I bought a bike yesterday. Not just any bike-- a one speed granny commuter... the type used by 80% of the people of Hiroshima. Its got a basket on the front and a tray on the back.
Originally Id planned to get a scooter or maybe a motorcycle. But Hiroshima is incredibly bike-friendly... no need for anything else really. In Japan bicycles are ridden on the sidewalk, not the street. You dont have to dodge cars or otherwise take your life in your hands. Neither is it difficult to ride on the sidewalk... as they are incredibly wide. Maybe 4 to 5 times as wide as a normal American sidewalk. Pedestrians and bikes easily share this space.
But wait, there's more. The city also has great bike/walking paths. For example, a path runs from my apartment to the center of town.... it follows the otagawa river-- a very pleasant ride. I dont have to deal with cars or traffic lights... and only cross one road on my 15 minute journey.
Because this place is geared for bikes, everyone rides them: kids, teens, businessmen in suits, hip-hop style freaks, women in mini-skirts, foreigners, old people. Everybody. And because so many people ride bikes, there is no traffic problem in Hiroshima. I have never seen a traffic jam, not even during rush hour.
Bicycles are the most popular, but not the only car-beating option. There is also an extensive street car system... and a train line that connects the city to various satellite towns in the prefecture.
But wait, there's more. Yesterday I discovered a monorail line that runs from the center of town to a station 5 minutes from my apartment. Its underground when it hits town, so I never even noticed the station.
Hiroshima is a small city-- only 1 million or so people.
As I tool around happily on my bike, I cant help but think of those poor souls in my hometown of Athens, GA. A large group of cyclists have been begging, threatening, and harassing the local government for years. They hope to make Athens a bicycle friendly town. It certainly could be... its smaller than Hiroshima so there's no real need for cars. But the good old boys/girls who run the city have done nothing (well, next to nothing): a few token bike lanes that are short and almost random in their start and stopping points. Plus, of course, these are nothing more than a stripe on the road... you're still shoulder to shoulder with behomoth SUVs, trucks, and cars.
How sad that the construction, car, road industries so dominate America. Hiroshima has shown me that a livable, bicycle-friendly city is possible. Its possible to eliminate traffic jams and air pollution (the worst of it, anyway).
I find it quite inspiring.