THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
July 23, 2021 at 09:30 JST
Construction sites are taking on a more transparent look in Tokyo in the wake of a traffic accident that claimed the life of a child where the driver’s view was obscured.
Third-grader Kairi Okubo, 8, was struck by a van and killed on a crosswalk at an intersection in Tokyo’s Minato Ward in February last year.
The driver was reportedly watching the car’s navigation system while behind the wheel.
But his view was also partially blocked by opaque white temporary fencing and signs surrounding the construction site.
“I am so sad about the loss of Kairi’s life,” said Yuzo Okubo, 47, Kairi’s father. “But I am happy to see changes, albeit small, taking shape to prevent similar accidents.”
He said construction officials explained to him that they had walled off the area partly because they wanted to block machinery from being seen by passers-by and potential thieves.
At Yuzo’s request, the contractor replaced the walls surrounding the site with transparent ones.
“I would have wanted them to put safety ahead of everything else,” Yuzo said. “I think the see-through fencing walls are certainly preventing accidents. I want similar walls used at all work sites.”
Transparent construction barriers are increasingly turning up across Tokyo and beyond.
In the capital’s Setagaya Ward, work is under way to elevate the railroad tracks near a three-way intersection not far from Keio Meidaimae Station.
There are no traffic signals or crosswalks in sight, and construction fencing around the perimeter of the work stretches for dozens of meters.
But pedestrians are not concerned about oncoming vehicles thanks to the see-through walls.
“I can walk here free of anxiety,” said a 71-year-old woman who was returning home after shopping.
“(The see-through fencing) is helpful, because so many pedestrians here are hurrying toward the station,” said a 24-year-old food-delivery worker who passes this spot frequently on his motorbike.
POLICE PUSH FOR POPULARIZATION
In March 2019, the Metropolitan Police Department began asking contractors who apply for road-use permission to erect transparent walls at construction sites as part of efforts to reduce traffic accidents.
It came amid a rush of redevelopment and construction projects in the runup to the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.
But the MPD stepped up the urgency of its calls after the accident that claimed young Kairi’s life.
There are no accurate figures available on the number of transparent walls set up at work sites that face crossings and bends. But more than one Tokyo-based building-materials dealer told The Asahi Shimbun that orders have surged in recent years.
“Contractors are coming to show more understanding,” said an official with the MPD traffic affairs division. “We will continue encouraging them to use see-through fencing walls.”
But the official also warned the use of transparent walls alone does not ensure safety.
“Accidents can happen even where the view is unobstructed,” the official said. “Pedestrians and drivers are advised to remain on alert.”
MORE EXPENSIVE, CLEARLY SAFER
The see-through walls have clear advantages, but they also come with a big drawback to contractors: cost.
One seller of building materials said just one transparent wall, measuring two to three meters tall and 50 centimeters wide, is priced about 10,000 yen ($90) higher than an opaque wall of the same size.
Transparent walls, however, come with additional advantages apart from deterring accidents, according to officials from the Osaka-based general contractor Konoike Construction Co. and Tokyo’s Takenaka Civil Engineering & Construction Co.
The clear walls help dispel anxiety and discontent of locals by making the progress of construction visible, they said. They also help prevent nighttime crime and do not block out the sunlight in the daytime, they added.
Despite the higher cost, transparent walls are becoming an increasingly common fixture at construction sites in Tokyo and outside of it, mostly in urban areas, because they improve safety, the company officials explained.
“While traditional safety measures, such as the installation of guardrails, should be followed thoroughly, it is also necessary to work on finer details, such as by using transparent fencing walls,” said Seiji Abe, a professor of traffic policy with Kansai University’s Faculty of Societal Safety Sciences.
“Police should verify and spread the word about the effectiveness of see-through fencing so their use will become more widespread across Japan,” Abe added.
(This article was written by Ryo Oyama and Emi Iwata.)
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