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12 Oct 2013
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This tweet came across my feed, and I can't stop thinking about it. The author posits that Japan's narrow streets are a "thousand times" more cyclist and pedestrian-friendly than anywhere in the US. Many people are agreeing with the poster.

To me, I never for a second felt that Japan's streets were more pedestrian or bike friendly. Their narrowness is the exact thing that puts cyclists and pedestrians at risk every time they step outside. On the street that the poster showed, there is no auto traffic, no garbage to be collected or recycled, no parked delivery trucks, no taxis letting people on or off, etc... The homes have no front yards. There is no street parking. The electric poles take up real estate and force cyclists and sometimes walkers (or people in wheelchairs) into the path of traffic. It just seems to assume way too much to be a workable model of urban design that can be used in the west. It works as a comment on the waste of land that is inherent in a US-style of auto-centric culture, but to hold up a Japanese street as model of urban design feels horribly unrealistic to me. And to claim that Japan's streets are a thousand times more pedestrian friendly is just wrong. (I also note that many posters are praising the overhead electrical wires of Japan... and this just feels like masochism to me).

Yes, I'd say it's no more than 100 times more bicycle friendly. ;)

Really the thing that may make it more bicycle friendly is that there are many bicycles in Japan and a much greater awareness of them.
Where I live pedestrians and bicyclists are almost an aberration so they tend to be a little surprising when they appear.
And traffic speeds are higher so when car meets bicycle I'm guessing the injuries are more severe.
Japan is bicycle-friendly. However, while the number of dedicated bicycle lanes is increasing, compliance with road traffic regulations is generally very poor (as can be seen in the case of the new bicycle helmet regulations). Motorists will usually yield to cyclists, but cyclists not to pedestrians. The notion that in Japan most people treat the bicycle as a mere extension of their legs, holds true. Traffic safety campaigns with tarentos and TV crews are not enough, police will have to enforce existing laws and start fining cyclists.

I guess we totally deviated from the topic of urbanism. Back to the aesthetics of overhead wiring. :)
Yeah, the person who commented

"Also, on overhead wires, they are more closely built to buildings. So less visually obstructing. And neatly organized with better materials. We have wires sprawling in zones that aren't as fitting for wires with wider poles"

seems to inhabit a different dimension than I do; one where Japan's utility poles and wires melt harmoniously into the background, while US poles and wires are jarring eyesores that blight the landscape.
Yeah, the person who commented

"Also, on overhead wires, they are more closely built to buildings. So less visually obstructing. And neatly organized with better materials. We have wires sprawling in zones that aren't as fitting for wires with wider poles"

seems to inhabit a different dimension than I do; one where Japan's utility poles and wires melt harmoniously into the background, while US poles and wires are jarring eyesores that blight the landscape.
I'll agree with you on the ugliness of the urban blight (and the weirdness of people who think that it's somehow harmonious) but not on the lack of cycle friendliness. It is precisely because the streets are narrow and badly designed that it is cycle friendly! By far the biggest danger to cyclists is cars travelling too quickly, and Japan's urban mazes make this all but impossible. So although Japan's cities are not particularly efficient for getting around by bicycle (though you soon learn of the many parallel roads to main roads with far less traffic), the relative lack of danger encourages people to use bicycles. Despite the problem of increasingly sedentary lifestyles, Japanese kids are far more active outdoors than their British counterparts, whose parents are often too worried about them being hit by a vehicle to allow them to travel around by themselves, particularly by bicycle.
In Japan there are proper streets and roads. In other words, roads are big and streets are small. Bicycling and walking down streets are safe because, as @Lothor states, the streets are narrow and often not easy to drive a car quickly. The roads are nice to walk next to on the sidewalk, although I never liked biking along roads, unless there was a bike path.

Compare that to the USA, where, it really depends on where you're at, but when I walked around streets in the Deep South, I felt very unsafe when pickup trucks came by. I had one swerve out of its way into the wrong lane just to try to mess with me once. Stupid. In the Midwest, I've felt unsafe riding a bike along a road where the speed limit was either 45 or 55 miles per hour, but people drive down it at 60 regardless, there is no bike lane, and people yell at you as they drive by or honk their horn or otherwise try to startle you. Here in the Northeast, I've never ridden a bike, but it's similar to Japan. I feel fine walking here, but I felt better walking and riding bikes in Japan.
State & local government here in Maine are very pro bike , but the weather isn't. I bought a nice 3 wheeler because I'm afraid if I fall I will look like Humpty Dumpty in pieces.
Wow - I wished I would have screenshotted the photo at least. It was a very thought-provoking tweet. Maybe he was getting pushback on his "1000x more safer for pedestrians and cyclists in Japan" comment.

Regarding stroads, yes these are dreadful. Well, I guess the real lament here is that the US decided it would build its 20th century cities around the automobile, and would sacrifice functional, safe, reliable public transport - hence, we end up with a lot of stroads in American suburbs. I have to cross a stroad to get to my local supermarket, and now every time I cross I will remember that word.

My original thought was that the guy's tweet was a kind of over-romanticization of Japan. It was an over-romanticization that was echoed in the comment that said Japan's overhead electrical wires were hardly noticeable because of the way they were situated close to buildings. The "1000x more pedestrian and bicycle friendly" comment also caught my eye, because I felt the lack of sidewalks in Japan, and the mix of vehicular, bicycle, and pedestrian traffic all vying for the same space and having to maneuver around garbage, garbage trucks, mail carriers, delivery trucks, construction vehicles, etc. all make for a challenging environment for pedestrians and cyclists. The US, with its huge, under-utilized sidewalks, seems to be much more amenable to pedestrian traffic.

One thing the US could learn from Japan, other than how to build a decent public transportation system, is better mixed-use of residential and commercial spaces. I think Europe does well with mixed-use, but the US, due to restrictions that probably come from a different era, forbids a lot of mixed use. So suburbs become vast residential areas where there are no amenities within walking distance. To buy a tomato you have to get in the car and use one of the stroads to go to a shopping center.
Wow never heard of a Stroad that may be related to what I am thinking. In the US we often have to cross highways to get to a store this can be nearly impossible for a pedestrian or cyclist. Japan roads are also lower speed, the narrowness and mix of traffic helps enforce that. With Japan roads being lower speed it means a collision is less certain to be shall we say life changing. Japan seems to be more consistant with mixed use meaning even at my inlaws house in rural Nagasaki I can easily bike to my wife's old school or to a small grocery store, tofu shop etc. So even in rural environments things are closer making it more friendly to bike to the store. I don't need to drive 25 miles away from a suburb. While there are jerks in Japan I see less dumping of diesel smoke on cyclists and weird tag games. For the latter to give an example I was training in the mountains doing climbing that day when going down I passed a sports car who pulled off talking on his phone. He then zoomed around me and stopped again. Remember I am on a bicycle not a sports car, I am coasting down a mountain in tight fitting cycle clothes not even leather please don't screw around with me. I have never heard of such crap in Japan. We have people in the US who accidentally lose control and hit 6+ cyclists. There is less agression against cyclist in Japan.

So Japan's separated bike lanes are insufficient yes. Power poles are uglier than the US. The US more often puts lines underground. The US even does fake tree cell towers. The US makes from the exterior more attractive apartment buildings these days. I do believe Japan is more cycle friendly even if it has room to improve. The tweet is correct. You will not see a mom with her baby going to the market on a mama chari in most of the US.
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