Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Should police be held responsible for pedestrian crosswalk deaths?

by Larry Geller

A Frequently Asked Question in Honolulu is: “How many pedestrian deaths does it take to get a traffic light installed?”  There is no clear answer. Presumably fewer if the deaths occur in Kahala or Hawaii Kai and more if they occur in Kalihi. The city Dept. of Transportation should post the answer on a FAQ page to end the controversy.

What ought to be controversial is whether the City can be held responsible for deaths due to its lack of enforcement of traffic rules.

I’ve asked before: How many pedestrians in crosswalks have to be hit or killed before the Honolulu police begin systematic and adequate enforcement of traffic laws? The number may be four, judging from this article in today’s paper.


Today’s Star-Advertiser story,

Oahu’s traffic death toll for 2010 already tops 2009 total (11/30/2010) is very troubling.

If stepped-up enforcement is the answer to bringing down the numbers, then why does HPD only increase enforcement when deaths increase, and then slack off later? What about more police, at more intersections, on a regular basis?

I live very near one of the intersections that the AARP considers to be one of the most dangerous. I have NEVER (shouting in caps) seen police stationed there giving out tickets to the numerous drivers who speed through a right turn without stopping or signaling. The police are not there during morning or evening rush hours when the intersection is jam-packed with stopped cars, forcing pedestrians to weave their way around the vehicles in the crosswalk and making it impossible for those with walkers, wheelchairs or scooters to cross at all.

There are no cops there today, and there have never been any when I have crossed that street.

In fact, anyone contemplating sailing through a right-turn-on-red without signaling or stopping and while yakking on their cellphone has nothing to fear in Honolulu. The traffic laws are so seldom enforced that they might as well not exist.

The newspaper, for its part, could do a far better job at covering what happens to drivers who hit pedestrians. Are there any consequences for murder-by-vehicle? Either way, it ought to be news.

Police Chief Louis Kealoha advised:

“Our pedestrians should walk with a purpose in the crosswalks,” he said. “Sometimes you see them with the iPods, taking their time, but you need to be vigilant.”

Good advice perhaps, but there’s nothing illegal or wrong with a pedestrian crossing the street with an iPod. Some older folks need to take their time. Let me make this clear:

Crossing the street with an iPod is not a capital offense

Crossing the street slowly does not merit the death penalty.

I’ve seen cars cutting in front of a pedestrian on a scooter in a crosswalk like she didn’t exist. That’s an offense, but the police are nowhere to protect us. And drivers know it.

The City bears some responsibility for not researching and installing the best technology to bring drivers to a stop at crosswalks. This is not rocket science. And it seems no number of deaths will get us improvements.

We have a new administration in City Hall, a former prosecutor. I hope the Mayor will take a new tack and put his police to work all year round, not just when the newspapers report an increase in the death statistics.

If the City is motivated to act only by a high death count, the City is responsible for avoidable deaths in my book. I wish some judge would agree with me one day.



Larry, there are specific engineering practices for studying the potential installation of any "traffic control device," even a stop sign. This link will help:


I earned a B.S. in Civil Eng., Trans. Eng. specialty, from U. Minn. in 1986. I was a Traffic Engineer for Anoka Co. in Minnesota from 1987-1989, before leaving to attend law school.
I hope this help. :-)

Hannah Miyamoto

Hannah, thank you for that link. It does have good information on the installation of traffic control devices.

Now, I need one on installation of traffic cops at intersections. No joke. HPD cites numbers showing they are giving tickets, but not only do we never see them at troubled intersections, but we have no way of knowing what is a good level of inforcement.

Larry, you have fallen to the level of shrieking drivel.

No, the police cannot be everywhere all the time, unless we are willing to pay for it. The political process, with all its warts, has put greater priority on "crimes." Yes, that dangerous intersection to which you refer should receive enforcement but the cops still can't be there all the time. That's precisely why a short term, consciousness-raising enforcement project should be used at intersections like yours. I suggest you focus on a realistic goal like that that instead of righteously, indignantly demanding the impossible.

You also seem to suggest that pedestrians and other non-motorists share no responsibility for their own safety. That's patently ridiculous. I no longer register/use an automobile; I commute to work by bicycle and use it as my almost exclusive means of transportation, so I see traffic disasters waiting to happen each and every day, whenever I'm on the road. You might not believe it but at least half of my near disasters have been caused by . . . . . clueless pedestrians and bicyclists. Pedestrians -- yes, listening to their iPods -- stepping off the curb mid-block, not looking, not listening, utterly solipsistically absorbed. Bicyclists riding on sidewalks (they call them that for a reason: they're for WALKING; if they were for RIDING, they'd be called "sideRIDEs" or "dedicated bike paths"), riding the wrong direction on the road with no lights, no helmet, no brains.

So, yes, it's very cute to point out that crossing the street with an iPod is not a capital offense but it's also STUPID! It's also not a death penalty offense to cross the street slowly but entering the crosswalk with a flashing red hand knowing you can barely muster a shuffle is equally STUPID. Pedestrians and bicyclists are just as bound to recognize the rights of motorists as motorists are to recognize the rights of non-motorists.

While you are making these glib, grandiose pronouncements about no one following up on the outcome of these collisions or not enforcing cell phone/right of way laws, you are recklessly and/or deliberately ignoring well-publicized fact. First, the Star Bulletizer (or was it still the Ragvertiser?) did a really good, multi-part series on this very issue within the past 6-12 months. Numbers. Problem intersections. Case outcomes. You name it. Ignore it if you want, but don't say it didn't happen. Also, not long ago, as you seem to finally acknowledge in your response to Hannah, HPD released numbers on cell phone and crosswalk/jaywalk violations. Just because you don't see HPD officiers at your intersection doesn't mean they're not out there. Maybe they're cherry picking easy violations in non-critical areas for revenue-generation purposes (remember Van-cams?).

So, may I not so humbly suggest, that you start advocating for some empirically -- not anecdotally -- based enforcement instead of engaging in shrill, whiny, popping off the top of your head invective? Really, we agree on so much (open government, Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, you name it) that it pains me to say that you really soiled yourself on this one. I guess everyone's entitled to an off-day (I know, I have many of them but then I'm not a famous/respected blogger, or a blogger of any kind, for that matter).

Oh, BTW, in your response to Hannah, it's "enforcement," not "inforcement."

Professor Smarty Pants (formerly Professor Fancy Pants)

PS - I'll try find a link to the Star-rag Bullet-iser series on pedestrian deaths, if I have the time.

Here's the link to the series in the Advertiser: http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/specials/pedestrians/

OK, so I was wrong (again); it looks to be from 2008. But it's got a fatalities database, interactive map, etc.

As a further afterthought, let me say I am as liberal as they come but if you think the solution to this problem is coming from government (i.e. stepped-up police enforcement)then you deserve being labeled with the worst connotation of the word "liberal" that pencil-dicks like Sean Hannity can make up. This problem will get better only when drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists assume responsibility for their own actions. Gummint ain't fixin' this one.

Ned, calling the newspapers names and deciding whether I've had an off day doesn't add much to your arguments. Thanks for catching my typo.

No, I don't expect police to be at a dangerous intersection all the time. Most likely showing up at a number of intersections at random times would do the trick. It works in other cities. Never showing up does indeed leave us waiting for drivers to accept responsibilty for their own actions. Since that isn't happening, common sense says to try something else. Maybe a few traffic tickets will encourage them to behave as you suggest they should.

When the Van Cams were operating, traffic slowed down to the speed limit on the highway. Enforcement (see, I can spell) does work. The newspaper series demonstrated that we need more of it. You may differ on whether it is our right as citizens to encourage our government to set priorities, but that's exactly what we need to do.

As to not enough police, that's an old problem. Couples were being attacked at Tantalus scenic rest stops several years ago, and the police said they didn't have enough manpower to stop it. The community differed. All they had to do was stake out one or more rest stops and they'd catch the bad guys. I understand that's exactly what happened. The police work for you and for me, if indirectly. We pay our taxes, we should be able to determine what the money buys.

As to pedestrians crossing mid-block with iPods, those nuts aren't under discussion here.

Anyone in a crosswalk, regardless of the speed they are walking, and regardless of whether the crossing light is red or white, is protected under the law. Period. It doesn't even have to be a marked crosswalk.

If you don't understand this, the nastiest thing I'll say in this comment is that I'm glad you don't have a car. But be safe, I've seen many bikes almost sideswiped by drivers and won't ride a bike in Honolulu myself.

Fair enough. I guess *I* was the one having the grumpy, off-day, at least in part. But, I thionk you get my point: overgeneralizations like "In fact, anyone contemplating sailing through a right-turn-on-red without signaling or stopping and while yakking on their cellphone has nothing to fear in Honolulu. The traffic laws are so seldom enforced that they might as well not exist." THAT's what sent me to an off-day. Making demonstrably false statements like that doesn't add much to your arguments, either.

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