Hawaii had one of the worst pedestrian fatality rates in 2018.

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After the first six months of 2018, our state made headlines after the pedestrian fatality rate went up 1,800%. This year, we have seen 28 pedestrian fatalities — the first of which occurred in Hawaii Kai.

These statistics are very troubling and embarrassing. According to U.S. News and World Report, Hawaii ranks seventh worst in the nation for pedestrian fatalities. Smart Growth America’s “Dangerous by Design” report tells us that Honolulu is the third most dangerous city for those 50 years old and over. Such irony to be third in the nation while we hold the record for longevity of life — except maybe for our kupuna who use our crosswalks.

The reasons for these deaths are not a mystery, and there are three main actors: government, drivers and pedestrians.

First, government has been aware of this problem for many years and has been a bit of a laggard.

Under the Gov. Neil Abercrombie administration, the state Department of Transportation released a Pedestrian Safety Master Plan, and the City and County of Honolulu is finalizing its Oahu Pedestrian Plan later this year. We even have a superhero, Ped Man, to champion pedestrian safety in our communities. Yet, despite Honolulu’s ban on cell phone use and texting while crossing the street in 2017, pedestrian fatalities doubled the next year.

Crosswalk near Piliokahi Street in Waianae close to where Kaulana Werner was killed.
A crosswalk near Piliokahi Street in Waianae is close to where a pedestrian was killed. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Another exacerbating factor has been a failure of common-sense public policy. For example, in Hawaii Kai, the City and County clandestinely removed one of our busiest crosswalks on Hawaii Kai Drive between the Oahu Club, a local gym, and the Kamaaina Kids Preschool in May 2018. Worried parents and patrons of the Oahu Club emailed us frantically the day of its removal, wondering what had happened.

Despite numerous pleas by Rep. Ward’s office, the Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board, and then-council member Trevor Ozawa, we were told that it would take two years to repaint and re-curb it in order to conform to ADA regulations. After eight months of complaining and the pulling of teeth, the unfortunate death of an 86-year-old man this January served as a catalyst to return the crosswalk to its rightful place.

Solutions we have advocated include the installation of flashing beacons to increase pedestrian visibility, and traffic calming devices to slow down drivers as they approach a crosswalk. These affordable solutions do not require a lot of engineering, and could alert drivers approaching a crosswalk, which leads to the second cause of why we have so many crosswalk deaths – Hawaii’s drivers.

Wake Up, Drivers!

Hawaii drivers are generally polite but usually in a hurry, often run red lights, and don’t give full attention to pedestrians near a crosswalk. The Honolulu Police Department needs to step up traffic enforcement, and yes, the Legislature should have a conversation again about installing red light cameras at dangerous intersections.

The point is, Hawaii drivers need a wake-up call to be more aware that they might need to stop abruptly, which leads to the third cause of so many crosswalk deaths — pedestrian inattentiveness.

Following the adage that “assumption is the lowest form of information,” pedestrians stepping onto a crosswalk without first looking for cars or trucks are flirting with disaster. Some pedestrians, though they have a legal right of way, enter crosswalks with an arrogance and swagger that endangers them. Pedestrians must “walk defensively” and be more alert and conscientious when their foot hits the crosswalk pavement — and before the electronic countdown begins, lest they get a ticket.

The bottom line is that behind every fatality in a crosswalk are family members, friends and colleagues who mourn the loss of their loved one.

Everyone has a role to play to make Hawaii a better and safer place to live.

Just last month, a 90-year-old woman was killed in Salt Lake while crossing the street. Two days prior, she was in Rep. Ward’s office to celebrate her brother’s 100th birthday with a House Certificate of Commendation.

Everyone has a role to play to make Hawaii a better and safer place to live. Policymakers must prioritize funding and implement rational regulations, and drivers and pedestrians must use their common sense to drive and walk safely.

The fundamentals still apply: don’t drink and drive (now add “don’t smoke and drive,” given the wave of decriminalization and legalization of marijuana across the country), don’t cross the street without looking both ways, and keep your phone out of your hands and away from your ears.

Only an alert government, conscientious drivers and disciplined pedestrians working together can stop this killing in our crosswalks.

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