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 100.

    It's not just the elderly who struggle. I am fit and healthy and walk and run miles every day, and I can't get across central London crossings in the time the green light is showing. Ever since Boris Johnson reduced the walking time to the minimum on London crossings they are clearly inadequate in central London where pedestrians outnumber cars but still the car is king.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    The green man timing does not need to change. Most people get across in time. And when someone is slow and the lights change before they get to the other side, I'm sure all drivers will wait until they are back on the pavement before pulling away. If it were made longer drivers will be more infuriated staring at an empty crossing where all the pedestrians have crossed but the lights are still red.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    Old people could simple equip themselves with a "snake" - you know: that spikey thing that police use to trap tear-away car thieves, as featured in those TV documentaries about "speed cops" and the like.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    If a pedestrian is using a crossing in particular, but in any case if any person is on the road, they should be taking precendence over any vehicle for safety's sake. Just like steam gives way to sail at sea. The real problem is common sense is no longer common.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    What is with lollypop wo/men who stand at traffic light crossings and push the button for children - can kids not do it anymore or do we trust drivers so little to stop at a red light that we need a grown-up to be a human shield?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.


    "...Surely at the point when old people can't beat the lights, we have reached the euthanasia threshold..."


    Perhaps, and if you're very, very lucky, you might get to be old one day...

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    doesnt just apply to the elderly does it, what about people with disability and mums with small children ? highway code says you dont move until crossing is clear many drivers have forgotten the basic rules, hell your are only inconvenienced for a few seconds, some of you bloggers may live to be old and exp this 1st hand, you may have a different opinion then

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    This is manageable by extending the time that the amber light flashes for during which time the motorist should only be able to move forward if there is nobody on the crossing. Anything else apart from expensive detectors only extends the time where for 99% of the time the crossing is empty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    I've had a foot injury an found it challenging to cross the road as quickly as i thought. Now think of the olld people who are naturally slower but also have other medical conditions. I do feel for those who say there is enough time for crossings, cos one day, yourselves or somone close to you will be in this situation

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    Surely, if there's some elderly pedestrian still struggling across the road when the green light appears, motorists can politely wait just a few more seconds for him/her to reach the safety of the pavement? Or have we become so impatient with ourselves and others that time anyplace and anywhere is of the essence? If that is so, then some motorists need to try using their own legs occasionally.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    The infirm don’t need to feel threatened when crossing a road. The stress endured by mouthy, arm-waving, engine-revving drivers is a gauntlet no one should endure. Are sat navs not fitted with warnings that a non-mechanical being is crossing a road? Flashing green man, beeps or impatient drivers do not have priority. I carry a portable, tyre-ripping, zebra crossing. Works a treat :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    This is a spurious argument by the anti car lobby "Brake" who are obviously unaware of the rule governing these crossings. A red light, which stops the Traffic, is followed by flashing amber during which a driver must not move off until the crossing is clear. This being the case how long does the" red light" really need to be on? Just extend the flashing amber interval.

  • Comment number 88.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    4 seconds is really too short to allow for everyone to cross, particularly someone who has a walking problem. There are several crossings in my town where the first couple of those seconds you still have to wait for people jumping the amber light at a corner so in practice it's often a lot less. Measure that against the many minutes road traffic has and there is a clear imbalance in priorities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    Have people become so robotic that when a light changes to green they will drive forward regardless of whether there is anybody still on the crossing? Has our society become so regulated that we are unable to decide for ourselves whether to run somebody over or not??

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    Keep the traffic flowing seems to be the most important thing not the safety of pedestrians! No-one seems to understand traffic lights any more or more likely, they choose to ignore them and risk peoples lives

    Councils will only take action in the event of accidents or better still, deaths!

    As they say, "cost of doing business". Unacceptably high I think!

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    Whoever designed those crossings that have the pedestrian lights at shoulder height next to the person waiting to cross (are they 'pelicans'?) should be made to actually use them on a busy road in town. The lights are impossible to see if there's more than one person, and once you're on the crossing, you're on your own. I totally ignore them because they're worse than useless. Dangerous, in fact.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

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


    Remember elderly family members often have a role in caring and providing for the younger generations of their family so although they themselves have already successfully reproduced, they are still able to influence the 'success' of their future generations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    I totally agree with this article. My father in law is a stroke sufferer. It takes him a very long time to cross the road. So yes, the green light is not long enough for him.
    Ive always been very aware of this so its nice to actually see it on the news page!

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    A fast, agile young person can cross anywhere,.. these crossings are AIMED at people less-able to cross the road, so why on earth don't they cater for the speed of people less-able to cross the road??


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