Tokyo aims to promote cycling as means of transport ahead of Olympics


The Tokyo Metropolitan Government aims to get more people using bicycles and aims to roughly double the total length of bike lanes in the city by the time it hosts the 2020 Summer Olympics.

Whether the target is attainable is unclear. Observers note that the planned bike lanes do not necessarily connect with each other, partly because Tokyo roads are managed by a range of different entities.

On a visit to London last week, Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe examined the city’s Olympic legacy. He noted the city’s roads were “narrow and very similar to those in Tokyo,” making London a useful reference.

A significant number of commuters in the British capital use bikes to get to work, a trend that got a lift when the city hosted the 2012 Summer Games. The fluorescent jackets of riders are a common sight among the traffic during morning rush hour.

London used to lag some major cities in its use of bicycles, but hosting the Olympics gave it a chance to improve its biking infrastructure. Additions included the creation of blue-painted “Cycle Superhighways” linking downtown areas with outlying neighborhoods.

“I feel more comfortable in riding as the paint of bike lanes has the effect of calling vehicle drivers’ attention” to cyclists, said Yoko Aoki, 45, an editor living in London.

As of March 2013, Tokyo had about 120 km of roads deemed suitable for riding on, some of which have demarcated bike lanes. The metropolitan government plans to double that to 232 km by 2020.

By promoting the use of bicycles, “the air will be clean and it will be good for health as well,” Masuzoe said.

But the planned bike lanes are not contiguous. They start and end when a road becomes the responsibility of a different authority.

Around 2,000 km of roads are regulated by the metropolitan government, roughly 200 km by the central government, and about 20,000 km by municipal governments such as wards, cities and towns.

The metropolitan government plans to recommend routes suitable for bike lanes by the end of next March, but it remains uncertain whether the overall ambition will be realized.

Akira Watari, an urban transport critic, said that “wisdom and ingenuity are needed” for improving both wide and narrow roads. He cited the trend in London of imposing a speed limit of 32 kph within neighborhoods to encourage the use of bicycles.