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Tokyo’s bike lanes to expand as interest in cycling grows

TOKYO >> The Metropolitan Police Department and the central and Tokyo governments have decided to create bicycle lanes totaling some 62 miles along major roads in the capital city. The plan is a response to the growing number of cyclists who commute to work or make deliveries amid the spread of the new coronavirus.

The police department will create the lanes on about 10-1/2 miles of roadway during this fiscal year and extend them over the next five to six years.

This year, work will include areas along a national highway in Minato Ward and streets in Bunkyo and Nakano wards. All the roads handle a high amount of bicycle traffic.

Cyclists are required to ride on streets, so about 80% of roadways will be furnished with bicycle lanes at least 5 feet from the road’s edge. The remaining 20% will be outfitted with curbs, fencing or directional markings that indicate lanes for bicycles and cars.

Bicycle lanes have been on the rise for about a decade to address accidents involving bicycles and pedestrians on sidewalks. As of March 2019, there were 761 bike lanes nationwide along more than 300 miles of roads, nearly 44 miles of which are in Tokyo.

The number of cyclists has been on the rise since spring, a response to the pandemic. According to a survey of 500 bicycle commuters living in Tokyo, 23% began biking to work after infections spread, with about 95% of them choosing to do so “to avoid commuting via public transportation.”

Demand for “bike sharing” has also increased. According to Docomo Bikeshare Inc., based in Minato Ward, new subscribers in June and July jumped by about 20% since March.

The increase in cyclists has raised safety concerns. The police department reported 1,629 bicycle-related traffic violations between January and July, up about 40% from last year. The department is planning to crack down on reckless cyclists and rein in parking in bike lanes and other areas that block passages for bicycles.

“We will work on road infrastructure for cyclists as well as traffic control in order to create a new living environment ‘with corona’ where anyone can safely ride a bicycle,” said a Metropolitan Police Department spokesperson.

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