In 2022, there were a total of 28 pedestrian fatalities.

Hawaii lawmakers want the state to invest more money in building safer streets for pedestrians, a need brought into focus earlier this month when two teens were struck by a car on Kapiolani Boulevard.

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One of them, 16-year-old McKinley High School student Sara Yara later died at a hospital. Between Jan. 1 and Feb. 1 of this year, there were six traffic-related fatalities, according to the state Department of Transportation.

In 2022, there were a total of 28 pedestrian fatalities. In response, the state is preparing to spend an additional $50 million next year to make the state’s streets safer. The funding is being proposed via two bills, House Bill 1418 and Senate Bill 1506.

The bills aim to improve pedestrian walkways and to decrease the number of traffic fatalities, including new safety features for both walkers and bicyclists, by establishing a Safe Routes for People program, aligned with the Vision Zero policy in the Department of Transportation. 

The bills would also create a committee to oversee and recommend pedestrian safety projects.

“We have to change the process. We spend a ton of money each year on maintaining and building roads, but very little to keep people safe, on projects that improve safety and reduce collisions and deaths. So, we really want to switch that up and prioritize those kinds of projects, especially around school,” Sen. Chris Lee, who introduced SB 1506, said.

Cyclist in traffic on Kapiolani Boulevard near McCully.
State lawmakers are considering bills to make streets in Hawaii safer. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019)

The $50 million will be used for infrastructure improvements and public education, according to the bills. The money will be used for maintaining the integrity of and upgrading roadway features to reduce injuries and increase survivability during crashes. The funds could also be used for improving existing roadways, constructing raised crosswalks, creating shared-use paths, and much more. 

The state Department of Transportation’s written testimony asked that this funding, if approved, immediately be used to advance the “highest priority initiatives as identified by legislators, community members, and existing bike and (pedestrian) plans from counties and the State.”

According to a survey that was part of the Safe Routes to School program, the two biggest concerns in the state are speeding drivers and vehicle congestion near school parking lots. More than 40% of respondents said that they wanted more school crossing guards. 

Rep. Chris Todd said that $50 million investment will be in addition to the funding already being spent on the Safe Routes program within the Department of Transportation. Todd said two options are being considered for raising this money for the state. The state could either take a percentage of the funding from highway projects and use it on this project, or it could use the state’s general fund, which is funded by tax dollars.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Hawaii has been ranked No. 7 in 2018 and 2019 in terms of pedestrian fatality rates per 100,000 people. In 2020 Hawaii dropped to rank No. 30.

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