Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders are three times more likely to be killed in a traffic accident on the Big Island than white drivers, according to a county task force attempting to reduce traffic fatalities.
During a Tuesday meeting of the County Council Committee on Public Works and Mass Transit, Hawaii County Planning Director Michael Yee discussed Vision Zero, a global initiative aimed at reducing or eliminating fatal traffic crashes around the Big Island.
Hawaii County adopted Vision Zero policies last year and formed a task force to investigate crash statistics to determine common factors in the fatal crashes that occur. Using that data, the task force developed the Hawaii Island Vision Zero Action Plan, which Yee presented to the committee to discuss formally adopting.
Among the task force’s findings was the discovery that white drivers were involved in roughly the same number of fatal traffic collisions as Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander drivers between 2013 and 2017, despite the latter two ethnicities comprising significantly less of the island’s population.
The task force’s report suggests the reason for such crash disparity is because fewer resources are spent improving roadways in lower-income and minority communities such as Pahoa, Naalehu and Kurtistown for a variety of reasons, including historic oppression and exclusion.
According to the task force’s findings, while the majority of fatal crashes are naturally concentrated around Hilo and Kailua-Kona, a disproportionate amount of fatalities occur in and involve residents of the island’s southeastern ZIP codes.
The task force identified in particular the stretch of Highway 11 from Keaau to Volcano and Highway 130 from Keaau to Kalapana as “high fatality corridors.”
The same areas also have a disproportionate amount of fatalities caused by high-speed or impaired driving.
High fatality corridors also were identified on Highway 19 immediately north of Hilo and on Highway 11 throughout Kailua-Kona.
The report concluded that reversing the trend of fatal crashes requires, among other things, improved roadway designs and maintenance to improve visibility, encouraging drivers to reduce speed, and providing better support for cyclists and pedestrians.
Yee said Hawaii County is “well ahead” of neighbor islands in implementing Vision Zero’s short-term monitoring goals, which include the development of an easily accessible crash database and website.
While the committee was largely supportive of the report’s findings, Hilo Councilman Aaron Chung said he is concerned about its conclusions.
While the report supports a “complete streets” program that gives more clear right of way to pedestrians and cyclists — 40% of all island fatal crashes between 2013 and 2018 were between vehicles and pedestrians, bicycles, mopeds or motorcycles — he worried that such a plan is focused on the wrong thing.
“It’s a dangerous concept, I feel,” Chung said. “Implementing complete streets might work, but it’s dangerous to give pedestrians the right of way. If you’re making a left turn at a busy intersection, what are you going to do if a pedestrian walks into the road in front of you? Or worse, a bicycle?”
Nonetheless, the committee unanimously voted to forward the resolution to adopt the action plan to the full council with a positive recommendation.
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.