Kyoto locals slam fall traffic jams

Fewer cars and experiments will solve congestion, residents say


KYOTO — The Arashiyama area, situated in the northwestern part of this ancient city, is famous for its colored leaves at this time of the year and the many temples that serve as sightseeing spots for enjoying the natural beauty.

But it is also the season of heavy traffic, and local residents say limiting the number of vehicles to the area is probably the only solution.

When the leaves are at their peak, more than 10,000 people visit Arashiyama each day, clogging the roads with traffic. A major two-lane road that runs along the Katsura River and connects the city with the wooded area usually bears the brunt, with bumper-to-bumper traffic stretching for kilometers.

“Cars just don’t move,” said Tadashi Yoshida, a local cabby who quit working weekends during peak season. “The congestion is so bad that it is much quicker to walk.”

To make the area a place where people can walk safely, a 50-member group of local officials, residents, tourism officials and prefectural police formed in July has embarked on a two-year traffic-management experiment.

The measures launched late this month include introduction of a one-way traffic system, use of microbuses in the sightseeing area with 100 yen fares, increased use of online advisories detailing traffic jams and parking availability, and increased promotion of walking.

A map for walkers with information on discount railway tickets was also distributed. Although restricting cars was on the agenda, the group did not select the option this year because more time is needed to prepare.

Hiroshi Kimura, a city traffic policy official, said the Arashiyama district was selected for the experiment because it already has basic public transport systems in place.

“There are three railroads that come into the area and two bus services also cover the district,” Kimura said. “The way roads run in the area also makes it easy to control traffic.”

Kimura said that after the experimental measures are introduced this year and next, the group would select the ones that satisfy everybody.

Kimura also said the city wants to achieve the goal not by such means as widening roads, but by encouraging people to alter their lifestyles to help the environment. He said the time may be ripe because people seem to be questioning the motor vehicle lifestyle in Japan.

Although Kimura said the measures introduced Nov. 18 have had some good effects, local people interviewed said that the efforts were a complete failure and that restricting the number of cars may be the only solution.

“It caused chaos,” said Takashi Fukao, who works at a shop along the congested two-lane road. “Creation of a bus-priority lane only aggravated congestion on the roads with cars, which couldn’t move an inch. It will be impossible to solve the problem unless cars are banned in the area.”

Taxi driver Shigeru Maeda was more critical of the experiment: “Those who thought up the measures must have no idea of the real situation in the area.

“Although restricting cars seems to be the only solution, it is unlikely such measures will be introduced because the city and shops in the area are afraid of losing visitors.”