We live in a consumer society, and how you consume is your choice, right? Or is it? More and more we are finding examples of how your environment dictates your choices. As more and more people in Western cities begin to realize that proper urban planning can make the difference between a city that is 1% cycling and 40% cycling, they look to examples overseas and "quaintly antiquated" customs practiced in Japan and Europe are suddenly cutting edge vogue. Some of these I have introduced before, but over the next few weeks, I am going to try to look at specific examples of how things are done here in Japan.
My first example is from the local newspaper. Tower apartments are all the rage here in Japan as elsewhere, and I came across a typical advertisement at the office today for a nice looking apartment near the bay. There were 200 apartments in this development, and only 10 car parking spaces. Moreover, there were over 400 secure bicycle parking berths. While the apartments themselves were for sale, all parking berths were leased with the going rate for car spaces at 30,000yen per month and bicycle spaces under 300yen per month. Now while the ratio of car to bicycle spaces was in this case perhaps slightly more extreme than usual, it is a general phenomenon. In fact, 2 bicycle spaces per apartment is considered the absolute minimum, as the average household in Tokyo has three bicycles - and generally tend to use them. This kind of favouring of non-car transport modes by design is not unusual in Tokyo. There is a "tower mansion" very near my house which not only has several floors of secure indoor bicycle parking for residents, it even has three separate secure entrances to the building - one for people, one for people with bicycles and a separate elevator directly to the bicycle parking floors on B1 and B2, and the third and least convenient and completely separate entrance right around the back for the cars - which is basically just a hole down into the bowels of the building on B3 and below. That is two floors of secure bicycle parking. A far cry from your Western tower, which would have a sweeping entrance so that drivers could zoom up to the front door in their fancy [whateveritis] for maximum [auto]convenience without a thought even to safety of your kids running down to the shops, and would include at least two car parking spaces within the price of the apartment. In fact in many Western cities it is so bad that developers have become required by law to provide this car parking space.
Mind you - good as it is to have developers in Japan cater for different modal choices, if we had a system like the Parisien "Velib" here in Tokyo there would be much less need for all this bicycle parking space at all. The vast majority are simple commuter "shopping" bicycles anyway so a professionally maintained Velib bike would probably be a step up for most people. Nevertheless, considering that 10 bicycles can fit in the space of one car, it is a better solution than our Western model.