Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Bicycle Tree

Most who live in big and crowded cities have done a little complaining about bicycles. Done my share, that’s for sure. What’s to complain about? Very little actually, as long as towns and cities—especially the larger ones—have an infrastructure of sorts to meet the needs of those who swap a car for a bicycle. During my years of living in Japan I used a bicycle on occasion, and also had days when I wished every blasted one of them to hell and gone. Why so rattled over something as innocuous (and environmentally sound) as a bicycle? Parking, sidewalk congestion, a lack of bicycle manners, injury, space…

Most areas of Tokyo have bicycle parking lots, areas around stores and stations set aside for bikes, but for years it has all been a case of too little, too late. There is a risk of knocking into a bicycle, or having difficulty getting around parked bicycles, of dodging speeding bicycles—all these common occurrences for many people living in Tokyo. Add too, the fact that public behavior in Japan’s big cities is not always the most considerate. Something in the way of public convenience is long overdue in Japan, where 86,000,000 bicycles are part of the day to day street scene, and where bicycles are ridden on sidewalks for lack of designated lanes on city streets.

Japan is famous for its narrow geography and lack of space for expansion. Probably why the Imperial Palace and it’s 280 acres of park and grounds in central Tokyo is estimated to be higher in real estate value than the total land value of California. With space always uppermost in city design, for long years the lowly bicycle has been deemed small enough to use and park with little inconvenience in and around public areas. That is no longer a safe and workable perspective.

Enter JFE Engineering and the underground ‘Bicycle Tree’ parking system. Designers at JFE have come up with a novel system to facilitate bicycle parking in Tokyo. Granted, it isn’t yet a cheap or environmentally sound solution, but with the basic design already in use it can only improve. In select areas of Tokyo cyclists are now able (for a fee) to park their bicycles in an easy-to-use automatic underground garage. The number of these underground facilities is still low, and the cost of $1.20 per day, or $21 per month is still high, but it is a good start on finding a solution for bicycle crowding in big cities. The first bike tree opened in 2006 and was able to store 1,476 bicycles in an aboveground structure. The structures, which are now underground have been expanded to hold 6,480 bicycles. Retrieval time is 23 seconds. Have a look at the video.

Thanks to the Amateur Economist for the tip on today’s topic.


  1. That bicycle tree is amazing. It takes longer than 35 seconds for the elevator to come in this building and yet that equipment found and retrieved her bike - safely! Wow!


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America