In Tokyo almost everyone has a bicycle. Bicycles are the best way to get to the station unless you can walk or are reasonably near a bus stop. To get to the station, a car is a bother or at worst, useless. So every day millions of bicycles find their way to stations and there's the problem: where to park them.
Suburban stations have their own bicycle parking lots, which cost maybe 100 yen a day and are presided over by a local character. So far so good, but there are usually so many bicycles to be parked that their parking lot occupies as much ground as the station itself, and as this is valuable land right next to the station there is great pressure to use it for something more productive than to park bikes. Of course there's always the rogue crowd willing to take a chance and park their bike illegally on the sidewalk, although they know there's a fair chance the police will come by with a large flat-bed truck and simply load up all the illegally parked bikes and take them away, nobody knows where.
|Bicycles illegally parked on sidewalk outside Hiyoshi Station|
The problem is particularly acute at major stations like Shibuya and Shinagawa, where somehow space has to be found to park thousands of bicycles but there is no space around these densely urban stations for anything as frivolous as a bicycle parking lot.
To this problem a very Tokyo solution has evolved. At many of Tokyo's major stations a tower has been erected. The tower can be up to five stories high and can accommodate many hundreds of bike racks. Alternately, this towering five-story parking lot tower can be located underground. In fact, underground parking lots seem to be the most popular because nobody sees the ugly brutes.
But think, just after the offices let their minions out, there is going to be a rush to retrieve hundreds of bikes at once. What makes this solution workable is a very efficient, very rapid elevator which can bring your bike back to you in 22 seconds.
The routine is: you take your bike to the parking facility, swipe a card across the reader to identify your bike, then wheel your bike up to the door. The door will open and a set of arms will take your bike from you and the door will close. When you want your bike back, you swipe your card across the reader and your bike will be wheeled from the depths of the facility onto the elevator and whisked back to you. The website www.maniacworld.com/tokyo-bicycle-parking-tower.html shows how it all works.
There are a number of these automated bike parking lots around Tokyo and more are under construction.
In Yokohama, there is an automated automobile parking lot which works similarly. What is notable here is that the automobiles are parked stacked on top of each other with a three-inch clearance.
- Zeke Suzuki