Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell wants state lawmakers to pass two eyebrow-raising traffic safety bills that would force Oahu motorists to slow down and use better judgment — one barring right turns on red at signaled intersections, the second allowing cameras at intersections to help bust red-light violators.
The two proposals are part of a group of safety measures Caldwell expects to roll out in the next week or two, the mayor told the House Finance and Senate Ways and Means Committee at a hearing last week. The initiatives come in the wake of the crash Monday evening that left three dead and four others hospitalized.
There were 63 traffic deaths on Oahu in 2018, 28 of them pedestrians. “We have the unfortunate distinction of Oahu having more people, more pedestrians killed in crosswalks than any other major city in the country,” he told legislators Thursday.
The city can — and does so through signage — prohibit right-turns-on-red at some signaled intersections on city-owned roads. House Bill 185 and companion measure Senate Bill 167 would make it the norm rather than the exception. It would eliminate the need for the city to post signage at practically every signaled intersection on the island.
Additionally, the bill would also allow the city to impose the restriction at state-owned highways and thoroughfares, Caldwell said. On Oahu, there are roughly 800 signaled intersections. Altogether, there are roughly 3,500 lane miles of city-owned roads and 1,500 lane miles under state jurisdiction.
Jon Nouchi, the city’s deputy transportation services director, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that the major boroughs in New York City bar right turns on red as do most other nations outside of North America, he said.
Typically, a motorist focuses on vehicles coming from the left before turning their attention to what may be to the right, he said.
“We really have a lot of cars on a small island, and a lot of people walking at the same time,” Nouchi said. “Maybe, when you’re in a car, you don’t consider how many people are walking all around you,” he said.
If the bill is passed, some exceptions may be made, possibly from the extreme right lane at intersections where there are more than one lane going right, Nouchi said.
Nouchi acknowledged that forcing motorists to stop before turning when there’s a red light could back up traffic at some busier intersections. But nationally, he said, the trend has been for traffic engineers to make road safety their top priority, shifting away from speed and traffic flow.
House Bill 187 and companion measure Senate Bill 169 would allow any of the counties to set up red light imaging detector systems at intersections, a safe, cost-
effective, efficient and easy to implement enforcement tool.
Cameras would take telephoto color pictures of the rear of vehicles, including their license plates, whenever they enter an intersection against a red light. Secondary wide-angle photographs would record entire intersections for an additional perspective.
Caldwell told state lawmakers the practice is utilized in many continental U.S. cities. “It works — we need to do more to protect our pedestrians and the public demands it.”
In 1998, the Legislature passed a bill allowing traffic photo imaging systems to be used to enforce speeding and red-light laws. But the program drew heavy flak from the community when it was implemented in January 2002 and the law was repealed.
Most of the criticism was directed at the use of vans parked along the side of roads that used “van cams” to bust speeders, not at red-light enforcement.
Last week’s hearing was the opportunity for the mayors to come before legislators to appeal for funding and support for projects in their counties.
While each came with their own requests, Caldwell said all of them had endorsed Gov. David Ige’s proposal to allow the counties to receive a set 23.1 percent share of hotel room taxes, replacing the existing revenue split that caps the counties’ collective share at
House Finance Chairwoman Sylvia Luke cautioned the mayors to think carefully about shifting to a percentage approach. “On a good year you’ll get better results and on a bad year you’ll get worse results,” she said. “It won’t be the $103 million that is guaranteed … We just want to make sure all the counties are OK with that.”
New Maui Mayor Mike Victorino said he’d prefer that lawmakers remove the cap entirely, but that he supports Ige’s plan. “I’m a gambler, I know what the risk is,” he said. “I think it’s a fairer and much more equitable way.”
Victorino asked for help on several transportation projects on Maui, including diverting Piilani Highway inland because parts of it are falling into the ocean due to sea level rise.
New Kauai County Mayor Derek Kawakami requested that the county be allowed to use state funds earmarked to assist the island after devastating flooding in April to also be used for recovery from the affects of Hurricane Lane in August.
Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim asked for greater flexibility in the use of general excise tax revenues, noting that his island is still recovering from the Kilauea Volcano lava eruption that destroyed more than 700 homes and other structures, as well as damage from Lane. Counties are now restricted to using GET funds on transportation or transit projects. Kim also is asking for additional funds to fix roads and other infrastructure severely damaged by the disasters.