Small traffic related ideas to learn from the Japanese
As you may know I’m travelling in Japan at the moment and while travelling I have noticed some road related design differences between Japan and New Zealand. Some of the differences are big so it would not be so useful to look at them here, they are a result of other differences between the Islands: the economy, the population size and level of infrastructure. The road I photographed above, that goes from Takayama to the small village of Shirakawa Go is one example: The Japanese built a network of roads and tunnels, one of the tunnels is 11km long, just to reach this rural area. It probably won’t fit New Zealand, but we do have what to learn from this decisive way of doing things. On the other hand, some of my observations like signage planning look simple and not so hard to implement, I think it is worthwhile to look at them, even if it won’t trigger any implementation plans but would just give people all sorts of ideas.
Street names on the traffic lights
I noticed in Tokyo that street names are placed on the traffic lights of each junction. That way it is easier to find the street name, it also creates a cleaner street view for the driver with less distractions. I believe that it is also cheaper to run as it is using the same steel frame for several purposes (if designed properly of course)
In Tokyo, Street names and street number range are displayed beside the traffic lights
Low noise acoustic road surfacing
The first thing I noticed in Tokyo was that even if the roads were busy and full of cars, you would hardly hear a noise. One of the reasons is that the roads are sealed with low noise acoustic surfaces, which I believe is also a very efficient way to get rid of recycling leftover materials like glass.
I took a picture of the four types of road surfaces in Tokyo: concrete side road edges, normal road surface in the center of the junction and low noise road surface on the road entering the junction.
Emergency cars have voice speakers
Emergency cars (not only ambulances) have got loud speakers which allow the driver to communicate with other drivers and they actually do so when they approach a junction “…watch out, I’m approaching the junction from the right lane…. thank you”… comparing to how NZ ambulances may surprise drivers by rushing into busy junctions, I think that the Japanese approach could prevent accidents.
Some roads are closed in rush hour
Some roads are closed in rush times so pedestrian would have a safer way to use the road. This may fit for streets like Lambton Quay between 4pm to 6pm? In these photos – Ginza St in Tokio on 17:00
Reversing buses enjoy a traffic controller person
In most countries, the road code forbids reversing a vehicle unless there isn’t any other option to move it. In such a case, the road code requires a person behind the vehicle to make sure no one gets hit, especially children. I noticed that in Japan reversing vehicles are following this principle – they use a traffic controller person when reversing. That person is stopping pedestrians from approaching the reversing zone, while they use a strong blow whistle to direct the driver. You may argue that Japan has busier roads than NZ so it probably has higher priority when it comes to road safety but I actually saw the same practice been run in remote small towns like Takayoma and Shirakawa Go. Has anyone in New Zealand ever researched how many reversing cars are involved in car accidents? It could be worthwhile to look at it.
Police presence at major junctions / pedestrian crossings
The Tokyo police is showing presence at busy crossroads, in some of them they have got a permanent box with speakers (see the below photo). It is preventing pedestrians from crossing the road when / where forbidden and preventing drivers from miss behaving. Large speakers allow the policemen to communicate with people and give them guidelines.
This is a bit of ABC but once the Island Bay Cyclists Lane was done the way it was done, it is worthwhile to mention that cycling lanes are everywhere, and that they are designed in a sensible way: separated from the road and marked well so pedestrians would have a safe space as well. In this photo, the cyclists lanes in Kanasawa city (a city of 500,000 people) near the train station.