The transportation structure of Japanese cities can be decomposed into pedestrian and vehicular networks. In some places they run side-by-side, in other places they overlap (woonerf), but for the most part, they are completely separate.
Both of these networks are hierarchical in form:
Hierarchy of Driving
1. Woonerfs – slow and very narrow streets where people and cars mix.
2. Narrow Streets – streets just wide enough for a pedestrian lane marked by painted lines.
3. Boulevard – streets with physically separated sidewalks.
4. Expressway – usually elevated or underground.
Hierarchy of Walking
1. Residential Laneway – very narrow, no shops … usually impassable to cars due to narrow width or the presence of steps.
2. Woonerfs – slow and very narrow streets where cars and people mix.
3. Narrow Streets – streets just wide enough for a vehicular lane marked by painted lines.
4. Boulevard – sidewalks with physically separated streets.
5A. Tunnels & underground shopping malls connected to train stations.
5B. Shopping streets and arcades (usually connected/adjacent to train stations).
5C. Nightlife Alleys – narrow alleys lined with bars, izakaya, etc (usually adjacent to train stations, e.g. Omoide Yokocho)
The two networks run side-by-side or overlap only in the case of Woonerfs, Narrow Streets, and Boulevards. These are the middle ranks of the pedestrian hierarchy, and marginal in two ways:
- Over 1/3 of the total length of Japanese streets falls into the Residential Laneway category (too narrow for cars).
- The vast majority of shops and businesses are located at the other end of the pedestrian hierarchy; underground shopping malls, shopping arcades, and “nightlife alleys”.