A 2009 article in the Guardian newspaper, which I've just read, suggests that Japan has the world's most innovative system for garaging commuters' bicycles.
It's not often something stops you in your bike tracks. But a spectacular "bike tree" invention from Japan bowled me over when I was in Tokyo a couple of weeks ago.
Fed up with bicycles locked to railings, piled on top of each other, blocking doorways and roads, a local council in the city installed the mechanical masterpiece. It's basically an automatic storage system for cycles and operates with computer tagging of bikes and either storage in a building or a basement structure.
There are a number of locations where these bike trees are now in place in Tokyo – some hold 600-odd bikes, others more than 6,000. The concept came from the massive Japanese steel company JFE, whose engineering works division first started them in 2007 but are now spreading.
The idea is quite simple, although no doubt the technology is fiendishly complicated. Bike owners who want a secure parking spot must register and pay a monthly fee – 1,800 yen [just under US $20] per month – and students get discounts.
Bikes are fitted with a small electronic tag. When the bike is placed into the ruts of the bike tree machine, a sensor logs the owner's details. A mechanical arm then emerges, pulls the bike into a cylindrical well and stores it at high speed in a free location. To retrieve the bike, the owner swipes a card through a reader and the bike is plucked from racks and brought back down – or up if it's a basement design – to earth. The process of retrieval normally takes 15 seconds but can be slightly longer (it took 30 seconds in my experience).
The advantages are plain – your bike becomes theft-proof, you are encouraged to cycle to work and local authorities don't have to deal with unsightly and sometimes annoying bicycle clutter. The downside is that it costs a lot of money and the infrastructure involves serious resources.
There's more at the link.
Here's a video clip of how their system works.
Interesting! If we're serious about reducing the number of cars on city roads, we might learn something from the Japanese.