Thursday, May 26, 2011

HI’s Senior Pedestrian Death Rate Nation’s Worst

Our first post of the year wasn’t focused on the Honolulu rail project but rather called for a reversal in Oahu’s horrendous pedestrian safety record. Our headlined goal on 1/1/11 -- “Not One” more pedestrian death -- was of course an impossible hope for the New Year after a spate of pedestrian deaths in 2010 that doubled those incidents over the year earlier.

The latest evidence of our collective indifference to pedestrian safety is especially damning because it shows how reckless drivers are around a vulnerable group -- seniors.

According to the Transportation for America organization, Hawaii drivers are killing pedestrians aged 65 and over at a far higher rate than the national average and even the #2 state, Alaska. Hawaii’s rate is 7.21 pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 seniors compared to the national average of 2.92 and Alaska’s rate of 5.42 per 100,000. The rate for seniors 75 and older here is even worse.

What does that tell you? The Star-Advertiser editorial today uses these statistics to suggest better street design could help avoid pedestrian deaths. That’s undoubtedly true, but good design or bad, the primary blame when seniors and other pedestrians are run down goes to inattentive, aggressive drivers who don’t get this fundamental fact:

Pedestrians have the right of way whether they deserve it or not, whether they carefully look both ways before using a crosswalk or foolishly step into traffic in mid-block.

Is that being taught to young drivers? Does the Honolulu Police Department have a program to detect and ticket aggressive drivers who threaten pedestrians’ safety? Does the average driver here believe pedestrians deserve what they get if they aren’t paying attention?

You have to wonder when our senior pedestrian death rate is a third higher than the next state’s record. With the oldest demographic in the country and an expectation for it to skew even higher, Hawaii has an urgent need to improve its senior pedestrian record.

The Rail Tie-in

By 2030, there will be 40,000 fewer cars on the road with rail than would be the case if the system were not built. Fewer drivers will presumably mean fewer inattentive drivers. New transit-oriented development around stations likely will incorporate the “Complete Streets” design principles advocated in today’s editorial, and crossing streets to access rail stations will be safer.

Our pedestrian safety record is indefensible at any level. Better street design, alternatives to driving, stronger driver-education programs and pedestrian-friendly transportation all will help.

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