Thursday, May 5, 2011

Our New Sidewalks

While we are on the subject of Tokyo streetscapes, I would like to introduce our new sidewalks. After a solid year of tearing up part of our street every single day (March to March, I kid you not), the electrical wires are buried, their above ground concrete poles are gone and the street lights are a lot smaller (the brown pole in the above image). During construction, I really hated having to negotiate the closed streets and tight squeezes. I found all those little blue people orchestrating traffic an intrusion on my privacy (though they were generally very friendly to Pippi). And I always seemed to be coming from the wrong direction when in my cordovan roadster. Not to mention, the whole venture struck me as rather wasteful. I really do not have an aversion to the commonplace concrete poles and their above ground wiring. In fact, I do not even notice them anymore. They are simply part of the Tokyo scene. I would even go so far as to say that they have a certain charm. So when a giant repair truck came rolling down our street last week, my knee jerk reaction was to let out a silent groan -- not again!

This time, however, the truck brought no jackhammers or diggers. The workers had simply come to lay down the lines, the white lines that demarcate the "sidewalk". As on most small streets in Tokyo, we do not have a raised concrete path to walk on. Instead, pedestrians simply hug one side of the street or the other when cars go by. When there are no cars, everybody walks everywhere, even in the middle of the road.

Though it drove my parents crazy every time they visited me in Tokyo, this is a rather efficient system. It enables two-way, automobile traffic on what would be a one-way street in most locales and it allows cars and people to share a single, narrow slot of space. People ought to walk within the white lines when a car comes down the street. But when cars come from opposite directions, the traffic lane swells to include the so-called sidewalk, requiring pedestrians to wait while the drivers negotiate passage. Cars often park on one side or the other, blocking the people lane. Like my parents, I do not really like this mixing of the proverbial milk and meat but as long a moving vehicle can pass I tolerate it. What really annoys me are cars parked off to one side but opposite a telephone pole, making it difficult to drive through. But in light of our buried electrical wires, this should not be much of a problem for us anymore.

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