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Three steps to making Japan — and its pedestrians — safer

Dear Prime Minister Shinzo Abe,

Over your political career, you have repeatedly said that you are concerned about the safety of the Japanese people. If you are indeed concerned, allow me to suggest three things that you could begin implementing right now that would hugely increase the safety of people in Japan, guaranteed — with no constitutional reform necessary and zero prospect of war resulting:

1. Make it illegal and totally unacceptable for cars, taxis and vans to block the pedestrian pavement (aka sidewalk).

2. Change the road system so that it is illegal and totally unacceptable for cars to drive through road crossings at the same time as pedestrians are using them.

3. Create an extensive system of bicycle lanes that are actually wide enough to use.

No. 1 addresses something that happens millions of times every day, with delivery vehicles, taxis and other motor vehicles across Japan completely blocking the very narrow walking paths. This forces pedestrians to walk on the main car road, putting them in danger. This should be both illegal and completely unacceptable, but it appears to be a traffic “blind spot” in Japan — so long the norm that people don’t think of it as being a problem. But it is.

Solution? First the major one: Redesign the roads in Japan to make the sidewalks much wider than they are at present, so that even if a car does park on it there will still be room to walk past. Admittedly, the pile of money needed to do this would probably be the height of several Mount Fujis, so this would have to be a long-term project. At a guess, we might say that this would take about 50 years to complete.

In addition, you need to make it compulsory for any new shops and houses built to have an “offloading/waiting area” where such delivery cars and taxis have to go. Houses are replaced in Japan very often, so this solution would probably only take about 20 years to become the norm.

Yet there is an even easier solution to this scourge: Buy small cars. The first thing is that no one, other than those with large families, needs those big, ugly four-wheel drive cars that are so popular now. Since they are so inconvenient to drive along the narrow roads of Japan, cause obstruction to others, are expensive to buy and waste gas, etc., how about this: Tax them out of the reach of regular Japanese consumers.

Moving on to No. 2, although cars and motorbikes are supposed to let pedestrians walk across zebra crossings (aka crosswalks) first, it is very common that they push aggressively ahead while someone is still on the crossing — often only inches away. Thankfully, the majority of drivers are considerate. But if only 10 percent of cars and motorbikes go through in a reckless fashion, that still adds up to millions of dangerous situations every day.

Again, in any well-run society, anywhere in the world, that should be totally unacceptable. I’ve checked and can’t find any name for this type of system, so I’m christening it the BST (both at the same time) system. I’m calling the much safer way found in many other countries — where cars cannot go through at the same time as pedestrians — the CPD system (cars and people at different times).

Solution? Switch to a CPD system, changing the road rules and traffic light functioning so that cars are not allowed to go through when people are crossing at all. Again, that would be costly. It would involve reprogramming millions of sets of traffic lights all over Japan. But remember, the aim is to increase the safety of people in Japan. Isn’t that worth doing? Chances are that it would cost less than a new battleship, and result in far more safety. Plus it would probably only take about five years.

Or, even cheaper: Continue to allow cars and motorbikes to go through but launch a major campaign to make it clear that they absolutely have to wait until all people have walked through, and that severe fines will be given to those that do not wait. And actually give out those fines! In a country like Japan, where most people do follow the set rules, if it became clear that this was the new standard, within a few years we would see 99 percent of folk following it.

And on to No. 3: bicycles lanes. The present bike path system has three problems:

1. It’s often not there at all.

2. The paths are so tiny that they appear to have been designed for catwalk models.

3. Motorbikes often use them, too.

Solution: Make more bicycles paths, make them wide enough and don’t allow motorbikes to use them.

Result of all of the above: a massive increase in the safety of the people of Japan. And no constitution needs reframing, no neighboring countries offended, no increased risk of war — just a nice, safe country for all.

SEAN MICHAEL WILSON
Kumamoto

Sean Michael Wilson is a professional comic book writer based in Japan (www.seanmichaelwilson.weebly.com). Send your comments or submissions (addressed to local or national politicians, officials or other authorities) here: community@japantimes.co.jp