Property ads in Hatsudai and Hatagaya, immediately west of central Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station, often trumpet the fact that it’s possible to “commute by bike” to the neighboring hub.
Last year that ride became a little bit easier, when the so-called Kyu-Tamagawa Suido Road, running ramrod straight from western Shinjuku, through Hatsudai, Hatagaya and out to Suginami Ward, was selected as one of 98 “model districts” around the country where dedicated bike lanes would be established.
The road now sports a blue-painted, 1.5-meter-wide strip on each side that is, at least in theory, reserved for bicycles.
Atsushi Aiba, from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s Road and Street Administration Division, which operates the road and built the bike lanes with a 50-percent subsidy from the national government, said the choice of the Kyu-Tamagawa Suido Road as a model area was easy.
“A lot of people commute to Shinjuku from that area, the road is straight and it has a 40 kph speed limit, making it safer,” he explained. “There is also the larger National Route 20, which runs parallel directly to the south and takes most of the automobile traffic.”
Aiba has only anecdotal evidence that the new bike lane has reduced the number of bike-pedestrian collisions, as was the plan’s initial objective. Users give it mixed reviews.
Most riders, such as a 38-year-old mountain-biker who preferred not to be named, thought the cycle lane was good, but still needed improvement.
“It’s OK, but cars still pull over and block the bike lane, which means you have to veer out into traffic to get around them,” he said.
That danger has prompted some to avoid the lane altogether.
“I don’t use it and I told my family not to use it either,” said a bike-riding 72-year-old gent. “It’s too dangerous when you have to go around stationary cars.”
Aiba conceded that the legality of cars “stopping” in the bike lane (“parking,” which is defined as being over five minutes, is illegal) is a problem requiring more attention. The road was judged to be too narrow to allow the erection of fences separating the car and bike lanes.
“Bus drivers have voiced the same concern — they have to pull over onto the bike lane to pick up passengers,” Aiba said. “But all the road users have to learn to share the road.”
The bike lane is currently 1.2-km long, and is set to be extended west a further 900 meters by March. Eastward extension is not currently being considered, meaning that riders have to revert to the pavement or brave the bike lane-less road for the final kilometer to Shinjuku Station — as they do in most of the rest of the city.
According to Aiba, the metropolitan government hopes to add similar bike lanes in other areas in the future — but only where conditions, such as road widths and traffic volume, are judged suitable.