Death by city planning

Though this incident isn’t directly related to housing, it has much to do with city planning related to housing and residential areas. On Apr. 8, two 6-year-old girls were run over by a city bus in Kure, Hiroshima prefecture after they had disembarked from the vehicle. One of the girls died and the other remains in serious condition. The 60-year-old driver of the bus has been arrested.

Certainly the driver was negligent, but considering all the circumstances surrounding the tragedy it almost seemed inevitable. Usually in Japan, school children live within walking distance of their schools, so they walk there, in groups led by the oldest child. In this case, the two victims lived only 700 meters from their school, which they had only been attending two days when the accident happened. However, the road where they live is only 2 meters and 80 centimeters wide, and it’s a two-way street as well, so city officials decided that it was too dangerous for children to walk to school on such a road. They directed all school children to use city buses to go to school. The city would pay their fares. 

So on the day of the accident the bus was filled with dozens of children as well as one teacher, whose job, apparently, was to maintain order on the bus, not off of it. The two girls got off at their stop and passed in front of the bus, but the driver didn’t see them. He dragged both their bodies for thirty meters before he realized what happened.

This is not the first time that such an accident happened. Several years ago a group of children were walking home from school in Saitama along a narrow street and were hit by a car whose driver was momentarily distracted. Three children died. Most streets in Japan have no sidewalks, and on the shoulders the way is obstructed by electrical poles, etc. Structures come right up to the edge of the street. Even worse, speed limits on these residential streets tend to be the same as those on main streets. The passage is just too narrow to accommodate both pedestrians and vehicles. Widening streets would require a huge utilization of eminent domain (a weak concept in Japan) and an even bigger outlay of funds to buy private property. This is the result of non-existent zoning and poor city planning. You take your chance, and the smaller you are, the harder it is to survive.

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