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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Cycling Kyoto Sidewalks Imadegawa

Kyoto Imadegawa Sidewalk京都報道を自転車で乗る今出川

Kyoto is made for cycling.

Skeptics and critics and whiners be damned, Kyoto is a very good place for both biking and cycling. In terms of scale, geography, weather (hmmm...), paved roads, cyclist-driver relations (generally non-aggressive, generally cooperative), it is a relaxed, flat city in which you can get from point A to point B in less than 30 minutes in nine rides out of ten.

Now for some criticism.

First, the city has a wonderful and growing parking infrastructure for bikes. In contrast, there are almost no bike lanes. Thus, cyclists have to choose to either ride in traffic or on sidewalks.

Cycling in traffic in much of Kyoto is safe, once you get used to the density of vehicles and people. Like all cities, it is a dance and you have to learn the rhythms and behaviors of the other participants particular to Kyoto.

For those that do not feel comfortable on the road, fear not; the cycling-on-the-sidewalk mindset is deeply entrenched in Kyoto. Cyclists are legally allowed to do so, and many do. Some even ring their bells at pedestrians, and the pedestrians automatically yield or move out of the way. Which we still find amazing in our second decade of cycling in Kyoto.

An extreme example of the culture of bikes over pedestrians is a bus stop on Imadegawa Dori. We commute on this stretch of Imadegawa - with the Imperial Palace on the south side, Doshisha University on the north - and it can be tight on the road. The sidewalk however is crowded with university and high school students, tourists and locals. Still, many cyclists opt for the sidewalk.

To alleviate one particularly narrow area (pictured above) where there is a bus stop, the city built a beautiful wooden platform over the small moat that separates the sidewalk from the wall of the Imperial Palace. This allows bus commuters to wait for the bus in a safe area as cyclists whizz by.

We were at the bus stop on Sunday and, while the platform is comfortable and bike-free, its existence seemed only to embolden cyclists to ride faster through what was once a space normally filled with people.


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