|Waiting for the next pedestrian to cross.......|
Hawaii is such a wonderful place to live; beautiful weather, friendly people with the majority expecting longevity while exhibiting a healthy life style, a relaxed non-intrusive culture of acceptance of its multicultural heritage, and a Democratic run infrastructure protective of the masses. Why does such a livable state have one of the highest pedestrian death rates in the nation and the highest one for seniors like me over the age of 65? While the answer is multifactorial and not that simple or straight forward, I will nevertheless impart my theory on at least one major contributor to this tragic problem after I have had a chance to pontificate a bit on what pedestrians have to face in other communities.
As a native New Yorker who has lived in Hawaii more than half his life, I have been fortunate to travel to many countries particularly over the last few years while enjoying my part time retirement. Drawing from my early days, New Yorker pedestrians’ fear of New Yorker drivers is legendary. It seems like many cars speed up to terrorize you should you dare cross the street violating their path of transit. By definition, if you have survived such an encounter, your approach to crossing the street was done with extreme caution.
I can say this is generally my experience in most of the foreign countries I have travelled to of late, except Denmark…….that survival from one side of the street to the other is a great feat of accomplishment. Countries like Egypt, India, Viet Nam, and China are extremely dangerous for pedestrians and nobody who casually navigates cross walks in Hawaii could possibly fathom how stressful this can be or how to easily survive such aggressive traffic.
My most recent experience in a foreign land is Lima, Peru. Not unlike the tropical climate of Hawaii with sun drenched streets and warm weather, traffic and pedestrians movement contrasts sharply with that of Hawaii. Everyone there drives fast and fearless, totally oblivious to the movement of pedestrians. As in New York, it seems like cars speed up to terrorize you while you attempt to navigate the crosswalks or jay walk or even think of crossing the street. You risk your life every time you cross. Once in the intersection, you rush to the other side, never believing that you are safe just because there are no cars in sight. Nobody…..yes, No ONE in Lima would ever believe that a protective shield renders them immune from automobile’s competing for the same road space. You don’t have to guess who would be the winner in that situation.
I did a little study over the last few months in downtown Honolulu. With a log that I carried in my car, at stoplights and pedestrian crossings that I arrived at while driving my normal weekly routine, I observed pedestrians making a full crossing. I logged just under 100 pedestrian crossings looking for a number of factors, the most important for the study was whether there was any attempt on the part of the pedestrian to look toward the traffic in any way…..even a quick glance. I was not surprised to find that two thirds of the pedestrians crossed the street without bothering to look in either or both directions. Some did heed the pedestrian crossing signal and the timer, many crossed very slowly with their heads hanging down as if wishing to be invisible (or maybe somehow hallucinating that what they can’t see will not hurt them), some were texting or talking on their phones, crossing oblivious to the on coming traffic and cars stopped waiting to re-claim their command of the road. And in some situations, it seemed like pedestrians slowed down their pace if they noticed or sensed that a car was waiting to make a legal turn and traverse their path. It gave me the uncomfortable sense that certain pedestrians felt empowered at that moment in time to take as much time as they “wanted” without regard to the overall traffic situation, and they were a priori to be insured a safe crossing.
What makes Hawaii pedestrians so complacent? I believe it is the Hawaii drivers…mostly polite, mostly understanding, and mostly patient, which together embodies our driving culture that has existed for decades. Need to cut into traffic; it’s easy, and “shaka” your thanks is all you need to do to show appreciation. Cross the street between legal intersections, drivers gladly yield to your movement. Needless to say, talking about the plight of the person behind the wheel will require more than a fleeting comment. I do not have the stomach for reaching beyond my focus of the day, which is what the pedestrian in Hawaii can do to optimize his/her chances of surviving the crossing.
Pedestrians may feel that the crosswalk signal that allows them access to cross the street somehow magically controls the behavior of drivers. But while these signals are indeed synchronized to their respective traffic lights, Hawaii drivers have increasingly witnessed more and more vehicles plowing through intersections ignoring yellow and red lights in a slippery slope of trying to avoid stopping at one more stop light. Indeed, crossing the street must be more dangerous now than ever as roads have become more congested with traffic and with Hawaii drivers becoming more and more frustrated and impatient with long transit times. How long the Aloha spirit of driving will last in Hawaii remains to be seen? In the meantime, it seems that Hawaii pedestrians continue to fantasize the possession of an invisible shield protecting them from the unpredictable and uncontrollable (at least by them) movement of a several thousand pound glob of moving metal that could dispassionately mow them down intentionally or unintentionally in an instant.
The point I want to make is that Hawaii pedestrians expect that Hawaii drivers are friendly and will yield to pedestrians…at red lights, at crosswalks and even when illegally jay walking. And in fact they DO most of the time, which gives pedestrians a false sense of security that it is a given 100% of the time. The only problem is that pedestrians do NOT routinely possess a protective coat of armor for the times when drivers are lapsing into a dream world, lacking the peripheral vision to see them approaching, distracted by a pretty girl or boy on the street, drunk like a skunk, responding to their smart phone’s omnipresent beckoning call, or experiencing a transient ischemic attach with the disappearance of brain function during that moment of collision.
The only remedy for the pedestrian is to treat any intersection with the utmost caution when crossing, perhaps think of it as a war zone. At any time, expect the unexpected. Look for snipers and land mines to your right and left, continue to rotate your glance to compensate for the limits of your peripheral vision. Attempt to make eye-to-eye contact with the driver to confirm that he/she sees you as you see him/her. Avoid changing directions, walk briskly when possible, and try to move at a predicable constant speed so that the driver will be able to process your trajectory of movement when navigating their cars.
Aye Yai Yai, Eye to eye, or say bye bye!