Cracking Down on Pedestrians Won't Make Streets Safer

Even a tropical paradise like Hawaii has its problems. And in Hawaii, like the rest of America, one of them is deadly roads. Honolulu’s latest effort to reduce the risk of pedestrian injuries and deaths, though, is a novel one: the city is considering a law which would prohibit crossing any street after dark except at a marked crosswalk or signalized intersection. People on foot could be fined $100 for violating this ordinance, which is more severe than most cities’ existing (and rarely enforced) anti-jaywalking provisions.

The law would apply even if, as is often the case in environments designed around cars, there is no marked crosswalk anywhere nearby.

What are they trying to do here?

This is the question that Strong Towns president Chuck Marohn poses to Don Kostelec on this week’s Upzoned podcast. (Chuck is filling in for Upzoned host Kea Wilson, who is enjoying some off-the-grid time bikepacking this week.) Kostelec is a planner with Vitruvian Planning in Boise, Idaho, and an avid Twitter user who applies his encyclopedic knowledge of street design standards and practices to advocate for a safer, more humane world for those outside of motor vehicles.

The first question Don has when he hears about Honolulu’s proposal is, “Do the roadways even give people a chance to abide by this law?” As he has written before (check out Day 7 of his epic “Twelve Days of Safety Myths”), engineering departments often ignore both context and basic human psychology when insisting that the safest thing for a person on foot to do is use a crosswalk… even when the nearest crosswalk is half a mile out of the way!

And this leads into a discussion of what’s really wrong with Honolulu’s effort: not necessarily the intent, or even the idea of strict rules for street users. Don points out that Honolulu has strict rules across the board, for motorists as well. And that can work, if you consider context and if you have a system that is designed to give all users—whether on foot, wheelchair, bicycle, car, or what have you—an equal opportunity to navigate the system safely. In Honolulu, this could mean things like actually creating frequent marked crossings, tightening the turning radii at intersections and making other design changes intended to slow traffic.

In the world we inhabit, though, that equal opportunity doesn’t exist. Not even close. And putting the onus on pedestrians to keep themselves out of any potential danger—while not designing an environment that makes it practical for them to get where they need to go without breaking the law—is no kind of solution at all.

And then, in the Downzone, Chuck reveals why he avoided social media for days (hint: don’t spoil the Endgame!). And Don talks about the nerdy reading he’s doing in preparation for the hands-on road safety mythbusting book he’s itching to write, which leads him and Chuck to discuss whether Don is more the biblical-scholar of road design, or the CSI detective of road design.

(Cover image: Mal Booth via Flickr)