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Community, police in central Japan city decide to remove accident-plagued crosswalk

This April 20, 2021 photo shows the crossing where a fatal accident occurred in Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture. Though there are two lanes each way and a lot of traffic even at night, traffic lights are not installed. (Mainichi/Ayaka Morita)

TOYOHASHI, Aichi -- Despite calls for the installation of traffic lights at an accident-plagued pedestrian crossing where a high school student was fatally struck by a vehicle this year, a local community association and police in this central Japan city have decided to remove the crosswalk altogether.

    The schoolboy, aged 16 at the time, was fatally run down by a passenger car while he was on the crosswalk on the four-lane road in the Mukaiyamaoike-cho district in the city on his bike at about 8:10 p.m. on March 4, while on his way home from a cram school.

    According to Aichi Prefectural Police's Toyohashi Police Station, there have been a total of five accidents at this crossing since 2017. Mukaiyama school district head Eiji Takano, 70, and others asked the police station to install traffic signals two years ago, but police rejected the request based on the National Police Agency (NPA)'s guidelines, which state new traffic lights must be at least 150 meters away from existing ones. There are other traffic lights about 120 meters south and around 90 meters north of the crosswalk.

    Originally, the crossing was installed about 40 years ago, and is used by local residents and high school students.

    Takano commented, "There were also voices from drivers that it was a dangerous crossing. I'm relieved that it will be removed."

    Koji Honda, head of the traffic division at Toyohashi Police Station, who decided to remove the crossing in response to the March accident, pointed out, "Pedestrians have priority use of crossings regardless whether there are traffic signals or not." He called for caution, saying, "I want drivers to carefully check safety, and pedestrians to cross while properly looking left and right."

    Drivers are obliged to slow down or stop in front of crossings. However, there has been no end to accidents on crosswalks, which are supposed to be a safe zone for pedestrians. According to the NPA, as many as 2,652 people were injured or killed nationwide while on crosswalks in 2020. Though such accidents have been decreasing over the past decade, the figure remains high.

    In Aichi Prefecture, there have been around 20 fatal accidents annually on crosswalks without traffic signals. A survey conducted by the prefectural police following the fatal accident in Toyohashi revealed that in the prefecture there are 84 crossings on roads "with two or more lanes each way and no traffic lights." Prefectural police take the view that traffic signals can be installed without the NPA's permission if it is determined that there is no fear of confusion caused by multiple traffic lights being installed too closely together and little chance of disrupting the smooth flow of traffic. It accordingly intends to consider removing crossings or installing traffic signals depending on the traffic situation in each area.

    "Considering the traffic volume and other factors on the road with two lanes each way, there is no alternative but to remove the crossing at this site," said Takao Yanagihara, an associate professor of transporting planning at Kindai University, about the decision to remove the crossing. But he also added, "Local police should actively install traffic lights by making their own judgment even without the NPA's permission."

    Meanwhile, Ayako Taniguchi, an engineering professor at Tsukuba University, who is knowledgeable about traffic environments, pointed out, "Though there could be more incidents in which pedestrians and cyclists cross the road against reason if the crosswalk is removed, I presume officials came to this tough decision out of awareness of the deep-rooted perception that vehicles take priority." To cross on crosswalks, she said, "It is necessary for both pedestrians and drivers to indicate their intentions through eye contact and other methods."

    (Japanese original by Ayaka Morita, Nagoya News Center)

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