One of the world's biggest cities has figured how to virtually eliminate traffic deaths

When most people think about Tokyo, they probably imagine glitzy neon lights and zero personal space. What they shouldn’t imagine, however, are traffic fatalities. Tokyo has practically none of them.

According to a new report on city safety from the global research organisation World Resources Institute, traffic fatalities are near rock-bottom for Tokyoites. They occur at a rate of only 1.3 per 100,000 people.

Fortaleza, Brazil, meanwhile, has 27.2 fatalities per 100,000 people.

So what’s Tokyo’s secret?

In conducting its research, WRI found that the safest cities all have several things in common. Generally speaking, traffic fatalities occur least often in compact cities — as opposed to sprawling ones — and they make plenty of accommodations for public transportation, biking and walking lanes, and clearly separate the spaces designed for cars and pedestrians.

In Tokyo’s case, the city has managed to draw many of its citizens near public transportation, such as Shibuya Station. On a given workday, roughly 2.4 million people pass through the station, which is one of the nation’s largest. By comparison, Grand Central Terminal in NYC sees an average of 500,000 people daily.

The largest station in Japan, Shinjuku Station, sees some 3.5 million per day. To accommodate the sheer volume of bodies, Tokyo relies on a mind-bogglingly complex railway system. The fact that individual rail lines look like a plate of spaghetti says more about the city’s use of organisation to serve its inhabitants than its lack there of.

Noise issues aside, centralizing life around public transportation brings immediate benefits. For starters, it removes the need for cars in getting to work — a feat also accomplished by Tokyo’s many snaking bike lanes. But it also insulates the city’s culture, as much of its nightlife and shopping also happen near these stations.

All this success in infrastructure is made even more impressive considering Japan’s motorists are only getting older.

Japan is known for its longevity. But as Business Insider recently reported, the country is sitting on a “demographic time bomb.” People aren’t having kids, which is leading to an ageing cohort of drivers who presumably have poorer vision and slower reaction times.

According to the latest figures, some 40% of the 172 traffic deaths in Tokyo in 2014 were among drivers 65 years and older, but the overall figure continues to decline.

This is due in part to tightening safety restrictions on cars and the gradual improvement in urban planning — not to mention that for each person that takes the train, that marks one fewer person posing a threat on the roadways.

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