Osaka: Midosuji turning into even livelier pedestrian space

The Yomiuri Shimbun
People relax at a terrace space, newly installed on a sidewalk on Midosuji Avenue, in Osaka City on April 17.

OSAKA — A main street in central Osaka City is about to be transformed into a pedestrian space in preparation for Expo 2025 Osaka, Kansai, which is expected to draw visitors from around the world.

Midosuji Avenue — a 4.2-kilometer-long road connecting JR Osaka Station (Umeda) and the city’s Namba district — is a one-way road with six lanes designed to go from north to south. It has 5 meters of side road with one lane on both the east and west sides, in addition to the four-lane main road.

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Midosuji Avenue runs from north to south through central Osaka, with the Dotonbori River seen below in June 2021.

The Osaka municipal government plans to make the avenue a more pedestrian-friendly place, taking the world-famous Champs-Elysees in Paris as its model. Within the city government, there is even a proposal to convert the entire street into a pedestrian-only avenue by 2037, when Midosuji Avenue will mark its 100th anniversary.

The municipality has already begun to gradually convert the side roads, the outermost lanes, into pedestrian sidewalks. On these widened sidewalks, citizen groups have taken the initiative to create a lively space for pedestrians by building and managing terrace spaces, installing benches and planning an exhibition of works by young artists.

A changing ambience

On April 17, when a terrace space was completed along Midosuji Avenue in the Yodoyabashi district of Osaka, Masaya Shuto, a 46-year-old office worker, relaxed on a bench in the new space.

“This blighted street has been brightened up just by creating a space like this,” he said with a smile.

The space was created by narrowing a portion of the outermost lane of the six-lane road and placing wooden benches and tables there.

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The terrace space is installed on a side lane of Midosuji Avenue.

A private association comprising about 52 companies along the avenue and elsewhere is in charge of the management of the terrace space. It also paid about ¥1 million as part of the installation costs.

The association, the Central Midosuji Network, will continue to bear the cost of daily maintenance and management, such as for cleaning the space, while the terrace is in place for at least the three years leading up to the expo. On the day the space was completed, the atmosphere was livened up with a piano concert and a food truck that served from the sidewalk.

“We want to use the space to attract lots of people to the area,” said an official of the association.

Conversion to sidewalk

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The Osaka city government set a goal to convert the side roads of a southern part of Midosuji Avenue — a 3.1-kilometer-long section between the Yodoyabashi and Namba districts — into sidewalks in time for the expo, in accordance with its program compiled in March 2019.

Construction started in the Namba district — the southern end of the avenue — and the 400-meter section up to the Dotonbori River was completed before the end of March, with all of the eastern side road for the section converted into a pedestrian path. Conversion work for 200 meters of the western side road in this section is also expected to be completed by summer.

Meanwhile, the municipality on its own is unable to fully utilize the widened sidewalks for revitalization. The Osaka city government has divided the area along the avenue into three and designated three private organizations to effectively use the space. In addition to the Central Midosuji Network, the Midosuji Nagahori 21st Century Association and the South-Midosuji Business Association were asked to manage the sidewalks.

The South-Midosuji Business Association is in charge of the south side of the avenue. In January, the association decided on a project to arrange artworks by young artists along the sidewalks, hoping that the space will become a new photo destination.

While there are already bronze statues and other works of art on display at various locations along the avenue, the association plans to add more artworks, as well as install benches and other items on sidewalks, by sometime around summer.

Funding for the project comes from donations from sponsors for events held on the avenue and from revenue from banner advertisements hung from streetlights.

“Midosuji has high brand value. We can create a distinctive district while earning revenue,” an official of the association said.

Garbage reduced

Naturally, there was concern that extending the sidewalk portion of the road would cause traffic congestion. However, traffic in the area is shifting from cars to people.

According to a survey conducted by the city government in October, there were about 18,000 vehicles that passed near Dotonbori Bridge on a holiday, down 20% from September 2019. Conversely, there were about 38,000 pedestrians, a 10% increase from the same time. Traffic congestion did occur temporarily, but it has been largely eliminated by way of signs that announce detours and other measures.

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There has also been an unexpected perk. The amount of trash on the street has decreased, contrary to concerns that it would increase following the sidewalk expansions. About 10 pieces of trash were found around 6 p.m. on a weekday in fiscal 2021, compared with about 40 pieces in the previous year.

“Pedestrians may have become more inclined to keep sidewalks clean, as the sidewalks changed and they became able to enjoy a more relaxed atmosphere there,” a city official said.