Bicycles in Tenjin
Cycling to work doesn’t pollute, burns no fossil fuels and gives you valuable aerobic exercise. So the more bicycles the better, right? Unfortunately the number of cyclists in Tenjin has now grown so fast and so much that the sidewalks are filling up with parked bikes. Short of banning bicycles, how can we fix this?
As an inner-city challenge to the rule of law, “illegal bicycle parking” isn’t really in the same league as drive-by shootings and schoolyard crack dealing. But it can certainly spoil your day if you ever try to pass through Tenjin on foot, and have to clamber over the herds of thoughtlessly parked granny bikes.
The problem has grown so bad that Tenjin made national headlines in August when a survey revealed it as the area with the most illegally parked bikes in Japan, knocking Tokyoﾕs teeming Ikebukuro station off the top spot for the first time. The biennial survey counts all the bicycles parked within 500m of train and subway stations on a sunny working weekday morning. The latest one found 6,606 bicycles in Tenjin, of which roughly 4,600 were illegally parked on sidewalks. Why do so many people cycle to Tenjin? And why are so many of them breaking the law?
Japan is a nation of cyclists, with one bicycle for every two people, but according to City Hall, Tenjin has more cyclists per head than any other area in the country. There is a lot of affordable accomodation nearby, which attracts a disproportionate number of people under 29. Some 75% of them cycle regularly, and for people with nothing but a short stretch of hill-free sidewalk between them and a low-paying job in one of Tenjinﾕs bars, hair salons or izakaya, cycling to work is a lot more attractive than waiting to pay for a bus. Those wide sidewalks also make ﾞne bike parks for those who choose to ignore the ﾔno parkingﾕ signs, most of which have at least one bike locked to them.
The result is sidewalks choked with bicycles, ditched seemingly at random across the pavement. The problem has ballooned in the past few years: the number of bikes counted in Tenjin has almost doubled since the 1997 survey. According to City Hall, if the survey were carried out mid-afternoon, after the bar and izakaya workers arrive but before the ofﾞce workers leave, there would be half as many bikes again.
Doing the Right Thing
The only legal place to leave your bike is a ｴ100 paid-parking space. There are roughly 3,580 in Tenjin, including 780 sidewalk coin-operated cable-lock spots. Thatﾕs only one parking place for every two bikes, but even so not all of the bike parks are ﾞlled to capacity. Itﾕs not just that cyclists object to paying to leave their bikes out in the rain. Most people cycle because itﾕs a convenient way to get to work, and if thereﾕs a bike park close to their ofﾞce or train station they donﾕt mind paying to use it, but if itﾕs inconvenient then they wonﾕt.
This is why thereﾕs always space in the underground facility at Kego Park, where it can take 10 minutes to lock up your bike and get back on the street. By contrast, the Fukuoka Airport subway station bike park is always full, even though it costs the same as the other places, because itﾕs right beside the station at street level. What makes the trip down to the Kego lot worthwhile is that, like every other bike park with an attendant, cycles locked up there are insured against theft.
And the Wrong Thing
Put down your kickstand in most places and when you get back youﾕll find a tag on your bike saying you have three days to move it. However, if you park up in a jitensha hochi kinshi kuiki or ﾔforbidden areaﾕ, it will be gone as soon as the snatch squad can get to it.
Bikes seized in Tenjin are taken to a pound on Nanotsu-dori. It has space for 3,000 machines, but even this is not enough to cope with the number of bicycles being brought in. Throughout the city some 39,000 bikes were removed last year, but, as in most years, only 30% were claimed by their owners. The remainder canﾕt simply be sold directly to the public, as the city is wary of being sued by riders injured when their bargain used bikes collapse under them. So 10% were sold to bike shops; 5% were given to a disabled peopleﾕs organization to repair and sell; and 5% were found to be stolen, and dealt with by the police. The remaining 50% – nearly 20,000 bikes – had to be simply thrown away.
The Bottom Line
Fukuokaﾕs bike overload is costing its taxpayers dearly. The cost of removing and storing illegally parked bikes runs to ｴ100 million a year, or ｴ2,200 per bicycle. If yours is picked up, you can reclaim it for ｴ2,000, and if every bike were claimed the bike pounds would nearly cover their costs. But in practice 70% of the illegal parkers donﾕt feel their machine is worth the extra investment. With a basic bike costing as little as ｴ6,000, and used ones even less, there isnﾕt much incentive to take a taxi to the bike pound when your wheels go missing.
City Hall say they would like to solve the whole problem of illegal parking by simply building more parking lots, but with the cost of prime commercial land in Tenjin, this would not go down well with tax-paying voters, who are already coughing up ｴ500 million a year to maintain the cityﾕs existing bike parking facilities. They also say it is difficult to set up any more roadside bicycle parking near Tenjin Station, because there arenﾕt many more sidewalks wide enough to accomodate pedestrians and wheelchair users as well as bike parks. The streets that are wide enough, like Watanabe-dori, have space set aside for them for when the yatai return, after the new subway line is completed.
Itﾕs not all bad news, though, with rumours that the city government is considering plans to refashion Fukuoka into a more cycle-friendly city, with actual bicycle lanes to reduce the Rollerball-style combat with pedestrians on the sidewalk. And the private sector is already beginning to share the bicycle burden. Since 1982, all new buildings have been obliged to provide bike parking spaces, the number depending on the size and purpose of the building. This is why Iwataya Z-Side has space in the basement for 216 bikes and scooters, serviced by two shiny elevators. When the new Iwataya building opposite Z-Side opens in Spring 2004, Tenjinﾕs parking supply will increase by a third. The building itself will have 500 spaces, and City Hall will provide a further 600 in an adjacent underground lot.
City Hall say that what they really want to do is change the mindset of the illegal parkers, and make them realise that dumping a bike in the middle of the sidewalk, blocking the way for your fellow citizens, is no more acceptable than littering, or smoking in a non-smoking area. And on that point, even those of us who donﾕt like to pay for our parking have to agree with them.
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Most foreign residents whose bikes go missing from the street assume they have been stolen, but itﾕs well worth checking the bike pound. If your bike goes missing in Tenjin, call the Nanotsu-dori pound at (092) 781-6542. See http://doboku.city.fukuoka.jp/jitenshashataisaku.htm for details of other bike pounds.