are out" kind of policy.

January 25

Finally getting around to making a post. So many ideas - or should I say wishes, for bicycles and better transport / better living. Must remember to write them all up here, in the hope that someone will see them.

Just booked a hotel in Sydney for my trip next week. Trying to find bicycle rental. Certainly not ideal situation. Very expensive for starters. Why does a bike cost almost as much as a car to rent? You would think there should be significant discounts for long term rental (like a week or so) And why extra for pumps, baskets and all the rest? Blimey, every one of them should have a basket, lock, simple pump and repair kit/spare tube, just as every car has a spare tyre and keys. And why are they in inconvenient locations!

Tell you what, if I was mayor I would give a special rebate to every hotel that offered free loan bikes to patrons. Every city hotel should have bicycles.