Monday, December 13, 1999

Task force goal:
Safe crossing

The number of pedestrian
deaths and injuries on Oahu
sparks a search for new
afety measures

By Rod Ohira


One thousand, six hundred twenty-five pedestrians were injured or killed on Oahu from 1996-98, spurring the formation of a joint task force dedicated to making crossing roadways safer.

"The total number of pedestrian crashes has gone down statewide but we're noticing an increase in severity," said Alvin Takeshita, a state Department of Transportation traffic safety engineer and member of the 4-month-old Pedestrian Fact-Finding Task Force.

"What we're seeing is more fatals."

Pedestrians beware Pedestrians have accounted for 14 of Oahu's 44 traffic fatalities this year.

The task force has examined alternative solutions, but most are either not practical for Hawaii or too expensive.

A different approach to the three E's -- education, enforcement and engineering -- will be part of a pilot project the task force is planning for the Kalihi and Waianae police districts.

"The bottom line is we know there's a problem and we're working together to do something about it," said Sgt. Robert Lung of HPD's Traffic Division, the task force chairman.

The success of any plan begins with changing the attitudes of both pedestrians and motorists.

Many pedestrians, for example, view a crosswalk as a protective barrier, but it's not.

"That's why we say they can be right -- dead right," Takeshita said. "Pedestrians need to know they are not totally safe in a crosswalk, that they have to be aware of drivers."

Pedestrians crossing multi-lane roadways, such as South King Street in Moiliili, may get motorists to stop in three of four lanes but someone on foot may not be visible to a driver in the fourth lane, Lung said.

"The perception of the pedestrian is that all lanes are clear," he said.

For motorists, Lung said, the common perception is "it's our road , so their focus is on the road, not the side of the road."

That attitude becomes deadly when speed on the wide straightaways is factored in.

"Roads like Pali, Farrington and Kalanianaole highways look like freeways, so people perceive them as freeways," Lung said. "They're traveling at a high rate of speed, not expecting a pedestrian to be crossing in front of them.

"We've been taught that peripheral vision closes the faster you go, and sight distance becomes shorter. The driver becomes focused on what's in front, not on the side."

There are subtle downhill stretches along Pali Highway's downtown-bound lanes, especially in the Nuuanu area of Jack Lane, where two pedestrian crashes have occurred this year.

Lung believes many drivers take their foot off the gas pedal in those areas, mistakingly thinking it will slow the vehicle down.

"They don't realize that by letting the momentum of the vehicle carry them downhill, they'll gain speed," Lung said. "That's why coasting is illegal. They should be braking instead."

Some working examples

The task force, which also includes city Transportation Services and Federal Highway Administration representatives, has been studying programs that are working elsewhere, such as:

Bullet Pedestrians in Japan carry flags while crossing. The flags are placed in buckets attached to poles at crossing sites.

Bullet In Canada, motorists and pedestrians by law must physically acknowledge each other during crossings.

Bullet Seattle uses overhead electronic boards in heavy access areas to alert motorists that someone is crossing, Lung said.

"There's also something called a Crossing Guard that lights up a crosswalk when a pedestrian presses a button," Lung added. "The latest technology is a pole with a light bulb on top that lights up when someone is crossing.

The task force believes the programs in Japan and Canada would not work here because of thieves and the "stink eye" perception, respectively.

The other programs may not be affordable here, Lung said.

After breaking down the 1996-98 numbers, the task force plans to implement pilot programs in the Kalihi and Waianae police districts to see what might work.

The Kalihi district, which includes Honolulu-side coverage of Pali Highway up to the tunnel, had 101 pedestrian crashes in 1996, 97 in 1997 and 103 in 1998.

Kalihi's 301 incidents is second only to Central Honolulu's three-year total of 408, but the district was selected because it has some particularly troublesome crossings.

"There have been eight pedestrian crashes at two intersections over the last three years, five at Liliha and Kuakini streets and three at Liliha Street and Holokahana Lane," Lung said.

The problem at Liliha and Kuakini streets is twofold.

It involves motorists turning right from Liliha onto Kuakini on a red light and those attempting a left turn from the Liliha Bakery side of Kuakini Street to Liliha Street.

"Attention is focused on traffic, not the crosswalks," Lung said. "On the right turn, they're looking (left) at traffic for an opening and for the left turn, they're focused on oncoming traffic, not someone who may be in the left crosswalk.

"The right turn problem can be solved by not allowing right turns on red. But the left turn is really a tough problem. The road is too narrow to put in a storage lane for left turns on an arrow."

Turning from Holokahana Lane to Liliha also presents a problem for motorists, who are focused on looking for a traffic opening, Lung added.

Problem severe in Waianae

Waianae was selected because of the severity of its 148 pedestrians crashes the last three years.

Eighty-five children 18 years and younger were injured or killed during that period; 49 of them occurred at intersections.

The target area for Waianae's two pilot projects are Lualualei Homestead Road to Hakimo Road, where 13 pedestrians crashes have occurred, and also Pokai Bay Street to Kauiokalani Place, where there have been 17 incidents.

Median strip for Farrington?

"Many in Waianae perceive Farrington Highway as one big crosswalk so they try to cross anywhere, especially to get to a particular spot on the beach," Lung said. "Speed is probably involved but the road is also very wide, so you've got to sprint across."

Task force members sought an opinion from Charles Zeeger of the North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center while he was in Honolulu for a recent traffic forum about its project areas.

Zeeger recommended putting in a median strip, like the one on Kalanianaole Highway, on Farrington Highway.

Zeeger noted it would not only prevent vehicles from veering left of center but could provide a safe haven for pedestrians.

"We're looking at millions of dollars, so it's cost prohibitive," Lung said. "We're stuck on what we want there but whatever is decided, we'll take it to the residents first.

"The last thing we want is another traffic light on Farrington Highway, because it's not a solution. People will continue to cross against the light and drive through them."

Overpasses, which are under used, are not considered an option.

"We've found that it's impossible to meet (American Disabilities Act) standards for overhead or sub-roading (passes)," Takeshita said.

"Awareness is part of the solution, but it involves changing mind-sets. It has to be friendly to both pedestrians and drivers."

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