- 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.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

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.

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