A Difficult Law To Get Across

Larry Price
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Wednesday - July 28, 2005
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Don’t look now, but we probably have another law that’s unenforceable.

It’s a law that stresses the drivers’ role in crosswalk safety. Basically, it’s a very simple, common-sense law. It says, “Stop and yield when the pedestrian is upon the half of the roadway upon which the vehicle is traveling, or when the pedestrian is approaching so closely from the opposite half of the roadway as to be in danger.”

Most drivers must take this to mean that a motorist must stop when someone is walking in the half of the crosswalk nearest to the driver’s car or if the pedestrian is too close for a vehicle to safely drive through a crosswalk. Otherwise, the motorist thinks it’s OK to proceed.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the laws in Hawaii were a little more straightforward and easier to understand? For instance, what if the law simply said, “When a pedestrian is anywhere in the crosswalk, motorist are supposed to stop, no “ifs,” “ands” or “buts”!

The way this law is explained, it seems to allow motorist the right to drive through a crosswalk even if a pedestrian is still negotiating the challenge. And make no mistake, it is a challenge — all crosswalks are not created equal. Some are more dangerous than others.

My favorite dangerous crosswalk is on South Beretania and Punchbowl streets. It’s the one with two state buildings on the makai side of South Beretania and Queen’s, the Department of Health Building on the mauka side. Additionally, it features traffic signals that allow you to turn right or left on green arrows. The intersection has four crosswalks with the old-fashioned “walk” signals.

When the orange hand says don’t walk, the pedestrian is supposed to wait until it changes colors. Once the hand changes colors, no matter how old you are or when you entered the crosswalk, the pedestrian must somehow get to the other side.

The motorists, on the other hand,must wait for the crosswalk to be clear of pedestrians before they proceed. That’s where the problem begins. Some of the crosswalks are across short stretches of roadway, while others are about a 25-yard sprint. Example: Punchbowl is about 10 yards across, while South Beretania is twice that far. If you are turning right on South Beretania on a green light your chances of getting through the crosswalk are at best 50/50.

I can’t image how a police officer would issue a citation in some of the situations on that one intersection. Mind you, that is not the most difficult crosswalk to negotiate in Honolulu. There are crosswalks on Vineyard Boulevard that boggle the mind.

What makes this one stretch of road so interesting is it passes the state Capitol where the law originated. Having said that, it is also where the most flagrant disregard of crosswalk protocol occurs. The reason is simple. I call it the McKinley High School problem. The distance between Punchbowl and Richards streets, where the next crosswalk is located, is about 100 yards. Pedestrians who are coming from Miller Street, from the Department of Health and the Department of Education parking lots and getting off the massive bus stop right across from the state Capitol are not going to walk to the crosswalk at Punchbowl and Richards streets to get across South Beretania Street safely. They will jaywalk. They do this by the hundreds, and you don’t see anyone get cited by the Honolulu Police Department for jaywalking.

I’m not suggesting that the new law is not well-intended, but if it’s not enforceable, then it needs to be changed so everyone understands that pedestrian safety requires pedestrians using common sense and a sense of timing when judging how long the little white hand signal will hold out.

So until the law is refined it might be a good idea for pedestrians to look both ways when crossing streets in downtown Honolulu, even one-way streets.

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