Margaret Lin, 52, of Waikiki was killed in May while walking in brightly colored clothing in a marked crosswalk with the right of way. She had just left the Urban Bistro restaurant that she owned and was headed toward her car when a driver turning left on Sheridan Street hit her in broad daylight.
She died of blunt head trauma the following day, the 17th traffic fatality of the year on Oahu.
As doctors, we often focus on preventing and treating medical diseases, like diabetes, but there is a different kind of plague here in Honolulu. It’s time to do something drastic about pedestrian fatalities.
In a few intersections, we already have.
Pedestrians use diagonal crosswalks on Kalakaua Avenue near Seaside Avenue on Sunday. Traffic lights halt vehicle traffic in all directions to make crossing the street safer.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Drive through Waikiki these days on Kalakaua Avenue and there are a few unique intersection that could be a model for every light-controlled crossing. You’ll find them at Lewers Street, Royal Hawaiian Avenue and Seaside Avenue.
When vehicles go, pedestrians do not. And when pedestrians walk, they can go across the street in any direction, even diagonally, with all cars stopped. No turns to the left or right. No vehicular movement at all.
Cars go, people stop. People go, cars stop. It seems like a simple solution to what has been a vexing problem in the islands for a long time.
Why can’t that model be at every intersection, particularly those with a high rate of pedestrian fatalities?
There are several issues at hand. The first is allowing cars to turn on red lights.
Looking historically, this whole concept came about in the 1970’s in the United States during the oil embargo and subsequent gas shortages, with progressively more states adopting this policy as a default option. Only intersections marked with a “no turn on red” sign would stop this practice from occurring.
Then there are the times when drivers can’t even turn with a green light. I drive home on King Street and make a left onto Ward Avenue, and there are times when the light cycles several greens with no movement because of the numbers of pedestrians walking across the street. As frustrating as it seems as a driver, they do have the right of way.
What if all movement of pedestrians took place with no cars in the intersection at all? Maybe cars should only go at green lights. When it’s red, walkers go with no restrictions as to their direction.
No, it won’t prevent all pedestrian accidents, but it might prevent a few.
Several cities around the world have successfully adopted this measure to help alleviate the rates of pedestrian fatalities at intersections. One of the largest and most famous intersections is in Tokyo, referred to as the “scramble.”
Canada has these as well, Vancouver called it a “Barnes Dance” crosswalk after traffic engineer Henry Barnes. The UK has “X” crossings. In the United States, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., are among the urban areas that have adopted the concept of a pedestrian-only time to cross the street.
Another problem is distracted driving — or walking.
Cellphone use is illegal for drivers. Studies have proven that the use of any electronic device increases the risk of accidents while driving.
Why are walkers any different? Just take a look around and you’ll find people blindly texting, not even realizing that they are about to walk into an intersection and certainly not looking around to see if it’s safe.
A proposed ban on cellphone use in crosswalks did not pass this year in Hawaii, but even the proposal demonstrates an increasing awareness that everyone has to be mindful where they are going, whether in cars or on foot.
The usual recommendations that doctors give in the office used to be only about lowering cholesterol, limiting salt, keeping blood pressure down, exercising and more. But then the Centers for Disease Control suggested that doctors counsel patients about using seat belts.
The next area of counseling should be how to look both ways while crossing the street, either as a pedestrian or as a driver.
Creating safer intersections is one way to start. Cars go, people stop. People go, cars stop. It seems like a simple solution to what has been a vexing problem in the islands for a long time.
My friend Margaret might still be alive if that policy had been in place when she crossed the street.
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