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Tokyo considers removing overhead power lines in run-up to 2020 Olympics

44 Comments
By Casey Baseel, RocketNews24

Even though the event is still five years away, Tokyo is incredibly psyched about hosting the 2020 Olympics. As a country that prides itself on hospitality, and also one that can be surprisingly sensitive to how it’s perceived by foreign visitors, Japan has been looking for ways to put its best foot forward for the games, and some politicians are saying that now is the time for Tokyo to finally get serious about getting rid of its unsightly overhead power lines.

Considering the importance Japanese culture puts on aesthetic beauty, travelers from overseas are often surprised by how much of Japan’s power grid is located above ground. Even in Tokyo’s 23 wards, a whopping 93% of energy is delivered by cables strung up on power poles.

As we’ve talked about before, there are a couple of advantages to using overhead lines. They’re far less expensive to install, for one thing, and in the case of flooding or landslides, they’re much easier to get to for repairs than subterranean cables.

Still, power lines are hardly pleasant to look at, which is why some politicians are proposing an initiative to convert portions of Tokyo to an underground system in time for the start of the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics. Given the massive size of the metropolis, though, removing power poles from all of Tokyo isn’t a viable option, though. Instead, the plan would primarily focus on major thoroughfares classified as "todo," or “metropolitan roads,” which run through the center of Tokyo.

Under the initiative, overground power lines would be removed along metropolitan roads located within an eight-kilometer radius of Chuo Ward’s Nihonbashi bridge. In actuality, the switch to subterranean power lines has already been made along many of these streets, with just 15% of those roadways with 2.5-meter-wide sidewalks still having overground power lines. As such, the metropolitan road portion of the plan would entail converting the system for some 80 kilometers of roadways.

In addition, the plan would also seek to eliminate power poles from ward and city-administered roads (which are smaller designations than metropolitan road) near major Olympic venues. Koto Ward’s Ariake Arena, scheduled to host volleyball competitions, and Ajinomoto Stadium in Chofu City (which is still part of Tokyo), where soccer matches will take place, are two likely candidates to reap the benefits. Under the proposed framework, the Tokyo metropolitan government would foot the bill for any costs not covered by federal funding, meaning the local ward and city administrative units would pay nothing for the conversion.

Aside from beautifying the city in time for its influx of foreign travelers and media outlets, proponents say that moving the power lines underground, and thus removing the poles holding them up, will make it easier for the disabled to navigate sidewalks. And while overhead lines are more resilient in the event of foods and landslides, should a major earthquake strike the capital, toppled power poles could prevent emergency response vehicles from quickly reaching victims and others in need of assistance.

However, the conversion would be neither cheap nor simple. Removing power poles isn’t just a matter of knocking them down like Godzilla. The expenses of reinstalling the power lines underground have to be added on top of those for clearing away the old infrastructure, and the preexisting mass of subterranean water and gas pipes doesn’t figure to make the process any easier. Many power poles also double as street lamps. People may not like the idea of electric lights on Mt Fuji, but they’ve sort of grown accustomed to having them in downtown Tokyo, so after the power poles are removed, new, less obtrusive lighting fixtures would need to be put up.

Altogether, it’s estimated the project would add 17.5 billion yen to Tokyo’s 2015 budget alone, meaning that its cost may end up being as much of a hurdle as anything athletes will be jumping over at the 2020 Olympics.

Source: Tokyo Shimbun

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Why does Japan have so many overhead power lines? -- New onsen facility in the heart of Tokyo’s business district to be ready for Olympics -- Tokyo Olympic stadium looks like aliens landed downtown

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44 Comments
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I'm not opposed to the concept but it just seems that the costs and trade-offs outweigh the benefits.

12 ( +12 / -0 )

Wasn't it always: not suitable due to the rsik of earthquakes and so on?

Now they go the opposite direction.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

In other news, money to be stuffed into potholes to secure smooth riding.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

This is good news. The power lines are unbelievably ugly.

6 ( +9 / -3 )

As a country that prides itself on hospitality

Yes! As long as you don't overstay your brief welcome.

some politicians are saying that now is the time for Tokyo to finally get serious about getting rid of its unsightly overhead power lines

What is their connection to the construction industry?

In addition, the plan would also seek to eliminate power poles from ward and city-administered roads (which are smaller designations than metropolitan road) near major Olympic venues.

As long as unsightly power lines are hidden away from Olympic visitors, we can all then pretend that Tokyo is an aesthetically beautiful city. Well, besides the unsightly buildings, the lack of green, etc...

1 ( +9 / -8 )

If you think these lines are bad, id recommend visiting Vietnam.

And what Klaus said, werent these held above ground in case of an earthquake?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

If they did that, Tokyo would be in danger of looking like a first-world capital city!

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Sure I wouldn't mind not having to see all the ugly power lines everywhere, but this just seems like the wrong time to throw it into the budget. The Tokyo Olympics will almost most certainly bring about a negative profit like so many Olympics have in the past, so is tacking on unnecessary extra expenditures like this really in their best interest?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I strongly support this. Above ground power lines are ugly.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

At least those power lines were / are always an attraction for foreigners to take pictures!

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Don't hold your breath for this to happen people. This is just another politician speaking out of the top of his head. Yeah, it would be great to remove all those ugly powerlines and get rid of this cement poles, but if you consider the scale of the opperation it's an impossible task. They will probably waste a couple of million bucks getting rid of a few of them around the palace and Parliament House in central Tokyo, but that's all the 'beatification' that will be done, if any.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

The concrete power poles where I live on encroach a meter or 2 into the streets! One work colleague after drinking was killed when he collided head-on into one on his bike. A friend's kid broke his foot on one while cycling, ending his promising baseball endevours.

I am constantly forced to swerve into traffic while going past them. It's really hairy when a bus decides to pass right at that point. This issue about more than being "ugly." It's about proper civil engineering, especially in a city where boulevards are rare outside the landmark areas.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Not to mention they're a fire risk should the lines be knocked down by debris in a large quake. I understand that they are also easier to repair after such an earthquake, but they are still a potential hazard. Other earthquake prone countries have managed to get their cabling underground, but we know what the likes of TEPCO are like when it comes to spending on safety.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

toppled power poles could prevent emergency response vehicles from quickly reaching victims and others in need of assistance.

I totally agree to this, but since Japan is an earthquake-prone country, I'm worried if the plan would make the underground situation more complicated.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

in the case of flooding or landslides, they’re much easier to get to for repairs than subterranean cables.

This is a common excuse that has been used over the years. "They’re far less expensive to install..." Is the main reason. There is a much higher risk of power outages caused by typhoons, falling trees and so on and most of these would not happen if the power line were underground in the first place. Not too often will you have to worry about floodings and landslides in most cities in Japan.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Poles and power lines sway in earthquakes and land shifting, but underground, they are locked in conduit and snap. Ouch

I would like to see and hear lovely wind chimes attached to power lines.

And besides, if the power lines are all gone, what will Godzilla have to walk into and get really agitated? Power lines were one of the best things to slow his advancements.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Aside from beautifying the city in time for its influx of foreign travelers and media outlets, proponents say that moving the power lines underground, and thus removing the poles holding them up, will make it easier for the disabled to navigate sidewalks.

Now that's something everyone should be able to support. Many times during my years in Tokyo I wondered how difficult it must be for someone in a wheel chair, for example, or a blind person. About time Japan entered the 21 century in regards to how it treats the disabled.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

I don't understand this story. Who attending the Tokyo Olympics is going to notice if the power lines are overhead or underground? Were the power lines overhead or underground at the Olympics in London? In Beijing? In Sydney? Someone here just wants to make some money...

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Wishing the best, and upgrade the electricity lines hope won't be any onstage in this transition.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Waste of money, the whole point of avoiding underground cables is that they're expensive and harder to repair after damage. Considering Tokyo gets hundreds of earthquakes each year, it's not even really that logical

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Removing cost: If utilility pole, utility compamy should. With old old law, utility companies can not modernize utility system. Safety fire hazard when pole catches fire. poles Go down to houses. -

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

While I'm all for relocating the power lines underground, I'm find the motives for doing this are interesting. Basically they are only motivated by the impressions that foreigners might have after seeing how ugly the power lines are. What about the locals? Proponents say it would be easier for the disabled to navigate the streets, sounds good but what about the rest of Japan? Do they not care about the disabled everywhere else besides the Olympic areas? This is going to cost a staggering amount of money, if they had some foresight, they could have been doing this in a slower, less costly way. In the states, all new construction, has to cover half the cost of relocating overhead power lines to underground. Each time something new is built, half the cost is covered by the property owner and the financial burden for the government and cities is far less. It takes some time but you would be supprised at how improved an area looks just after ten years of this practice.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I like the lines they are part of Japans look at this point

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

This has been "impossible" for the twenty years I've lived here. Suddenly, now there's a trough of Olympics money to get their snouts in, politicos have decided it's not impossible after all, and should be completed within four years.

Hmm, I wonder if this sense of urgency might lead to a higher-than-average price being paid to a contractor with a lot of concrete to slosh about?

This shamelessness of this is sickening.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

Bury the wires now. It's the ugly side of Japan that needs to change. The wires are ridiculous. Tokyo will never be seen as a top city in the world with electric wires everywhere, poles sticking out everywhere, making walking and driving difficult. This is the true shame of Tokyo Electric. Most Japanese have just given up on trying to change things because they are taught that they are individually powerless to make changes in society and the best choice is to conform. They hate the wires too but can't imagine they could do anything about it. Please call Tokyo Electric and tell them you want your wires buried in front of your place. 0120-995-002****

3 ( +3 / -0 )

The Japanese National Tree.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

If they can do it safely and cost effectively (!!??) then i don't see why not.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Remove them and the hideousness of most modern Japanese architecture will be all-more apparent.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

I strongly support this. Above ground power lines are ugly. Now, ban smoking everywhere.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

"Considering the importance Japanese culture puts on aesthetic beauty"

I must have missed that: there is precious little aesthetic beauty around here.

The reason the power lines are above ground is because of the cheapskate power companies. More profits for them = more bribes for politicians.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

They won't do it -- at least not on the scale they are suggesting. I can see the politicians who are for this getting the green light, and HEAPS of cash (some ear-marked for Fukushima, I bet!), but basically they will only do it, and quickly, around key areas that will be seen. The other areas will be paid for (ie. the companies will get some money) but nothing will be done and it will just be forgotten once the Olympics are done.

It would be nice, though. In my town there are utility poles DEAD in the middle of where you are supposed to walk on the narrower roads. I measured the actual "sidewalk" space in such a place once and it was 2cm on either side of the pole. So, people walk around and into traffic, often being honked it. And then there are the illegal parkers whom you have to go around as well, but that's another story.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

After living here 41 years, I strongly support the idea! Wish it had been done long ago!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Buildings are torn down so frequently and roads resurfaced so regularly in Tokyo that this could have been phased in gradually already long ago. In my street 10 new houses and a small new cul-de-sac was built in 1 go and they still went to the effort of putting up 2 brand new WONKY and unsightly power poles.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

In the case of flooding or landslides, they’re much easier to get to for repairs than subterranean cables

I don't know which 'brain' thought of this, maybe they're running it in for a idiot. A 17.5 billion yen crisis of confidence.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I think the money could be better spent elsewhere as this does appear to be all about an image to the world as opposed to what's best for local residents. I would like to see what the long vision is for Tokyo and plan accordingly. To simply act because the Olympics will be hear in 2020 will result in the same conditions that all past Olympic cities have faced that is vacant and decaying venues and infrastructure that does not support a city.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

For the life of me I cannot comprehend what psychological disposition motivates some pencil neck to place utility poles slap bang in the middle of public walkways, it has to relate to some early childhood trauma.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Don't hold your breath for this to happen people. This is just another politician speaking out of the top of his head.

Actually, it's more than just pre-Olympics politicking.

The elimination of utility poles in the central core area (roughly the area encircled by the Tokyo metropolitan expressway) is also part of the metropolitan government's latest disaster management plan, as part of making streets and sidewalks more navigable in an emergency.

In the central business district (Nihonbashi--Marunouchi--Hibiya--Shinbashi) they've accomplished this largely by building a common utilities tunnel, big enough to accommodate not just power lines, but water, gas, sewer, cable etc., and theoretically accessible without digging up roadways. Of course, that's a much more difficult task in the more chaotic residential and retail districts...

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Do NOT do it!!! There is a real charm to those power lines that I sincerely love. I would be heart broken if they do this... FIX Fukushima first... Oh wait, they don't know how to do that ne...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

OMG please not just Tokyo, next rusted old signs everywhere, then vacant old houses and buildings that are everywhere. Next how about some building codes and zone enforcement.... sorry could not help myself. I love Japan but it needs a swift kick in the ass on beautification..

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

They are not just powerlines, they carry telecommunications as well. Can't have a debate about it if you don't know what you are talking about on such a basic level. In other news broadband rolls out speeds not world leading anymore as we buried everything. ( look to the uk for an example) Should be interesting for 8K TV rollout.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

There is an overabundance of overhead lines in the country. How about just starting with significant reductions of present ones and consolidating and being more efficient use with what's left.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

jerseyboyMar. 25, 2015 - 10:04AM JST Now that's something everyone should be able to support. Many times during my years in Tokyo I wondered how difficult it must be for someone in a wheel chair, for example, or a blind person. About time Japan entered the 21 century in regards to how it treats the disabled.

Are you serious? Every street around every little irrelevant station in the countryhas those yellow tiles for blind people to follow, nearly every intersection has buzzers, beer cans have opening directions in braille on the lid, disabled people are literally carried on and off trains and every station without an elevator has a wheel chair stair lift, the Tokyo tower has descriptions of what you can see in all directions written in braille!

I'm sure there are plenty of optional routes for people in wheel chairs (which I can't really remember ever seeing out in the streets anyway), the narrow back alleys with poles in the middle of the ground will never be a part of this project anyway.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Add to it that Braille also exist on many signs, hand rails, ticket vending machines, etc.

In my town we have moved power lines underground on some street, you still get poles now and than with lines to the houses.

Looking at. It from an earthquake point of view broken lines are easier found and fixed when overhead, rather than having to dig up the line till you find the break and afterwards restoring the road surface.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Above ground poles are dangerous on narrow streets. Although they would have to redo all the infrastructure. The should have separate underground runs with manholes for power, cable/telephone, and the water and gas are separate issues but it may be time to upgrade them. Now a days, there are ways to take account for movement with some conduits being flexible. May be a good for the Japanese to infrastructure industry to upgrade or create something new. At least some parts of Japan may be entering the 20th century of infrastructure.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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