Written by Ruth Billingham for Living Streets
Former nanny Val Foster is 72 and lives alone in sheltered accommodation in Rotherhithe, South London. She retired ten years after developing arthritis in her spine, which spread to her knees and more recently to her hands. She is in pain much of the time, especially since having an operation to replace a knee joint two weeks ago.
There is a pelican crossing near Val’s home, which is the main route to the supermarket on the opposite side of a road. The road has particularly heavy traffic at rush hour. Even before her operation, Val found that she did not have enough time to reach the far side of the road before the ‘green man’ started flashing. I tried the crossing myself at my regular non-rushed pace and found that, even though I’m almost half Val’s age, there was insufficient time to cross.
It’s a very busy road and cars don’t give you enough time to get across or you get a horn blaring at you. It makes you nervous and I know many of my neighbours feel the same. You want to go to the shops, but I hate using the crossing. You have to pluck up courage just to go out to get a pint of milk.
The experience of Val and her friends and neighbours is all too common and for very good reason. Under the current government guidance, the amount of time pedestrians are given to use a crossing is calculated assuming a walking speed of 1.2 metres per second. Researchers at University College London found that the majority of people over the age of 65 could not walk that quickly. The maximum walking speed for three quarters of all men in that age bracket is 0.8 metres per second. For women, it’s just 0.7 metres per second. This means that 75 percent of the most vulnerable people are unable to use a pedestrian crossing in the allotted time, which is why many older people — intimidated by the frightening prospect of having to scuttle across a busy road to get their shopping, to visit their local post office or to go to the hospital for surgery — opt to stay at home. Without the opportunity for social interaction, they can become isolated and lonely.
Living Streets knows that the solution for ensuring that Val, and people like her, are able to get out and about safely is a simple one. Just three seconds added to another road users’ journey time would make all the difference to an older, vulnerable pedestrian. Just three more seconds of ‘green man time’ would allow them to cross the road without feeling pressured, under duress or unsafe. Just three seconds so Val and her friends can get around their local neighbourhoods, unhurried and unharmed.
The guidance issued by central government to local councils, designed to help them calculate the time allowed at mechanised crossings, is due to be revised next year. The 1.2 metres per second walking speed contained within it has been in place since the 1950s, despite our demographic landscape looking very different now with a growing older population and a significant increase in traffic density. Living Streets is appealing to the government to reduce the assumed walking speed to one which evidence suggests is achievable for the majority of people, 0.8 metres per second. Asking for just another three seconds is a very small request, but would make all the difference to 7.5 million vulnerable people across the UK.
National charity Living Streets has been the voice for pedestrians throughout its 80 year history. With our supporters we work to create safe and attractive streets where people want to walk, through our successful projects such as Walk to School and Walk to Work Week. You can find out more about the campaign at www.livingstreets.org.uk/Give-us-time-to-cross
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