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Isle streets not just for cars

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Hawaii officials have known for some time that the state has a terrible record of pedestrian fatalities, especially among the elderly, and they’ve been working to make the streets safer. But this week the Aloha State got two reminders of its critical problem.

One was the tragic death of Quirino Aguisanda, 86, while he crossed Farrington Highway early Monday. And on Tuesday, a national coalition called Transportation for America issued a study, "Dangerous by Design 2011," an examination of statistics during the 2000-2009 period.

They’re figures that should give Honolulu leaders a push toward adopting a better approach to the design of city streets and thoroughfares.

Hawaii pedestrians age 65 and older die in traffic at the rate of 7.21 per 100,000 people, according to statistics the report drew from the Centers for Disease Control. That’s not only worse than other states, that’s much worse — Alaska, the second on the list, has a rate of 5.42. These are based on data gathered between 2000 and 2007, the most current the CDC has available.

More recent federal data in the report covering all age groups, compiled from 2000-2009, show that although these tragedies occur statewide, fatalities of pedestrians of all ages comprise a problem for Oahu in particular. On average for that decade, 29.2 percent of all Oahu traffic deaths involved pedestrians; Maui comes closest to that figure, with 14.1 percent.

Two years ago, state lawmakers passed Act 54, in which Hawaii joined other states in adopting a "Complete Streets" policy for the design of transportation improvements. This policy essentially requires that design and construction of transportation facilities take all users — including cyclists and pedestrians — into account at the start of a project. The idea is that it’s less costly to put in, say, a bike lane or pedestrian walkway when it’s part of the original design.

Now it’s Honolulu’s leaders’ time to act. AARP Hawaii and other advocacy groups seeking better provisions for bikers and pedestrians have been discussing with city officials how an Oahu-level Complete Streets policy should look.

Other counties have favored adopting resolutions stating an intent to take this approach with transportation design, but for Honolulu in particular, an ordinance should be enacted. There’s some understandable concern from officials that a stricter policy could incur costs that are now unaffordable. But a Complete Streets policy can incorporate budgetary constraints among the criteria for needed exceptions to the rule especially in lean years like the present.

However, the rule should be: Hawaii’s streets and highways should be built to serve everyone who uses them. Experts have cited several good reasons why Hawaii seniors are disproportionately exposed to traffic risks. One is that because of the island’s terrain, the arterial roads are relatively sparse and carry more traffic than is usual in cities of this size. That characteristic likely is here to stay

But another is that Hawaii’s temperate weather encourages everyone, including older residents, to go about on foot. Physical activity can help them stay healthy longer. Aguisanda, for one, told his family he loved keeping busy, and seniors like him should be able to enjoy an active life in safety.

Failure to adopt a policy that helps seniors and all citizens use transportation without undue hazard would be a mistake, more costly in the long run and a contradiction in a state that prides itself on its year-round enjoyment of the outdoors.

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