Editorials

Kyoto leading the way with bicycles

A new initiative in Kyoto to make bicycling easier is an excellent start to reducing carbon emissions, while also making the city more tourist-friendly and letting long-term residents do their daily chores conveniently. The main push for this change is of course the millions of tourists who voted Kyoto the best city to visit. Those visitors to the ancient capital, which topped 50 million in 2013, would like the option of experiencing the city by bicycling, since as much of Kyoto’s vibrancy comes from its small streets as from its impressive monuments.

The Kyoto Municipal Government announced plans to make the city more bicycle-friendly by 2020. Money will be spent on adding bicycle lanes, increasing parking spaces and expanding bike tours through cooperation with the private sector. Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and other large cities could learn a lot from Kyoto’s progressive vision. Tourism might be the incentive in Kyoto, but residents throughout Japan will benefit too.

The specifics of increasing cycling, though, take time and effort to set up and fully integrate. Many cities, like Kyoto, have started to crack down on illegal bicycle parking. However, convenient parking spots should be installed first before such crackdowns. Bike lanes are absolutely essential for safe movement, especially by tourists who may not know their way around very well.

In Tokyo, some local governments have set up daily rental facilities near train stations to make it easy for people who want to take the train to a station and then bike to local tourist spots. However, nearly every station in Tokyo has numerous nearby attractions. As tourists increase, both foreign and domestic, more of these rental options will be needed.

Increasingly, visitors to Japan, and Japanese tourists as well, want to move more leisurely to enjoy the passing journey, not just the famous destination. Knowing one can access a bicycle near any station would make commuting to new, and regular, areas tremendously more convenient, not to mention healthy and relaxing. The municipal governments of Japan’s large cities need to increase these programs and make all Japanese cities truly bicycle-friendly. That is one important way to increase the quality of life in Japan.

Japan’s transportation system is the envy of the world. However, a few parts are still missing. Smaller buses for the elderly and local people have been one of the most important recent enhancements. However, the connection between trains, buses and bicycles is still insufficient. Bicycle access has often been left out of the equation, but it needs to be included. Many residents, as well as tourists, would surely add bicycles to their transportation choices if it were easier to do.

Bicycles, and bicycle infrastructure, are a low-tech, cost-efficient way to make the transportation system of Japan even better. The central government, working together with local governments, needs to increase support for bicycling.