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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 2, 2006

Elderly and a pedestrian in deadly Hawai'i

By Susan Sakai


For more information on pedestrian safety in your community or to learn more about the National Day of Service, contact the AARP Information Center on O'ahu at 843-1906 or e-mail hiaarp@aarp.org.

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Safety is an issue we can't afford to be complacent about.

Census data indicate that more than a quarter of Hawai'i's people will be over the age of 60 in 2020 and that the fastest-growing segment of our population is age 85 or older. As we consider the mobility needs of our seniors in the years ahead, it's sobering to note that Hawai'i is now one of the most dangerous states in America to be a pedestrian.

And it's getting worse.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, last year 36 people in Hawai'i were killed while walking along our roads and highways, 13 of whom were in crosswalks. The year before, 30 lives were lost, and the year before that, 23 pedestrians died on our streets.

On O'ahu alone, elderly citizens accounted for 60 percent of pedestrian fatalities between 1996 and 2002.

Such figures raise serious concerns about the safety and livability of our community especially for older, less nimble individuals. Clearly, safety is an issue we can't afford to be complacent about at any age. While we do not normally think of pedestrian safety as an issue that invites volunteer participation, that is changing.

This week AARP Hawai'i, the state's largest senior advocacy organization, is mobilizing the first teams of volunteer leaders to conduct "walkability" assessments of Honolulu's busiest intersections. We'll be evaluating areas where pedestrians and automobiles come into close proximity, recording our observations, discussing our findings and sharing the details with policymakers, traffic engineers and others concerned with the issue of safe streets.

Our initial site surveys in Honolulu will serve as the beginning of a statewide project to be undertaken on AARP's National Day of Service on May 11. On that day, AARP will coordinate similar safety surveys by volunteers throughout O'ahu and on the Neighbor Islands.

This is not about groups of angry pedestrians ganging up on people who drive automobiles. Indeed, AARP's driver safety program will be part of the public education effort to ensure that drivers and pedestrians understand that they bear collective responsibility for safe mobility, whether they're behind the wheel or on foot.

AARP Hawai'i supports the efforts of those who are working hard to raise awareness of the need for safer streets and crosswalks.

We know that Hawai'i has laws on the books to protect pedestrian safety and believe state and city agencies are doing an admirable job of educating the public through important campaigns like Walk Wise Hawai'i.

But we can do more.

Safe communities are critical to successful aging.

Susan Sakai is one of AARP Hawai'i's executive council members. She wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.