You’d think that with four lanes going each way, the section of National Route 14 running by Kameido Station in eastern Tokyo would be a perfect place to add a bike lane. Who wouldn’t agree to sacrifice just one of eight car lanes if it got bikes off the pavement and thus reduced accidents with pedestrians?
Shopkeepers, that’s who. Two years ago, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, which operates the road, decided to hand over a 400-meter stretch of one eastbound lane to peddle-pushers. Because they were worried that the thoroughfare’s fast-moving cars were a danger to cyclists, they erected a fence between the two-way, 2-meter-wide bike lane on the road’s northern side and the remaining seven lanes for cars.
It was that fence that caused the problems. Phase two of the plan, which was supposed to be completed last year, would have seen the bike lane extended by 800 meters — 500 meters east and 300 meters west. That was until traders complained they would no longer be able to pull their cars up to the curb and unload their wares.
“We can’t complete the project until we gain the approval of all the parties concerned,” Minoru Watanabe, of the MLIT Road Bureau’s Tokyo Office, explained. “We are now working with the police and the local ward government to gain the understanding of the shopkeepers.”
Otherwise, the bike lane appears to have the support of most locals.
“It’s certainly safer with the bike lane,” a bike-riding male, high school student said, before declining to give his name. “I think they should add them to other areas too.”
A 75-year-old bike-rider agreed. “It’s safer,” he said, before adding that, “in Japan the roads are narrow, so you couldn’t build something like this everywhere.”
Pedestrians are pleased too. “When people ride on the pavements they ride so fast, and sometimes when they hit you and it hurts, but they just ride on,” explained a 68-year-old woman. “With the bike lane, most cyclists stay off the pavement, so it has got better.”
Such positive feedback has convinced the ministry that they are on the right track with the Kameido bike lane, which is one of 98 “model districts” nationwide where these dedicated carriageways are now being built. They are hoping to address shopkeepers’ concerns by leaving gaps in the fence through which people can pass.
However, whether or not more bike lanes are built on national government-operated roads will not be determined until reports from all 98 model locations are received and assessed by ministry officials in consultation with others. And that could be a few years down the line . . .