Public Works: Japan Solves Bike Parking With Automated Underground Storage
Torontoist has been acquired by Daily Hive Toronto - Your City. Now. Click here to learn more.




Public Works: Japan Solves Bike Parking With Automated Underground Storage

How the Eco Cycle storage system is keeping bikes safe and sidewalks clear in cities across the country.

Public Works looks at public space, urban design, and city-building innovations from around the world, and considers what Toronto might learn from them.

Tokyo is serious about its bicycles—and the city has come up with a super-safe, super-convenient way to store them. Eco Cycle is an automated underground bike parking system that’s been operating in the Japanese capital for years, and has since spread to cities across the country.

For 2,600 yen (about $26 CDN) per month, users get an account card and a digital tag to affix to the front of their bikes. Automatic sensors at each Eco Cycle station check the tag before opening a Starship Enterprise-style shutter door. Users then roll their bike up to the breach, snap it into place, press a button, and watch as the bike is lowered into the abyss on a mechanical platform and placed on a shelf.

Getting it back is as simple as scanning the account card at the station’s doors and waiting about 13 seconds for the two-wheeled steed to re-emerge. (You can see Eco Cycle in action here.)

The system can accommodate bikes up to 1.95 metres long and 1.25 metres tall with a wheel height under 71 centimetres. Eco Cycle locations vary in size—their storage capacities range from 100 bikes to more than 1,000. The system keeps bikes safe from thieves, and keeps Japan’s busy urban sidewalks free of bike racks.

For Toronto cyclists, that’s a compelling concept.

In August, bikes locked up outside the Hudson’s Bay Centre at Yonge and Bloor were confiscated by building security guards. The issue attracted social media outrage and extensive news coverage—and the property manager, Brookfield, eventually conceded they had no authority to move the bikes.

But the whole process raised questions that were never satisfactorily answered: Is there enough bike storage in Toronto? How well is it distributed throughout the city’s highest-traffic areas? And is it secure enough? The City claims to have 17,000 locking rings (those metal post-and-circle things) around Toronto, but they’re not exactly failsafe: Toronto police receive thousands of stolen bike reports each year—and many more thefts go unreported.

If Toronto wants to get more people cycling, it needs to ensure the infrastructure is in place to accommodate their bikes. Maybe the answer is an elaborate automatic bike storage system—or maybe it’s something simpler—but accommodation is the key.