City pedestrian safety
initiative enjoys success

Oahu's senior citizens are most at
risk from street-crossing deaths


Thursday, June 10, 2004

Yoshimori Miyashiro participated in Walk Wise Kupuna, designed to cut down on the number of elderly pedestrians hit by motor vehicles. A Monday story on Page A1 misspelled his last name.

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin strives to make its news report fair and accurate. If you have a question or comment about news coverage, call Editor Frank Bridgewater at 529-4791 or email him at

Seventy-six-year-old Elsie Higa learned it's a war zone on Oahu streets, between pedestrians and drivers.

A car ran over her left foot in December 2002 while she was in a crosswalk near her apartment in Kukui Plaza on Beretania Street.

Walk wise kupuna

An educational campaign that runs until September to reduce pedestrian injuries and fatalities among Hawaii's senior citizens

» Sponsors: State Transportation Department, Honolulu Police Department and city Department of Transportation Services

» Seniors' risks of a pedestrian fatality is more than five times greater than that among younger pedestrians.

» More than 100 seniors have been struck and killed by cars since 1996.

Higa said she was halfway across the street when the traffic warning signal flashed a red hand, cautioning pedestrians not to cross. A car in the last lane hit her, and she fell backward.

"After that happened, I was so afraid to walk on the streets," she said.

Higa is not alone.

Senior citizens accounted for 60 percent of pedestrian fatalities on Oahu from 1996 to 2002. With Hawaii ranked fourth nationally in pedestrian deaths per capita, the state and city Transportation and Honolulu Police departments started the Walk Wise Kupuna campaign to educate senior citizens about becoming safer pedestrians.

Lanakila Multi-Purpose Senior Center director Drusilla Tanaka said three members died in pedestrian-related incidents since 2000, and none since Walk Wise Kupuna started in January.

Yoshimori Miyamoto, 89, said he would sometimes jaywalk on his 50-minute morning walks from his home on Kamehameha IV Road to Liliha Street. After attending the campaign's launch at the center, he said, he never jaywalks anymore.

"I keep going until I find a crosswalk," Miyamoto said. "And I always wait for the light no matter how much in a rush I am."

However, some old habits don't die. Edith Shito, 74, acknowledged she sometimes still jaywalks, but not as often as before.

"The traffic light takes so long, and not every corner has a crosswalk," she explained.

Shito said her thinking has changed since the program, and she learned to become more safety-conscious.

"You're the loser if you get hit," she said.

Honolulu police officer Mel Andres, who gives safety talks, said he noticed an improvement in elderly pedestrians' walking habits. Andres told them to wave bright flags or use reflective tape for drivers to see them.

"They look kind of silly and I chuckle," Andres said, "but it makes you feel good inside to see them taking your advice seriously."

Center members commended the program and still remember the tips given to them five months ago:

» Walk in crosswalks and when the walk signal is lit.

» Establish eye contact with a driver before stepping off the curb.

» Wear bright-colored clothes, especially at night.

Walk Wise Kupuna is in its second phase, "Drive Wise: Give Seniors a Brake," aimed at drivers. Program spokeswoman Diane Peters-Nguyen said speakers will be going to businesses and civic organizations to educate drivers on their roles in decreasing pedestrian accidents.

"We want to remind drivers that once they step out of the car, they're pedestrians, too," Peters-Nguyen said. "Both pedestrians and drivers need to make changes."


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