The land of the rising eBike: cycling in Japan

bikes, Yoyogi Park
Sakura cycling in Yoyogi Park, Tokyo

I recently spent three weeks in Japan, chasing cherry blossom (Sakura) on a Japan Rail Pass. But I also tried out cycling; renting and borrowing bikes in several towns and cities. What did I find out, and are there lessons for cycling in Wellington?

eBikes

As in other parts of the world, electric assist bikes (eBikes) are ubiquitous in Japan. eBikes comprise 53% of Japan’s bicycle production, although there are indications that the growth is flattening. Most have a Panasonic motor system, that I haven’t seen in NZ: crank drive, with a relatively compact battery.

Standard family transport is an electric assist cargo bike, with child carriers front and rear. At a suburban rail station, I saw a family roll up: Dad pedaling, Mum perched behind, and child in a seat. Dad jumped off and ran for the train, while Mum took over pedaling to drop the kid off at daycare.

mother and child on eBike
Family transport

I’m still not sure how Japanese eBike users charge their bikes. Many bikes are left on the streets overnight, but they seem to be left with batteries on, and not connected to a charger. Maybe they have two batteries and rotate them around.

Footpath cycling

bike/pedestrian sharing
Separated cycle path, Tokyo
Mall cycling, Takamatsu
Cycling in a shopping mall, Takamatsu
No footpath cycling sign
But you can’t ride your bike everywhere

Whenever footpath cycling is mentioned, it’s stated “that’s what they do in Japan”. Well, yes and no. Footpath cycling is illegal in Japan unless signs specifically allow it. However in the 1970’s oil crisis, it seems that police made a policy decision not to prosecute footpath cycling. In 2011 the Police said they would encourage people between 13 and 70 to ride on the road rather than the footpath, but it still seems that people of all ages cycle on the footpath, including the police themselves.

Police biking on crossing
These police have just cycled down the footpath in the background

According to a paper presented at VeloCity 2014, Japanese authorities are concerned about the risks of footpath cycling, particularly to the increasing numbers of elderly pedestrians. So they are creating more cycle paths and designated shared paths, and encouraging cyclists to use them. I saw signs of this investment. One example was Yamaguchi, a provincial capital about the same size as Wellington, where major intersections had underpasses for cyclists and pedestrians – just what Wellington needs on Cobham Drive.

Yamaguchi
Underpass entrance, Yamaguchi
Underpass, Takamatsu
Underpass in Takamatsu

Does the Japanese footpath cycling regime work? As an (elderly!) pedestrian I had a couple of times that a cyclist whooshed past in a way that startled me, but I didn’t see any crashes. When I did cycle, it was often very useful to use footpaths as an alternative the busy multilane city streets.

bike lane, Tokyo
Tokyo style sharrows
Kanazawa
Two way cycle path, Kanazawa

However, Japanese cycling style is very different from NZ. Very few footpath cyclists look like they’re training for the Tour de France – typically they’re Lycra-free leisurely commuters. Although Japanese will ignore laws, such as the one that prohibits riding with an umbrella, there’s a very strong ethos of obeying custom. Japanese pedestrians, cyclists and drivers will never go through a red light, even if there are no other vehicles around. And traffic light sequences are long – while you’ve got a lot of time to amble across a pedestrian crossing, you might have to wait several minutes for your phase to come up. Another reason footpath cycling works is that Japanese streets generally don’t have a lot of vehicle entrances, unlike NZ where every house has a driveway and the risk of a motor vehicle crossing the footpath.

We need to be careful about translating the Japanese experience of footpath cycling to the NZ environment.

Bike parking

Whenever we used bikes, we were warned to be careful where we parked them. Areas around businesses often have signs prohibiting bike parking. Bikes are frequently removed, and there’s a substantial cost to recover them. At the Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto the only legal bike parking cost $3 and was half a kilometer from the temple.

Naoshima
Art project bike parking, Naoshima

Railway stations had huge bike parks – I suspect a hazard is failing to find your bike when you return!

Bikes on public transport

Given the ubiquity of both public transport and cycling, I was surprised that there doesn’t seem to be more use of bikes on public transport. At the weekend, we saw a number of recreational cyclists at Tokyo station with touring bikes packed in bags, heading off for a ride – an hours ride on a Shinkansen high speed train can put you hundreds of kilometers from the metropolis.

Nara - how to pack (rinko) your bike for train
Rinko instructions, Nara Station

It seems you can take a bike on a train if it is “Rinko”ed – bagged with wheels removed. You can also get pedals that pop off, making the Rinko process easier. Mini Velos, bikes with small wheels but standard frames, are common in Japan, I think because they’re easier to store and transport.

Yamaguchi
Mini Velo in Yamaguchi

Public bike hire

Many places have some sort of public bike hire, and they seemed to be well used. There’s generally some instructions in English.

Kanazawa
Working out Kanazawa’s bike system

We used one in Kanazawa that worked well (after a bit of geographic confusion that had us riding north from the railway station rather than south). After registering at the automatic machine we punched in a code to unlock our bikes, which we dropped at a rack close to the Castle. After walking around we picked up bikes from another rack, and rode back to the station.

Kenroku-en gardens, Kanazawa
Riding back from the castle, Kanazawa

Takamatsu had a slightly bureaucratic system where we needed our passports, and the requirement to give an address was a bit awkward as our accommodation that night was on Japan’s one remaining train sleeper service. But once we’d got our registration cards a helpful attendant set up our bikes and guided us to a natty bike escalator that took us up to street level.

Bike escalator, Takamatsu
Bike escalator, Takamatsu

It’s also fairly easy to rent bikes, generally near railway stations. There are outfits running bike tours – we did a half day with Tokyo Miracle Cycling Tour which took us around alleyways and gardens in central Tokyo, avoiding the worst of the multilane highways. Kyoto Cycle Touring Project rented us bikes and sold us a map that helped navigate the city, using the cycle path along the Kamogawa River, and the sakura lined Philosopher’s Path. Our hotel in Yamaguchi had a fleet of complimentary bikes in the foyer for guests.

Tokyo Miracle bike tour
On the Tokyo Miracle Bike Tour
KCTPmap
Part of the useful Kyoto Cycle Touring Project map

What can we learn from Japan about cycling?

Japan shows us that you can have a very high mode share of cycling (20% in Tokyo), with everyday cycling dominating over lycra. It also shows that eBikes and public bike schemes have the capacity to be successful. But we also saw the results of the pressure – the need for large scale bike parking, and a bit less freedom to park where you want. Footpath cycling is a mixed blessing – even the well behaved Japanese cycling population includes the odd larrikin. However the sensible Japanese response seems to be to build more cycle paths, rather than force bikes onto the road. Perhaps that should be our priority rather than worrying too much about footpath cycling.

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Santa gets “on his bike” for Xmas deliveries

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A senior SpokesElf for Santa Claus has confirmed that this Xmas the traditional deliveries would be made using sustainable transport. Santa will be using a specially designed electric assist cargo bike to service Xmas stockings around the world.

“We had to move to a 21st century technology” said the SpokesElf “The reindeer methane emissions meant that the North Pole couldn’t meet its COP22 and Kyoto climate change targets”. In addition, Santa’s multiple manifestations were contributing to traffic congestion “Deliveries to South Auckland, for example, weren’t completed until after New Year, due to gridlock on the Southern Motorway.”

Another important factor was Santa’s health “Obesity is a real hazard in his profession. We’d had him on statins and beta blockers for some time, but there was a real risk of the delivery programme collapsing if he had a cardiac arrest”. Santa has been in training for the 24 December ride, and is seeing positive effects already “Mrs Claus in particular is appreciative of the new, slimmer Santa”.

Santa’s helpers expect the 2016 deliveries to go smoothly, “particularly in Auckland where the Northwest cycleway, and the award winning Lightpath/Te Ara i Whiti, facilitate bicycle transport” Deliveries to the North Shore will be facilitated in future years by SkyPath.

The situation is more mixed in Wellington. “It’s going to be pretty good for Island Bay and Tawa where there are protected cycle lanes, but outside of that Santa will have to take care”. Several elves have qualified as Pedal Ready instructors, and are giving Santa the confidence to ride efficiently in regular traffic.

There are concerns in the US, where the incoming Trump administration is believed to be insisting that Santa uses Detroit built sleighs powered by Nebraska tar sands. In Britain, Brexit may mean that Saint Nicolaus, an EU citizen, will not be able to undertake his share of the Yuletide deliveries.

CAN Do in the city of the future

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CAW’s James Burgess shares the lessons of Island Bay at CAN Do 2016

The national cycling meeting CAN Do was held the weekend before Easter in Hamiltron,  city of the future, “An hour to the south of Auckland, and ten minutes into the future”. So what did this meeting of about 40 cycling advocates mean for the future of people riding bikes?

A good number of us came by bike, which meant that the bike festooned railings at the venue briefly attracted the attention of a gentleman with boltcutters, before being seen off by one of the eagle eyed organising team. Who said Hamiltonians weren’t enterprising?

Historians tell us that you can’t plan for the future without looking at the past. This CAN Do marked 20 years since CAN started, and Robert Ibell, the founding secretary and long time chair of CAN, took us through a history of cycle advocacy in NZ. Although progress seems frustratingly slow, a lot has changed since 1996: more funding, road rules that recognise cycling, and a growing level of infrastructure, both in amount and quality. Through its history, CAN has worked through volunteers and consensus: CAN is us, not them.

One newer organisation that has been effective in highlighting issues such as climate change and transport is Generation Zero, and we heard from Arryn and Rowena about some Hamilton and Auckland initiatives. Generation Zero pioneered the online easy submission process, that has been particularly effective in getting approval for Sky Path, and boosting funding for cycling in Hamilton, for example.

Paula Southgate of Waikato Regional Council itemised the cycling projects going on in the Waikato: the Western Rail trail using spare rail corridor to connect the western suburbs of Hamilton to the CBD, speed management, etc, all of which has led to a peak in cycle commuting in 2013. A particular challenge is the popularity of sports cycling on rural roads – similar to the issues we have in Wellington with places like Whitemans valley. The big achievement for Waikato cycling has been Te Awa, the river trails, described for us by the ebullient Sarah Ulmer, who has made the transition from elite athlete to cycling mum, and is pushing the vision of a 3m wide concrete path from Ngarawhahia to Lake Taupo, opening access to the river for cyclists, runners and walkers of all capabilities. Currently Te Awa connects Hamilton to the cycling centre of Cambridge on off road paths and quiet streets. While many people are involved in the Te Awa project, I suspect a reason for its success is that Sarah is simply a very hard person to say “no” to.

Megan Smith discussed her university research into how cycling appears in policy documents. Despite one-off initiatives such as the Urban Cycleways Programme, most mentions of cycling are peripheral, seeing cycling as a recreational activity rather than as a key component of the transport network, and ignoring the potential role of cycling in mitigating climate change. Clearly we still have work to do lobbying for more appropriate recognition of cycling in government policy.

Chris Foggin of Cycling NZ talked about the range of people cycling recreationally, including Reg, the 93 year old veteran who is still winning races, partly because he’s the only competitor in his age class. Chris talked about the Ride Leader programme, introducing beginners to cycling skills. Although aimed at recreational cyclists, it’s an idea that could easily be adopted for commuting.

CAN Do attracted the politicians as well. Local MP Sue Maroney congratulated CAN on being one of the first lobby groups to contact her when she became Opposition Transport Spokesperson, and asked that we wave to her when we encountered her on a bike – she rediscovered cycling 3 years ago. Our own Wellington councillor Sarah Free also attended, contributing a local government perspective to our discussions.

Elizabeth Claridge and Claire Pascoe updated us on NZTA’s cycling team – something that would have seemed impossible 20 years ago when CAN was formed. 8 of the 24 UCP projects are complete, and the team is undertaking initiatives to bring cycling into the mainstream such as hiring a social media specialist, and has published a Benefits Tool, a resource of information about the benefits of cycling.

Until Vision Zero is achieved, we have to face the reality of traffic fatalities and injuries. Caroline Perry of Brake talked about their work addressing the global road toll, both at a macro level pushing for lower speed limits, and helping individuals work though the grief of losing a loved one to a traffic crash, through their book, Someone has died in a road crash.

Richard Barter got us out of the meeting room to a nearby carpark where a Fonterra truck and trailer unit was waiting for us to see how invisible cyclists can be from the cab of a truck. This is sobering (but not surprising – in a previous life as a truckie, I once backed over a mini that was in my blind spot), although I think we need to also question why vehicles with limited visibility are allowed on our roads, particularly in urban areas.

We also heard from local groups. CAW’s own James Burgess gave some background to the Island Bay saga, and how lessons for future projects are being applied in developing the UCP projects such as the Hutt Road path. Will Andrews reported on how projects such as the Railway Reserve and the Rocks have lead to a 9% cycling mode share in Nelson. Tom Halliburton told us how skilled political maneuvering succeeded in adding good quality bike infrastructure to plans for the Haywards intersection in Upper Hutt. David Crowley talked about some of Rotoruas battles and initiatives, including a bike festival where people get to ride the airport runway. They’ve also tried this in Hawkes Bay – a new Ciclovia vision, perhaps? Perhaps not an option for Wellington’s busier airport! Bevan Woodward and Paul Shortland discussed the burgeoning Auckland cycling scene, where the newly rebranded Bike Auckland works alongside other groups such as Auckland Bike Style to bring cycling into the mainstream of a traditionally car oriented city. (I was interested to see that Janette Sadik-Khan’s Street Fight features Auckland in her survey of global initiatives to make cities more liveable). Even better, Skypath seems on track to at last connect the north shore to the CBD for cyclists and walkers, which could transform how people view active transport. I suggested that a way to fund Skypath is simply to buy up properties in Northcote, waiting for the inevitable rise in value when people realise that like Herne Bay, the suburb will be in walking and cycling distance of the CBD. Lyn Sleath of Kapiti talked about work to make north south cycling through Kapiti more accessible, Otaki bridge being the latest battleground. In Hawkes Bay shared paths are an issue, leading to a “stop the startle” campaign to use bells and voice to warn other users. Lynneke Oderwater of Whanganui told us about how the Mountains to the Sea route is providing an urban cycleway parallel to the river, complemented by  the Te Tuaiwi spine. The local group has been successful in getting a regular cycling stories in the local paper, about for example an opera singing cyclist, and a person losing 100kg through biking.

What’s the future for CAN as an advocacy organisation? At the AGM we discussed proposals for a more professional, mass membership basis for CAN. But we also heard from Jo Mackay and Patrick Morgan presenting the proposal for a 3 year “Love Cycling” campaign to build supportive communities for cycling, and ensure that UCP money is spent effectively. This raises questions, such as how we persuade people who see cars as “normal” transport to love cycling, but it’s a bold initiative that’s worth following up. Bevan Woodward facilitated a session where we tried to identify what CAN’s role was: lobbying and media of course, but also speaking to the “interested but concerned” to reassure them that cycling is a good transport option. Above all, we need to sign up for BHAGs – Big Hairy Audacious Goals.

CAN Do 2016 showed that the future of cycling is bright – but people on bikes need to be involved. If you’re not already a member (if you’re a member of CAW, you’re automatically a member of CAN) please join, and get involved to get more people on bikes, more often.

Thanks to Claire and the CAN Do 2016 organising team for an inspiring weekend. The presentations from the meeting are available.

Fish and chips ride!

Add some crunch to your #friding this Friday (9 October) with a short ride down the Parade and a picnic by the bandstand in Shorland Park. 5:45 at the chip shop (to place your order) or 6:15 at the park.

fishbanner

Salt & Batter is at 67 The Parade, Island Bay. A few of us will ride out to Island Bay from the CBD – be at Volunteers Corner at 5:10 if that’s you.

Fish optional. Bring your lights for getting home, and we might ride round the coast afterwards if you’re keen.

Sign up to the Facebook event …or just turn up 🙂

 

Cycling makes you smarter!

If you cycle enough you might even be able to understand this article that found cycling increased “brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)”, one of “a family of neurotrophic factors that participates in neuronal transmission, modulation and plasticity”.

So ride your bike to increased neurological function!!

And feel happier too.

Now I finally understand what I suspected all along, my bike must be why I am so clever and happy!

librarian-cyclist

[Originally posted by Nicole]

Velo-City 2014: lessons for Wellington?

Pedicab at Velo-City venue
Pedicab at Velo-City venue

I was lucky enough to be one of the almost 50 New Zealanders to attend the international cycling conference Velo-City 2014, this year held in Adelaide. It was a big conference, with 170 presenters I had to be choosy, and other participants will have absorbed different perspectives. Here are some of the themes that took my fancy:

  • E-Bikes: becoming known in Europe as “Pedlec”, generally with a power up to 300 watts (a fit adult can generate up to around 150 watts for an hour or so). These are seen as providing access to cycling for less fit people, and those who don’t wish to “sweat” their ride. E-bikes can feel safer, since there’s a reserve of power to accelerate out of tricky situations. However there are practical and policy issues about allowing E-Bikes on, for example, shared paths. E-Bikes can have a higher accident rate, since users may not be used to the power and weight of the bike.  Training may be needed for E-Bike users. A newer class of E-bike, the Pedelec-S, with power ratings over 300 watt, is gaining popularity, but is closer to a motorbike in performance and role in the transport system. The Dutch are looking at solar powered “charge as you ride” systems for E-Bikes.
  • Frome Street Bikeway: this had to overcome local objections (a la Island Bay) but seems to be working well. One section has well implemented parking protected cycle lanes, with generous buffer zones for passengers to exit parked cars, and space for cars to cross the cycle lane and enter the traffic lane as separate maneuvers.
Frome St bikeway
Parking protected bike lane on Frome St
  • Bike facilities help, rather than hinder, business. The ubiquitous Mikael Colville-Anderson recounted how his Copenhagen based children were puzzled about cities that didn’t have bike lanes “how can you go shopping if you can’t go on a bike lane?”
  • Cycle Superhighways: I was blown away by the ambition of the Europeans, who are creating real Cycle Superhighways (under various names, Radschnellweg in German), designed for biking at average speeds of 23km/hr and commute distances of 20km. Construction costs are in the order of €1 million/km, but cost benefit ratios can be as high as 1:4.  An indication of European priorities was a Dutch project which involved putting the superhighway in a tunnel under a motorway. The motorway was closed for a week while this was done!
  • Selling cycling in the media. We had a practical demonstration of this after the “Big Bike Ride Brekky” (Adelaide’s Go By Bike Day breakfast) when there were claims in the normally bike-friendly Adelaide Advertiser that the event and the ride to the conference venue had created traffic jams of up to an hour – which seemed unlikely given that the ride lasted less than half an hour! Phil Latz advocated setting the media agenda through language: not “cyclists” but “people who cycle”, or “active travelers”. Patrick Morgan espoused the value of bike baskets (or “man crates”) in humanizing bicycles, in contrast to the Eddy Merckx “cannibal” image of cyclists. Julian Ferguson introduced his presentation with a brisk ukelele solo, then gave us some hints on what the media needs in a story: novelty,  proximity (talk about your local bikeway, not Copenhagen), human interest, timeliness, and conflict (which needs care: a good example was a story of a truck driver and a cyclist both blaming the roading authorities for the accident they were involved in).

    Adelaide "active travelers" hellbent on creating commuter gridlock
    Adelaide “active travelers” hellbent on creating commuter gridlock
  • Backing up our claims with data. Janette Sadik-Khan, the transport czar who changed New York to a cycling and walking paradise, was of course inspirational. But one of her quotes resonated through the conference: “In God we trust, all others bring data.” [she ascribed this to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, but apparently it originated with W. Edwards Deming]
  • Signage for cycle networks. Signing is important not just for existing cyclists, but to encourage new cyclists. Warren Salomen highlighted a useful set of guidelines created for Queensland Dept of Transport and Main Roads.
  • Cycling on footpaths: we’re often asked why we don’t just let cyclists use the footpath, as they do in Japan. The answer was in a presentation by Hirotaka Koike, who explained that Japan only started allowing cyclists to use footpaths in  the 1970s as a temporary measure, and that they are are now working to get cyclists off the footpaths and onto dedicated cycle facilities, because of the increasing accident rate.
  • Promoting active lifestyles: one speaker mentioned a Brazilian doctor who prescribes Agitol to his heart patients, a miracle wafer that prevents heart attacks and is vital for cardiac recovery.  However Agitol is only effective if taken in conjunction with a 30 minute walk or bike ride…

I had my own bike, but attendees could borrow robust public rental bikes from the conference venue. Social events included the “Moving Images Bike Tour”, a night time tour of Adelaide with illuminated art works generated by a bike mounted projector, and a tour of the urban trails in the suburb of Mitcham – a “mainly downhill” ride on a mixture of single track, fire trails and urban commuting routes. This was a great way to finish the conference.

artwork projection tour
Moving images bike tour
Velo-City delegates bikes
Velo-City delegates bikes
WCC Councillor Andy Foster checks out a Mitcham commuting trail
WCC Councillor Andy Foster checks out a Mitcham commuting trail

So what are the lessons for Wellington?

  • It’s worth doing cycle facilities properly, even if it takes time. The standard way for Europeans to raise a laugh was to show a slide of one of London’s “Cycle Superhighways” – usually a blue strip of paint wrapped around a telephone pole with a mini parked in the cyclists path.
  • Don’t assume that the rest of community sees cycling as the elixir that we do. Selling cycling isn’t easy, and we need to stress the benefits to the whole community, and avoid the perception that we’re disrupting neighborhoods for our our selfish pleasure. Be prepared to back up our claims with data.
  • Think about how we’re going to handle E-Bikes – for example should they be allowed on share paths such as the Wellington Waterfront?

The next Velo-City is in Nantes, France, in June 2015, conveniently located near the end of the Loire Bike trail. I’m already figuring whether I can justify the trip…

PS: Adelaide isn’t a bad base for cycle touring. If you’d like to check out the biking I did after the conference:

Revolve, involve, evolve: MJ and Ash at TEDxHomeBushRdWomen

Ash and MJ from Revolve were recently asked to speak at a TEDx talk hosted in Wellington, focusing on women in sport. These two have done amazing things and worked tirelessly to help women get on bikes in Wellington. The video is worth a look.

TEDxHomebushRoad

If you haven’t heard of Revolve here’s their blurb:

Revolve is a women’s cycling club, founded in Wellington, to encourage more women to have fun riding their bikes. Ash & MJ share share their 5 years of ’empirical research’ and outline the different phases Revolve went through in her development.

And this is what TEDx is all about:

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations)

Don’t run me down

I just saw this great video by Montreal artist “Lederhosen Lucil” all about bicycle safety, featuring some beautiful Montreal bike lanes and streamered-bicycles.


chickenonclark

Chicken On Clark – Official Video” — LEDERHOSEN LUCIL is baaaaaaaack!!! In “Chicken On Clark” we see Lucil on planet earth in the city of Montreal, riding a be-streamered bicycle down streets and bike paths…solo and with friends…dodging the grim reaper who is awaiting her arrival. Will she meet the grim reaper?? What will happen to LEDERHOSEN LUCIL??