May 13, 2014
EDITORIAL: Tokyo given great opportunity to become more bicycle-friendly
The bicycle is the most useful tool for making society less dependent on cars.
Children, adults and elderly people can use bicycles to improve mobility. Bicycles help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming and offer an effective way to get around when public transportation is disrupted by earthquakes and other natural disasters.
Cycling is also good for the health.
Given the aging of the nation’s driving population, the use of bicycles should be promoted as a safer alternative to automobiles.
Tokyo Governor Yoichi Masuzoe has pledged to reduce the daily flow of cars into central Tokyo as part of the metropolitan government’s efforts to prepare the city for the 2020 Summer Olympics. Masuzoe has also promised to make the capital a more bicycle-friendly city.
London was also said to be lagging behind many other major cities around the world in terms of cycle-friendliness. However, London established many bicycle lanes, using the opportunity offered by hosting the 2012 Olympics.
Tokyo also has a great opportunity to promote bicycle transportation in the six years until the 2020 sports event. The Japanese capital should lead other local governments by making the shift from cars to bicycles.
The big challenge is taking effective measures to reduce accidents involving bicycles.
Roads in Japan are much safer today than during the period of rapid economic growth, when the term “traffic war” was used to describe the dangers on the streets. But the percentage of pedestrians and cyclists in all traffic fatalities in Japan remains far higher than the ratios in other industrialized nations.
Also alarming is that accidents between cyclists and pedestrians have increased by 14 percent over the past decade in Japan, while the number of all traffic accidents has declined by one-third.
In some lawsuits, cyclists have been ordered to pay tens of millions of yen in damages for causing accidents that have killed or seriously injured pedestrians.
The law requires cyclists to ride close to the left side of the road, in principle. But many cyclists still use sidewalks, mainly to avoid the terror of riding on roadways with honking cars speeding past.
The environment for cycling on streets should be improved significantly, with priority placed on the safety of vulnerable road users.
Many people tend to think that bicycle lanes will never gain ground in Japan because the roads are generally narrower.
“That’s a typical way of thinking that reflects the deep-rooted car-first mentality among people steeped in a car-oriented culture,” says Shigeki Kobayashi, who heads a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting the use of bicycles. “Why would you give the priority to cars in the allocation of space on narrow roads?”
We need to reconsider the priorities of road use. Pedestrians should come first, followed by public transportation vehicles and bicycles. Private cars should be last on the priority list.
One effective way to make motorists recognize the principle that cyclists should ride on roads is to create specially painted bicycle-only lanes.
An experiment conducted in Tokyo by the transport ministry and other organizations showed that bike lanes sharply reduce the number of cyclists riding on sidewalks. Still, many cyclists are afraid to use roadways even with lanes designated for bicycles.
It is important to note that most accidents between bicycles and cars occur at intersections.
Cyclists who enter intersections on the road are more clearly visible to drivers than cyclists who suddenly dart into intersections from sidewalks.
Stricter speed limits should be imposed on streets in central parts of Tokyo. Businesses and shopping districts should be required to offer more bicycle parking spaces so that footpaths are not clogged with illegally parked bikes.
And cyclists must never forget the principle that pedestrians have the right of way.
We hope the Tokyo Olympics will catalyze a radical change of the car-oriented transport culture in this nation.
--The Asahi Shimbun, May 12