Home > Focus on Japan 2009 > Job Well Done

Job Well Done

December 2nd, 2009

I mentioned a few times before on this blog that the Tokyo government had gone all mercenary on scooter parking. Previously, driving a scooter in Tokyo was not only economical and far better pollution-wise than driving a car, but it was also very nice as one could park just about anywhere.

Trust Governor Ishihara & Co. to screw that up. A few years ago, they wanted to do something about sidewalk congestion. Frankly, that was never really a problem; where sidewalks were too narrow, people usually just didn’t park their bikes there. And if there was a problem, it was 90% caused by bicycles.

So, what did Tokyo do? Naturally, it made it illegal to park scooters on the sidewalk, and employed an army of green-suited ticketers to walk around in pairs and give parking tickets to everything in sight.

Did they target bicycles? Of course not. Primarily they go after scooters–which means that if you use a scooter in Tokyo, it’s now virtually impossible to park anywhere (very few businesses offer parking spaces). You’re told to use a for-pay parking lot, and those (1) are very expensive, (2) often are very far away from where you want to go, obviating the whole use of a bike, and (3) mostly don’t accommodate scooters or motorcycles, meaning that you have to scour the area and try a half dozen parking lots before you find one you can use–and hope that there are open spots there, which there often are not.

But did this accomplish the goal of freeing up sidewalks? Of course not, in part because that was never the goal. The goal was to raise revenues through citations, and I’m sure Tokyo is doing very well. But I for one no longer shop where I used to, as it’s just too much hassle–as I suspect many bikers similarly stopped visiting shops in popular areas for this reason.

But that’s not all: the sidewalks are exactly as crammed as they used to be, but now just with bicycles. No change, zero. Swell.


Worse, some areas are bafflingly anti-visitor. Note the sidewalk shown above: to keep bicycles from parking, they set up those orange barriers. That’s not a construction area, they just put those there to discourage parking. The result: the barriers eat up even more space than the bicycles ever used to. They’ve been up like that for about two years now. And on this one street, the owner of the pharmacy you see at the right side (the shop with balloons) uses the sidewalk as his personal parking lot for his van, blocking what little space is left. And the guy never gets a ticket. (I am fairly sure that the city gives businesses a break.) This is not just at a special time, this is pretty much the way it always is.

The result: Sidewalks are just as crammed as before, a whole class of economical and efficient vehicles is almost effectively banned, and businesses & shoppers are inconvenienced. But the Tokyo government gets to make some nice cash on the side.

So, job well done, Mr. Ishihara.

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  1. December 3rd, 2009 at 14:47 | #1

    I assume that it’s a cultural thing that is stopping people from just losing patience, grabbing all the barriers, stacking them up in a big pile, and going back to the way things were before?

  2. Luis
    December 3rd, 2009 at 19:40 | #2

    I guess you could say that. It just doesn’t occur to people over here to do stuff like that. I think the assumption is that there was a good reason to do the thing, and messing with it could cause unforeseen damage. In Japan, that happens a lot–there are tons of rules which make no sense, but never get thrown out because people assume there’s a good reason behind it.

    My pet peeve is the 50cc-right-turn rule. 50cc scooters technically have to drive 30 kph and keep to the far left of the road. These are outright stupid laws, everybody ignores them, and police never ticket it. If scooters, which can go the off-highway top speed limit of 60 kph, were to really drive at 30 kph all the time, traffic would snarl and accidents would occur. So they drive at normal speeds and drive in any lane of traffic.

    However, there’s a traffic law which says that if a 50cc scooter is in a two-lane street, and the right turn lane (remember, we drive on the left here) is the third lane, then the scooter may not make the turn in that lane as it is technically forbidden to occupy a second lane. In light of the fact that the second-lane law is (a) stupid and (b) ignored by everyone, the law against making a right turn from a third-lane turn makes zero sense. However, all three laws–keep to the left, stay below 30 kph, and the third-lane rule all remain on the books.

    There may be a reason, admittedly–although they never ticket for the first two laws, they do ticket for the third-lane law. This is because Japanese traffic cops often set up revenue generating ticketing traps safety check points at large intersections and a great deal of money safety is generated by ticketing scooters. Almost every scooter driver is caught by this once–the first time they hear of the law.

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