Careful Crossings

The HPD has stepped up pedestrian citations. Will it make O‘ahu’s streets safer?

photo: Sergio Goes

“I started across the corner of Bishop and King and had a walk signal. It began blinking, and I finished crossing to the other side,” says Susie Kim. “A cop told me I was crossing against the light.” Kim contested the ticket and won. “It’s not the money, it’s the principle. I know I started walking when there was a walk signal. There are so many problems on Hotel Street and in Chinatown, and here the police are planting themselves to catch people jaywalking in the business district.”

A $70 fine hurts, but pedestrians in downtown Honolulu are more pained by what they perceive to be a police crackdown on a victimless crime. Are they right?

The Honolulu Police Department is using a yearlong federal grant to try to reduce the number of pedestrian fatalities by 5 percent. The grant pays for 1,809 overtime hours of police enforcement and will also contribute to educational programs. Between January and July, the HPD issued 1,232 warnings and 428 citations to pedestrians in District 1, which stretches between Liliha and Punahou streets. Island-wide, there were 1,387 citations. The HPD ticketed drivers in District 1 more aggressively than pedestrians, issuing 2,740 warnings and 15,995 citations for hazardous driving and speeding.

According to HPD Maj. Randy Macadangdang, commander of District 1, jaywalking tickets are given at an officer’s discretion. “We have campaigns where we go out and train—we give a lot of warnings. Then we go back to the same crosswalk and give citations. We want to save lives.”

“One of the common complaints is that police enforce minor traffic laws when they should be out catching ‘crooks,’” says Maj. Susan Dowsett. But, she points out, “Traffic violations are responsible for more deaths than any other crime.” (Last year, there were 36 pedestrian fatalities and 15 murders on O‘ahu.) Hawai‘i does have a high rate of pedestrian deaths, fourth nationwide after New Mexico, Florida and Nevada. Dowsett attributes this to the Islands’ aging population, multilane road crossings, and outdoor activity.

But are the right people being reached? According to the Department of Transportation, nearly half of Hawai‘i’s 2005 pedestrian fatalities occurred on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday. The deadliest time period is 8 p.m. to midnight. The elderly are especially at risk, yet the DOT’s Web site notes, “Enforcement (such as ticketing jaywalkers) has not proven useful in reducing pedestrian deaths among seniors.” So while ticketing downtown employees on their lunch breaks may raise awareness of pedestrian safety, it’s not statistically likely to save lives.

So far this year, there have been 15 pedestrian fatalities on O‘ahu—lower than the 20 at this time last year, but about on par with the 16 in 2004.