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Rise in pedestrian deaths worries advocates


The death of 28-year-old Frank Ryder as he was walking along the shoulder of Kahekili Highway on Thursday morning was the 17th pedestrian traffic fatality on Oahu this year.

Ryder was also the fifth Oahu pedestrian to be killed by a car in six weeks and the eighth since mid-July. There were 10 pedestrian fatalities recorded in all of 2009, and 14 in 2008.

The circumstances in each of the deaths this year vary, but the increase in pedestrian deaths after several years of declines worries police and others in the community.

Maj. Thomas Nitta, who heads the Honolulu Police Department’s Traffic Division, said he cannot put a finger on why there has been a rise recently.

"There’s no specific reason or even any particular areas," Nitta said. "It’s probably a combination of things."

A majority of the pedestrian victims this year and the last two years were in marked crosswalks when they were hit. In the three previous years, more of the pedestrian fatalities occurred outside marked crosswalks.

Nitta pointed out that two of the last five fatalities did not involve people trying to cross a thoroughfare, but victims who were hit along the side of the road.

Two of the most recent deaths involved elderly pedestrians, and both were believed to have been in marked crosswalks, police said. That is a concern for Barbara Kim Stanton, AARP Hawaii director.

"As our population ages more rapidly, the community and the government need to be more aggressive in protecting our citizens from these unnecessary, preventable fatalities," Stanton said. "It’s really tragic because these pedestrian deaths are totally preventable if we were better able to take some commonsense steps."

AARP Hawaii believes government can do more to improve the situation. Honolulu in particular is not very pedestrian-friendly, Stanton said.

"If you had a pedestrian-friendly town, a livable community, you’d have less of these long, bowling alley kind of roadways where people tend to speed," Stanton said. "You might have more roundabouts, with trees, where people would naturally have to slow down. You’d have trees that invite walking, and more bicycle paths."

Stanton said there are some quick-fix improvements that government can make in areas that are of more pressing concern.

Increasing street lighting near crosswalks and putting more and longer countdown counters for pedestrian traffic signals are among the ideas that Stanton’s agency has advocated and will continue to lobby for at the state Legislature.

Earlier this year the city Department of Transportation Services established a midblock, in-pavement crosswalk flashing light at a busy part of North King Street near the Kapalama Post Office as an experimental project.

Both Nitta and Stanton also agree that both motorists and pedestrians should use more care and that there should be education programs targeting both.

Drivers need to be especially cautious of pedestrians coming into crosswalks in the middle of blocks, Stanton said.

If a motorist heading in the same direction next to you stops midblock suddenly, "he’s probably stopping for pedestrians," Nitta said.

So far in 2010, police have cited more than 800 motorists for failing to yield to pedestrians, primarily at crosswalks.

But during that same time frame, more than 3,600 pedestrians have been cited for various infractions from failure to yield to jaywalking.


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