National

Shibuya might close streets to cars on weekends again

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward said Friday it may resume its old custom of closing two main streets to cars on weekends in hopes of invigorating the area in the lead-up to the Summer Olympics in 2020.

“Bringing back pedestrian-only streets would greatly help Shibuya’s goal of becoming an entertainment city,” new Mayor Ken Hasebe was quoted by an official as telling the ward assembly Thursday.

The practice of making two of Shibuya’s busiest streets — Dogenzaka and Bunkamura-dori — off-limits to traffic on weekends and national holidays was implemented from 1970 through 2002.

The practice came to an end, however, amid mounting complaints from drivers that the detours caused traffic jams on nearby roads. The congestion also disrupted bus schedules, according to Masahiko Yamanaka, the Shibuya official in charge of road management.

Hasebe voiced concerns during the assembly session that a redevelopment project near Shibuya Station, slated to take another 10 years or longer to finish, could put a damper on the ward’s tourism efforts.

“As we prepare for the Olympic Games, I want to make Shibuya more vibrant,” he said.

Hasebe’s proposal was made in response to rising calls from merchants near the station who see bringing back the vehicle-free zones as vital to increasing their business, Yamanaka said.

The ward will gauge the viability of closing the streets in discussions with the Metropolitan Police Department and local shop owners, the official added.