Shizuoka Prefecture took a positive step forward in mid-February when it enacted revised traffic rules and opened new one-way bicycle lanes in Shizuoka City. Taking place on a larger scale than other pilot projects around the country, it should be a harbinger of improved bicycle policies throughout Japan. Unfortunately, however, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism is approaching bicycle policy in a piecemeal fashion.
That little-by-little approach seems especially strange since Japan is the third biggest cycling nation in the world. Japan’s 70 to 80 million bicycles might not compare with China’s staggering 500 million cycles or the Netherlands 99 percent bike ownership rate, but with over 10 million new bicycles sold each year, the current regulations, facilities and infrastructure are far from sufficient. The central government needs a coherent plan and concrete action to make bicycle riding a greater part of the transportation network.
Bicycles are the most sustainable and efficient form of urban transportation. With the right planning, they smoothly interface with the rest of the transportation network. Many cities have already studied traffic flow patterns, but more funding must be devoted to planning and construction. Though new infrastructure will be needed, it will last for years and more than pay for itself by helping to reduce automotive pollution and congestion.
Most important are bicycle lanes, which are few and far between at the moment. Finding space of any kind is not easy in Japan’s crowded urban areas, but converting some two-way roads into one-way roads for cars with two bike lanes on either side is one solution. Establishing through-lanes at intersections is also tricky, but can be accomplished with careful planning.
Bicycle lanes separated from pedestrians and automobiles by dividers are the best solution. These cycleways can be integrated into roadways and walkways to improve safety and traffic flow. Cycle-friendly lanes need to be established for different needs, too. Most bicycles are used for short trips. However, lanes for leisure cycling and long-distance commutes are also important. Creating designated lanes, as has been done in Shizuoka City, requires study, planning and design, but is reasonably cheap compared with other infrastructure projects.
Parking is an aspect of bicycle infrastructure that does involve expense. Some Japanese local governments have installed automatic underground parking facilities and most stations have bike parking lots,
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