February 1, 2016

Ain't Gettin' Any Younger

Gordon’s piece on entering the world of the old offered an important perspective on the difficulties of mobility for older adults. For a significant proportion of our citizenry, a 10-minute trip to the store can be a frustrating, intimidating, shameful, and risk-laden endeavour. Slower response times, poorer eyesight and hearing, and less agile movements put seniors at much greater risk of injury on our streets. The sheer hassle of even small trips keeps many seniors from venturing out; reinforcing the negative cycle of reduced social and emotional well-being, depression, and worsening physical health.
City streets are designed mostly with able-bodied adults in mind, so of course many of us would not notice the dozens of ways in which streetscape design can make life difficult for those who are not as physically robust. In recent years this has been mitigated somewhat through accessibility initiatives intended to guide how engineers and designers approach street design with people with disabilities in mind.
However, to date there has been little done in the Lower Mainland specifically for seniors akin to the many Safe Routes to Schools projects undertaken in the last decade which provide data-supported mitigation around schools to improve safety for the small, young, and easily-distracted.
In New York, they’ve taken notice. Since 2008, the New York City Department of Transportation has undertaken just such an initiative specifically for seniors – the Safe Streets for Seniors program.
The program began by analyzing crash data which revealed that although seniors (aged 65+) only accounted for 12% of the city’s population, they sustained 36% of the city’s fatal crash injuries.
Screenshot 2016-01-31 19.48.19Safe Streets for Seniors Neighbourhoods
Heat maps of the worst neighbourhoods for senior were created and teams assembled to survey how these crashes occurred and how the entire neigbhourhood’s street and sidewalk network contributed to this higher injury and fatality risk.
Mitigation was introduced to make all pedestrians safer, but has included changes  to specifically help seniors:  increased crosswalk times, simplified intersections, enhanced street lighting, ‘wrap-around’ drop curbs, enlarged signage with upgraded retroflectivity, and improved audio crossing guidance, to list a few.
Before and After
Chinatown, Manhattan
 Fordham/University Heights, the Bronx – 1
Flushing, Queens
Fordham/University Heights, the Bronx – 2
This program has been very successful at reducing actual crashes and improving senior mobility. It works. We should consider something similar here; because if we’re lucky, we’ll all be old someday and will greatly appreciate the genius of our own foresight.

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  1. This is also an excellent counter-argument to the suggestion that if people don’t like housing prices they should move to the ‘burbs … for the group for which “a 10-minute trip to the store can be a frustrating, intimidating, shameful, and risk-laden endeavour”, the option to live a car-dependent lifestyle simply doesn’t work, so the ‘burbs simply don’t work either … especially when unserved (or even underserved) by transit.

    1. Post

      You’ll have to learn to pander better than that if you’re going to every make it as a local Councilor in this day and age. Your inability to stifle your reasoned conclusions will land you nothing but an honest, actual day job.

    2. There is another aspect which makes suburbia worse for seniors,
      Cities provide a relatively healthy environment by providing clean water, sewers and reasonably healthy buildings. Some cities are now focusing on a built environment which improves health even more by making walkable and cyclable communities which improve health through exercise, New York is encouraging stair use by providing free signs to direct people to stairwells. I suggest that building codes should insist on prominent stairwells to at least the third floor and usable stairwells beyond that level. All these measures go toward improving and preserving physical mobility well into one’s senior years.
      Suburbia, on the other hand, encourages car use and discourage exercise. This leads to all the chronic diseases associated with a sedentary lifestyle, thereby hastening the loss of physical mobility

  2. I think every planner, urbanist and city councillor should spend a month living in a wheelchair, better yet, a care facility, and be subjected to the inadequacies presented by our streetscapes and zoning, but the difficulties in being dependent on the often pathetic HandiDart service and anemic transit services dominated by Autotopia.
    With this educational requirement, our cities would radically and quickly change beyond the token (albeit helpful) efforts illustrated above.

    1. Post

      In a Socratic-pure job environment, we would have to. It would have a remarkable effect on every single decision made for the rest of our lives.
      In a similar vein, I’ve also posited that government transportation managers should be forced to travel without the aid of personal vehicles for a year – or a month. We would not recognize this planet.

    2. Totally agree.
      The way we have designed our cities since WWII has led to a high degree of entropy. Redesigning cities for a human economy would likely be one of the best methods to deal with the plethora of human conditions as well as climate change.

  3. These kinds of improvements also help people pushing strollers or pulling shopping carts, as seen in the “after” versions of Fordham/University Heights.

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