Japan and Australia - some comparison and contrast

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Japan and Australia - some comparison and contrast

Postby sumgy » Thu Feb 27, 2014 9:24 pm

A little article I wrote for Cycle.
I would be interested in your comments either here or over on their page.

Those of you who have read my stuff will know by now I have some fairly strong views about not only cycling issues, but also about car infrastructure, public transport and alternative transport in general (which includes cycling, pedestrian access etc). This post is not necessarily specific to cycling or its infrastructure, but to compare and contrast my perception of the approach to public infrastructure in Japan and Australia and more specifically to Tokyo and Brisbane. I have been lucky enough to have visited Japan twice in the past 18 months or so and both times I have gone there I have been struck hard by the massive differences between that country and our own. Not just the culture of Japan (although I would say that this has quite a bit to do with it too) but also by the way that the Japanese have catered for their citizens. And not just by providing for the car driving citizens. In fact I would say they have done a great deal to try and ensure that alternative transport options are very attractive options over driving a car.

Tokyo has an estimated population of 13,230,000 and is the largest Metropolitan area in the world. During peak periods trains leave every few minutes and during non-peak times they leave only slightly further apart. The 7km trip between Shinjuku Station and Tokyo station costs $1.90 and trains are incredibly punctual with annual delays quoted in seconds. If you want to travel outside of Tokyo to another city you have the mighty Shinkhansen trains which can whip you the 890ish km between Tokyo and Hiroshima in 4 hours for $114. These trains are immaculate and have more leg room than any domestic flight that I have been on. Direct trains between Tokyo and Hiroshima for example travel every 10 minutes in peak times and every 30 minutes in non-peak. On top of this there are other indirect trains which require you to change trains along the way.

Pedestrians are well catered for with crossing lights showing green for long periods to aid pedestrian flow and overhead walkways in places so that there is no need to wait at all. Walk signals are often green long enough that they can turn green 50m away and you can still cross at them to the other side and they have not begun flashing red. Cyclists do not seem to have a lot of specific infrastructure but seem to be respected and embraced both on pedestrian and road infrastructure. Many times I watched cyclists ride up the footpath, out onto the road for a little and back onto the footpath again. Perhaps part of this is that the vast majority that I witnessed were commuter style cyclists utilising their bike as their mode of transport.

Dont get me wrong, cars are also well catered for with great roads but I have always felt when in Tokyo that there is not huge numbers of cars (especially given a population the size of Tokyo's).

In contrast Brisbane has a population of approximately 2.2 million. The 15km trip between Ferny Grove and Central Station costs $4.91 in peak periods and $3.93 in non-peak. Trains depart every 8 minutes during peak, but this blows out to every 15 minutes in non-peak. Further out in Albany Creek where I live (19km from the CBD) we are lucky to get buses every 40 minutes. The 923km trip between Brisbane to Sydney is possible via XPT service. It is a 14.5 hour trip at a cost of $91 and there is one service per day. I have never travelled on the XPT so cannot really compare the facilities provided.

Pedestrians in Brisbane do have reasonable facilities with signals to allow them through traffic, but generally this feels like it is more loathingly provided with as little time provided to cross the road as possible so as not to hinder motorised traffic for too long. Sure we have walking paths along the river and other places but I do not see this so much as a means to allow safe and easy movement of people through the city.

Cyclists are similarly catered for as in Japan but without the same respect shown between all users that Japan seems to show. The massive difference we have in Brisbane is that "car is king". It is catered for above all others and as a result generates a sense of self-importance within drivers. Car based infrastructure is continually being constructed in the vain hope that this will cure our congestion woes, which ultimately sees even more road traffic and the need for even more infrastructure.

All in all, I would have to say that Japan has embraced alternative methods of transport over and above Australians. Why is this? Well, alternative transport has been embraced and encouraged in many cases. Trains are fast, frequent and cheap (even between cities 100km apart).

Pedestrian facilities are good and almost have precedence over motor vehicles.
Japanese culture also has something to do with it I think. People show a mutual respect for each other. There is no (AT)#^%ing cars!!; (AT)#^%ing pedestrians!!; (AT)#^%ing cyclists!!! There is no ding, ding, ding; no beep beep beeeeeep!!!! There is certainly no sense that I have had of anyone believing that they have any form of greater entitlement to the roads or footpaths.

In contrast our public transport is expensive and services are 15 minutes apart; our pedestrian access is there but does not give you a sense that pedestrians are encouraged; and our roads are congested with motor vehicles who seem to believe that these roads belong to them and all other users are a hindrance to their use of their road.

Why Japan is like this and Australia is how we are , I do not know. It is certainly not for any of the reasons I see trotted out about distance or physical barriers that are usually trotted out. It is not the weather (Tokyo suffers extreme cold and heavy rain but people still use trains, walk and ride their bikes). It is not because our train lines are too busy (Brisbane is currently proud that you only have a 15 minute wait between trains vs Tokyo at about 5). It is not because our roads are too narrow for cyclists (despite what Mayor Quirk suggested) as cars, trucks and buses seemed to be as big in Tokyo as they are in Brisbane. It is not because we need more road infrastructure to deal with our traffic as this has never solved this issue in the past and has been proven time and time again will not solve the problem in the future either.

Anyone want to throw up any ideas?
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by BNA » Thu Feb 27, 2014 10:03 pm

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Re: Japan and Australia - some comparison and contrast

Postby il padrone » Thu Feb 27, 2014 10:03 pm

It is simly because we can! Fuel is cheap, land is cheap, governments apply few restrictions on urban growth and land speculators, people are only too eager to trot out the "too hard" card in these circumstances. A culture of car-dependence grows.... and grows...... and grows.
Riding bikes in traffic - what seems dangerous is usually safe; what seems safe is often more dangerous.
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Re: Japan and Australia - some comparison and contrast

Postby yugyug » Fri Feb 28, 2014 1:54 am

As you kind of figured out, its difficult to answer all the questions you pose because so many of them are intertwined with Japanese customs which are very different from ours. Its much easier to look at somewhere like Holland and understand that the difference in biking culture mainly originates from policy decisions made in the 60s or 70s, because in other respects Dutch culture is not so different from ours. But Japan... is weird.

Other interesting points to mention: Japanese drives are very skilled, drive more slowly and are more courteous. Cars are cheaper, but in most cases you cannot own a car older than ten yeas, so that increases the cost of car ownership... Its also more difficult and more expensive to obtain a driver's license. There's a saying in Japan that the reason so many Japanese have bad teeth is because their parents give teenage kids one of two options: license or braces - because they cost the same (I'm not sure they really do have such bad teeth, but if so then I think its the lack of fluoride, but whatever...)..

oh I and I saved the best till last: bikes have to be registered (gasp! could all those drive time radio call-ins be right???)...
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Re: Japan and Australia - some comparison and contrast

Postby sumgy » Fri Feb 28, 2014 5:26 am

Are you sure on the rego?
I have never seen a rego plate on any bike I saw over there and I have a Japanese friend who cycles and has never mentioned this to me.
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Re: Japan and Australia - some comparison and contrast

Postby hunch » Fri Feb 28, 2014 5:35 am

Yeah, but the registration is only for theft prevention, not to satisfy bogan talkback - memorable grabbing a bike that had been thrown out at a periodic rubbish collection 30 years ago and being nabbed by the coppers....gaijin on pushy, must be a criminal! Fortunately, call to last owner and no incarceration. :lol:
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Re: Japan and Australia - some comparison and contrast

Postby barefoot » Fri Feb 28, 2014 8:41 am

Pete is right to some extent about the cost of land.

There simply isn't the space in Tokyo for 13.2 million cars, if they went for the one-car-per-person model that we have here. Parking spaces are ridiculously expensive, and IIRC you're not allowed to own a car if you can't prove that you have somewhere to store it. So, owning a car is not a universal "right" as it is here, and society as a whole has figured out ways to function with the transport options available to it.

Another big factor is the culture of politeness. Japanese are extremely, even painfully, polite in all things. This extends to cycling.

I'm not sure what the law is (although it's unlikely to be very different to what is practised), but as sumgy has said, bikes are allowed to be ridden pretty much anywhere. Road, footpath, wrong way up one-way lanes, whatever. The overriding rule, though, is don't be a dick. If you're on the footpath, don't crash into people or make them jump out of your way. If you're on the road, don't be in the way any more than is necessary.

And the politeness extends both ways. If you're on the footpath (and not being a dick), they'll step aside very quickly to let your through. If you're on the road (and not being a dick), the cars will give you plenty of space, let you in, wait for you to go first, whatever.

It comes both ways because it goes both ways. Every Japanese person is a pedestrian and most of them are cyclists. They treat each other with respect.

As for the intercity trains... they are a very mobile culture, but I can't imagine anybody in Japan ever considering driving to another city. If you even have a car to start with, the idea of having to take it with you and find somewhere to put it once you got there is just nasty. It's just natural to take the train, then use local public transport to get around once you arrive.

Japanese cities are very compact though. That's essential - at least on the East coast where I've been - due to the topography. Cities are on coastal river flats, boxed in by steep mountains. They physically can't get any bigger in footprint, without flattening mountains and/or reclaiming ocean. If the population grows, the city has to get more dense. Aside from the car-light culture, the density of the cities means that every subway has a massive catchment of potential passengers all within walking distance. So they can afford to run the trains that frequently, because they have the demand. And because they have the guaranteed demand, they can justify putting more lines in, so that just about everybody lives within walking distance of a station.

Japan was a much more "foreign" place than I was expecting. Much more different to home than other places I expected to compare it to (Taiwan, Singapore, the Klang Valley area of Malaysia (ie KL region).
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Re: Japan and Australia - some comparison and contrast

Postby yugyug » Fri Feb 28, 2014 12:58 pm

sumgy wrote:Are you sure on the rego?
I have never seen a rego plate on any bike I saw over there and I have a Japanese friend who cycles and has never mentioned this to me.

hunch wrote:Yeah, but the registration is only for theft prevention, not to satisfy bogan talkback - memorable grabbing a bike that had been thrown out at a periodic rubbish collection 30 years ago and being nabbed by the coppers....gaijin on pushy, must be a criminal! Fortunately, call to last owner and no incarceration. :lol:


Hunch is correct, I was joking a bit - its not what the average bogan has in mind when thinks bike rego ($$$ and big number plate on the back of my bike - no thanks!)

Yeah I got stopped twice too. 3rd or 4th hand gaijin bike - thankfully my gaijin forebears had dutifully passed on the name of the original gaijin owner with the bike and it is enough to match the name with the rego number to show the police your bike is not stolen, just borrowed. ( I imagine you can change the rego over, but I can also imagine how insanely difficult and time-consuming it would be - Jap bureaucracy is the worst.. .)

thumbs up to those comments on Japanese politeness. Its extraordinary. Even when I was stopped riding aforementioned gaijin bike, bit drunk and had to make several phone calls to friends because I had forgotten the name of the bike's original owner, the police were nothing but patient and courteous. Though like Hunch, I do wonder why they pulled me over in the first place - drunken wobble or double eyelids and pale skin? Other time I got stopped was in the day and they were stopping everyone to check regos.
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