The Yomiuri ShimbunWhen we stand on a street corner looking up at the sky, the power and other lines that stretch out like spiderwebs remind us anew that the landscape has been severely spoiled.
A law to promote the removal of roadside utility poles and lay the lines underground has been put into force. It was unanimously voted for and enacted during the last extraordinary Diet session as suprapartisan lawmaker-initiated legislation.
The legislation is aimed at securing safety and creating nice landscapes, and obliges the government to compile a promotion plan. Active efforts will be required, also engaging local governments and business entities.
Demand for electric power and telecommunications expanded dramatically in the postwar reconstruction period and subsequent high growth period. Utility poles and power and other lines — both of which are easy to install quickly and at low cost — emerged in every corner of the nation.
The government has been implementing a program since the mid-1980s to increase areas that do not have utility poles. Their removal in Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture, has improved the city’s image as a town characterized by old kura storehouses.
However, Kawagoe is a rare case. Only 1 percent of all the streets have had their utility poles removed. In Tokyo’s 23 wards, the figure remains at 7 percent.
In London and Paris, 100 percent of the lines are underground. This is partly because their landscapes have been valued since the days of gas lamps. Electric wires once virtually covered the sky in New York, but 80 percent of them are now buried. Japan is conspicuously lagging.
Poles exacerbate disasters
This is not just a landscape issue. If a major earthquake occurs, utility poles will fall like dominos and hinder the access of emergency vehicles. About 8,000 utility poles along roads and alleys collapsed in the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake.
With the enforcement of the new law, the removal of utility poles and the laying of the lines underground should steadily progress from the viewpoint of disaster prevention.
Japan is said to possess world-leading technology for constructing multipurpose underground conduits. The largest hurdle is the cost of laying wires underground — estimated to be around ¥500 million per kilometer. This is a big burden for the electric power companies and other business entities that have to pay part of the costs.
The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry and other organizations are proceeding with studying new construction methods. It has been found that costs can be reduced by laying power and other lines directly underground or running them in small boxes.
The city governments of Kyoto and Mitsuke, Niigata Prefecture, have started laying the lines underground and removing utility poles using low-cost methods.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike has come up with a four-year action plan to advance such items as the establishment of an ordinance to promote removing utility poles and laying the lines underground, and a ban on installing new utility poles on metropolitan streets. These would be effective measures for the development of a better landscape for the 2020 Tokyo Games.
In preparation for an epicentral earthquake just under the nation’s capital, the removal of utility poles in areas densely populated with wooden houses and narrow alleys must be expedited.