A Honolulu City Council committee recommended Tuesday that the council defer action on a proposal seeking to create a commission to monitor and reduce accidents in which pedestrians are struck by vehicles.

The resolution would add a proposed charter amendment to the 2020 general election ballot that, if successful, would give the council the power to create the Pedestrian Safety Commission.

This commission would review and analyze all accidents resulting in a pedestrian fatality or serious injury and submit an annual report to the city’s director of transportation services, the mayor and the City Council with recommendations for pedestrian safety improvements.

Pedestrian fatalities increased statewide from 15 in 2017 to 44 in 2018, a 193 percent increase, according to the state Department of Transportation. Of last year’s fatalities, 27 occurred on Oahu.

Pedestrians cross along King Street in downtown Honolulu. 29 jan 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Pedestrians on King Street in Honolulu. Statewide, there were 44 pedestrian fatalities last year. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2015

Wes Frysztacki, Director of the city’s Department of Transportation Services, testified during Tuesday’s meeting that the resolution was “premature” and that the city is already addressing pedestrian safety with its newly released Oahu Pedestrian Plan, which estimates the city would need over $1 billion to install 793 miles of city sidewalks where none exist now.

“We think we’re trying to do that the best we can,” Frysztacki said. “… Let’s wrap up the pedestrian plan, let’s scrutinize what’s in that document, what the recommendations are.”

The plan presented to the public during an April 24 community meeting was created in accordance with the city’s Complete Streets Ordinance. It collected pedestrian data for 1,000 miles of roads, identified areas most in need of improvements and proposed projects.

Councilman Ron Menor, chair of the council’s Executive Matters and Legal Affairs Committee, said the Department of Transportation Services’ concerns were “well taken” and that he agreed with Frysztacki’s recommendation to postpone the resolution.

Francine Wai, executive director of the state’s Department of Health’s Disability and Communication Access Board, which establishes guidelines for disability-accessible building design and issues disability parking placards, submitted written testimony in support of the resolution.

She said before Tuesday’s meeting that the commission was necessary because urban planners often pay too little attention to pedestrian safety.

“Our concern stems from the fact that, given the tendency for urban planners is to be car-centric, or focused on movement of traffic, that pedestrians in general were often overlooked,” she said.”

Wai said that the commission would create a “consistent voice” emphasizing pedestrian safety — especially for those with disabilities.

After the committee’s decision to postpone action, however, Wai said that her board’s primary concern remains to ensure that safety improvements are being made, regardless of whether they through a commission or the transportation department itself.

“Our real concern when we supported the commission’s (creation) was to get the work done,” she said. “If there’s a way to get the work through DTS, then that’s OK with us. But we don’t want the issues to languish.”

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