Don’t Be Stupid, Be Flexible

We need to create an environment with flexibility. It’s crucial in making our cities better places.


Someone painted “ALOHA” – the Hawaiian greeting – into a crosswalk at Lunalilo Home Road and Kalanipuu Street outside Honolulu. With a little paint, an unfriendly suburban stroad crosswalk became slightly more tolerable. But, not everyone is happy. This is a must watch!

A little tactical urbanism has been turned into a crime. Now, it needs to be removed because it violates the Standard, regardless of the support from locals who experience the intersection daily.

One neighbor is quoted saying, “Slow down and enjoy a little aloha. I’d hate to see the city proclaim it is against the law, whether its graffiti or whatever, I think it’s a nice thing.” Another resident agreed“It doesn’t detract from the old lines, so I think its good.”

Residents have started a grassroots effort to keep them via a Facebook page and a petition.

The Aloha is against the standard. No question about it. But, what good is the standard if it isn’t producing good places? Let’s take this Lunalilo Home Road as our example. It hits the Standard. Notice the four wide lanes, nothing impeding the clear zone, minimal sidewalks, absence of a bike lane, and a speed limit of 30 mph, but a design speed of 50.


You can tell this road hits the Standard because every single house has decided to build a wall blocking it from view.

Now, we have something in the neighborhood that residents like. It was never planned. No one had a meeting about it. Someone just wanted to make their neighborhood a better place and they just did it. Unfortunately, making your neighborhood a little more Aloha violates the Standard.

Here’s where it hurts us most. Does anyone really think the Aloha crosswalks are dangerous? Come on, don’t be stupid. It’s within the original template, works within the lines, and was painted only on the less busy side street crosswalks.

To have a standard that is so inflexible is to say that we’ve perfected intersection crosswalks. We haven’t. Especially Hawaii which has some of the highest rates of pedestrian automobile-related deaths in the United States.  This is where the City of Honolulu should be asking themselves: what has the standard gotten us? A whole lot of places people don’t enjoy being?

How can we change that? It’s simple: we allow flexibility in our codes and standards.

When it comes to infrastructure, government needs to have a role. But, creative displays like Aloha are happening outside the government realm – without permission – because it would either:

a) not be approved,
b) take too long, or
c) cost too much money

I love the Aloha crosswalk. But, if I knew I had to wait four months, go to five public meetings, talk to a half dozen government agencies and still risk the chance it may never see the light of day, well, then I’d probably say “Forget it. I don’t have time.”

The criticism isn’t of public officials. I have friends and colleagues in these roles and they’re smart, capable and creative people. It’s the system. In fact, I’m confident that planners reading this right now would love to have the Aloha crosswalk in their town.

We’ve built a system lacking flexibility. When someone has an idea to paint a crosswalk, it should be welcomed. We take that sidewalk and we experiment. If people like it, then great. If it doesn’t work, we get rid of it. Worse case scenario, what are we out? A few thousand dollars?

Don’t be stupid. Be flexible. We can deviate from the standard. We have to. Otherwise our cities will maintain the status quo and that’s the last thing we want.


Seriously, let’s help the residents out by showing support. “Like” the Facebook page and sign the petition. I’m skeptical of online petitions, but I think it’s important we show those neighbors who support the Aloha crosswalk that they aren’t crazy.

5 thoughts on “Don’t Be Stupid, Be Flexible

  1. Monte Castleman

    Sometimes it may seem ridiculous in situations like this, but standards are there for a reason, so you can be anywhere from Honolulu to Key West and know what a sign, pavement marking, or signal means. Suppose some city decided to add pedestrian sensors to a crosswalk and added a purple light to the signal to indicate that pedestrians are present. As an out-of-town driver you approach the intersection and see a green and purple light displayed together and have no idea what to do. It’s hard to squash bad creativity without taking out the good or OK creativity.

    1. T

      The city engineers should at least seek an FHWA request to experiment using the “aloha” crosswalk and do a quick study. The study might even find that the change brings more attention to the cross walk, like the residents said. Worst case, they can remove it, but it seems a little preemptive to spend so much money in scratching it out when it already might be a safer option than before, not to mention pleasant. And personally I had to look at it twice to notice what was actually different…

    2. Alex BaumanAlex Bauman

      Monte, are you familiar with the theory that standards lead to a false sense of security that actually reduces safety? That is, having invariable standards (especially ones that assume much faster speeds than are appropriate) cause drivers to feel safer than they are, which causes them to drive less safely, which makes the roads less safe overall. Wouldn’t it be better to have less rigorous standards and more local variation, so that drivers are confronted with a slightly unfamiliar situation that jolts them into actually paying attention to driving?

      1. Monte Castleman

        I’ve not heard of it, and without any hard data my quick reaction is I don’t agree with it based on my own experience, in that when I’m driving on a strange road it’s unfamiliar enough that I’m careful, and the added distraction of trying to figure out what an unfamiliar traffic control device is could cause an issue.

        Not a perfect analogy, but there’s no standard as to whether a Don’t Walk signal is allowed to be displayed before a yellow vehicle signal or not. Whether drivers are supposed to look at ped countdowns to judge the time for the next yellow light or not, the reality is they do. I was driving a lot in the Bay Area and grew to rely on them for help in the stressful driving conditions in San Francisco, then I’m in Grant’s Pass and they count down to zero when the vehicle light is still green, out of habit I started slowing way down and pissed off a truck driver behind me.

        I’d probably laugh and pay attention if I saw an Aloha crosswalk, but become dangerously distracted if I saw a purple light below a green light (I pulled this out of my hat as an example because some of the earliest “Walk” lights were purple indications displayed below the green).

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