New in-street posts spiking driver concerns

State: Slowing down near crosswalks is still a success

Motorists navigate between delineators and gateway treatment pedestrian signs Saturday morning on Puunene Avenue in Kahului. Modeled after Michigan roadways, the designs started popping up on Oahu late last year and on Maui in February. Some local drivers are questioning their safety, efficacy and cost. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

KAHULUI — New plastic posts meant to raise pedestrian safety are fueling frustrations for some local motorists.

Called “gateway in-street treatments,” the design involves two pedestrian state law signs on either side of the road, with plastic delineators between each travel lane. They are placed at unsignalized crosswalks on busy state roads.

The treatments are modeled off Michigan roadways and are new to Hawaii, with Oahu launching the pilot program in October and Maui starting toward the end of February, according to the state Department of Transportation.

“They draw attention to the crosswalks themselves and also help to slow drivers down so they obey the speed limit,” state DOT spokesman Tim Sakahara said last week.

Maui island has 13 areas designated for the treatments, with eight complete and three awaiting installation in the next couple of weeks, he said.

A damaged gateway treatment pedestrian sign is shown along Kaahumanu Avenue. The signs, coupled with delineator posts, cost about $20 each and several have had to be replaced since installation late February, according to the state Department of Transporation. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

In a release for Oahu motorists, state DOT Deputy Director for Highways Ed Sniffen said the treatments will help minimize error and maximize safety.

“The safest transportation systems separate motorists from bicyclists and pedestrians to minimize the potential for human error, which is the cause of over 90 percent of fatal crashes,” he said. “We are working toward this end, and it will take time and money.”

Some Maui motorists, though, are questioning the safety, price and efficacy of the new program, which popped up on Valley Isle roadways without notice.

Annie Polk of Haiku said her gaze goes toward the delineators when approaching the treatments.

“I almost hit one the other day,” she said Saturday. “They’re distracting. They’re small enough to where they’re kind of hard to see.”

Jake Korth of Wailuku had a similar perspective.

He said traffic is moving along at the speed limit when, suddenly, drivers start to brake fast, often when there is no pedestrian nearby.

“They’re kind of scary,” he said Saturday. “They cause people to get their anxiety up. Drivers slow down fast, out of nowhere.”

Leilehua Low of Waiohuli also had safety concerns. She said her focus is on the post to avoid hitting it — instead of looking for a potential pedestrian.

“I wonder if it’s really helped any pedestrians,” she said. “I haven’t seen one (pedestrian) at the crosswalk so far. It would be interesting to talk to them.”

Sakahara said people should remember that when approaching intersections or crosswalk treatments, they should not be changing lanes. He said tips for approaching new posts include driving the speed limit and focusing on the task at hand.

“When they’re approaching, it’s fine to notice them,” he said. “While they’re doing that, look at the crosswalk and make sure no one is there and proceed as they normally would.”

Other local residents have cost and efficacy concerns. A handful of people at Kahului’s Maui Mall on Saturday, which is close to a gateway treatment along Kaahumanu Avenue across from Kahului Shopping Center, questioned how many are replaced and why other options can’t be used instead.

“I’m wondering how long before they get run over and taken out,” said Doug Sparks of Wailuku. “Kihei crossings have flashing lights. To me, that’s a better option.”

Arianna Gerry of Wailuku said they’re a “waste of plastic and a waste of money.”

“I have to drive by them every day to go to the canoe club. And almost every day there’s one down,” she said. “When was the last time there was a pedestrian accident in the crosswalk? I feel like there are better resources that can be used.”

Gerry suggested flashing lights on crosswalk signs, powered by solar panels.

“Then, it’s a one-time expense,” she said. “If you want to make people aware of it, use flashing lights. Then they don’t have to be maintained all the time.”

State DOT has researched other measures, such as flashing lights embedded in streets, and they are “much more expensive,” and difficult to install and maintain, especially because Hawaii gets lots of rain, Sakahara said.

“Studies have shown that drivers don’t always see those (flashing light treatments) anyway,” he said. “Whereas, this is a newer thing for us, we are able to install it quickly at a lower price. We are giving them a try and continuing to monitor their effectiveness.”

Maui’s delineators cost about $20 each, Sakahara said. When asked approximately how many have needed replacement since the project’s start, the spokesman said “HDOT crews have been inspecting weekly and have had to replace some of the delineators and a few of the signs.”

Similar traffic delineator posts are made from plastic, with average heights around 30 to 36 inches. Many sustain 10 hits at 55 miles per hour before needing replacement, according to online product searches.

On Friday and Saturday, two side-by-side delineators were missing from the mauka-bound lanes of Kaahumanu Avenue’s gateway treatment.

If a vehicle does hit a post, it may sustain minor damage or none at all, depending on the motorist’s speed, Sakahara said.

“We are confident that people, as they get used to them, will avoid hitting them if they are going the speed limit,” Sakahara said.

This gateway treatment started in Michigan and led to increased yielding for pedestrians and slower traffic at unsignalized crosswalks, the state DOT said.

In Hawaii, the first gateway treatment went up on Oahu’s Pali Highway at the Wood Street crosswalk on Oct. 19. A Nuuanu resident died at the crosswalk due to a vehicle collision on Oct. 10.

In 2018, 17 pedestrians were killed statewide (two of whom were on Maui), according to a state DOT report, although data does not specify whether they were near or in crosswalks. From Jan. 1 through Friday, five pedestrians have been killed on Maui; however, recent deaths were not in or near crosswalks.

State traffic laws require motorists to stop for pedestrians crossing “upon the half of the roadway upon which the vehicle is traveling” and for pedestrians approaching from the opposite half of the roadway if the pedestrian is “approaching the vehicle so closely as to be in danger.”

As the pilot program continues to be evaluated by state transportation officials on Maui and on Oahu, Sakahara said it’s a benefit if people are forced to slow down.

“We will continue to monitor the areas and see if, for some reason, they were found to be ineffective,” he said. “We could adjust placement or remove from intersections. But so far, even if they get people to slow down, then that’s a positive thing.”

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.

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Gateway treatments installed

• Piilani Highway (Route 31) at Lipoa Street (right turn lanes only)

• Kula Highway (Route 37) at King Kekaulike High School

• Main Street (Route 32) at McDonald’s

• Kaahumanu Avenue (Route 32) at Kinau Avenue (Kahului Shopping Center)

• Puunene Avenue (Route 3500) at Third Street

• Puunene Avenue (Route 3500) at Fourth Street

• Puunene Avenue (Route 3500) at Hololea Street

• Puunene Avenue (Route 3500) at Hawaii Street

Installations awaiting materials

• Puunene Avenue (Route 3500) at Kauai Street

• Honoapiilani Highway (Route 30) at Prison Street

• Kahului Beach Road (Route 3400) at Kekona Street

— Hawaii Department of Transportation

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