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Nagoya commuters get their cycle on

Chunichi Shimbun

Nagoya is seeing a growing number of “tsukinists,” a term coined for those who commute to work by bicycle, pointing to the public’s higher awareness of environmental and personal health issues.

The city has also shown its support for tsukinists — the word is based on the word “tsukin” (commute) — by ensuring there are sufficient bicycle lanes in the city.

In contrast, companies have done little to support the trend, so whether Nagoya’s bicycle commuting boom will continue is an open question.

Yushi Kamiya, 63, from Chikusa Ward in Nagoya, decided to begin commuting by bicycle 10 years ago, when he had to give up his favorite sport, mountaineering, due to back pain.

It takes him 30 minutes to ride the 8.5 km to his office every day. Eventually, his back problems went away and his weight dropped from 74 kg to 60 kg.

“I started doing it purely for my health, but I’m happy that I also got to lose weight as a result,” he said.

Another bicycle commuter, from Kitanagoya, Aichi Prefecture, said he finds it more comfortable than jam-packed trains. The 33-year-old, who asked to remain anonymous, cycles 10 km daily from his house to his office in Naka Ward, Nagoya.

“I hate riding on crowded trains. It feels so much better to cycle to work,” he said.

Both agreed that the increase of bicycle lanes in Nagoya has been beneficial. Under national traffic rules, cyclists are supposed to ride on regular roads, alongside all other vehicles.

“The trucks on the road are scary. I feel safer on bicycle lanes,” said the Kitanagoya commuter.

To prevent road accidents, work began to create bicycle lanes on existing streets by putting up partitions or painting the lane in a different color.

Currently, only 4.2 km of Nagoya’s streets have designated bicycle lanes. But they are generally wide enough to accommodate these lanes, and the Nagoya National Highway Office plans to add another 21.6 km worth to main streets in the city.

The Nagoya Municipal Government also has been urging its employees to cycle to work. In 2001, the municipality halved the transport allowance for its workers living within a 5-km radius of the city office and commuting by cars, while doubling the reimbursement for those who biked to work.

As a result, the number of municipal employees who commute by bicycle has more than doubled from 825 in 2000 to 2,056 last year.

Yet according to the Forum for Citizens with Bicycles nonprofit group, based in Higashi Ward, companies in Nagoya have been far less supportive, unlike in other prefectures, where some businesses give preferential allowances to workers who cycle more than a set distance to the office.

“Some companies (in Nagoya) have even banned their employees from commuting by bicycles to avoid (operational) problems arising from accidents, or simply due to a lack of space” for bike racks, said Yasuyuki Goto, 56, deputy head of the cyclist NPO.

But Goto believes commuting by bike has advantages.

Commuter cyclists say the morning exercise has increased their work efficiency. As for companies, they can reduce their transport allowance costs while sending a positive message to the public that they care about the environment and enhance their corporate image.

“Nagoya was built on flat land, so it’s easy to cycle around. I think more people will consider commuting by bike if companies provide shower facilities and spaces to leave bicylces,” Goto said.

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published June 24.