State to push pedestrian safety
|Video: Crossing Kalakaua a hazard for pedestrians|
Traffic safety officials, alarmed by a surge in pedestrian traffic deaths early this year, are urging new education and engineering programs to counteract the rise in fatalities.
The latest death occurred yesterday when a 78-year-old woman walking on a sidewalk in 'Aiea was killed after being hit by a car that jumped the curb. The Honolulu Medical Examiner's Office identified her as Alice Kondo of 'Aiea.
Her death brought to five the number of pedestrians who have died in traffic accidents on O'ahu this year.
"That many people killed in such a short period of time is just astounding," said Bruce Bottorff, associate state director for AARP. "We've got to start taking more actions to make people understand how serious this is."
All the pedestrian victims this year have been elderly. Two of them, including yesterday's victim, were not even in the street, officials said.
"Hardly anyone could have predicted these deaths. Nevertheless, it shows how vigilant we have to be. We live in an increasingly urban environment, and officials have to be in a better position to address that," Bottorff said.
The death toll compares to two deaths by this time last year.
"That's just horrible to start the year like this, especially after the year we had last year (90 traffic deaths on O'ahu)," said Ho-nolulu police Maj. Susan Dowsett, head of the department's Traffic Division. "It's very tragic. Both pedestrians and drivers need to do a better job of focusing on the task at hand. Drivers need to exercise care and focus on what they are doing, and pedestrians need to do the same. People need to be constantly aware when out on the roads."
To that end, state Transportation Department officials said they plan to launch a new TV and radio campaign on Monday designed to make drivers and pedestrians more aware of traffic dangers.
The campaign, which is aimed at safe walking and driving in school areas, has been planned for more than six months, and the timing of its start has not been affected by the recent accidents, said Gordon Hong, head of DOT's Safe Communities program.
Yesterday's fatal crash occurred at 7:53 a.m. when a white 1993 Lexus driven by a 44-year-old man swerved to avoid another car and hopped onto the curb, hitting a traffic sign pole, a newspaper dispenser and Kondo. She died at 8:49 a.m. at Pali Momi Medical Center.
The crash occurred on Koauka Loop near the medical center.
Other pedestrian deaths this year have occurred on King and Young streets in Honolulu, Renton Road in 'Ewa and Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki. The victims ranged in age from 75 to 81. Two victims were hit while on sidewalks, two were in crosswalks and one was jaywalking, according to police reports.
On Monday, 81-year-old Fe Bulahan was killed on North King Street near Iwilei Road when she was hit by a van.
Bulahan, who was in a crosswalk, was the mother of 12, all of whom live in the Philippines.
Her 88-year-old husband, Jose, who retired with her to Hawai'i from Zamboanga, Philippines, is blind and cannot feed himself or take his medications, according to family friend Benjamin Valintag. Valintag, who is from the same province as the Bulahans, said Jose Bulahan is devastated and said he was removed from his home by Valintag and is staying with Valintag's brother in Pearl City.
Fe and Jose Bulahan have no blood relatives living in Hawai'i, Valintag said.
"It's terrible. Can there be anything done to help this man?" he said.
Before Bulahan's death, In Jae Kim, 81, was killed Saturday while crossing outside a crosswalk on Young Street, near Pi'ikoi Street.
On Friday, 75-year-old Floyd Girven, of 'Ewa, died after being struck in a crosswalk by a car while crossing Renton Road near 'Auwaha Street, police said.
Rika Rosenberg, 72, died after she was struck by a taxi while sitting at a bus stop on Kalakaua Avenue near Makaloa Street on Jan. 7.
Hong said unlike most two-car accidents, which cluster around busy intersections, pedestrian fatalities and injuries tend to occur in scattered, often random areas, making it difficult for safety officials to target specific areas for corrective action.
"When we looked at the data, it's hard to pinpoint any one trend where the accidents are occurring, so we can't do targeted law enforcement," Hong said. "We can, however, get data about where people are speeding and do something about that."
AARP last summer released a volunteer-based survey of more than 50 pedestrian areas and identified seven that it said had multiple safety problems. None of this year's accidents occurred at those sites.
The AARP report also listed 10 suggestions to improve pedestrian safety at crosswalks. While the state DOT has been cooperative in seeking changes, Ho-nolulu transportation officials have been slower to respond, Bottorff said.
"As of right now, no specific actions have been taken. There's talk of setting up a pilot program to modify certain particularly dangerous intersections, but we haven't heard that any decisions have been made to proceed," he said.
"We definitely want to start working more closely with the city's Department of Transportation Services," he said. "We're very, very anxious to hear what they are planning to do."
Richard Torres, deputy director of that department, said city officials have stepped up inspections and restriping of crosswalks throughout O'ahu. The work is being done as part of regular road maintenance and in response to complaints about specific areas, he said.
"The work is ongoing, and we check out areas whenever there are concerns," he said.
City officials also are continuing to check on timing of pedestrian traffic signals and change them when warranted, he said.
Hong said state officials plan to take an exhibit highlighting last year's 32 pedestrian fatalities around the state starting next month. The exhibit, presented near the state Capitol on Tuesday, is designed to help raise pedestrian safety awareness.
Gov. Linda Lingle, speaking at the exhibit, said her administration will introduce legislation this year calling for tougher penalties for motorists who ignore the state's two-year-old crosswalk law, which requires drivers to stop for pedestrians in their half of the roadway. Lingle proposed the same measure last year, but it failed to pass through the Legislature.
Under Lingle's proposed legislation, drivers who violate the state's crosswalk law the first time would be fined up to $150, and their driver's license would be suspended for at least 90 days. For a second offense, drivers would be fined at least $300 and undergo a 180-day license revocation.
A third violation would bring a minimum fine of $1,000, license revocation for one year and 30 days in jail.