- 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, February 27, 2007

Once Bitten, Twice Shy

The old adage "Once Bitten, Twice Shy" may not hold true for much longer...

Apparently a "promising" treatment for PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) is gaining a certain degree of popularity around the world. The treatment combines psychotherapy with psychotropic drugs. Basically patients, quite often traffic accident victims, are repeatedly exposed to the experiences -the sights and sounds of the events that haunt them causing the stress. But rather than getting hurt, being exposed to pain or the threat of injury, they are instead sent sky high on drugs in total comfort and safety. The idea is to disassociate the negative outcome from the ordeal in order to reduce the stress.

Without wishing to detract from the gravety of the disorder for many patients, something about the whole thing sounds distinctly distopian. Worse, it could conceivably reduce the persons feeling of danger if placed in such situations again. In the context of traffic accident victims for example people would essentially be encouraged to forget their ordeal until they think everything is peachy again, and that cars are cool - even the one that almost killed them in the first place. Plus, I can imagine if victims are habitually treated in this way, they are not likely to devote themselves to fighting for justice later - whether that be advocating car-free streets, pushing for laws against rape or sexual harrassment or whatever.

I don't know. I have been a victim of a serious road crash and frankly, I would rather remember it for the nasty experience it was. Sure, the ubiquitous sound of traffic will never be the same - and good thing too. You know what they say - once bitten, twice shy.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Good Life

Found a fantastic article today about the island of Hydra in Greece.

The islands of Greece are some of the few remaining places in the world where you can experience modern life entirely free from cars. One widely held misconception is that modern life cannot exist without cars. Hydra and other places show us that this does not always need to be the case. Many towns and cities around the world shut a street or two on Sundays, or perhaps even for a month in Summer like in Paris, or have their town centres car free, but there is almost no-where in the world these days, where you can live and go about your business from morning to night without needing cars and without interruption from them - where even the roads are designed for pedestrians, not cars.

Particularly in the "new world" these days you would have to go climb a mountain, or go kayaking into the wilderness to experience an entire day without cars, but of course in the wilderness you have to go without running water, toilets, beds and many other things also. It is no surprise that we North Americans and Australians think that life without cars is somehow backward !! Hydra reminds us that it does not need to be this way.

Interestingly, the website (Project for Public Spaces) also mentions that the mayor of Paris has announced plans to pedestrianize the highways along the Seine, riding on the success of Paris Plage.

Good news all around.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Fire chief drinks, drives, causes accident, flees scene and crashes into ambulance

Sometimes I wonder if men should be allowed to drive cars at all. Anyone who has raised boys will know that there is something in us (men) that causes us actively seek out danger. If we have a choice of doing things safely or doing things dangerously, we will often choose the dangerous option just to see what happens. Perhaps it is the challenge - a test of our skill that to refuse would be to acknowledge defeat.

There must be statistics on this kind of thing, but I would wager that the vast majority of reckless driving and drunk driving cases are caused by men. Folklore has it that "women drivers" cause accidents and terrorize the roads, but I wonder.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Child Trailers (子供用 トレーラー)

Advice on where to buy child trailer in Japan.

There are many brands of child trailer, but the only one I would bother recommending is the BURLEY SOLO. It (1) is lightweight yet strong and safe, with full harness seatbelts (2) has a good and safe hitch, (3) is narrow enough to be easy to pull through crowded streets without any hassle. It is even narrow enough to fit through doorways, and in and out of elevators, and can be folded easily.

If you have two children, the BURLEY EURO D'LITE is also an excellent trailer, just 8cm wider. Be careful not to get the older non-Euro model, as the new Euro is much better - narrower taller and stronger.

Unfortunately, you cannot buy Burley trailers direct, and the only shop I know that will sell to Japan is the US outdoor goods store REI (which sells the Solo HERE). Shipping adds to the cost, but it is definitely worth it.

OK, I will mention just one more brand: WIKE These are really nice, and they will ship direct to Tokyo. The only problem is that these trailers are very large - definitely too wide for Tokyo streets.

Just one more note, if you have any serious hills around your place, or have to pull two children, you could probably use an electric bicycle also. We have found the National Vivi to be an excellent combination with the trailer, as the bicycle itself is not so long. This bicycle helps my wife pull two heavy kids up some serious hills twice each day.

Anyway, long and short, I hope more parents consider using trailers like this. My oldest son had a tumble on a child seat mounted on a regular bike. Although he was not seriously hurt, I took the opportunity to look around at the options, found these child trailers, and made the rare plunge and bought one. I am so glad that I did. In fact they are so good that my formerly non-cycling wife is now also using it every day, twice a day.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Are you Enviro Hedonist or Defeatist?

In the global debate that rages (increasingly loudly) about the environment, people are often asked whether they are an optimist or a pessimist. Your average enviro-awareness crusader is easily cast as a pessimist doomsayer and your techno-salvation guy as an optimist. On the face of it this distinction might be true, but the important thing is that both are acting on the evidence, and so both are likely to bring about positive change - the former helping to reduce bad practices, and the latter to introduce new good ones.

Rather than an optimist vs pessimist question, a more relevant distinction to make would be between those who do something about the problem and those who don't. Those who don't could fall on either side of the fence as well - pessimists who fail to act are defeatists, and techno-salvation believers are just hot air unless they really support the technologies that they think have the potential to divert the world from asphyxiation. I suspect many techno-salvation types are just hedonists or narcissists who have latched onto the idea of techno-salvation so that it doesn't spoil their fun.

So whether you are pessimist or optimist on the future of the enviroment, it is important to at least speak up, or even better, do something. Don't just resign yourself to it all and go live in the countryside (where you will likely need a car). The issue of global warming may prove to be the most serious test of democracy yet. Let's make it work.

You want change?

Step 1) do what you can yourself to mitigate problems / raise awareness
Step 2) support organizations and groups that do the same thing on a bigger scale
Step 3) if there are none, form one
Step 4) support elected representatives who do the same
Step 5) if there are no elected representatives doing that, or you are frustrated with the pace of change, run for office yourself.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Tokyo, a land of contrasts

It is often said that Japan is a land of contrasts. This is very true for the state of cycling. Any other country in the world with the levels of cycling that Japan enjoys, has reached these levels due to strong support from governments. Japan, however, seems to have high levels of bicycle use IN SPITE of the best efforts of governments.

Ochanomizu station is one good example- a very popular station on the JR line, where both the express and the local trains stop, as does the Chiyoda subway line. The area is home to numerous universities and teaching hospitals with many many students, fertile ground for a strong cycling population. So you would expect that there might be a bicycle rack near the station. In fact, you might expect that there would be bicycles everywhere around the station.

Yet, when you look around, all you can see are signs like the one above saying "NO BICYCLE PARKING" and red hats and poles up blocking the path to make absolutely clear that bicycles are not kosher here.

When you go ask the policemen on the corner - who incidentally ride bicycles themselves, why it is that there is no bicycle parking around the place, they will tell you that, well, Japan is a small place - there is not enough space. Ironically, not two feet away on the road side of the footpath, there are six full lanes of vehicular traffic, two of which are entirely occupied by parked cars.

It is even more ironic that the space these six or ten cars occupy would be more than sufficient to meet the needs of one hundred cyclists wishing to use the station. Yet rarely does anyone seem to notice just how hypocritical this is.