- 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.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Gadgets Galore

Depending on how you like to ride (and what sort of bicycle), this may really actually be kind of useful. For $20, you can get a dinky little gadget that will hold your umbrella for you. Provided it isn't too windy and you don't try to go too fast, you will get home nice and dry in your suit.

Personally I prefer to change clothes at my destination, but I could imagine the Brompton crowd kind of getting into this.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Has the Tide Already Turned?

There was a fascinating article in the Washington Post on Saturday about a massive new program in Paris to provide cheap and easy bicycle rental throughout the city - with a rental station every 250 metres! Absolutely incredible. There are similar plans afoot (pun intended) in other large cities throughout the world, including Sydney and Melbourne.

Why Tokyo has not latched onto this I don't know. It would be perfect here. There appears to be not enough public pressure for change away from the nasty old "more, bigger, faster roads for cars and everyone else be damned" attitude. If only we had some politicians who would stand up for "everyone else".

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Bicycle Basket - FOR PETS !

A bicycle basket specially designed for pets !! This may be yet another "only in Japan" story.
I love this country.

GASOLINE AND HEALTH (mix like gasoline and water)

I have been learning a little about the health effects of gasoline lately, and it is not good news.

One report here discusses the dangers of ethanol. Aside from all the other issues with using ethanol as a fuel, this one sounds like a pretty nasty mew problem if ethanol becomes a popular additive.

Speaking of fuel additives, I recently also discovered the frightening story of MMT, the gasoline additive using manganese, a human neurotoxin known to cause serious illness. Brought to the world by Ethyl Corp, the company that also brought leaded-petrol (tetra-ethyl lead) to the world, and which obviously losing customers on that product, this lovely company recently leveraged the terms of the free trade agreement NAFTA to force Canada to lift its ban on MMT, despite serious concerns in that country that airborne manganese causes disabling neurological impairments in movement and speech.

It looks like car exhaust really is as nasty as it smells - that is unless of course you drive a hydrogen powered Humvee like Arnie...

Tokyo Cycling Green Map

I need to get out of the house more. Found a group called Urban Ecology Tokyo, who, aside from running the Earthday Tokyo bikeride, have set up a really cool map Tokyo Cycling Green Map utilizing google maps. Still needs a bit of work, but nice - and they even went ot the trouble of creating an English page. Legends.

A little bit more digging online, and I found that the map is part of a worldwide "Green Map System".

Now this is real democracy at work. Great stuff.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Climate Scientist Meets Enviro-Activist

Interesting piece from The GRIST here about two guys, a Stanford climate scientist and an environmental activist, who have really decided to take the campaign to the streets and seem to be doing very well with it. Feeding the Zeitgiest. Great stuff.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Crumpler "Barney Rustle Blanket"

My wife has a thing for handbags, so seeing as she is now a full blown everyday two child-hauling cyclist, I recently bought her the Barney Rustle. Smart move.

Originally from Melbourne Australia, it's a quirky brand, but these are fantastic bags - pretty much waterproof, convenient, comfortable, hold heaps and even look alright. I can see why messengers love these things. Bummer really though, because I was kind of hoping she wouldn't like it...

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Which would YOU prefer

So which one is it going to be? Streets for people, or streets for cars? I love stories like this. Why do the newspapers not report stories like this. Is it because auto advertising pays their bills?

Bitter twisted cynicism aside, we really are a conservative lot. We hate to veer from accepted street lore - the tried and true - or so we like to convince ourselves. When it comes to roads, we instinctively resist anything that would restrict, slow or divert auto traffic. It goes against the flow - 70 years or so of tradition, so we resist out of habit. New ideas sound nice on paper, but we resist anyhow. Surely if they really worked, they would have been done before, right? Block off a road to auto traffic? Surely it would increase congestion elsewhere. It would reduce visitors. No doubt it would send local business under. Well, now a comprehensive city study commissioned by the San Francisco Mayor, and conducted by the County transport authority, no less, seems to have shown that in the case of the world-famous Golden Gate Park at least, blocking roads to auto traffic has (1) more than doubled visitors' usage of the Park, (2) increased attendance at local businesses and museums, and (3) caused no significant negative impacts on parking or traffic whatsoever in the surrounding neighborhoods.

It can't get much more convincing than that ! Wow. What a mandate for change that is. Yes, it has been done, and yes, it does work.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Bicycles Belong

Reports by a National Police Agency study group that bicycles should be allowed on the footpath have generated a fair bit of chatter in Tokyo. Many faster on-road cyclists read "allowed" as meaning possibly "must" and so have kicked up a fair bit of stink - for example here. This is natural enough because these cyclists - almost exclusively adult men, prefer to ride on the road, which, while more dangerous, is faster, smoother and easier as long as you don't get hit. I ran the Tokyo Marathon back in February and it really hit home to me just how nice it is to use the middle of the road. Cars have a sweet deal. The gutter on the outside lane is a far cry from having the middle of the road to yourself, but it is smoother, faster, and less obstructed than the pavement, and you generally get an unobstructed view, so these guys prefer to use it despite the danger from cars. So it is understandable they are worried that bikes off the road might become the default.

But many seem to think that the NPA wants to somehow ban bicycles altogether, or at least somehow make them less popular. Now the way that traffic police sometimes like to stand at intersections seemingly protecting the cars from the pedestrians I sometimes wonder about this myself. Interestingly, I think I found the list of members of the NPA study group that kicked off all this fuss on the NPA website, and it appears that the panel includes none other than the editor in chief of the Japan Automobile Federation magazine. Hmmm. An affiliate of the automobile association on a panel to make proposals for regulating cycling. Slightly dubious.

But really, in this day and age when even George Bush is talking up his plans to deal with global warming, the tide is flowing against such archaeic ideas as these. Banning bikes, or even banning bikes on roads is a pretty hard sell in Japan. Women, children and elderly people use bicycles more than cars, and these groups in particular need all the protection that society can afford them. Sidewalks are scant protection from cars as it is - the kerb is more psychological than anything else. I have seen an out of control car go over the sidewalk, and the kerb didn't even slow it down.

But like I say, people all around the world are rapidly starting to realize all this, and do something about it. So if anything we will inevitably see more roads go the other way - wider sidewalks, less car lanes, and more car free streets popping up in various places.

Transportation Alternatives - Tokyo Style

New York City organization Transportation Alternatives is making a big difference in NYC.

Full of sensible ideas and commentary from sensible people, and interestingly, they really seem to be making a difference, fighting back against autopolitics on behalf of both pedestrians and cyclists.
Please contact me if you are interested in setting up a similar organization here in Tokyo. Once we can get a reasonable size group of like minded people together, we can get organized and make things happen here too. There are cycling groups already, but I think we need something wider than this.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Carfree in Beppu

Here is a fabulous video made last year by a NZ guy named Rob Thomspon living in Beppu city in Kyushu Japan:

Apparently he did a ride through Asia to Europe not long after this. He is now in Montenegro, and you can follow his progress here:

Fascinating little journey. Very glad to see that one of my favourite little bike shops (LORO) have gotten behind his expedition also.

Monday, April 02, 2007