The Pedestrians With Death Wishes

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - February 08, 2006

There have been recent reports of pedestrians tragically being killed by motorists. This has been an ongoing issue for years, but with the governor and others becoming more and more vocal about the problem, there has been more attention paid by the media and general public. It has gotten to the point where the state Legislature felt compelled to pass laws on crosswalk usage. Penalties are assessed to drivers who do not allow pedestrians unencumbered use of crosswalks.

OK, as a driver, I can live with that. But there is another side of the story which is ignored.

Just as much as drivers need to be responsible, so do pedestrians. I am not saying that recent deaths are attributable to poor pedestrian judgment. But I see virtually every day dangerous situations created by pedestrians who are either oblivious or ignorant. Neither is good. I am sure you have witnessed various instances where by some miracle someone was not killed.

I was driving on Punchbowl Street approaching Honolulu Hale. Vehicles are given a left turn onto Punchbowl Street from King Street going diamondhead. There is a crosswalk at the intersection, which connects the corner of Honolulu Hale and the State Public Library. I’m sitting waiting for the light to change and, sure enough, a pedestrian is crossing the street. What’s unusual is he is walking into the oncoming traffic turning onto Punchbowl Street. He was as casual as he would be strolling through the park. A large pickup truck lunged to a stop followed by several cars trying to make the turn. Not only did the pedestrian keep his stride, he began gesturing with a single finger to the people who had the right-ofway. Nice.

Same area, different day. This time I am driving down King Street diamondhead near City Hall and the Mission Houses. Cars are parked on the mauka side of King Street, and the speed limit is 35 mph. I am in the far lefthand lane preparing to turn left on Alapai Street when, sure enough, a 20-something man leaps out from between two parked cars to cross a busy five-lane street. I hit the brakes to slow down as he ran across the street in front of other vehicles slowing down until he got to the other side. I shook my head at how brazen and how stupid this young man was.

Moments later I make the left turn on Alapai Street headed to the Municipal Parking Lot. There is a crosswalk from the parking structure to the bus stop across the street. The speed limit is 25 mph, and there are four lanes of traffic coming from South Street and Kapiolani Boulevard. I am approaching the parking entrance and, sure enough, a 40-something woman, with an attitude, literally steps in front of me and another driver to cross the street. She didn’t miss a step - from the sidewalk to the crosswalk without missing a beat. I had to brake hard in front of her and she shot a stink eye so bad I can still smell it.

It was all I could do not to roll the window down and respond. But what’s the sense? She believes she owns the road, and what am I going to say to change that? She proceeded to get to the other side of the street, but I hope she knows she is being guarded by angels.

The stories of pedestrians being struck and killed are sobering. I remember the spate of elderly fatalities on the Pali Highway years ago. I am saddened to hear of the older people dying, like the lady on Nimitz Highway and the gentleman on Kamehameha Highway. Those two crimes were caused by irresponsible and careless drivers. They should be held accountable for their actions, and I believe those cases are presently in the courts. But we cannot simply design laws targeting drivers and believe the problem of pedestrian deaths is solved.

According to the 2004 state Department of Transportation Elderly Pedestrian Integration Report, there are more jaywalkers than people who use crosswalks. This must change if we are going to win this battle for saving our pedestrians.

If you are walking, remember: Your body will lose to a 2,000 pound vehicle. Why risk it?

Unless you are going to position a police officer at each intersection, an increased penalty for jaywalking may not be motivation enough to get people to use crosswalks. But if one is caught, you could emulate a portion of the driver’s education experience. Requiring jaywalkers to attend a one-hour class about road rules including photographs of accident scenes involving pedestrians and vehicles may do the job.

Whatever the ultimate solution, it will take both drivers and pedestrians to drop the attitudes and just get along.

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