Tragic loss of life of 8-year-old spurs new building web site security development

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After a traffic accident in which a child was killed and the driver’s view was blocked, roadworks in Tokyo become more transparent.

Eighth grader Kairi Okubo, 8, was hit by a van last February and killed on a zebra crossing at an intersection in Tokyo’s Minato district.

The driver reportedly watched the car’s navigation system while behind the wheel.

His view was partially blocked by opaque white temporary fences and signs around the construction site.

“I am so sad about the loss of Kairi’s life,” said Yuzo Okubo, 47, Kairi’s father. “But I’m happy when small changes take shape in order to avoid similar accidents.”

He said construction officials told him they had partially cordoned off the area because they wanted to prevent machines 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 you to put security above everything else,” said Yuzo. “I think the transparent fence walls will certainly prevent accidents. I want similar walls to be used on all construction sites. “

Transparent building barriers are emerging across Tokyo and beyond.

In the Setagaya district of the capital, work is underway to raise the railroad tracks near a three-way intersection not far from Keio Meidaimae station.

There are no traffic lights or zebra crossings in sight, and construction fences around the construction site stretch for dozens of meters.

But pedestrians are not afraid of oncoming vehicles thanks to the transparent walls.

“I can walk here without fear,” said a 71-year-old woman who came home after shopping.

“(The transparent fence) is helpful because so many pedestrians are rushing to the train station here,” says a 24-year-old grocery supplier who often drives past this point on his motorcycle.

POLICE PRESSURE TO POPULARIZE

In March 2019, the Metropolitan Police Department began asking contractors applying for road use permits to erect transparent walls on construction sites to reduce traffic accidents.

It came amid a rush of renovation and construction projects ahead of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympic Games.

But the MPD increased the urgency of their calls after the accident that claimed the lives of the young Kairi.

There are no precise figures available about the number of transparent walls that are erected at construction sites with intersections and curves. But more than one Tokyo-based building materials retailer told The Asahi Shimbun that orders have increased in recent years.

“The contractors are coming to show understanding,” said an official from the MPD Transportation Department. “We will continue to encourage them to use clear fences.”

However, the officer also warned that the use of transparent walls alone does not ensure safety.

“Even with a clear view, accidents can occur,” said the officer. “Pedestrians and motorists are advised to remain on their guard.”

EXPENSIVE, CLEARLY SAFE

The clear walls have clear advantages, but they also have a major disadvantage for contractors: the costs.

A building materials seller said that just a transparent wall two to three meters high and 50 centimeters wide is about 10,000 yen ($ 90) higher than an opaque wall the same size.

However, transparent walls have other benefits in addition to deterring accidents, according to officials at Osaka-based general contractor Konoike Construction Co. and Tokyo-based Takenaka Civil Engineering & Construction Co.

The clear walls help allay local fear and dissatisfaction by making construction progress visible, they said. They also help prevent nighttime crime and don’t block sunlight during the day, they added.

Despite the higher cost, transparent walls are being used more and more frequently on construction sites in Tokyo and outside, especially in urban areas, because they improve safety, the company officials said.

“Although traditional security measures such as the installation of guard rails should be followed closely, there is also a need to work on finer details such as transparent fences,” said Seiji Abe, professor of transportation policy in the Kansai Universityai Faculty of Social Security Studies.

“The police should test and disseminate the effectiveness of clear fences so that their use is spread across Japan,” added Abe.

(This article was written by Ryo Oyama and Emi Iwata.)