Under the Sun
Pedestrian safety rests with maintaining civility
IN PARTS of Kakaako, the underbelly of downtown Honolulu yet to receive the mirror-flash veneer of redevelopment, traffic signals are remarkably few.
From Kamakee Street ewa to South and Kapiolani makai to Ala Moana, travel along many roadways runs unconstrained by the ubiquitous red-yellow-green semaphores that feebly attempt to command movement elsewhere in the city.
Instead, four-way stops govern the intersections. Motorists maneuver through them in an order fixed by traffic rules that usually only come to mind when taking a driver's license test.
It's kind of a first-come, first-serve pattern. Drivers yield to others who have touched the white line before them and when both arrive at nearly the same time, the driver on the right gets the nod to go.
I like four-way stops. They force drivers into civility rare in city life, much less on our highways.
Encapsulated in metal framework, people often feel removed from their surroundings. Four-way stops oblige people to acknowledge each other -- even to the point of looking at the face of the human behind the other wheel -- to gauge intentions, as in "You going or should I?"
THERE ARE, as always, the cheaters, the ones who operate on the notion that they are more important than you are and so break the order.
At minimum, ignoring the code could ding fenders, and though serious injuries aren't likely, there's a chance that some reckless knucklehead will selfishly barrel through. But for the most part, motorists manage to contain bad behavior -- if not to avoid stink-eye condemnation, then for self and vehicle preservation.
In recent months, city residents have been increasingly at odds about whether drivers or pedestrians have the heavier responsibility for accidents. Letters to the editor and columns are packed with anecdotes from pedestrians, recounting how their lives were threatened by inattentive and uncaring drivers. Meanwhile, motorists complain that pedestrians foolishly challenge them for space on the roads by jaywalking, snubbing the orange "don't walk" signals or refusing to use sidewalks.
The problem prompts legislators to pass more laws, proposing harsher penalties for drivers and pedestrians.
One lawmaker continues to push a plan to place quivers of bright flags at intersections for people to hold high as they cross the street in an attempt to capture the attention of drivers.
Though well intended, the idea of having to waggle a Day-Glo pink banner over my head every time I walk from the bank to the bakery across Waialae Avenue seems a bit silly. I mean, do we really have to subject pedestrians to humiliation in the name of safety? In addition, you've got to wonder how many of those flags will be returned to the quiver on the other side of the street, as the plan prescribes.
Others suggest abolishing right turns on red, banning pedestrians from crossing at busy intersections and stopping traffic in all directions periodically for pedestrians to cross every which way they want.
Some of these might work, but all would still require people in cars and people on foot to comply. That's not going to happen.
EVEN AT four-way stops, pedestrians aren't given full consideration. Still, because vehicles have to come to a halt, their chances for safe crossing are better.
In any case, the four-way stops in Kakaako are temporary. At soon as the area is built up to whatever capacity the powers that be set, each of those intersections will be decked with signal lights. Drivers will set their automatic pilots to match the familiar colors that control movement.
There's no way that four-ways will be used extensively on city streets since traffic flow will slow unacceptably. But if drivers could adopt the sense of their functions, all of who use the roads might be just a bit more secure.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org