Safe Routes Scoop

Senior Walkability in NJ:
Making Improvements One Step at a Time

the street and have a harder time negotiating everyday obstacles, such as curbs and sidewalks.


While functional limitations are often part of the natural process of aging, our built environment provides obstacles that hinder mobility. Pedestrian facility design and maintenance is critical to a walkable environment for seniors. Poor maintenance and design result in poor walking conditions and pose barriers to accessibility. In addition, although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that pedestrian facilities be constructed to be accessible for the disabled, these guidelines are not always followed.


Some examples of poor maintenance include intersections with faded crosswalk striping or no striping at all.  These poorly maintained intersections fail to alert either the pedestrian or the driver that the pedestrian has priority to cross at that location. Also, crumbling or missing sidewalk segments present a major obstacle for those with mobility impairments, especially those who require wheelchairs or walkers. Lighting, traffic congestion, speed, and safety/security concerns can also pose barriers to safe senior walking in our communities. 


Design practices also pose dangers to the elderly. Intersections that are designed for higher speed auto turns can be intimidating to seniors,

because the design allows for faster traffic and longer crossing distances. Intersections can be designed with a curb radius that ranges from gentle (with a wider radius) to sharp.  If the curb is designed with a wider radius, motorists can make the turn at higher speeds.  A common solution is to install bump-outs in crossings. Bump-outs extend the curb closer to the lane of travel; this slows traffic because the roadway is narrowed and the smaller turning radius necessitates reduced speeds.  Bump-outs have other pedestrian safety benefits: they increase the visibility of pedestrians to motorists and reduce the crossing distance from curb to curb.


Long crossing distances also pose a problem. Two approaches for addressing that concern include constructing center island medians and lengthening pedestrian crossing signal times. Center island medians offer a safe place for pedestrians to stop in the center of the roadway, where they can opt to rest and/or wait for the next pedestrian signal phase if they do not feel they have adequate time to complete their crossing safely. Traffic signal increases in the length of the “walk” phase of the traffic signal allow the pedestrian more time to cross at a given intersection.



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