At a press conference held on Aug 29, Tokyo Governor Yoichi Masuzoe responded to questions regarding his vision for cycling in Tokyo in the lead-up to the 2020 Olympics. His answers were interesting to say the least.
In principal, the governor supports the installation of street level bicycle lanes, over sidewalk level lanes and is committed to expanding Tokyo's network of bicycle lanes across the city. This sounded like wonderful news ... until he elaborated on his answer.
During his elaboration, things became a lot less clear as he indicated that Tokyo's widely accepted practice of sidewalk cycling would not be stamped out even in areas where bicycle lanes are widespread. In particular, he singled out mothers who carry one or more children on their bicycle who may not be comfortable cycling on the roads may prefer to cycle on the sidewalks which he described as "safer".
Defending this stance, Masuzoe said that he believes forcing roadies, bicycle commuters (both of whom make up a tiny percentage of Tokyo's cyclists), the elderly and mothers (who account for a much larger percentage) to mix is a bad idea.
He acknowledged that the common practice of cycling in both directions on the sidewalk is a dangerous but is one so common that to prevent it would make cycling a much less convenient form of transport for all.
By allowing sidewalk cycling to continue in the presence of new bicycle lanes, one must ask just how committed Tokyo's governor is to providing a safe, world-class, cycling infrastructure?
From the very beginning, Masuzoe has admitted that he plans to build bicycle lanes which he himself believes will be too unsafe to accommodate mothers and children. A bicycle lane too unsafe for mothers and children is by its very nature too unsafe to accommodate anyone. Why waste taxpayers money on infrastructure he acknowledges is flawed from the start?
The governor has also fallen into the trap of trying to accommodate the needs of everyone over the needs of the majority. The majority of Japanese cyclists are "regular people" riding mamacharis on the sidewalks at speeds less than 30 km/h for distances of less than 2 km each trip. Compared to these cyclists, the roadies, mountain bikers and bicycle commuters make up just a small percentage of the total number of cyclists.
Masuzoe really should be focusing on the needs of the majority. At the press conference, he acknowledged Japan's aging population and declining birth rate will eventually mean less mothers and more elderly cyclists. Yet his policy seems to be to provide lanes (which I assume will be little more than blue paint on the roadway) for young, active and fearless cyclists (of whom there are few) while allowing everyone else, including mothers and the elderly to continue cycling on the sidewalks. As a result, his proposed cycling infrastructure will do little to change the current situation.
If Masuzoe is not fully committed to protected road level bicycle lanes which are safe enough for everyone in the community to cycle in, he is not committed to cycling in Tokyo.
Personally, I believe Masuzoe's policy needs a rethink.© Japan Today