Safe Streets for Seniors: What Are Cities Doing to Protect Older Residents?

By on June 19, 2020

America’s senior population shows no signs of slowing in the ensuing decades. Recent statistics suggest that over 20 percent of the US population will be over 65 by 2030. Couple this “senior boom” with the fact that most Americans live in urban areas, and you could understand why city leaders are increasingly concerned about how they protect their older residents.  

Although cities across America want to encourage seniors to remain active, they also want to ensure they stay safe. Unfortunately, traffic collisions involving elderly pedestrians aren’t uncommon in metro areas. The CDC now suggests people over the age of 65 accounts for 20 percent of all pedestrian fatalities.

Thankfully, many of the nation’s most influential cities have begun making significant changes to accommodate senior citizens. Below, we’ll take a look at three simple strategies that have already helped older Americans feel secure in their cities.       


Three Ways Cities Are Supporting Senior Pedestrians 

1. Walk Signals Give Seniors More Time to Cross

Traditionally, walk signals were only set to a rate of four steps per second—a speed that’s way too fast for most senior citizens. No matter your age, you could understand how frightening it is to be in the middle of a crosswalk as your walk signal nears zero.  

To help address this safety issue, a few cities have begun experimenting with extended walk signals, especially in areas with a higher-than-average senior population. This strategy has already caught on in big cities like NYC and Boston, and it remains one of the most cost-effective ways to boost senior safety.

It’s worth noting that Singapore recently introduced a “card-swiping” system to give seniors more time to cross the street. In this Southeast Asian state, seniors have unique cards they could slide on traffic lights to provide them with extra time to cross. Although this hasn’t been implemented in the USA yet, it’s worth looking out for in the future.   

2. Cities Comply with ADA’s Request for Curbside Ramps   

Another issue many seniors face at crosswalks is stepping down from elevated curbs. To help people safely transition between the curb and crosswalk, the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) now requires “curb ramps” at all pedestrian crossings.

These sloping ramps help seniors seamlessly transition from the curbside to the crosswalk. Additionally, some states have experimented with making the crosswalk shorter by deliberately extending curbs (aka “neckdowns”).

To better comply with the ADA’s curbside standards, many cities now encourage residents to point out areas that could use a ramp. For instance, Philadelphia allows residents to send in ramp request forms if they notice curbs without properly installed ramps.

ADA-compliant ramps are crucial in cities like Philadelphia, which has many citizens complaining construction projects in the works that block Philly’s sidewalks. Despite all of these construction projects, however, Philly still ranks as one of the nation’s best big cities for seniors, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

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3. Big, Bold Signs: Improving Visibility in High-Traffic Areas 

As you might already know first-hand, the world tends to get fuzzier as we grow older. Thankfully, many cities are factoring these visibility concerns into their street, sign, and sidewalk designs.

For example, in Washington, DC, urban planners placed bright LED lights on crosswalks with higher-than-average traffic fatalities. These bright lights help alert drivers to pedestrians crossing late at night. According to DC officials, vehicles are more prone to yield to pedestrians on streets with LEDs. 

But it’s not just about improving visibility on crosswalks. Some cities like Tampa have already experimented with new signage that’s easier on the eyes. These “senior-friendly” signs have larger letters and reflective coatings. The National Transportation Research Nonprofit now encourages more cities to redesign their signs to accommodate senior drivers.  

Safe Steps for Senior Citizens    

There’s no doubt senior citizens want to remain active in their communities. A recent survey data suggests people over 65 value a city’s Walk Score just as highly as their grandkids. Not only do senior citizens love the physical benefits of walking, but they also enjoy the sense of independence from strolling around town.  

From lengthening walk signs to lowering curbsides, there are many projects in the works to help make cities safer for seniors. As walkability becomes an increasingly desirable trait, seniors will hopefully feel more comfortable “stepping out” in American cities. 

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Safe Streets for Seniors: What Are Cities Doing to Protect Older Residents?