Areas braced for mass turnout, traffic nightmare

by Jun Hongo

Staff Writer

The thousands of people who flocked Tuesday to Tokyo Skytree on its opening day saw police and municipalities scrambling to handle the throng.

Officials had expected a turnout of 200,000 and about 200 police officers were on hand to control traffic and ensure safety at the world’s tallest tower.

Sumida Ward, where the structure stands, issued a request on its website asking visitors to use public transportation to minimize street traffic.

“We don’t know yet how the opening of Skytree will boost the number of people coming in to the area in the long run,” a tourism official in nearby Taito Ward said.

Located about 1 km from the tower, Taito Ward is already a major tourist site with its historic Asakusa district and Sensoji Temple drawing both domestic and international visitors.

A tourist bus depot located near Asakusa Elementary School already sees some 80 buses come and go even on weekdays.

Earlier this month, the school’s headmaster, Kazuo Kimura, told his students in a speech that there are “many dangerous areas around the school district,” according to Taito Ward’s website.

“The rush of tour buses and tourists makes it difficult for car drivers to spot elementary school students,” he warned them.

With the number of tourists and buses expected to grow with the opening of Skytree, Taito Ward plans to beef up safety measures for students by revamping the sidewalks near the bus depot. The construction of new sidewalks is expected to be completed within fiscal 2013.

“It is still unclear whether visitors to Skytree and the new mall will come over to the Asakusa area as well, but the ward is taking steps to secure the safety of locals,” a Taito Ward official said.

Sumida Ward has also launched new services to help reduce traffic, including setting up new bus lines that have stops in the Skytree area.