Afterthoughts: How Does Honolulu Become More Walkable? By Removing Crosswalks
Don’t cross me.
A few months ago, four notices were posted at an intersection in my neighborhood stating that the crosswalks there would be removed. Two of them span four lanes of Lunalilo Home Road, the main thoroughfare in Hawai‘i Kai. I thought, Why on earth would these be removed?
The city Department of Transportation Services says the crosswalks needed upgrades to align with Honolulu’s Complete Streets program. There aren’t enough people using them, the city says, to be worth it, especially since there’s an intersection with a traffic signal nearby.
“Since DTS is most concerned with pedestrian safety,” says Travis Ota, Department of Transportation Services information specialist, “we find it practical and feasible to remove these marked crosswalks, in an effort to reduce pedestrian injury and fatality.”
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illustrationS: GETTY IMAGES
But the thing is, even without painted crosswalks, these intersections are still legal crossing points. So why spend money removing lines? According to some federal studies, more crashes actually occur in marked crosswalks than in unmarked ones. As contradictory as that sounds, removing them is meant to encourage people to cross at other locations that have stoplights or signs.
I get it. In the winter I get off the bus at a stop farther from my house because I don’t feel safe crossing without a traffic light when it’s dark. It’s hard enough to get drivers to stop even when it’s still bright out and I’m standing on the sidewalk staring them down. I’m not playing chicken with something 20 times my weight, even if I have the law on my side.
Instead of getting rid of unsafe or underutilized crosswalks, we should be making it easier, not harder, to spot people wanting to cross—especially the elderly. Drivers are (or should be) used to scanning the sides of the road when they see a crosswalk, but remove that cue and it takes longer to understand why the car in the next lane is slowing down. And when you’re driving 30 mph, 2 seconds makes a big difference.
If the city is willing to spend money painting over crosswalks, why not use the money to add smaller improvements? Some crosswalks have pedestrian signs with orange flags attached so people can wave them at drivers as they cross. Let’s add more of these. Since the city is installing LED bulbs in streetlights across the island, how about using different colors above crosswalks? I have LED bulbs at home that I can control over wi-fi. Install orange bulbs over areas where pedestrians are allowed to cross, or install buttons that will make the lights flash or change color only when someone is crossing, similar to the blinking lights over the crosswalks on King Street near McCully/Mō‘ili‘ili. Something as simple as reflectors on the road would help. So would rumble strips. Ota says DTS is looking into additional design options.
Nothing guarantees safety. There will always be accidents and people who break the law. But if we really want Honolulu to be a walkable city, we should be doing everything we can to make pedestrians feel safe.