Monday, March 12, 2007

President's Letter: March 2007--Time for action to protect pedestrians

Both the Advertiser and the Star-Bulletin have covered the series of crosswalk deaths plaguing Honolulu, including the one recently in Makaha. Of the two stories, reporter Gene Park's piece in the SB revealed the greater tragedy: the struggle of residents to get the state Dept. of Transportation to take necessary measures to ensure their safety.

Neither paper mentioned that the DOT knew of the dangers of this crosswalk but has failed to act to protect pedestrians. In August 2001 a flashing crosswalk system was installed at that intersection, but the system was later removed. The installation was described in a DOT press release at the time.

The AARP survey conducted in May 2006 included monitoring of an intersection near Waianae High School that is one or two away from the Alawa Place scene of the fatal Makaha accident. AARP found that "drivers do not obey traffic signals," that drivers "seem to be speeding," that "car speeds are too fast." The monitors observed "unsafe driver behavior."

The monitors also found problems with crossing lights that were too short for people of normal physical ability and other major problems. The same drivers who speed through the monitored intersection zoom through the Alawa Place intersection.

Since the publication of the AARP study it appears that the DOT has done nothing to improve the unsafe conditions identified by the AARP. At testimony at the State Capitol, the best DOT could do was to ask for $1 million dollars to hire a consultant for a study that would delay action until 2010. Instead of explaining what they will do when questioned by legislators, they consistently explained what they can't (or won't) do.

It's time that the City got serious about enforcing the speed laws already on the books.

Drivers would pay attention at crosswalks if they expected they would be ticketed. They'd slow down, too, and obey traffic signals.

A clear message is being sent to drivers: no one is watching you, do what you want. The risk that you'll be caught if you violate speed or other traffic laws day after day, all year long, is so low that it's ok if you do it. An Advertiser front-page story confirms, "57% of Oahu drivers violate crosswalk law." We should not tolerate this. The loss of life on our streets is mostly avoidable. That we do nothing is inexcusable.

Kokua Council calls on the Mayor and the Governor to devise and announce plans to turn this around. There is no budget surplus, dear Governor, if your DOT is paralyzed and unable to do anything unless it gets $1 million from the legislature. Your surplus is a profit earned by neglecting public safety--on the streets, near the dams, and no doubt elsewhere.