LIHUE — When it comes to walking on busy streets, Kauai kupuna say they err on the side of caution.
“I feel safe, but I always swivel my head back and forth several times before I cross the street. You can’t take anything for granted, especially with the younger kids on the road who don’t know how to drive yet,” said Joel Lawson.
Lawson, who just moved into the Kanikoo senior housing off Rice Street, said he walks regularly to the Lihue Plaza to go to Rob’s Good Time Grill.
“I walk to Rob’s a lot,” he said. “But when I need to cross the street, I always look both ways more than once.”
Hawaii was recently ranked as the most dangerous state for pedestrians over 65, according to the National Complete Streets Coalition.
The study found that between 2005 and 2014, over 250 people were killed in Hawaii as a result of pedestrian-involved wrecks. Of that total, 42.2 percent of the fatalities were seniors.
Following the report, Sen. Brian Schatz called for improvements to the safety of roads in Hawaii and across the country.
“Too many people in Hawaii, particularly seniors, are being killed or injured every year just walking along our streets,” he said.
Hawaii is followed by Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New York as the most dangerous states for senior pedestrians.
In 2013, the Kauai County Council unanimously passed the Complete Streets bill, which sets guidelines for developers to include multi-modal transportation principles in subdivisions for pedestrians, bicyclists, public transit and motorized vehicles.
Most recently, the county received a $13 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The grant will be used to revitalize the Lihue Town Core and make the town a walkable, bikeable community.
The county is also partnering with Wilcox Hospital and Kauai Path on its Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow campaign, which lists safety tips for drivers and pedestrians.
Tips for drivers include slowing down, avoiding distractions and passing bicyclists safely. Tips for pedestrians include using crosswalks and being visible by wearing bright and reflective colors.
Addison Bulosan, who rides his bike to work at The Specific Chiropractic Center in Lihue, said the best way to improve conditions for pedestrians is to add more pedestrians.
“This is not a pedestrian-friendly place,” he said. “If you look at Kapaa, where there are a lot of pedestrians, motorists become more aware of them and slow down. You want to make motorists more aware of pedestrians.”
He also said motorists should take a “pedestrian class.”
“We have a couple of bubble questions when you take the driver’s test, but how many people actually remember those questions?” he said.
Lawai resident Nancy Sato said it can be scary to cross Rice Street by the U.S. Post Office and the Kauai Museum.
“It’s a double lane of cars each way, so it’s hard to judge if someone is going to stop,” she said.
But Luana Ruggiero said she feels safe walking along Rice Street.
“I’m from New York City; I’m used to it,” she said.
She said pedestrians are responsible for their own safety when they decide to walk along the road.
“You have to open your eyeballs and take responsibility,” she said. “You have to be alert and never take anything for granted.”