Thursday, September 06, 2012


Fire the city Dept. of Transportation? Why that doesn’t seem like a bad idea

by Larry Geller

I was invited to speak briefly with Beth-Ann Kozlovich this morning on The Conversation on Hawaii Public Radio on the subject of pedestrian safety. The audio isn’t available yet, but will soon appear here. And I’m up first thing, so no excuse for not listening.

I hope I was successful in presenting two points that don’t get into the media, even into the admirable Civil Beat story, Don't Walk: Hawaii Pedestrians, Especially Elderly, Die At High Rate, 9/4/2012).

Generally, when a pedestrian is killed, the news media admonish pedestrians to be more attentive. Some stories give background, others do not. Most often this is some indication—from neighbors or community groups—that the intersection is dangerous and that they have complained before and asked for a traffic light or other improvement.

Here’s are the two points you don’t see in the news:

It’s good to see stories reminding us, as the Civil Beat story does:

More elderly pedestrians are killed in Hawaii than anyplace else in the country.

We’ve seen exactly the same news over and over again. It’s not terribly helpful to simply report the high death toll without digging deeper.

I spoke this morning about the lack of enforcement of traffic laws in Honolulu. If two-thirds of drivers involved in pedestrian fatalities are at least partially at fault, then it stands to reason that we must improve enforcement of the laws we already have. This simply isn’t being done, as demonstrated when the HPD reacts to an “incident” by suddenly issuing a flurry of tickets at one spot on one day. The fact that they can issue 45 tickets in 90 minutes at one spot or 500 tickets to motorists in five hours along the Leeward Coast just shows that motorists are disobeying traffic laws with great abandon—because they don’t expect those laws to be enforced.

What’s needed or asked for is not continuous enforcement everywhere, just intermittent enforcement. This way motorists can’t be sure that there will not be a cop watching, and should drive more carefully. Right now, drivers know the chance of being ticketed is essentially zero, so why not turn right on red without blinking, right in front of a pedestrian, while yakking on a cell phone? No risk.  Why not speed carelessly through an intersection? No risk.

So we have laws, but they are not enforced. It’s up to us to get the city to reassign the police to traffic duty.

[Aside: Do we have to bribe the police for protection? See this article in Civil Beat re repeated payments in the hundreds of thousands of dollars by the Waikiki Business Improvement District Association for “Enhanced police patrols of the public sidewalks in Waikiki” and this one  on HPD suddenly cracking down on Waikiki street performers. Not connected? You be the judge. How much “protection” can we pedestrians afford? Where do we send the money?]

News stories most often admonish pedestrians to be more attentive, or talk about the perils of jaywalking. Sure, that helps. But granny is not crossing the street staring at her iPhone. She’s doing the best she can. There isn’t enough time for her to get across under the best of circumstances, and that must be on her mind each time she crosses.

In fact, the DOT faced criticism for the short crossing timer settings even before they were installed, at legislative hearings. Yet the deadly situation has persisted for years.

I mentioned the unspoken death quota that seems to be DOT policy before a traffic light is installed. This was referred to in print at last in a story reporting the death of an HPU student was killed near the Hawaii Loa campus and a known dangerous intersection:

… and because the area in front of HPU did not meet the minimum requirement of five pedestrian “incidents” in a 12-month period.

The article did not say what an “incident” is, but when car-hits-student at that intersection on Kam Highway, it’s either death or usually a severe injury.

If neighborhood groups have pleaded for something to be done to reduce deaths and injuries year after year after year, when do we conclude that the DOT is not doing its job, and should be replaced?

Throw in the pathetically poor road maintenance, including a persistent pothole problem that newspapers also write about over and over again. Throw in the lack of road markings, the disappeared paint, the reflectors that died years ago and haven’t been replaced. Throw in the inadequate or missing signage.

Throw in 46 out of 160 Handi-Vans not repaired or replaced. Throw in wildly unpopular bus schedule cutbacks and discontinued routes that make the system unworkable for many riders including those who use wheelchairs or scooters. Many can’t get onto the buses because the two wheelchair spots are already taken. Bike riders find the front storage racks full and have to wait for the next, or the bus after that.

Throw in no public restrooms at the new transit center.

Throw in the lawbreaking to push rail forward for the sake of developers.

I closed my remarks with something to the effect that we need to replace the people currently running the DOT.  That’s what it looks like to me. If governments behaved like corporations, heads would have rolled a long time ago.

Strong words, but then, people are being killed in record numbers year after year. If it takes strong words, fine. What it will really take is some citizen action to bring about meaningful change.

Be careful crossing the street, now. The city doesn’t care if you make it safely to the other side or not.


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