- 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.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Transportation Apartheid

There is quite a bit of chatter on the blog lines and community about the rumoured legislation proposal to make more footpaths mandatory for bikes in Japan. Whereas other countries try to force bicyclists onto the road, drivers in Japan do the opposite and try to make rules forcing cyclists onto the footpath. Interesting this.

I can see the tyranny of money (auto money that is) at work here. In the USA, where cycing still does not have a majority, they can make rules forcing cyclists to use the road. As a result, experienced and/or hardcore cyclists are satisfied, because they get to use their bikes. However, beginners, small children and elderly are discouraged from cycling because they are told not to ride on the sidewalk. This is great for the auto people because it means children cannot ride safely, and so bicycles are unlikely to ever become hugely popular.

In Japan however, there is already a large percentage of the population using bicycles - close to half the population uses bicycles regularly in many places. The auto people cannot easily create rules forcing all cyclists onto the road, nor would they probably want to because there would be enough of them to really slow down the cars. Car drivers want their speed (to hell with the danger), or there is hardly a reason for having cars in the first place. So auto money tends to do the reverse here and try to force all cyclists onto the footpath. This is fine for the many elderly cyclists and the mothers with children, who really cannot ride amongst cars. However footpaths are often crowded enough that if cyclists were *forced* onto the footpath, then cycling becomes little better than walking. What is the point of having a bicycle if you have to walk it around?

When you really think about it, "sidewalks" themselves are really only there because drivers want the road to themselves, but need to leave at least some small strip for when they get out of their cars. This is why most roads designed for cars, by car drivers, have narrow and neglected footpaths, while the car lanes are smooth, wide, clear and straight. Greedy bastards. I would really like to see roads designed and built by people who like to walk.

Seriously though, there should not be any hard fast rule about where cyclists "should" or "must" be. Beginners, elderly, children, etc., must be allowed to ride where it is safe, and more experienced riders must be allowed to ride on the road if they wish to -that is what it is for. Think of somewhere like the big ugly main road in front of Shinbashi station. When it is crowded you would be lucky to be able to push a bicycle down the footpath it is that crowded. A rule like this one being suggested would not stop cyclists from cycling along the road - outer edge of the outer lane of a huge three lane road. But in the event that a car hits and injurs that cyclists, blame would be apportioned more greatly to the cyclists, because it would have been illegitimate for the cyclist to even be there in the first place. Sounds like apartheid to me.

If it were a highway, then I might understand. But it isn't, it is regular roads which cars crawl along at a pace slower than the cyclists. Perhaps that is the real reason for this proposal - drivers are fed up with cyclists showing them how much better, quieter, cleaner, safer AND FASTER bicycles are at getting around the city.

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