Sunday, February 18, 2007


Advertiser headline misleads: "Making Islands safer for pedestrians costly"

Unfortunately, nothing in the article supports such a negative headline. There is no study cited and no indication of what the few remedies so far proposed will actually cost. In fact, the article mentions cost-effective traffic calming measures used in Portland. The headline might well have read, "Many low-cost options possible to make Islands safer for pedestrians."

I'm not aware of any data showing how many drivers fail to stop at an intersection before turning, how many illegally enter crosswalks with pedestrians present, how many pedestrian deaths and injuries result from accidents where alcohol is a factor, etc.

The state Department of Transportation hasn't been proposing solutions yet, and certainly has not been in the lead in protecting pedestrian lives. So we don't know what a fix will cost. AARP deserves our heartfelt thanks for mobilizing volunteers to do what our paid servants have resisted--with their survey, they demonstrated that many of our crosswalks are dangerous. They did this with minimal spending. Perhaps the DOT could enlist AARP volunteers if it is so concerned with costs.

Adjusting crosswalk lights to give pedestrians more time seems like a low-cost plan, and something that should have been done already. The Advertiser newsroom and editorial staff might get together on this.

What we do know, based on last year's AARP survey of traffic signals on Oahu and other islands, is that many intersections are simply dangerous to cross. Instead of correcting those intersections, the state wants to delay any action until at least 2010, according to testimony in the Legislature calling for a survey of crosswalks. A survey is good, waiting for it to be completed and submitted to the Legislature is not. Action by the legislature is not needed to make our streets safer. Where have our city and state officials been all these years? Isn't maintaining safe crosswalks everywhere part of their regular jobs?

Although this problem cannot be blamed entirely on the current administration either in City Hall or the Capitol, it's surfacing now and could benefit from the Mayor's and Governor's attention. It's not enough to introduce bills for new or stiffer penalties for the legislature to act on. That's ok to do, but getting police out on the street and lighting a fire under the okoles of our state DOT doesn't require new law.

I have full confidence that our legislators will weigh the options presented to them, but I have no confidence that the county police departments will enforce any new laws that the legislature might pass. After all, the police are not enforcing the laws we have now.

We do know some things, although not quantitatively. For example, we know that Hawaii drivers commonly race through red lights, turn without stopping or signalling, often while chatting on their cell phones, and speed and tailgate with a vengeance. Drivers know that they can get away with it, every time, any number of times a day, at any intersection. A study can establish what new laws will be necessary. But we don't need to study the obvious in order to begin acting.

Many pedestrians cross outside of crosswalks even when there is one nearby. Of course, education helps, but there are things that can be done besides education. [aside: there was a cute little garden of medicinal herbs, with signs in English and Hawaiian, across Lusitana Street directly opposite the Queens POB2 entrance. The garden discouraged pedestrians from jaywalking because they'd have to trample the plants. What a great solution! I learned last week that Queens has to respond to a city demand that they pull up all the plants. Some sort of minor violation. This seems like a step backwards in pedestrian safety, not to mention the loss of a spot that many people loved and visited on their way out of the doctor's offices after hearing some good or bad news.]

If we use crosswalks ourselves, we know that many drivers do obey the law, but sadly, many others ignore it. Being cut off by a car that hasn't even stopped before turning is an everyday occurrence, not a rarity, experienced by anyone who walks instead of drives. It will simply cost lives to wait until 2010, as the DOT proposes, to fix these intersections. Oh--did I mention that the DOT wants the lege to appropriate $1 million for consultant's fees for the study? Do they have any quotes or estimates? Where did that figure come from? Or is this just more stalling on the part of the DOT? Will they ask the consultants to study whether police are enforcing existing laws?

I wish AARP would ask its volunteers to stay a couple of days at the dangerous intersections and report on how often they ever see police on duty. They would do us all another great service.

Most news stories are based on reliable sources, double-checked for accuracy. Our daily papers should not accept excuses instead of facts on this issue. We don't know yet what it will cost to make Hawaii safer for pedestrians because those in our state and county governments charged with maintaining safe streets for all of us are just not doing their jobs. How about this low-cost plan: Replace them, if necessary, with people committed to pedestrian safety.

Or let's take away their official state cars until 2010. Make 'em walk across the streets and catch buses. I'll bet, if they survive, they'll have a few suggestions about what they can do to keep us all safe.


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