Tokyo earthquake and bicycles

With damaged roads, no power, and public transportation shut down due to Japan’s Friday afternoon earthquake, millions of workers in Tokyo are stuck with no rail transportation. What to do?

Personal note: My parents live in Aomori Prefecture in northeastern Japan, some miles north of the worst hit areas. My father, who has volunteered for recovery efforts in the current disaster, was among the first outside responders to arrive after the devastating 1995 Kobe Earthquake when he and his team arrived on bicycles.

The average commute distance in Tokyo is 26 kilometers (16 miles). Stranded commuters waited in long lines for taxi cabs and buses, while thousands of others booked hotel rooms.

While tens of thousands began walking home, others tried to buy bicycles. Tweets from Tokyo By Bike say bike shops are doing a brisk business selling bicycles to stranded workers. He reports that at least one bike shop has sold off its entire inventory, including high end bikes that run ¥300K (or 30万円, about US$3700).

And you know those fancy automated electronic bike parking facilities in Japan? They don’t work after an earthquake. Johan in Nippon walked home after he couldn’t retrieve his bike from the bicycle parking machine. This might be something to think about with the electronic badge access bike stations we have in the SF Bay Area.

See also Biking Bis: Bicycles play role in Japan earthquake response, which mentions this WSJ story about Tokyo’s vulnerability to large quakes, which reports many workers spent the night at their offices and had trouble finding open restaurants to buy dinner. They also cleaned out any shops selling bicycles:

Harried office workers lined up to buy bicycles at a discount retailer in the Shinbashi district of central Tokyo. Within an hour after the quake, the store sold out its entire stock of 30-40 collapsible and compact bicycles. Store employees ripped open heavy cardboard boxes and quickly assembled bikes for waiting customers waving receipts for their purchases in front of the shop. “I have a child waiting for me at home and the trains are down,” said Mio Kawai, 36, an office worker who paid 25,000 yen ($304) for one of the bikes. “It’s a lot of money for a bike, but there’s no other way home” in the city of Kawasaki, about 19 kilometers (11 miles) from downtown Tokyo, she said.

Officials also asked commuters to avoid walking but to stay at their offices, even has hundreds of people bought walking shoes for the long march home.


California residents, what are your plans if when a major quake severely disrupts regional transportation?

9 Comments

  • Johan Nielsen
    March 11, 2011 - 10:27 pm | Permalink

    The bicycle shop just around the corner from where I live in Naka-meguro, Tokyo, which is usually full to the brim with bicycles, was almost sold out when I got home (walking) at around 6 pm. I never seen so many people out in the streets before. Everywhere. And cars. We had a plan to go out of Tokyo by car on Friday for a weekend trip but there was no point. It would have taken 2-3 hours just to get out of Tokyo (usually 30-40 minutes).

  • Johan Nielsen
    March 11, 2011 - 10:27 pm | Permalink

    The bicycle shop just around the corner from where I live in Naka-meguro, Tokyo, which is usually full to the brim with bicycles, was almost sold out when I got home (walking) at around 6 pm. I never seen so many people out in the streets before. Everywhere. And cars. We had a plan to go out of Tokyo by car on Friday for a weekend trip but there was no point. It would have taken 2-3 hours just to get out of Tokyo (usually 30-40 minutes).

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