Photo courtesy of Toshifuni Kitamura, Getty Images / March 11, 2011
In the aftermath of the massive earthquake and ensuing tsunami that hit Japan on Friday afternoon, millions of people were left stranded at their workplace and tens of thousands displaced from their homes with few options to transport themselves to safety.
Those who were unlucky enough to have an automobile at their disposal ended up in bumper-to-bumper traffic congestion – unable to get anywhere. Others who were able to leave the cities encountered impassable roads left in ruins.
Those who took trains to work that day had few options to transport themselves home – many of them started walking along the unused train tracks.
Early this morning I first started seeing reports through Marc (@amsterdamized) that CNN was reporting on bike shops being sold out in Tokyo as people scrambled to figure out how to get home to reunite with their family and friends.
Bicycles offer freedom and mobility that you often can’t get with automobiles, and speed and efficiency that you can’t achieve by walking.
Richard Masoner of Cyclelicious pointed out earlier today that the average commute in Tokyo is 26km – not exactly a “walk in the park”. He also made some other interesting observations in his article:
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.
Boing Boing also published a report on the disaster written by a correspondent who also took to his bicycle to explore the aftermath of the disaster.
Here are a few photos highlighting the chaos amidst the aftermath of the earthquake:
People evacuating train station – photo courtesy of Reuters/Kyodo / March 11, 2011
Aftermath of Japan quake – March 11, 2011 – Photo courtesy of REUTERS/KYODO
Residents check the damage done to a road and house in Sukagawa city, Fukushima prefecture, in northern Japan on March 11, 2011.(FUKUSHIMA MINPO/AFP/Getty Images)
Tokyo traffic chaos – photo courtesy of Toru Hanai, Reuters / March 11, 2011
Historically, bicycles played a role in providing transportation for people who were affected by other tragedies – including both world wars when fuel was being carefully rationed to be used for fighting the enemy. Bicycles even played a role in transporting troops in some some battles throughout both World Wars.
I’ve lived an extremely fortunate life, so I haven’t suffered tragedy like the Japanese are currently enduring.
However, during the G20 summit in Toronto last June my bicycle provided me the mobility required to cover the summit and move around in ways that would have been impossible in a car and inefficient by foot.
My sincere thoughts and condolences go out to those who have suffered, are suffering, and will suffer as a result of this disaster.
Stay safe, and keep your bicycle nearby. You never know when it might save you.
To support the disaster relief from this terrible tragedy, please donate generously to the Red Cross.
- Critical Mass Carnage (GRAPHIC VIDEOS) (Feb 2011)
- 2004 Tsunami Video (Dec 2004)
- 2004 Tsunami Death Toll Nearing 60,000 (Dec 2004)
- New Orleans is Sinking Man And I don’t Want To Swim (Sept 2005)