CARFREE TOKYO

- 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, January 01, 2008

Inspirational Call to Arms by Sydney Lord Mayor

If only Japan had leaders with this kind of vision and courage. THIS ARTICLE in the Sydney Morning Herald (one of Australia's major Newspapers) by Clover Moore, the Lord Mayor of Sydney and State member for Sydney, is really quite impressive coming from someone so high up in government.

Many people talk highly of Tokyo's Mayor. To his credit, he has supported a Tokyo bid for the 2016 Olympics as a "Green Olympics" and Tokyo is probably one of the few cities that could hold true to a moniker like that. If he does, it will be quite a reversal from the previous Tokyo Olympics, which was used as an excuse for busting through the network of cancerous motorways that dissect the city to this day - including a disgusting bypass through Nihonbashi in the cultural heart of Tokyo. As I have said before, it would be wonderful if this Olympics could be the impetus for these disgusting eyesores to be removed and the original canals restored to their former glory as was done in Seoul not long ago.

If Tokyo had a mayor like Clover Moore I imagine we could REALLY achieve something. We already have decent public transport, lots of bicycles, good density. In many ways, Tokyo is already quite environmentally friendly. The average household has several bicycles and a quick look outside shows that they tend to use them. All we need is decent policy at the top to keep it that way, rather than slide towards the US model as has happened since the 1980's. It is high time we said "Enough!" to all the wasteful road building, road widening, tunnel and bridge building, and most of all to the sprawl - something that even Japan Rail, since its privatization, has gained a taste for after discovering how lucrative it can be.

There was debate in parliament late last year in Japan on whether or not gasoline tax should be used exclusively for road building - "Bah! Humbug" was the general response, thank goodness, but it does show the lengths that the auto/roads/oil lobby will go to in order to promote their cause (more cars on the road). What we should be debating instead is how to spend this money on better transit, and how to implement tougher rules to kerb sprawl, which is really becoming a major environmental and social disaster throughout Japan these days.

2 comments:

J7 said...

I agree that the eyesore that is the Shuto Expressway system should be removed from places like Ginza and Nihonbashi--however what will the trucks use when making their deliveries? I recommend placing them in tunnels like the proposed expressway between Shinjuku and Ikebukuro. While I would like to gid rid of all cars overnight, I am a realist too! What I can't understand is how Tokyo (and my 2nd hometown of Osaka) got overrun by this elevated mess... Remember the Hanshin earthquake of 1994 and seeing the Hanshin Expressway Kobe Rte and Wangan Rte destroyed? I thought for sure they'd take these routes, and run one north in the Rokko Mtns just above downtown Kobe (Like the Sanyo Shinkansen) and place the Wangan Rte in tunnels or land-bridges on the coast. Nope, they just built them back the same way waiting for an even STRONGER quake to knock 'em down again....

Ryanoceros said...

Thanks for the comment, J7.

You are right about needing to be a realist. Sometimes people see the title "Carfree" and assume that we are some head-in-the-clouds hippy dreamers who do not understand cities. We should make the distinction between realism and fatalism of course. The reality is that there are many transport options, and if we encourage one, it will flourish. For the last 60 years we have encouraged use of the personal motor vehicle. We cannot turn that around overnight but nevertheless there is a transport crisis so turn it around we must and will, for reasons that go well beyond global warming. There are many ways to make this turn-around happen, and hopefully this website will become one source of ideas for this long-term (but urgent) project. More on this soon.