For Hawaii residents, particularly the elderly, just taking a walk can be deadly.

Hawaii has the highest senior pedestrian fatality rate in the nation, according to a new report “Dangerous by Design 2014” published Tuesday by the National Complete Streets Coalition. The report analyzed data from 2003 to 2012 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There are 6.81 deaths per 100,000 adults 65 and older in Hawaii, and for pedestrians who are 75 and older, the rate is even higher: 9.75 per 100,000.

State Pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 people 65 and older Pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 people 75 and older Pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 people of all ages
1. Hawaii 6.81 9.75 2.23
2. California 5.03 6.40 2.28
3. New York 4.94 6.02 1.96
4. District of Columbia 4.47 4.24 2.99
5. Florida 3.92 4.73 3.08

 

There were 262 pedestrian fatalities in the state from 2003 to 2012, making up over 20 percent of the total 1,269 traffic fatalities; nationally, pedestrian deaths make up 14 percent of all traffic fatalities.

Older adults are more susceptible to pedestrian deaths nationwide. Adults 65 or older make up just 12.6 percent of the nation’s population, but comprised 21 percent of the total pedestrian fatalities from 2003 to 2010.

Nationally, 47,025 people died in pedestrian accidents from 2003 to 2012, a number that is 16 times the amount of Americans who died in natural disasters during the last decade, according to the report.

Places in the Sun Belt and especially the South topped the list as the most dangerous cities to walk: Metropolitan Orlando was the most dangerous area to walk, and the Tampa – St. Petersburg, Jacksonville, Miami and Memphis regions followed.

Why Hawaii?

As a tourist destination, Hawaii’s numbers may be slightly skewed in terms of the risk to local residents, as the data doesn’t take into consideration the residence of the victims. But Dan Galanis, a statistician at the Hawaii State Department of Health, noted that only about 5 percent of pedestrian deaths are nonresidents.

“The high rate in Hawaii has been something we’ve been keeping tabs on for years,” Galanis told Civil Beat. “Hawaii has pretty much always had the highest senior pedestrian fatality rates.”

The biggest reason may be Hawaii’s warm weather. Galanis says pedestrians in the Aloha State, particularly seniors, are more likely to be walking around and are more exposed to traffic.

“We have a tropical climate, which means year-round walking or exercising. Our seniors walk more than in a lot of other states,” he said.

Galanis noted that Hawaii’s low rate of car occupant fatalities may be part of the reason that pedestrian fatalities make up a larger percentage of traffic fatalities than the rest of the nation.

According to 5-year data from DOH from 2005 to 2009, car occupant fatality rates were 58 percent lower in Hawaii compared to the national rate.

“We have low-speed driving environments here, and not a lot of highway driving,” Galanis said.

Jackie Boland, the community outreach director at AARP Hawaii, believes the report shows that the state has a long way to go in regards to pedestrian safety.

“My immediate response is that we have to be more vigilant and push for changes now,” she said.

Boland pointed to the nation’s rapidly aging population; by the year 2030, America’s baby boomers will all be 65 and older, and one in every five residents, or 72 million people, will be an older adult, according to “The State of Aging & Health in America 2013” report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Given the time that it takes to do road construction and design work, that’s not a lot of time to prepare for the huge influx,” Boland said. “We have great weather, we have a really high density of cars and people on the roads. The opportunity for conflict is there.”

Boland says that a major issue is that many pedestrian accidents occur on roads that don’t necessarily have high speed limits.

“King Street or Kamehameha Highway, you could easily go 60 mph on them. There’s no design limitation built in that would ensure a driver would slow down,” Boland pointed out.

Roadways such as those, that are “built for speed” according to Boland, often have crosswalks with long crossing lengths.

“As we age, we change, and our response time might not be as rapid. If you hear someone who’s bearing down on you, you may not be able to jump out of the way,” she noted.

John Goody, 71, a Hawaii resident and bicyclist for years, points to the relatively healthy population in the state as another reason why pedestrian fatalities are so high, particularly for the elderly.

“The more you have folks out there, the more they are exposed to crashes on the road. I think that a lot of the comparative numbers are from mainland places where people don’t get out and walk a lot, or they aren’t healthy enough to get out and about,” he said.

Goody, a former volunteer with the AARP and a member of the Honolulu Age-Friendly Steering Committee, pointed at Kamehameha Highway as an example of a street that gets used a lot by both cars and pedestrians.

“It’s a street on which there are lots of houses, lots of people coming and going; it’s mixing through-traffic and the fact that the roadway is a neighborhood street for the people who live on it,” he said.

“My grandson lives in Kaaawa and rides his bike to Kaaawa Elementary School. When the road is shared by my little 6- or 7-year-old grandson, that’s not a good mix,” he said.

What’s Being Done?

Caroline Sluyter, a spokesperson for the state Department of Transportation, told Civil Beat by email that the safety of pedestrians is a top priority for the HDOT.

“We are continuing our work to make our highways and roads safer for all pedestrians, using a multi-faceted approach that addresses not only infrastructure enhancements, but also public education for both pedestrians and motorists.”

HDOT pointed to the Statewide Pedestrian Master Plan, which identifies things like safety improvements and repairs, and envisions a transportation system that will encourage walking by improving the balance of pedestrians, bicyclists and motor vehicles.

The agency also said its Walk Wise Hawaii public education program aims to educate people on proper pedestrian behavior, along with heightening drivers’ awareness of pedestrians. August has been designated Pedestrian Safety Month in Hawaii since 2010, and the program puts on community presentations aimed at seniors and children in partnership with the City & County of Honolulu’s Department of Transportation Services and the Honolulu Police Department.

Honolulu City Council member Breene Harimoto led the charge on the “Complete Streets” ordinance, which passed the council two years ago with the intent of making the streets safe for everyone. “It’s about changing the mindset of everyone, not designing streets just for cars,” Harimoto said.

In March, a quarter-mile of Ulune Street in Aiea became the city’s first demonstration project of the Complete Streets project, and Harimoto said it was a success. “We redesigned it very cheaply. Cars are slowing down, pedestrians can cross the street much more safely. It shows what we can do without millions of dollars being spent.”

The AARP believes that Hawaii has positive momentum, pointing to the proposed Safe Streets Act of 2014 that was co-introduced by Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz and Alaska Sen. Mark Begich in February.

The bill aims to change the way federally funded roadways are approached in the planning and building stage by traffic engineers. It calls for all new roads to be built to accommodate everyone who travels on them, from drivers to bicyclists and pedestrians. If passed, there will be more “safe travel” options, like biking and walking.

A Schatz spokesperson told Civil Beat that there will be “multiple opportunities” for the legislation to be included in the Senate’s transportation bill, and Schatz will pursue “every single one of them.”

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