Bicycling and Nagoya
Added In: Articles › Life in Japan
It seems like everyone rides a bicycle in Japan. Most of the major cities, being built on river deltas, are pretty flat, making riding a bicycle a much more practical option than some other cities I have visited (lumpy Auckland springs to mind!). People bicycle while pregnant, carrying multiple shopping bags, kids stacked in front and back baskets, smoking, eating onigiri’s, or the latest craze, text messaging while pedaling full speed ahead.
Copenhagen, Denmark, is one of the best havens for bicyclers. There are bicycle lanes on almost all streets and bicycle parking spaces everywhere. There are traffic signs particularly for bicyclers and bicyclers follow the traffic rules very well. I bicycled around Copenhagen myself and it is obvious that bicycles are an important part of the traffic system, and cars, bicycles and pedestrians are well-managed by the well-developed traffic rules. This balance in Copenhagen is creates a really bicycle friendly city.
Has Nagoya been a haven for bicyclers? Although bicycles are one of the main transportation methods here, the present traffic rules are not so bicycle-friendly, while the infrastructure for bicycles, such as bicycle lanes and bicycle parks, do not seem adequate to encourage more people onto two wheels. In Japan, 15% of people use bicycles as their main transport method, up 2% from 2001. However, considering that almost everyone rides a bicycle at some stage, 15% is not high enough. I wish more people would pedal to their work. Bicycling is healthy and increased bicycle use will go a long way towards reducing pollution, CO2 emissions and traffic jams in the city.
The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism of Japan has set a target to increase the use of bicycles as the main transportation method to 25% by 2025. Nagoya city has just finished building a new dedicated bicycle lane along route 19, around the Fushimi to Marunouchi area. This bicycle lane is actually separated from the sidewalk and car lanes. This type of bicycle lane is very rare in Japan and it is the first independent bicycle lane in Nagoya. While only a short 4km long in the city center, here’s hoping it is a sign of things to come.
What bicyclers are questioning is the bicycle parking fee. If the city is encouraging more bicyclers to be in the city, why are bicycle parks not cost free? Bicycle parks that are provided by the city usually cost 100 yen per time, or 2000 yen for a monthly pass. One of the best parts of bicycling is the ability to get on and off at many places at will. If it costs 100 yen per stop, bicycling probably isn’t such a financially attractive way to go. Plus, the places that used to have free bicycle parks, such as around JR stations and on the Subway Sakuradori Line, now are becoming pay per use bicycle parks. This certainly discourages people who may have bicycled to the train station; now they are more likely to have someone drop them off at the station in the car, rather than pay for bicycle parking on top of their train fare.
It is true that we, the people, have been using too much oil, and we all know this can’t continue if we want our kids to breathe fresh air. Bicycling will not solve all our environmental issues, but it can make a dent in our car-centric culture, just as they have in Copenhagen. However, a continuous effort is needed. Not only the development of bicycle friendly infrastructure, but also car driver education to create a safer bicycling environment. I hope the entire traffic system will become more bicycle friendly, and car drivers will realise it is by the grace of my pedal pumping that they aren’t stuck in a traffic jam! One day I would love to bicycle in the city where you don't have to inhale so much dust and car exhaust.