In Tokyo a bicycle is faster than a car: Useless information or instructive tale?

“In Tokyo, a bicycle is faster than a car for most trips of less than 50 minutes.”

Thus saith the Internet.

Many of us who live or have lived in congested cities will find this easy to believe.

This “fact” was brought to my attention by Ray, a reader of Commute by Bike, who found the information in the Cars section of The News & Observer of Raleigh, North Carolina.

Ray actually gets the physical newspaper. When I asked him if he could find the article, it was too late to retrieve it from the recycling bin. (We get the physical local paper at our house too, Ray.)

So when I went Googling to verify the information, I found the quote repeated in many places on the Web. For example, STA, a UK-based travel Website:

Useless Info

And everywhere I found this information, it is presented (as it is by STA) as a curiosity, Useless Information, a Fun Fact.

This information is found listed alongside “There are 18 different animal shapes in the Animal Crackers cookie zoo,” and, “A fart is composed of 59% nitrogen, 21% hydrogen, and 9% dioxide.”

Really? That’s the context?

Here’s a different context: This is the logical response to the effects of autocentrism in our world’s cities. Not fun. Not useless.

Gothic Lolita girls
Gothic Lolita girls | Photo: Wikipedia

Tokyo ranks as one of the world’s most livable cities, and the world’s fourth most bike-friendly city. And it has become that way by choice, by effort, and by municipal investment — not by accident.

This bit of trivia is an opportunity to reflect on urban priorities, and how best to deal with whole mess of people in a small space while promoting quality of life, improving air quality, lowering health care costs, etc.

Personally, I find these facts much more interesting and useful than the bit of “Useful Info” about Tokyo provided by STA Travel:

A day out in Harajuku to people watch in some cafes is a great way to see the many different kinds of Gothic Lolita fashions worn by the Japanese.

But that’s just me.

Sign up for our Adventure-Packed Newsletter

Get our latest touring, commuting and family cycling posts and sales delivered to your inbox!
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

6 thoughts on “In Tokyo a bicycle is faster than a car: Useless information or instructive tale?”

  1. Ted Johnson says:

    I changed the name of this post from “…cautionary tale” to “…instructive tale.”

    When I first started to investigate the factoid in question, my mind had in it an outdated idea of Tokyo. I assumed that what I would find was that cars were faster than bikes because of general gridlock and car-centric development. I assumed that I would find that Tokyo still had awful air quality. I assumed that Tokyo was a cautionary tale.

    Shows how much I know.

    Apparently the Tokyo I had in mind more closely resembles cities in Iran, Mongolia, India, and Pakistan — places that have not seriously confronted air quality and the negative effects of autocentrism. Places that may ultimately see more people on bikes in spite of their inaction, but without the improvements in air quality or positive health outcomes.

  2. BluesCat says:

    They probably labeled it “useless” because it shows the genius of using a bike for trips of less than two miles. And genius is lost on most people.

  3. Mikael says:

    It’s a student travel website. Someone working on their website googled a few bits and pieces between sips of coffee.

    It’s amazing how lists on the internet gain purchase, even though most of them are compiled by people who know nothing about the subject.

    I enjoy cycling in Tokyo and it is always quicker by bicycle.

  4. norm says:

    It might even be strictly true. I mean, look at the “Carmageddon” bike vs. airliner race in Los Angeles last year when I-405 was closed through the Sepulveda Pass. Door to door, San Fernando Valley to Long Beach, the bike was faster – by a lot. As was public transportation. I can easily envision similar things to be true in Tokyo (but have no data).

  5. Tom Bowden says:

    In the Big Apple, a Big Wheel is faster than a Bus!
    PS this Malkoff guy looks like me when I was young and had hair on the top of my head! My hair loss began in earnest about the same time I started wearing a helmet. hmmmmmmmm….

  6. ColetasSoft says:

    In Madrid (Spain) a bicycle comes second only to a motorcycle 😉

Leave a comment.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


40% Off Croozer Trailers while supplies last Buy Now

Scroll to Top