Tuesday, February 15, 2005

On your bike Kyoto !

“The overuse of automobiles is a major cause of global warming.”

We aim to create safe, reliable, environment-friendly systems of transportation, and to create a city that can be enjoyable for everyone to live in, a city that encourages people to support environment-friendly transportation,
to reduce the use of private automobiles, and a city that provides safe, enjoyable areas for walking and riding bicycles.”

-yes , but what is really happening about promoting cycling as a means of transport in Kyoto?

Despite the good intentions expressed in the above in which they acknowledge the role bicycles can play in reducing Greenhouse Gas emissions, cyclists are still being treated (in February 2005) by the Kyoto City and Prefectural governments as an incidental nuisance and they continue to persecute those who do chose to cycle here by threatening confiscation for ignoring the blanket ban on parking bicycles basically anywhere in the city.

Enabling and encouraging people to take up cycling as their main form of transport within the city would be the easiest and most effective action the governments in Kyoto could do toward reducing greenhouse gases.

Discontinuing the current practice of confiscating ‘illegally’ parked bicycles is the first and easiest step local government should take to show they are serious about achieving their stated aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Why do people use bicycles in Kyoto?

In Kyoto the bicycle is the main choice of transport for a large number of its residents for getting around the city, to get to and from work and school and to connect with subways and trains.

It is possible to cover distances of up to about 6 kilometres within Kyoto faster on a bicycle than in a car, especially when taking into consideration time spent waiting for traffic lights and time taken to get into and out of ( expensive) parking.
Although cyclists are legally required to ride on the roads, it is commonly accepted that a cyclist is a ‘fast-moving’ pedestrian, and as such enjoys the freedom to choose to be either.
Helmets are not required and are quite hard to find in Japan.
Mothers can often be seen with up to 2 children riding in specially fitted seats and with all the shopping in one of the baskets.

For more see this page on cycling in Osaka by Paul from San Fransisco.
The Kyoto Environmental Citizens' Foundations' page on cycling in Kyoto
The Japan Bicycle Promotion Institute Page
Some similar viewpoints from a Japanese cyclist in Tokyo.

The geography of Kyoto City .

Kyoto is located in a basin about 12 kilometres across surrounded by mountains to the north east and west and is mostly flat with a network of roads of running north-south and east-west with smaller streets and narrow alleys ideal for bicycles running between them.
There are also pathways running along-side the 2 major rivers that run through the city from north to south as well as along the other waterways that flow through the city.
-Anywhere and everywhere.
Where CAN cyclists park in Kyoto ?

In defiance of the ubiquitous signs outlawing bicycle parking all over the city and warnings of confiscation and fines, large numbers of bicycles can be seen parked near subway stations, shopping centres, along pedestrian walkways and generally as close as possible to wherever their owners were going.

The Kyoto City Government seems to have no desire to implement a solution to the bicycle parking ‘problem’ and is using bicycles as a 'cash cow’ by deeming that all bicycles parked outside their pay-for-parking areas are 'illegal’ and that they are 'subject to confiscation and a‘handling charge’( fine) of 2,300 yen to be paid upon collection’.

It would be interesting to know :
how much money the Kyoto City Government is making from this extortion,
whether any of the money is being used to find a solution to the 'problem’, and if it regards this system as something of a job creation scheme
-or just a 'nice little earner'.

Trucks laden with bicycles being taken to these impounding centres are a common sight in Kyoto and large numbers remain unclaimed due to the economics and inconvenience of making the trip to reclaim them.
Unclaimed bicycles are‘disposed of’ after 4 weeks.’

Kyoto City regards parked bicycles as visual pollution and has published a brochure expressing its unfriendly attitude towards what it sees as the ’unsightly problem’ of ‘illegally’ parked bicycles describing streets lined with bicycles as 'ugly’while those with none are deemed to be 'beautiful’, -while choosing to ignore the real problem of streets jammed with carbon-burning vehicles which take up about 10 times more space with an average occupancy rate of one person per vehicle.

What IS the Kyoto City Council doing to try to solve the bicycle parking ‘nuisance’,-without persecuting cyclists and dissuading its citizens from taking up this healthy and environmentally-friendly means of transport?

Over the last 2 years (2002-2004) in the area surrounding Kyoto’s main transport hub, the Kyoto JR & Kintetsu Railway stations,
all free bicycle parking has been eliminated.

The places where cyclists could (and should be able to) park their bicycles have been blockaded off with planters, concrete blocks scaffolding and ropes and a few pay-to-park facilities have been established either in the very same places or very nearby.

Despite this development and the signs which threaten them that their bicycles will be confiscated and impounded in a very hard-to-get-to location on the other side of the city with the imposition of a 2,300 yen ( US$20) fine, cyclists are choosing to take the risk and park their bikes for the time it takes to do their business in the post office, to meet friends coming in on trains, to go into the department store and for whatever it is they have to do, for which they should not have to feel obliged to pay the 150 yen being demanded by the operators of the pay park facilities.

The 674 spaces at the new Kintetsu Station bicycle pay parking facility ( 150 yen per time or per day ) which was installed in late 2004 to replace the free parking area ,are often full and there is a significant and often similar number of bikes under threat of removal for being parked illegally just outside the facility , owned by otherwise law-abiding people who really have little choice.

30 percent of the people using the facility are people coming from outside the city on a daily basis and picking their bikes up in the morning, riding to work and then parking them back there overnight .
70 percent are people who live in Kyoto who catch trains to other places and leave their bikes parked there all day, many paying by purchasing a monthly pass.

While the existence of pay bicycle parking facilities is good for those who want and can afford to pay for the security such facilities provide,
those cyclists who do not wish to use them
should not be subject to obligation,
nor be made to feel threatened by confiscation and fines
by a Local Government which has a stated policy that it is doing all it can to reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions.

The ever-present threat of having one’s bicycle removed by the Government provides a major deterrent to taking up cycling in Kyoto.

Suggestion: The least the Kyoto City and State Governments can do for cyclists is to provide a feeling of security by initiating a different system for identifying which bikes are in fact abandoned and stop harassing people who's decision to cycle will help to reduce CO2 emissions.

What ARE the Kyoto City and Kyoto Prefecture Governments doing to promote cycling as an alternative to using carbon-based modes of transport? ( a rhetorical question).

Suggestion: Imposing a charge on motor vehicles such as has been done in London would be a better way to raise funds to establish free bicycle parking facilities , while deterring the unnecessary use of carbon-burners.

Environment-Friendly Purchases
“Businesses and industries also have a huge impact on global warming.”

“As consumers, we shall support the environment-related efforts of businesses and industries by choosing low-energy products and products designed to last a long time, endeavoring to make environment-friendly purchases.”

Links to some of the Environmental groups active in Kyoto.

Kyoto Environmental Citizen’s Foundation.
Kiko Network. ( specifically working on climate change related issues).

Tsukai-sutette jidai kangaemashou.
( Let's think about the age of built in obsolescence ).

Miyako Ecology Centre ( funded by Kyoto City).

Japan Environmental Exchange.


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