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Japan’s Bicycle Parking Problem

by Ewa Nowogorski

Japan has a serious bicycle parking problem. There are so many bicycles. Too many, and not enough space to park them all on the streets when people commute somewhere using them.

In Tokyo’s 23 wards, there are an estimated 8.4 million bicycles, compared to 14 million people. That means that almost everyone has a bicycle if you exclude people who cannot ride one like those who are too young and too old. And with many trips to local stores and schools made by bicycle, finding parking can be extremely challenging.

All train stations have bicycle parking available, for a fee. And an estimated 10-20% of people get to the station by bike, so this parking is essential for them. Of course, at the rate of 100-300 yen per day, this can get pretty expensive over time. It’s worse though, when there is no parking available to you.

Maintaining order and following the rules is key in Japanese society, except when it comes to bicycles. I guarantee you will not go a day outside without seeing at least 10 different cyclists violating a traffic law or parking law. Parking violations are the most common offense, and even very obnoxious “no parking” signs will not stop dozens of cyclists from parking their bicycles there. It’s such a big problem that more than 27,000 bicycles are illegally parked in Tokyo every year. It is very expensive to collect, store, and dispose of illegally parked bicycles. This makes illegal bike parking a really big social issue.

It’s hard not to generalize, but people tend to park right outside the store they want to go to, whether parking is actually permitted or not. Sometimes there is an old man dressed in uniform walking up and down the streets to write up warnings and attach them to illegally parked bikes. Sometimes there are even trucks that come by and impound these bicycles, but people generally take their chances.

To combat the lack of space, the government has built many underground bicycle parking lots, but these are still too few for all the bicycles of Tokyo. This kind of problem doesn’t really exist in America, especially not New York. You would have to be a fool to leave your bicycle outside the supermarket for even 5 minutes, locked or not. You can bet that someone will walk by and opportunistically try to take it.

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