Tokyo is a huge, sprawling city that’s densely packed with tower blocks and tall buildings. Tokyo itself is home to around 12 million people and the wider Tokyo area is home to an almost unimaginable 35 million people – that’s over half the UK’s population.
Moving everybody and everything around with such population densities sounds impossible. But Japanese ingenuity and forward planning were on top of the problem.
The city built its first elevated urban motorway into the centre of the city back in 1962 and has since built 174 miles of expressway, with another 18 miles on the drawing board.
Although Tokyo does have some magnificently wide boulevard roads in the city centre, making a longer journey out of the area would be nightmare of junctions and traffic lights.
Which is where the expressways step in. They allow drivers on longer distance journeys to leap over the crowded city streets. The on/off ramps on the Expressways are spread out to discourage short hops. Drivers also have to pay a fixed toll of around £4 for using them.
Access is gained by driving directly under the Expressways, then up ramps and through automated toll booths.
The view here (taken between Akasaka and Roppongi) also shows what London could have looked like.
Work started on the London Ringway system began just in 1963, just the first Tokyo Expressway was built. The idea was to extend the motorways that were planned to converge on the capital right into the centre of the city.
These motorways would then be joined up by a series of orbital ‘ringways’. These roads would have been built on stilts and space for them was to have found by building them up against existing railway lines.
The Ringways project was almost completely finalized by 1970 and some of it had been built, including the A2, the Westway and the old M41 that runs from the Westway to Shepherds Bush.
However, it faced vocal opposition when it became clear that the Greater London Council planners decided to build a motorway junction in the middle of Barnes Common.
Eventually, a Labour victory in the 1973 GLC elections killed the expressway plan and even, it is rumoured, saw the new council bosses burning the huge Ringway plan archive so the idea could never be floated again.