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Okinawa traffic snarls send planners to board

Date Posted: 2005-04-19

Every road in Okinawa is a potential traffic jam each morning and evening.

That’s the concensus of most drivers facing the roadways across the island. All agree there are too many cars, not enough roads, and not enough lanes on existing roads. Okinawa Prefecture and the Okinawa General Bureau agree as well, conducting a symposium at the Harborview Hotel to hash out solutions.

Five panelists led the project to determine “what is the best way to dissolve the traffic jams and have peaceful life in downtown. The coordinators were Yoshihiko Kitahara, Kanazawa City’s Economist, Yasuaki Nakayama, Director of the Okinawa Bus Association, Masaaki Agumi, Director of the Urban Monorail Company, Tsukaga Higa, Naha City Kokusai Street Shopping Mall Promotion Association, and Toshiyuki Matsuura, Prefecture General Bureau Development Building Section.

All predict solutions won’t be easy, and will not be fast or cheap.

A monorail company spokesman says “right now monorail users are increasing, with an average of 34,000~35,000 per day. That number is really hopeful.” He added that if the number dips below 30,000, the company is in trouble and operating in the red.

Everyone feels frustration caused by traffic. The Kokusai International Street area has been suffering declines in the number of visitors, both tourists and local residents. “We have a real headache problem,” says a Kokusai businessman. “Competition outside the downtown area is great, with supermarkets and department stores flourishing around the island. There’s not so much need for residents to come to Kokusai anymore. About 70~80% of our business is for tourists.” That is wrong, he said, adding “we want citizens to come back to Kokusai and shop, but the Kokusai area has very bad traffic jams.”

Much of the traffic tie ups are attributed to tourists and their rental cars, plus not being familiar with the island’s twisting and winding streets. Illegal parking and hundreds of delivery vehicles blocking traffic lanes contribute to the Kokusai problem, too. The solution, says one business leader, is use of taxis to get to Kokusai. Walking is another, and taxis and the monorail are yet another. He calls for increased numbers of parking areas in the downtown Naha business, shopping and tourist districts.

Others don’t see the monorail as much of a help in solving traffic problems, largely because of its limited area. The monorail travels from Naha International Airport to downtown Naha City, then on to the Shuri Castle area on the city’s northside.

Bus company officials would like to see more ridership, which would solve both their financial woes and contribute to reductions in traffic jams, particularly during morning and evening rush hour.

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