Sunday, January 23, 2011


Pedestrians NOT safer, there’s still little enforcement of Honolulu traffic laws

by Larry Geller

An op-ed in today’s Star-Advertiser (Stop signals, 1/23/2011)  claims success in reducing traffic fatalities, but the numbers suggest the opposite. If you’re a pedestrian, the risk of being hit has not changed, according to the numbers in the article itself. In fact, the preliminary numbers for 2010 could indicate that pedestrian deaths may be on the rise.

As we have noted before, the newspaper reports only deaths. The number of pedestrians injured or maimed is likely to be far higher, but it doesn’t appear in the paper. How many pedestrians become wheelchair-bound for life or are brain-injured after being hit by cars in Honolulu? We’re not told. How many can no longer work or enjoy life in Hawaii because of their injuries? We’re not told.

Contrary to the article, pedestrian deaths have not “fallen significantly:” Here is the data, snipped from the article:


Since peaking in 2006, the number of traffic-related deaths has dropped noticeably. The goal of a five-year plan launched in 2007 is to keep the fatalities to 100 or fewer. A look at the total fatalities, with pedestrian ones in parentheses:
2003: 133 (23 pedestrians)
2004: 142 (31 pedestrians)
2005: 140 (36 pedestrians)
2006: 161 (32 pedestrians)
2007: 138 (28 pedestrians)
2008: 107 (21pedestrians)
2009: 109 (16 pedestrians)
2010*: 114 (27 pedestrians)

Note that the number of pedestrian deaths is higher at the end of the chart than at the beginning, and only one less than 2007 when the program began.

In fact, Hawaii leads the nation with a rate of 40.2 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people 65 and older. Far from demonstrating progress, that figure is approximately three times higher than the national average.

The article misleads by suggesting that something is being done to make crosswalks safer. For example, the caption of a picture of the reflective post installed near the Manoa Marketplace:

Safeguarding pedestrians and bicyclists is one of seven emphasis areas under the Hawaii Strategic Highway Safety Plan. Here, a crosswalk on East Manoa Road across from the Manoa Marketplace uses a reflective post in the middle of the roadway to attract drivers' attention.

What the caption doesn’t tell you is that the post is probably the only one installed. How many of these do you see around the island? Maybe I’ve just missed them.

Reality: there has been little or nothing done to improve the safety of pedestrians in crosswalks and pedestrians continue to be killed while crossing the street legally.

The article avoids mentioning the one change that holds the most promise to protect pedestrians—increased enforcement of speed and traffic laws. Please refer to the complete article, but here’s a short snip:

Shortly before 7 p.m. on New Year's Day, on an unlit stretch of Kunia Road, the first of two cars that police would later say were being driven "erratically and at a high rate of speed" crossed the centerline of the two-lane blacktop and into oncoming traffic.

In the aftermath, some wondered if there was anything that could have been done to prevent the tragedy. On what was an almost pitch-black night, would lights along Kunia Road have helped? What about rumble strips on the centerline and along the shoulders of the narrow country road that sees heavy use as a shortcut from Wahiawa to Ewa Beach and Kapolei?

Why ask if lights would have slowed down these speeders? Cops would have slowed them down, and if enforcement had been systematically in place, it might have discouraged the drivers in the first place.

Another approach would be speed cams. Some types work in the dark. We’d also need to begin citing motorists who obscure their license plates with plastic covers so that they can’t be identified. Many of those covers were installed during the brief time that Oahu actually had speed cameras so that the speeders could evade identification. They got away with it.

For Kunia Road, as an example, in addition to police patrol of a dangerous road, cameras could be installed on posts to both discourage and also to remove speeders from circulaton. Cameras could be moved occasionally from one pole to another so that nighttime speeders would not know where they are. This is different from the flawed implementation of the”Van Cams” years ago.

There’s no substitute, however, for changing the culture that speed, drinking and traffic laws can safely be ignored. Drivers know, as they fail to signal and turn right on red without stopping, often right in front of pedestrians in the crosswalk and even while chatting on their cellphones, that no one will catch them and they can do as they like.

To protect pedestrians, these drivers need to think otherwise. Only being pulled over by the police will change their minds.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons license.


Everytime I take a ride in a car I see some pedestrian who has to wait for 10 cars to go by before he/she can cross in a legal crosswalk where the pedestrian has the right of way.

If the number of hits and kills are dropping, is it perhaps because pedestrians are becoming savvy and how not to become hood ornaments?

Pedestrian deaths are just accepted as the cost of 'progress' in Hawai'i. Honolulu even went so far as to launch a police-manned anti-pedestrian campaign to ticket and berate pedestrians.

I worked on pedestrian issues in the 80's in Hawai'i. I tried to approach it from a design perspective (and was told 'we follow California models'). The things I said then are still relevant today (and still ignored). I gave up.

Traveling in Europe this past year made me realize that people can live without vehicle-oppression. For instance, almost all cities I visited had pedestrian crossings around 20-30 yards *before* the intersection. Intersections -- where drivers are concentrating on the movements of other (turning) cars -- are the most dangerous crossing places for pedestrians . And people in Europe WALK (!) Sidewalks are wide and attractive. No construction activity EVER forces pedestrians to detour; cars can detour.

In Europe there are trees and benches and fountains and bathrooms for pedestrians. It is enjoyable to walk there - not to mention use all the great public transportation choices.

Little things ... DESIGN changes. This is more than a safety issue and more than accommodation of the elderly and handicapped -- these design choices improve neighborhoods and businesses (more people on the street = more eyes = more 'ownership' of the neighborhood). They improve health in the population and the aesthetics of the city. It is just civilized.

BTW, sticking a post in the middle of the road is NOT a 'design change'. It still gives cars the choice of racing or not (unlike speed bumps, narrowed/winding streets, 'roundabouts', and other design schemes that forces drivers to DRIVE DIFFERENTLY). And ... those mid-street posts get run over so often that I guess they have - at least? - been providing much entertainment for the speedsters in town.

Honolulu is one of the worst places in the nation for pedestrian (human) design. This is especially hard to accept because there was such beauty there to begin with. Catering to cars has been, and IS, essentially a rape of the land. Until people understand the costs of their cars there will be no changes.

Very good and important work.

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