Bike sharing gaining popularity in Japan

Tokyo experiments after bike sharing success in Yokohama

With a population of more than 13 million at a density of more than 6,000 people per kilometer, Tokyo is a crowded city. To ease the strain of this massive population, Tokyo is looking to bike sharing to relieve pressure from its over worked mass transit system and crowded streets.

That figure, 13 million, only represents central Tokyo, and the Japanese capital city is surrounded — not by suburbs as most cities — but by more cities. If you count the cities that serve as Tokyo’s suburbs the population total climbs to 35.7 million people and ranks as world’s most populous metropolitan area in the world.

Tokyo is, now, experimenting with bike share programs, although most still remain in the beta phase. This is in part, says one member of the Tokyo Cycling Club, because so-called “cautious bureaucrats” have avoided investing either cash or political capital into any policy scheme that could result in failure.

As a result this “experimental” framework has in itself been ripe with failures; but now after many starts and stops, a sharing program is in the works.

Many people might assume that Japan, being the center of gizmos and gadgets and all things high-tech, would not need help developing a bike share program. However, the Toyama bike share program, which was launched in 2010 and remains an example of a successful program with several hundred bikes being made available for locals to use over several square miles, was founded as a result of efforts of a French advertising company.

Of course the Japanese have long embraced French culture, so it was somewhat fitting that city planners in Toyama looked to a European nation closely tied to cycling.

But France and Japan are very different, and this brings up whether Tokyo, or most other crowded Japanese cities, can be friendly enough for riding a bike? The surprising answer is that while crowded, the Japanese people tend closely adhere to laws and rules, which makes it possible for a system to work, says the director of the Tokyo Cycling Club.

People don’t cross streets against lights — even in the rare times when cars aren’t there — explained another member of the Tokyo Cycling Club forum.

One of the earliest bike share programs was the Taito City program that created a community cycle program, which was funded by the national government’s Social Experimental grants. This program offered community bicycles that could be accessed from 12 rental locations in a one square mile area. Even with that city’s density this was far from adequate to be practical on a grand scale.

According to the director of the Tokyo Cycling Club, bike sharing is in Tokyo following success in neighboring Yokohama. This program calls for prepaid cards that allow a bike to be rented for use and returned to any other compound in the city of Yokohama.

“Tokyo is already a good place to ride,” Sergei a foreign resident now living in Tokyo and member of the Tokyo Cycling Club, told BikeRadar. Because the rules of the road are respected he says that Tokyo is actually safe for riders and pedestrians alike, but adds that room is still an issue. “More wide shoulders on the roads for bikers to feel more safe,” he said.

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