Wondering, wandering, and making sense of the world.


Archive for April, 2015

Should governments be able to influence navigation data?

kyoto traffic jam

Unlike many cities in Japan, the public transport system in Kyoto is not as developed. This is partially due to the fact that as an ancient city, digging is prohibitively expensive. You can’t just dig in Kyoto; you have make sure you won’t be destroying artifacts that may be centuries old (or even a millennium or two).

There is a street in Kyoto that is perpetually traffic jammed. All the locals know this, but as a tourist city, many people from outside the city come in relying on their nav systems, creating unbearable congestions in places.

The City of Kyoto recently went to the Japan Digital Road Map Association and requested that nav systems put part of that street (~1100m) on lower priority for routing and not guide cars into smaller residential streets (From Kyoto Shimbun, Japanese only, I’m pretty sure this article won’t be translated anywhere). According to the newspaper, the top for digital map companies in Japan promised to do their best. I don’t know if these are data owners like Zenrin or includes users like Google.

Don’t get me wrong, knowing how horrible the situation is on that street, I think this is a great idea. However, I wonder how much governments and organizations should influence navigation data and ultimately the flow of people.

In this case, intentions are pure, but what if a city is developing a new shopping district and want more people to go through there? What if it wants to direct traffic away from a residential area inhabited by influencers? What if a city wants to hide a poorly developed neighborhood?

Now that this precedence is being set, it’s going to be interesting to see how companies will handle future requests of a similar nature. After all, traffic and the flow of people have an incredible influence over the development and economy of an area.

(Interesting case study from Okinawa in 1978)


After World War II, unlike the rest of Japan, Okinawa was under the direct control of the US until 1972 when it was handed back. During that time, like the US, cars in Okinawa drove on the right side of the road, different from the rest of Japan that drives on the left. Six years after Okinawa was returned to Japan, on July 30th 1978, the traffic direction in Okinawa was switched back to left side driving. You could probably imagine the chaos that ensued.

One effect of this change involved the fishing bait and supply stores. Historically, bait shops were placed on the side of the road so people driving towards the sea can easily access the store. However, overnight, this changed. New stores opened on the other side of the road and quickly drove the old stores out of business. Same roads, same cars, just on the other side of the road.


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