A “road diet” plan for Hawaii

Complete Streets 2016The City and County of Honolulu released the “Complete Streets Design Manual” (September 2016), a guide book that will ensure that our streets and public spaces can meet everyone’s transportation needs. It is well-designed, with photos of real streets and diagrams of different design ideas.

Skimming through the Design Manual, one of the easiest and most economical ideas to improve pedestrian safety and reduce the risks of an accident is the Advance Stop Line, a solid white line that are up to 20 feet from the crosswalk, instead of the typical 4-6 feet (section 5.3.6). It lets drivers see pedestrians more easily and gives them more time to slow down.

Speaking from personal experience. one of the worst “traffic calming” ideas to slow traffic speed and eliminate the need for traffic lights is a Roundabout, a circular intersection where traffic flows counterclockwise around a central island (section 4.10.4). In my opinion, roundabouts are confusing and stressful because there is no clear right-of-way. It only benefits those bold drivers and pedestrians who enter the roundabout without hesitation, while less aggressive drivers and pedestrians wait anxiously to enter the roundabout safely.

What caught my attention is the idea of a “road diet” – the narrowing or removal of traffic lanes to encourage vehicles to slow down. The “reclaimed” lane can be used for wider sidewalks, landscaped spaces, bicycle lanes, parklets, or on-street parking (section 3.10).

At a time when Hawaii has more people, more cars, and more traffic than ever, Honolulu plans to deliberately reduce roadways where appropriate. But to further increase safety, reduce accidents, and encourage alternate means of transportation (walking, bicycling, or rail transit) we may all need to go on a more drastic “Road Diet.”

Hawaii’s “Road Diet” Plan will involve more than just cutting down on the number of lanes or width of lanes on the roads. It will probably be painful and divisive. Here are some “Road Diet” options:

* Revising the Driver Education program. We already updated driver education programs to show the dangers of texting while driving. The next step is promoting pedestrian awareness with a driver’s education course that rigs a mannequin to dart in front of the driver or suddenly move into the driver’s lane from the other side of a parked car.

* Creating trade-in programs. To encourage people to walk, bike, ride-share, or take the bus, we could create a trade-in program so that bicycle users could trade in their old bike for a new bike or motorized scooter. In addition, we could create a trade-in program so that car owners could get a free bike or scooter if they sell or donate their car and agree not to buy a replacement car for at least one year.

* Limiting the number of cars per household. We may need to limit the number of motor vehicles allowed per household, or perhaps drastically increase the vehicle registration fees for additional vehicles in a household. Personally, I don’t like having my transportation choices limited, but diets are not supposed to be easy.

* Capping the number of cars in Hawaii. We could put a cap on the number of personal motor vehicles imported into Hawaii.

I realize these issues are outside of the scope of the Complete Streets Design Manual, but they are logical steps to dealing with traffic, limited land, and a growing population.

Which traffic safety improvements to you think are effective – and which are problematic? Do you think that Hawaii needs to go on a more drastic “Road Diet”?

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