Paralympics could help remake Tokyo’s narrow roads, doorways

FILE - In this Aug. 24, 2016 file photo, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike waves the Olympic flag upon arrival of the flag at Haneda international airport in Tokyo. Koike expects the 2020 Paralympics to make Japan's capital more accessible for people with disabilities. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
FILE - In this Aug. 24, 2016 file photo, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike waves the Olympic flag upon arrival of the flag at Haneda international airport in Tokyo. Koike expects the 2020 Paralympics to make Japan's capital more accessible for people with disabilities. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike expects the 2020 Paralympics to make Japan’s capital more accessible to people with disabilities.

Narrow roadways and doorways will be widened. More ramps and railing can be installed, and other physical changes can be made.

But she’s also advocating for another type of “fix.”

“Barrier-free facilities are by all means important, but I believe that a barrier-free mind is equally vital,” Koike said in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday, a day before she receives the Paralympic flag — and four weeks after she took possession of the Olympic flag.

Tokyo’s first female governor, Koike was elected two months ago and is pushing several Olympic-related agendas: Keeping down soaring costs, focusing on the environment, and talking up a women’s rights agenda.

Add a Paralympic agenda to that list: Making Tokyo easier to navigate for people in wheelchairs, on crutches or with vision problems. Any improvement here could also make life easier for Japan’s 75-and-over population, which is predicted to reach 25 percent of the population in 2025.

“We have developed roads that are too narrow,” she said. “This is a legacy of Tokyo. Furthermore, the doorways are not wide, the ceilings are low in some typical housing. As we welcome athletes as well as spectators from all over the world at the venues, we must overcome these challenges.”

Koike said expanding some of Tokyo’s narrow roads, often shared by cars and pedestrians and without sidewalks, means removing utility poles and placing the power lines underground.

“Going toward the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, I’d like to expand the width of the roads by doing away with the utility poles so we can provide accessibility to everyone,” Koike said.

Paralympic organizers are expecting big things from Tokyo, although, on the field in Rio, Japan had failed to win a gold medal through competition on Friday. The games close on Sunday.

Japanese broadcaster NHK has a long-term deal to telecast the Paralympics through 2024, which will drive interest.

“I think there’s going be a huge awareness level of the games coming to Japan in four years,” International Paralympic Committee spokesman Craig Spence said.

IPC President Philip Craven four years ago called London “the best games ever.”

“From what I’ve seen from Tokyo so far, Tokyo has a very, very good chance of surpassing London and becoming the best Paralympics ever,” Spence said. “I’ve never come across an organizing committee so committed, so dedicated and enthusiastic about the Paralympic movement.”

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