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Pedestrian street experiment yields mixed results

Date Posted: 2003-11-29

Naha City Kokusai Street Transit Mile Committee organized a three-day pedestrian street experiment last weekend, when all motor vehicles were banned from Kokusai Street between 2 and 8 p.m. The experiment was the third of its kind, and was conducted in anticipation of making the arrangement permanent on weekends starting in 2005. After the experiment, the committee conducted a survey among both merchants whose shops line the popular street, and the public that visited the area.

The good weather on Sunday attracted plenty of people to the area, with estimates running as high as 75,000. As a result, fast food shops and other restaurants reported up to a 20 percent increase in their sales, and viewed the experiment generally a success. On the other hand, souvenir shops reported a decrease in business. “These days, most tourists use rental cars, and as the street was closed to traffic, they stayed away. Almost all people who came were locals, and they do not buy souvenirs. This is definitely a bad idea for our business,” a souvenir shop owner said.

Another problem that the experiment caused for the shops in the area was delivery of goods. Although organizers had arranged 17 pickup spots along the streets for merchandise delivery, most shop managers found it difficult to get their goods delivered. “It was pretty bad, especially Saturday when it rained. They have to figure out something better,” a liquor shop owner said.

Another aspect of the experiment that received less than enthusiastic response was transportation. In previous experiments the city provided free bus transportation to and from Kokusai Street but this time the buses charged a Y100 fee. The result was that the number of people using buses dropped by more than half.

The most positive feedback came from families with small children. “I wish they did this every weekend. My children love this and I feel very safe,” a Naha housewife said who had come to Kokusai Street on Sunday with her three small children.

Still, shop owners recommended a cautious approach. “I think three days is too long, two days, Saturday and Sunday, might be all right,” Tsukaso Higa, Director of the Kokusai Street Promotion Association mulled. “We should expand this idea and organize similar zones at other places, but we also should think more about how to organize transportation,” he stated.

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