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State strives for fine balance in keeping pedestrians safe

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In history there are many epic rivalries clashing since time immemorial: UH vs. BYU. Wile E. Coyote vs. Road Runner. Pirates vs. ninjas.

And from what I hear week in and out, I think we can count "pedestrians vs. drivers" in that list.

"The biggest problem I see for pedestrians here is that drivers don’t want to admit that we exist," one reader writes to me. "If I had a dollar for every time I had to wait for a driver to look in my direction while he or she is trying to enter a one-way street, I’d be a very rich woman!"

"Pedestrians need to watch the road!" another reader says. "A crosswalk is not a magic force field."

He’s right, though. Although the pedestrian and driver will forever be at war, it doesn’t take a traffic engineer to know who wins the battle between "pedestrian vs. car." The car always wins.

It’s heartening news, then, to know that we’ve had only one pedestrian fatality in the state so far in 2011.

The state does appear to be taking a proactive role in making sure pedestrian deaths stay down. Starting Wednesday, the state will be holding public workshops presenting its pedestrian master plan. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at Wai­anae High School. For more info, visit hawaii­ped­plan.com.

For the past year the state has looked closely at state roads, including locations of populations that have less access to a vehicle. It’s all about making pedestrians an engineering priority, says state transportation spokes­man Dan Mei­sen­zahl.

"We hope to provide consistency in pedestrian design guidance," he says.

Some of these proj­ects would include reduced curb radii, which would enable drivers to respond more quickly to signal changes and crossing pedestrians; and bulbed-out curbs or extensions, which shortens the street-crossing distance and makes pedestrians more visible.

Bulbing out the curb could also slow traffic because the street would become narrower, and thus we return back to the ever-warring driver and pedestrian mentalities. It’s a fine balance the state hopes to achieve, which is why officials need public input.

Then there’s the education component. The state has its high-profile Walk Wise Hawaii program, and private groups are taking action, too.

Yesterday, Farmers Insurance Group, which has a Hot Spots program to remind drivers about school zones, and Mc­Kin­ley High School students held a sign-waving event with police officers. The school hopes to do this every month. Regardless of what the students wrote on their signs, I hope it’s a good sign of things to come.

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Gene Park can be reached at gpark@staradvertiser.com or on Twitter as @GenePark.

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