More elderly pedestrians are killed in Hawaii than anyplace else in the country. Now, several efforts are coming together to try to make the streets safer for all pedestrians — no matter their age.

The Honolulu City Council earlier this year initiated a new program to study why so many pedestrian accidents occur and to come up with solutions.

And the state Department of Transportation last week released a new plan for pedestrian safety throughout the state.

But “no one thing will turn the tide,” said Bruce Bottorff, a spokesman for Hawaii’s AARP, which campaigns for improvements to pedestrian safety. “We’ll never reach a completely satisfactory conclusion. With more cars on the road and an increasingly older population, you’ve got a potentially lethal combination.”

Hawaii has consistently ranked No. 1 in the nation for senior-age pedestrian fatalities, according to Department of Health statistician Dan Galanis. And Hawaii, he said, is 13th for pedestrian fatalities among all age groups.

Health department data from 2007 through 2011 shows 524 pedestrian accidents on Oahu during that time, 90 of them fatal. And 80 percent of those killed were 65 or older.

The DOH uses city and county Emergency Medical Services data to compile location statistics on accidents involving pedestrians.

Most of the accidents were in the metropolitan Honolulu area, according to the department’s report on injuries in Hawaii. The report reveals that the Ala Moana-Kakaako, Kalihi-Palama and downtown areas had the most pedestrian incidents. The Kalihi-Palama neighborhood also had 13 fatal accidents. Other areas with high rates of pedestrian fatalities included Waianae, Waipahu, Makakilo-Kapolei, McCully-Moiliili and Waikiki.

EMS reports show which specific Oahu intersections have witnessed the highest number of EMS-attended pedestrian accidents.

According to data collected between June 2006 and December 2010, the most pedestrian accident-prone Oahu intersections 1 are:

Intersection Number of
Kapiolani Blvd. & Keeaumoku St. 7
Beretania St. & Piikoi St. 7
Kamehameha Hwy. & Acacia Rd. 5
Vineyard Ave. & Palama St. 5
Nuuanu Ave. & Kukui St. 5
Beretania St. & Keeaumoku St. 5
King St. & University Ave. 5

High Risk For Senior-Age Pedestrians

Hawaii is near the national average when it comes to pedestrian fatality rates among most age groups. But Hawaii is at the top for fatalities involving pedestrians 65 and older.

Elderly Hawaii pedestrians were killed at a rate more than two times the national average. State DOH data shows that worked out to approximately 24 deaths per 100,000 residents compared to the U.S. average of 10 deaths per 100,000 residents.

The reasons behind that drastic discrepancy are many, Galanis, the department statistician, said. He pointed out that Hawaii’s senior citizens are more active — and walk more — than their mainland counterparts.

The AARP’s Bottorff also noted that accidents involving older pedestrians are more likely to result in serious, sometimes fatal, injuries or hospitalization.

“When elderly people are involved in accidents — whether they’re in cars or walking — they tend to be harder to rehabilitate,” he said.

Crash Analysis: Determining Fault in Pedestrian Accidents

Determining what caused a particular pedestrian accident is no easy task, in part because an array of factors often come into play.

“Generally speaking, we need to modify design and influence behavior, and that’s not a small order,” said Tom Dinell, a University of Hawaii professor emeritus of urban and regional planning.

Each road and intersection has its own set of characteristics, any number of which could somehow undermine a pedestrian’s safety, he said.

Dinell cited crosswalks that extend across as many as six lanes, inadequate signage and intersections with limited visibility as a few of the contributing factors in pedestrian incidents.

But drivers and pedestrians also practice dangerous habits on the streets.

The DOH’s report uses federal Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) records to analyze contributing factors for both the pedestrians and drivers involved in the crash.

The study found that about two-thirds of the Oahu drivers involved in pedestrian fatalities were to some degree responsible for the accident. Inattentive driving, failing to yield the right of way and speed were the most common errors among drivers.

And about a fourth of the drivers tested positive for alcohol or drugs.

Jaywalking is another problem, according to Dinell.

Of the 130 pedestrian fatalities that occurred in Hawaii, 39 percent involved victims who were in the roadway when or where they shouldn’t have been, according to the DOH report.

Safety Means Making Oahu’s Streets ‘Complete’

Planners, designers and safety experts need to think much differently than in the past about how to keep traffic flowing while ensuring pedestrians and bicyclists’ safety, said Dinell.

But that’s proved difficult.

“You want [the fix] to be convenient for pedestrians, but you don’t want to do it in a way that endangers them,” he said.

The Honolulu City Council in May unanimously passed Bill 26, also known as Honolulu’s “Complete Streets” resolution. The ordinance requires several city agencies — including the Transportation Services and Design and Construction departments — to develop and redesign Oahu’s roadways so that they’re more accommodating for everyone on the roadway, including motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists and public transit users.

“What ‘Complete Streets’ is doing … is saying we need to examine each of these specific situations, see whether we have a design or behavioral problem,” said Dinell, who has worked with the AARP on the “Complete Streets” task force.

“Complete Streets” advocates multimodal transportation — that is, an interconnected transportation system that supports cars, bicycles, pedestrians and public transit. The model has already been adopted by numerous cities across the country.

“Our interest is in the total picture,” said Dinell. As part of the groundwork for “Complete Streets,” city staff and task force members will closely evaluate accident-prone intersections and develop safety solutions on a case-by-case basis.

The Hawaii Department of Transportation recently published a Pedestrian Master Plan, which sets the framework for pedestrian safety and facility improvements across the state. The plan, which was just released last week for public review and comment, also encourages a multimodal transportation system.

The department already has plans to improve the safety in three locations that it identified as particularly accident-prone: Kalihi Street, Farrington Highway in Waianae and the Vineyard Boulevard-Queen Emma Street intersection. Potential solutions include enhancing crosswalk markings, installing additional signage and reviewing traffic signal timing.

Dinell anticipates that, in moving forward with such projects, analysts will be able to figure out whether an intersection has design problems.

Sometimes, basic remedies are the solution — expanding the distance between the crosswalk and where cars stop to enhance visibility, for example.

Dinell also noted that some wide thoroughfares — such as King Street and Beretania Street — could benefit from medians to break up the crosswalk distance. The medians, he said, would provide refuges for pedestrians attempting to cross large intersections.

Dinnell points to the neon sign near Manoa Marketplace that warns drivers of pedestrians crossing the street toward Starbucks as especially successful. The sign was part of a 2008 pilot project to incorporate more in-street signs at various intersections.

“Sometimes it’s interesting — a little inexpensive sign will make a difference,” he said.

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