After the Great Tohoku Earthquake of March 11 2011 brought transportation to a standstill throughout Japan, tens of thousands of Tokyo residents and workers bought bicycles to get themselves home. Although roads and rail are mostly back to normal in Tokyo, many workers have stuck with pedal powered transport for their daily commute.
From the Asahi Shimbun (English language) – “Have wheels, will travel; especially after a major earthquake”:
“I’ve always known that a bicycle is useful, but I would never have thought of riding to work on one except for the quake,” says one 35-year-old office worker in Tokyo’s Toranomon district. “Now I don’t know why I didn’t do it earlier. The distance from home is a lot closer than I thought.”
While some are motivated by newfound convenience, others say they bike as part of a national effort to save gasoline. 20% of Japan’s refinery capacity remains shutout in the aftermath of the quake and tsunami. Gas prices in Tokyo have leapt ¥30 per liter in the past two weeks. An equivalent jump in California from today’s prices would bring the price at the pump to $5.30 (& 99/100¢) per gallon.
Tokyo safety officials, in the meantime, look at the downside of those extra bicycles on their city streets: ” From a safety point of view, all those new vehicles on the road could become an issue,” says Tokyo public safety official Kazuo Oya. Among his concerns: That bicycles will get in the way of evacuating traffic in the event of another disaster, because evacuation by car worked so well on March 11.
More at the Asahi Shimbun: Have wheels, will travel; especially after a major earthquake. Via Byron Kidd of Tokyo By Bike.
Watch later today for Part 2 of this, in which we look at Tokyo’s response and how this might relate to America’s readiness to large scale disasters.