Articles : Living
Longer, Walking Stronger : The Design Needs of Senior Pedestrians
1 2 3
What Should Be Done?
city planning and sprawling development has made it even more necessary
to improve pedestrian design. While it's the city's job to provide
reliable public transportation and well-lit streets with safe, sheltered
benches to rest. From a planner's perspective, measures should be
taken to prevent highways from dividing commercial spaces from residential
spaces. But these things take time. Designers and engineers canand
shouldreact more immediately to the pedestrian design needs
of senior citizens. After all, as David Harkey points out, many new
technologies are available today that allow engineers to make improvements
that simply weren't possible as recently as five years ago.
In Los Angeles, Calif. and Portland, Ore., engineers are using microwave
technology to detect the presence of persons in crosswalks. If a pedestrian
is moving more slowly across the street, the detector will recognize
this and automatically extend the "WALK" signal for several more seconds,
allowing the pedestrian to cross safely.
Improving curb design is another popular recommendation,
notes Harkey. Tightening curb radii, for instance, prevents vehicles
from rounding corners at high speeds. A senior pedestrian with a
slower reaction time and reduced agility may not be able to jump
out of the way of a fast-moving vehicle as quickly as a younger
Even the smallest design and engineering improvements can make a big
difference. And for senior pedestrians like Ina Evans, they can mean
the difference between walking safely and confidently across the streetor
waiting in traffic.
Better refuge areas should be constructed so that pedestrians
can actually feel comfortable in taking refuge at the median when
a vehicle suddenly enters the intersection.
Probably the most widely agreed-upon design improvement
is a change in street crossing times. For years, the transportation
industry has designed street crossings based on the "average" speed
of 2.8 ft/s. But this figure represented the average time it took
a young, healthy, unimpaired person to cross the street.
Taking into account the slower gait and shorter stride
of older peopleas well as longer traveling times for disabled
pedestriansthe Federal Highway Administration and the U.S.
Department of Transporation recommended in the Older Driver Highway
Design Handbook (Publication No. FHWA-RD-97-135, January 1998) that
pedestrian control signal timing be based on an assumed walking
speed of 1.4 ft/s (0.43 m/s). They also recommend the installation
of warning signs to explain precisely what the various crosswalk
signal icons mean.