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 80.

    To clarify an earlier point re zebras: traffic MUST stop, by law, once someone has placed a foot on the crossing.

    However, common sense, careful observation and extreme care is needed by pedestrians to force traffic to stop in this way. (As I often have to do, to get them to stop at all where I live).

    (If you're lucky you can get a shunt from a sports car trying to play follow-the-leader) :D

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    we have a new traffic scheme in our village, we asked for a pufffin crossing as it is by the primary school, ended up with std zebra due to cost.
    many vehicles simply do not stop for peds of all ages regardless of capability,drivers too impatient,mostly reps and mums on school run.
    dot survey said it is safe, stats flawed due to study done by staff in reflective coats, what price is a life ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    There's a green man crossing with lollipop lady near my mum's house - it's really only school kids who use it and it's gives the longest cross I've experienced as a driver. Drivers there loose patience when they're stuck at an empty crossing, kids safely over the road, and they skip the lights. We know the lollipop lady and she's reported several drivers for going before the lights change back.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    What will a few extra seconds of red light on each crossing matter?

    Crossings should be watched by Police occasionally to stop cyclists and motorcyclists proceeding when the light flashes, even if there are still people on the crossing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    also does anyone really not cross the road becasue the green man is too short?? i often see people with sticks/frames etc crossing busy roads 10yds from a crossing - they dont seem very put off by the traffic hurtling past.Infact old people seem to be the worst offenders for crossing near but not at crossings - presumably its too far to walk!

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    While I hope that #70 is right, and that drivers would be patient enough to allow pedestrians time to finish crossing the road even though the lights have changed, there have been a number of incidents recently where drivers have refused to stop at school "lollipop" crossings, in one case even injuring the crossing attendant by smashing the lollipop out of his hands and driving away. Inexcuseable!

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    I've noticed a few newer crossings round here seem to have motion detectors, not only for the cars, but also for people on the crossing. That seems the right solution - extend the green man for a few seconds while there are people on the crossing, and then leave flashing amber going until everyone has completely finished crossing. No need to be limited by 1960s crossing technology.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    Why doesn't the government run driver awareness advertisements about pedestrians crossing at all types of official crossings as it has in the past over seatbelts and drink driving issues? The expectation of the pedestrians is different to that of many drivers. The highway code is taught in schools about NEVER stepping out until the cars have stopped - usually to a tirade of abuse from the drivers

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.


    Damn, good point. Well, if nothing else, it'll impact the viewing figures for Countdown.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    On the other side of the coin why do people ignor the crossings and try and cross a few yards either side? This frequently happens on the new inner ringroad at Derby. It is especially dangerous as the left hand lane is often staionary but the right hand lane is flowing normally.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    are you really telling me that after the green man is gone cars will blindly mow down elderly people?! i think most drivers will see if someone is struggling across the road and wait for them! As a driver its very annoying waiting for 5 minutes with lights on red with no one actually crossing often because the pedestrian has become impatient and rushed across before they change

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    I certainly believe the new type of Green Man that is placed to the side of the pedestrian instead of opposite is far more dangerous. I like to press the button and look in front of me to see the green man, whoever decided to put the indication to the side has got it completely wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    And how long is the red man up for? it's more than 4 seconds - certainly seems like it when you are waiting to cross the road.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    I frequently drive into old people and parents with prams if they haven't finished crossing when the lights change. How else are they going to learn!

    No wait, no-one does that....

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    It's not really a 'Darwinian control' if those failing the test have already reproduced.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.


    "...BOOM. That'll learn the smug Baby-boomers..."


    When I was on my early retiree's run yesterday, an oncoming military cadet saw me, and stepped into my path, determined to cause me to swerve. I accidentally kneed him in the groin...

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Unfortunately our roads and pavements are not really policed unless it generates revenue so road laws are broken regularly. They aren’t bothered about preventing accidents because like preventing crime it costs money whereas when an accident happens all the costs can be clawed back from the motorists insurance.

    So we will continue to be plagued by bad driving and cyclists on pavements.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Comments on here show a range of opinions about the meaning of the lights at these crossings.

    As usual, problems are caused because people do not obey the rules of the road, whether that is due to ignorance or choice.

    How about a publicity campaign to promote understanding, and then
    monitor crossings with cameras and enforce the rules (for both vehicles and pedestrians) with fines.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    The newer design of crossing, without a "green man" or any sort of light that the pedestrian can see once they are on the road, are terrifying and potentially lethal. Many do not have an audible signal, and of course many people, especially older people, are deaf and so would not hear it if there were. This design should never have got off the drawing board.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    So cars are just running old people over as soon as the lights change? No? Not a problem then.


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