Green man 'too fast for slow elderly'


The BBC looks at what happens when Anita, who is in her 80s, uses a pelican crossing

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Pedestrian crossings do not allow older people enough time to cross the road, a report warns.

The study found that for those over the age of 65, 76% of men and 85% of women have a walking speed slower than that needed to use a pedestrian crossing.

This speed is set by the Department for Transport at 4ft (1.2m) per second - an international standard.

The work, published in the journal Age and Ageing, calls for current pedestrian times to be reviewed.

Local transport minister Norman Baker said: "In my experience, the vast majority of people, young or old, get across the road as quickly as they can.

"The department recommends that where a crossing may be used by a large number of older people or those with mobility issues, for example outside residential care homes, this should be taken into account in the timings set by local authorities."

Speed tests

Dr Laura Asher, report leader and public health expert at University College London, said: "Walking is an important activity for older people as it provides regular exercise and direct health benefits.

"Being unable to cross a road may deter them from walking, reducing their access to social contacts and interaction, local health services and shops that are all important in day-to-day life.

"Having insufficient time at a road crossing may not increase the risk of pedestrian fatalities but it will certainly deter this group from even trying to cross the road."

Start Quote

The formula councils use for timings at pedestrian crossings actually gives people far longer to cross the road than this flawed research suggests”

End Quote Peter Box, Local Government Association

She added: "The groups of people identified in this study as the most vulnerable were those living in deprived areas - those least likely to have access to other, more expensive, forms of transport."

The study used walking speed tests from around 3,000 older adults performed by the Health Survey (HSE) for England in 2005.

The participant's normal walking speed was assessed by timing how long it took them to walk 8ft (2.5m) at their normal pace.

The average walking speed for older men was 3 ft (0.9m) per second and 2.6ft per second for older women.

Dr Asher said: "By testing people in the general population rather than those already using a pedestrian crossing, we have included people who may have difficulty using a pedestrian crossing and are therefore unwilling to use them."

'Countdown' display

The lights at pedestrian crossing have a number of stages.

On an average road, the green man will stay lit for around 4 seconds. It then has a flashing or blackout stage for around 6 seconds. For roads more than 20ft (6m) wide, an extra second is added for each additional 4ft (1.2m).

After this there are an extra few seconds of an all-red light as a safety margin.

Peter Box, chair of the Local Government Association's economy and transport board, said: "The formula councils use for timings at pedestrian crossings actually gives people far longer to cross the road than this flawed research suggests.

"Timings have to strike a balance between traffic flow and pedestrian safety, but the emphasis is always on safety."

He said timings could be altered to take local circumstances into account, for example if there is a care home nearby.

To help pedestrians cross the road, Transport for London had been introducing "pedestrian countdown" technology to the capital.

This aims to help those crossing the road to be able to better judge whether they have enough time to do so safely - a digital display counts down between the end of the green man signal and the red man appearing, rather than just a flashing green man or blackout period.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    It's a good Darwinian control measure in my opinion. You get 25 seconds or whatever it is to cross the road and if you don't get across in time - BOOM. That'll learn the smug Baby-boomers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    My local council have the solution! You take two bus stops opposite one another outside a hospital and Doctor's surgery, put in low kerbing and indicate to the blind it is the place to cross. Then sit back and wait for the accidents to get rid of the problems for you!

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Most of the pedestrians crossings near me seem to stay on red for a very long time. Certainly enough time for even the slowest walker to walk across, make a cup of tea, and then cross back again.

    Maybe extending the time of the flashing amber would enable slow walkers to complete the crossing, but not hold up traffic when a fast walker has completed theirs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    It's not neccessarily the elderly. Everybody walks at a different pace. It comes down to the fact that a lot of drivers are impatient. I get frustrated when I see someone dithering even when the green man is showing, then start to cross almost when the amber light starts to flash. I just tut and wait. That's all anyone can (should) do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Many walkers have been intimidated by aggressive drivers, to the extent they quite wrongly believe: that they must wait at a zebra for a kindly driver to deign to stop; allow drivers to cross pavements with priority; expect to be hooted at in car parks or other non-roads; be accelerated at by a car not visible when they stepped in a road, and so on.

    This needs urgent address.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    15 second timers plus cameras automatically reporting premature vehical movement across the line back to a control centre. Then a letter automatically sent to the vehicle owner for 50 pounds and 2 auto ponts on the licence. Next time a tax disc is applied for, if said owner has not paid add it to the road tax plus 5% extra for each overdue week. Also countdown systems fitted to all traffic lights

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    On a slight tangent, why do groups of elderly people always insist on having conversations 1cm from the curb next to a zebra crossing?

    Everyone has to drive past at snails pace in dreaded anticipation of them suddenly ending their conversation and lunging out into the road.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    No one on the programme made the point that the highway code states that traffic may proceed when the amber light is flashing only if the pedestrians have crossed. The film clearly showed a car racing through as if there were no pedestrians present

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    At least 2 comments say that you should not drive off on flashing amber. These people should read the highway code. Flashing ameber means "you can drive if there are no pedestrians on the crossing and it is safe to do so". Pedestrians have a flashing green at the same time, which means "carry on crossing if you have already started, but do not start to cross".

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    At the crossing I use to get to work, drivers frequently drive through the red light. You have to make sure that traffic stops before you step off the curb. So you have less time to cross safely. Many cyclists think red lights don't apply to them. I work at a hospital, so you can imagine that many using this crossing are infirm. Put cameras on all crossings and catch these jokers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Although I am a quick walker, if you cross halfway through a green man you often see cars accelerating before you have finished crossing.

    A simple solution would be a timer instead of a green man, like they have in other countries. That way you know how much time you have to cross.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    I confess to being intolerant of ditherers & dawlders on the road, being one who likes to crack on - safely. However, we need to balance the need to avoid uneccessary interuptions to our driving with the imperative of pedestrian safety; so even I concur with the conclusions of this report & agree with its recommendations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Places without crossings are equally dangerous in, what some may say, are sleepy-way-of-life communities. The speed at which one crosses a road includes younger people with ailments impeding their once quick progress. Cars have brakes, drivers should use them and behave with afore-thought, consideration and courtesy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Out of all traffic offences I see every day walking to work, not obeying the amber lights correctly is the most common.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    9.Milehighwayman. I don’t think people read the highway code once they have passed their test.

    Many do not seem to understand about obstructions on their side of the road or giving way to pedestrians who are crossing when turning into a side street.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    I would like to add that it's not just the eldery, people with walking sticks, people with pushchairs and children. So much disability is hidden these days. I suffer from a disability that can cause me to have spasms in my leg (causing me to stop) and I am young. Drivers have no consideration for people such as myself. Give people the time they need to cross, regardless of all other factors.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    I believe the problem here is the motorist, pedestrains have right of way on crossings and the motorist does not have a right to move while the amber light is flashing simmilarly the amber light is not the right to move at traffic lights I am 65 and a driver

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    In demonstration on BBC breakfast this morning, the car starting moving while the amber light was still flashing and the old lady hadn't finish crossing. The amber light means that cars should wait until all pedestrians already on the crossing have finished crossing. It's not the pelican crossing's fault, but idiot drivers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    In Toronto the green flashing man is accompanied by a number countdown from 10-0 allowing pedestrians to see whether they still have enough time to cross. It saves lives in Canada but, I think here our politicians obviously don't value our safety is as important enough to introduce it here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    There should be a cancel button on crossings as well. I'm fed up of waiting at crossings where the pedestrian has pressed the button and crossed before the green man anyway - leaving a queue of motorists sitting there for nothing.


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