Danny De Gracia: It's Time To Do Something About Oahu's Road Safety Problems - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.

Much of the infrastructure on the island was built for a much smaller population, making the roads difficult and dangerous to navigate.

City and state leaders, we urgently need to talk: Oahu is becoming a very dangerous place on the roads, both for drivers and pedestrians alike.

We know that much of Oahu’s infrastructure was built a century ago and for a much smaller population. We know that Oahu, especially downtown Honolulu, can be very annoying to drive and navigate at times. We also know that on top of all of this, Oahu’s roads are falling apart and some of the worst in the nation.

We’ve lived with these problems for decades; we’ve ignored these problems since forever, but at what point are we going to admit that this is no longer just a convenience problem but a pressing public safety issue?

Now I know that some of the wonkier policy people actually, secretly, like Oahu this way. I meet esoteric “experts” like this all the time at parties and various events. They say things to me like, “Danny, when roads are unstable and uncomfortable to drive on, it makes drivers more alert, causes them to drive slower, and thus makes things safer for pedestrians.”

I would argue, on the contrary, that Oahu is anything but safe for drivers or pedestrians. You never want to have a system so hectic or so intense that it only works when people are 100% alert.

During the intense rainstorms of the last months, we saw rock slides shut down roads, streetlights collapsing in the middle of traffic and too many unfortunate pedestrians hit by cars in intersections. The disrepair of our infrastructure, the weather and the confusion of traffic can all contribute to making an extremely chaotic and dangerous situation for everyone. 

Pedestrians walk along Kamehameha Highway in Haleiwa town.
Pedestrians walk along Kamehameha Highway in Haleiwa town. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

Danger Zones

I honestly encourage people to be responsible and alert drivers and to venture out on some of Honolulu’s roads and intersections during morning rush hour, lunch time or evening rush hour and see what happens firsthand. I guarantee that you will regularly see something dangerous happen, even under the best of conditions.

My favorite danger zone? Try going through Beretania past the State Capitol into Chinatown. Cars have to turn through intersections loaded with pedestrians, pedestrians often illegally sprint across four lanes of traffic in places where there is no crosswalk, and city buses have to maneuver aggressively either to go to bus stops or to get back on the road.

Places like the intersection of Kapiolani Boulevard and Kamakee Street, where a high school student was run over by a truck in February, are also built dangerously. Go to that intersection yourself and you will see what a nightmare it is in terms of situational awareness for both the pedestrians legally crossing the street and the drivers on the road. On many occasions I have seen pedestrians having dangerous close calls with cars there.

And those aren’t the only trouble spots on the island. Just two weeks ago, I myself was late for work because I had to pick up a prescription from Kaiser’s West Oahu clinic. I figured if I was going to be late, I might as well bring my co-workers some soup and sandwiches from the Kapolei Safeway as comfort food since the rainy weather had them trapped in the building all day.

I’ve turned out of the stoplight intersection from the shopping center onto Farrington Highway hundreds of times before, but this time, as I was turning left on a green arrow, a pedestrian jumped out of nowhere from the center median and ran right in front of my car.

Fortunately I was going slow enough to evade the man with seconds to spare, but it made me realize that pedestrians have to cross an extremely dangerous road that clearly was built in times past when traffic was sparse and slow, not heavy and fast, in a sleepy hollow town.

When I finally got to work that day, I found myself excitedly discussing my near-miss road experience with my co-workers as if I were Patrick Bateman confessing his crimes in “American Psycho.”

I’ve lived in many different cities and I can’t say that I’ve ever lived in a place like Oahu where every day those who drive cars on the road or walk on the road could potentially be turned into a killer or be killed in an accident. That’s not an exaggeration; that’s what we’ve become. This has to change.

Replace It Or Build It Better

How many other horror stories are happening around Oahu on a daily basis? The state and the City and County of Honolulu leadership need to pay attention to detail on the condition of the island and do something about it. Forget task forces. Forget study groups. Send people with clipboards and video cameras, and start observing patterns. 

If streets are too dangerous to cross, then we need to change the way the streets are designed. If objects or foliage are obstructing visibility, then they need to be removed. If speed bumps are needed to make people slow down, then speed bumps need to be installed. If pedestrian bridges need to be erected, then put them up. If roads are in disrepair or if infrastructure is crumbling, then replace it or build it better.

We should make every effort to optimize and enhance the experience we have on Oahu and around Honolulu. People are the products of their environment. If we need to change the built environment and modify the way we interact with each other to make things safer, then that should be a top priority.

Putting people into conflict through poor design or poor planning is a recipe for disaster. Let’s fix Oahu, and do it before something worse happens.

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About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.

Latest Comments (0)

The clear fact is that Honolulu has spent virtually zero on road renovations, they can't even keep up with repaving streets, so the call to actually improve them is a tall order. I wonder if $10B would have been better allocated to this cause? Of our major arteries, King, Beretania, Kapiolani and Ala Moana, what has been done in the last 50 years to modify and rehabilitate these streets? Nothing. In fact there are in such dire need for repair, it's a wonder someone wasn't killed by that falling traffic signal at Ward last week. Can you imagine if people had been walking when that happened? A raised cross walk wouldn't have mattered, but a pedestrian overpass may have? The city needs to further separate people and bikes from the road, they don't belong together here, maybe in Holland, but not here. Kapiolani is by far the worst case, particularly during rush hour coning, where cars make illegal left turns, U turns, or drive the wrong direction, head on into traffic. Police should send one car to do a laps during this time just to get the message across, since drivers simply ignore the rules. We live in a dangerous, lawless society of drivers.

wailani1961 · 1 week ago

How about locals using the bus and the trolley. ? Would also help traffic tremendously.

Whatarewedoing · 2 weeks ago

By the way, how are those "trial basis" red light cams doing in town? An update story in the near future?

WhatMeWorry · 2 weeks ago

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