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Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Friday, July 7, 2000

Walking no park
stroll in these cities

A new study names the 10 most dangerous cities for pedestrians. The good news is Honolulu isn't among them. The bad news is we share the same pedigree as the bad ones.

The top 10 metro areas most dangerous for walking are Tampa, Atlanta, Miami, Orlando, Jacksonville, Phoenix, West Palm Beach, Memphis, Dallas and New Orleans. The safest places to walk are New York, Boston and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

That surprised some people who assumed pedestrians are routinely knocked down like bowling pins in places like New York, while warm, friendly places, like Miami, would be a walker's paradise.

But think about it. New York pedestrians are a pretty spry bunch. They are as nimble as bullfighters when facing a charging taxi and during the winters are bundled up in so much clothing they could be shot from a cannon and not get bruised.

On the other hand, way down south, the average age of a Miami resident is about 102. They wear flimsy Bermuda shorts and tank tops, not exactly heavy armor against speeding pink convertible Cadillacs.

Those living in the Brittle Bone Zone -- West Palm Beach, Orlando and Phoenix -- aren't as fleet-of-foot as they used to be. And, the streets in places like Jacksonville are a half-mile wide, making crossing them, even if you have the light in your favor, a frightening venture.

The study was conducted by a group calling itself the Surface Transportation Policy Project, which blames pedestrian deaths on highway design that does not consider walking as transportation. It's one of those studies where the studiers have an agenda: a return to old-fashioned town designs that give equal weight to pedestrians and automobiles.

Which is exactly the problem: pedestrians and automobiles are not of equal weight. Cars and trucks weigh way more and so win any confrontation between man and machine.

I reflect on this dichotomy daily during my long walks. Along Lilipuna Road in Kaneohe, my usual trudging ground, there is a sidewalk for only about half of the three-mile loop. And, not surprisingly, the sidewalk doesn't exist at the most dangerous points: around blind turns and along stretches where the side of the road drops off into Kaneohe Bay, leaving a walker nowhere to go when cars come by. And cars do come by at exactly the most dangerous points.

It's amazing. You can walk for a mile and not see a car. But then you come up to where there's no room to walk and suddenly two cars traveling in opposite directions show up. The odds of getting three moving objects to converge at that exact location are astronomical. NASA couldn't orchestrate such precision. But it happens daily.

I said Honolulu shares the same pedigree as the most dangerous cities for pedestrians because it is a warm area where many people walk, including many elderly. And, we have roadways like the Pali Highway that were designed for cars, not people.

Despite the profusion of new garish yellow signs and blinking lights alerting Pali drivers of pedestrian crossers, it's still an insane situation. It's sad that someone else will have to die there before pedestrian overpasses or tunnels are built.

The thing that gets you while walking is many drivers act like they have the right of way in any situation. They don't. But considering the consequences, it's safer to concede the issue.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802
or send E-mail to or

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