Pedestrians in peril


POSTED: Saturday, November 14, 2009

This year's Legislature enacted a directive to the state Department of Transportation that it adopt a “;complete streets”; policy to protect pedestrians. Hawaii is by far the most perilous state for pedestrians over the age of 65, and seniors in the state are expected to soar in number in the years ahead. Such a policy that recognizes the danger and aims to eliminate it is badly needed.

In 2005, Hawaii lawmakers enacted a law requiring drivers to come to a complete stop when a person is walking in a crosswalk in the half of the road where the vehicle is traveling or is close enough to be in danger. Alas, AARP reported two years later that Hawaii had the highest rate of pedestrian fatalities among people age 60 and older.

At that time, AARP called for a study of state and county intersections that were threats to pedestrians. Good idea. It's imperative that such a study be done today—first, to determine which crossings are particularly risky, then to target them for safety enhancements.

One such aid—the countdown indicator—has been installed at numerous crosswalks across wide streets. A solid start, but make sure it works: The seconds allowed to complete some of those crossings are unrealistic for a younger, able-bodied person, let alone a frailer, elderly one, and may need adjusting to add time.

AARP's most recent report shows that Hawaii again was No. 1 in the rate of elderly pedestrian deaths in 2007-2008, with 6.97 deaths per 100,000 walkers at least 65 years old. The national rate was 2.33, and California was in second place with a rate of more than two deaths per 100,000 fewer than Hawaii.

Hawaii's most recent pedestrian death was that of a 79-year-old woman who died of injuries incurred when she was hit in a crosswalk on King Street in Moiliili.

Among pedestrians of all age groups, only New York and California were more dangerous relative to other traffic deaths than Hawaii, where pedestrians comprised 20 percent of the total traffic fatalities in 2007-2008. It could get worse, as Hawaii's senior population is expected to rise by 86 percent in the next 23 years while the under-50 population grows by only 8.4 percent, according to U.S. Census projections.

AARP lobbied the Legislature this year to enact a “;complete streets”; law assigning the Transportation Department to implement steps aimed at making streets safer for seniors and persons with disabilities.

“;We're ahead of the game in that we passed the law,”; said AARP spokesman Bruce Bottorff. “;Unfortunately, we haven't yet benefited from the full outcome of the law.”;

That outcome should follow a thorough review of where pedestrians have been struck by vehicles most frequently—and why. That valuable information would go a long way toward installation of appropriate safety measures.