Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Let's Bike!

Cycling is healthy and 'green,' but city commuting requires a roads rethink

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama could have made a stronger impact at the United Nations Summit on Climate Change in New York last week had he trumpeted another environmentally laudable proposal in addition to his declared goal of Japan cutting its greenhouse-gas emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020: riding bicycles.

A national push for bicycle riding, if it succeeded in steering people away from their cars, would send a powerful message that Japan is taking environmental awareness to the next level.

Cycling burns no oil, produces no toxins and is therefore not harmful for the environment. If more people commuted to work by bicycle, it would make rush-hour trains less unbearable. It would even help cut the nation's medical expenditures by making people healthier, less obese and less prone to a whole range of lifestyle-related illnesses.

Despite these great benefits of cycling — not to mention the pleasure of pedaling along at your own pace, too — bike-friendly politicians are rare in Japan. Rare, that is, except during election campaigns, when pretty much every candidate rides a flag-fluttering bicycle to advertise his or her "ordinariness."

But on a grassroots level, Japan is definitely at the dawn of a new era in cycling, with increasing numbers of city dwellers now starting to use bikes for 5- to 10-km commutes or for recreation in the suburbs on weekends.

While hard statistics are difficult to come by, besuited cyclists jostling with cars and trucks and indicating their intended maneuvers with smart hand signals are an increasingly common sight on even the busiest of Tokyo's roads. On weekends, meanwhile, such routes as the 25-km Tamagawa River Cycling Road, which connects Tokyo's residential Setagaya Ward and Kawasaki, in Kanagawa Prefecture southwest of Tokyo, are often crowded with cyclists on fashionable and colorful bikes enjoying a leisurely and scenic ride.

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Source: The Japan Times Online/ by Tomoko Otake

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