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If You Want to Buy a Car in Japan…

If you want to buy a car in Japan, first you have to prove that you have somewhere to park it. That's one of the policies Streetfilms encountered while interviewing experts for an upcoming three-part series on parking best practices.

Here's a sneak peek courtesy of Streetfilms correspondent Joe Baur, who grabbed this interview about the costs of car ownership in Japan with Byron Kidd from Tokyo By Bike.

The parking requirement is one of several policies that helps keep cars from overrunning Japanese cities. Factor in yearly taxes, high parking fees, and tolled roads, and Japan does an excellent job of ensuring that car owners pay the full costs of their vehicles -- while the first-rate transit system enables people to get around efficiently.

Stay tuned for the full parking series later this year.

Clarence Eckerson Jr. has been making fantastical transportation media in NYC since the late 1990s. He's never had a driver's license and never will.

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  • Joe R.

    I'm puzzled here about one thing. Despite policies which explicitly discourage car ownership and use, it still seems to me like there's a lot of car traffic, certainly more than enough to make walking or biking unpleasant. I would have expected the streets to be nearly empty of anything except delivery trucks, buses, and emergency vehicles.

  • http://www.streetfilms.org/ Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    Remember, the population of Tokyo is 13-14 million!! There are a lot of people. Nearly twice as much as NYC and extremely dense. There is a battle over space for the bike and pedestrians, as there are not many lanes or amenities for biking. There will be a Streetfilm coming from Joe Baur in many weeks which will look at that. That despite having little road space, Tokyo has a bike mode share of 14% which is incredible.

  • reasonableexplanation

    Tokyo has 250 cars/1000 people, which sounds impressively low, until you realize NYC has 2 million cars and 8 million people. The same rate.

    Cars are kind of awesome, even if they're hard/expensive to get and keep.

    Japan's licensing process is interesting too, very much like a play; here's a pretty good write-up of it:

  • Joe R.

    Thank you. Yes, given the density I guess you'll have heavy motor traffic doing anything short of banning cars. A bike mode share of 14% is pretty incredible. I think the dense layout of Tokyo contributes to that. I look forward to watching the rest of the series!

  • Miles Bader

    The way most people use their cars in Japan is also quite different than the way people use cars in many other countries (though perhaps not so different from NYC).

    Many Japanese car owners do not drive daily and use their cars more for long trips and things like that, using public transport, biking, walking for daily activities like commuting, shopping, etc.

    That said, things are not necessarily so peachy, as there's a lot of ill-considered car-oriented development that happens in Japan, despite the general pressure against it. Unfortunately the rare person who does drive a lot tends to be well-off, and with wealth, comes political influence....

  • Miles Bader

    In the densest city-core areas, bicycles are relatively rare, simply because it's too dense for them, and no real need with walking and public transport...

  • Miles Bader

    Bicycles in Japan are rarely used in the usual American "bike commuter" sense, and rather are a last-mile solution, used most heavily in somewhat suburban areas (which are of course still quite dense by American standards), where they allow easy access to the local train station and the shopping areas which typically surround it. They're very often ridden more on the sidewalk than on the road, at low speeds that would make Joe R blanch and often loaded down with kids and groceries (a couple of kids in seats and one in a baby sling are not uncommon!).

    As such, most of the bike infrastructure in japan is bike parking (many many thousands of spots around a major station), not bike routes. There is something of a sense that this infrastructure is provided a little grudgingly (in many cases it's privately build), but bike parking is a serious issue in suburban Japan, and often they have little choice but to provide it, because if they don't people will park their bikes anyway, wherever, and however, they can...

    [BTW, remember that in practical terms, surrounding cities like Kawasaki and Yokohama are part of Tokyo, there's no meaningful division between them.]

  • Alexander Vucelic

    my observation is cycling is very much part of daily routine in Japan, possibly more for shopping and local errands than anything else

  • Alexander Vucelic

    Tokyo, like NYC until 1952, does not allow overnight car storage

  • Alexander Vucelic

    pedestrian zones baby

  • Miles Bader

    Yes, although it's very heavily used by commuters (to jobs and to schools) to get to the rail station as well. Bicycle usage is heavy among all groups (young, old, teenagers, adults of all ages, roughly dressed, well dressed, etc, etc). In practice much of the infrastructure overlaps, as shopping tends to be heavily concentrated around rail stations.

  • Miles Bader

    For the most part there's no on-street parking, period (there are certainly areas with on-street [paid] parking, but they're quite rare).

    You usually can stop your car for loading/unloading, or to meet a passenger, but you'd better be in it the whole time...

  • Alexander Vucelic

    paid short term loading should Be only use of curbside everywhere in CBD. The Tokyo model is a good model for CBD

  • NYCyclist

    Having visited Japan for the first time in December, it seemed that Tokyo (and Kyoto) have few major streets suitable for travel by car, and many more very narrow streets with just local car traffic, but used much more for cycling and walking. That is why the video seemed to show heavy traffic. And I don't remember seeing any on street parking.

  • Miles Bader

    Agreed, though I'll note that in Japan, it's not just the model used in CBD's, it's the model used everywhere... suburbs, rural villages, everywhere.

    In my experience, the odd exceptions tend to be a very particular sort of rich-douchebag neighbourhood where the inhabitants are consciously trying to ape U.S. norms, and are of "a certain generation" which still views car ownership as a symbol of personal achievement. Luckily these people aren't numerous by population, but unluckily they do tend to be politically influential because of their relative wealth, and have still managed to cause damage.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    japan takes a most civilized approach to street parking