Bill seeks evaluation
of roadside memorials

Some legislators worry the
tributes pose safety hazards

Roadside memorials have become a common way for relatives and friends to mourn loved ones killed in traffic accidents.

But those same tributes, lawmakers say, could become nuisances or traffic hazards.

A nonbinding resolution advancing in the House asks the state Department of Transportation to evaluate the practice of setting up roadside memorials to determine if there are any safety risks involved.

"The Legislature recognizes that these memorials offer an avenue for the expression of grief," the resolution states.

"However, the size and placement of some of these memorials may create the ironic and unintended effect of creating a traffic hazard that may endanger other pedestrians or motorists," the resolution continues, noting that some memorials can become too distracting or too large as to obstruct views.

Supporters say they want to ensure the safety of motorists and pedestrians in areas where flowers, balloons, photos and other items are placed along the side of the road as memorials.

Rep. Jerry Chang, who helped get the measure introduced, said one of his constituents on the Big Island recently noticed a memorial in front of her house becoming a nuisance.

"She found that there was all kinds of things put there besides flowers -- balloons, soda cans, even beer cans," said Chang (D, Piihonua-Kaumana).

The DOT established a policy in 1997 for dealing with such memorials, but only on Oahu. Lawmakers have urged the agency to expand those procedures statewide.

Transportation spokesman Scott Ishikawa said the policy allows family members to erect memorials and maintain them for about a month before they are asked to remove them.

The state would take something down without asking family members only if it was causing a safety hazard or liability, such as in one case in which numerous items -- including unopened beer cans -- caused a memorial along Ala Moana Boulevard to spill into the street.

"While we don't want it to become a safety hazard, we also try to respect the families' emotions," Ishikawa said. "Roadside memorials give an outlet for them to grieve.

"You want to give them time to mourn the loss, but after a certain period we do ask them to remove the memorial."

House Minority Leader Galen Fox (R, Waikiki-Ala Moana) opposed the resolution, saying he did not feel it was necessary because of the existing DOT policy.

Rep. Helene Hale (D, Pahoa-Kalapana) said she supported the measure but was concerned that a statewide policy might be too prohibitive for rural areas of neighbor islands.

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