Crossing the Street is a Daily Fear for Many, But There’s a Simple Solution

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.

Val says:

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

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Nicole H.
Nicole L3 years ago


Andrew Pawley
Past Member 4 years ago

Motorists can be a real pain.

Scott P.
Terry C4 years ago

Why aren't there auto up road spikes with the green man which recede 10 seconds after he stops flashing? It would put the needed "teeth" into the rights of pedestrians who are constantly threatened by 4 wheeled weapons.

Jane R.
Jane R4 years ago

Petition signed. Make crossing the street easier for seniors and people with disabilities. Drivers can wait an extra 3 seconds!

J. J.
J. J.4 years ago

Petition signed and shared.

Lynn C.
Lynn C4 years ago


Ruhee B.
Ruhee B4 years ago

Motorists are ALWAYS moaning about how much petrol (fuel) costs plus their road tax (here in the UK) and insurance. I'm sick to death of their whinging!!! Unfortunately the oil reserves seem to be nowhere near to finishing ....... noooooooo SO WRONG!!! Why does the world have to favour the dammed motorist???? If everyone walked more the world would be a safer, healthier and cleaner place. As a mum and a walker I know that people with small children and/or pushcahirs/buggies also need extra time to cross. People who walk DESERVE all the support, help and encouragement that they can get!!

Syd Henley
Syd H4 years ago

The time allowed for crossing, must be increased substantially. I do not accept that a change in estimated walking speed from 1.2 metres per second to 0.8 metres per second will make a real difference for badly disabled people.
I am well aware that in my own case, even if the speed was reduced to a half of its current pace (0.6 m.p.s.) I would be hard pressed to cross on foot in the allotted time. As it is, I can at times have problems getting across the main road near my home on my 4 MPH mobility scooter before the ‘green man’ started flashing, due to other pedestrians, women with prams and pushchairs and kids on scooters, rushing past and cutting across in front of me as though they don't know which way they want to go or cannot bloody well see me.
It would also help if CYCLISTS were prosecuted for totally ignoring the fact that just like cars, lorries and buses, they are also obliged to stop and wait at PEDESTRIAN crossings, instead of adopting the attitude that they have absolute priority over EVERYONE and NOBODY may hinder them. I have lost count of the number of people I have seen get knocked over, both on crossings and pavements by these damned lunatics on two wheels.

Elizabeth F.
Elizabeth F4 years ago

good info...Thanks!!!

CD M4 years ago

The frequency of pedestrian vs vehicle collisions is increasing at an alarming rate here. Two just yesterday - with one fatality less than a mile from where I live. I witnessed another not so long ago - a driver racing in the wrong lane to make a turn and an oblivious pedestrian assuming he was looking (if at all) in the right direction, but crossing from between stopped cars and nowhere near a crosswalk. Thankfully, not fatal.
Like this one, I think I can reasonably attribute many of these to driver and pedestrian inattentiveness alike. While drivers are racing to make that light or that turn, or are distracted by their phones (including hands-free!) or busily following their turn-by-turn GPS, many pedestrians are walking into traffic with their eyes on their phones etc. Right-of-way doesn't absolve anyone of using caution.
But on this topic - and one I hadn't thought about as much - I have to agree. Though not yet a senior myself, I feel exactly the same. I see how people drive and always use the crosswalk when there's any amount of traffic, and I would also appreciate extra time to cross the street. I don't move so quickly these days and I like to have the chance to make eye contact with these drivers.
Maybe our next mayor will have fewer distractions and can take this issue up.
Toronto, Canada.