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 120.

    Another problem, not mentioned, is where a crossing is very busy with pedestrians in both directions and it effectively 'jams' leaving people still trying to pick their way across well after the green man extinguishes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    This is a non-issue with the newer Toucan crossings which display the green man for the usual set length of time, but also have sensors which detect whether pedestrians are still on the crossing beyond this time, and if they are, the redlight for traffic remains lit until the pedestrian is clear of the crossing.

    A perfect solution to accomodate the mobility-impaired whilst optimising traffic flow

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    And it's taken an academic study for people to realise this? Don't get me wrong - I think it's great that someone has highlighted this issue. However, you'd think that anyone from the Department of Transport sitting at a crossing watching little old men and ladies trying to cross the street for any length of time would have come to the same conclusion and done something about it long ago...

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    As a reasonably healthy person I often feel intimidated in to getting across the road as quickly as possible, when I'm with my partner (who has mobility problems) it's virtually impossible to get across while the green man is visible.Many drivers are impatient & don't like waiting until the green light appears, they're moving as soon as the amber light flashes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    The problem in towns could be mitigated by increasing not just the crossing times but also the minimum times between red sessions. In our local town when the pedestrian traffic is heavy as few as four or five cars can proceed before the lights turn red again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    '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. '

    The problem with that is that not all drivers obey amber lights in the first place. Watch the video clip on this page...

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    It may appear as a green man failure but in the highway code it states that if the amber light is flashing and there are pedestrians on the crossing, cars must wait until they have crossed before advancing. Therefore, in this situation i would argue that it is the driver at fault not the green man.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    The crossing time is also too short for a family with young children. This is not helped as many crossing no longer have 'beeps' and the repositioning lower down of the green man so it is obscured by other pedestrians. Some cars do edge over a crossing while you are still trying to cross. Motion sensors detect if people run across but do not detect anyone waiting to cross on the green man.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    'Pedestrian countdown technology' doesn't work, because nobody's sure exactly what is being counted down! They have them at a notorious junction just outside Holborn. Most people assume they can start walking while the countdown's going, not that they have to be across by the time it's finished. If anything, they encourage people to cross when it's dangerous.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    '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". '

    That is correct: however if you watch the video clip for this story, you will see a car drive through a flashing amber while Anita is still on the crossing...

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    Its an evolutionary advantage no? In a thousand years we will have only quick old people.

    Maybe its a government ploy to save on pensions. ;)

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    A non issue. How often do people get run over just because they started crossing when the traffic was stopped, but someone drove into them as soon as the flashing amber or green showed?

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    i dont profess to understand how highways dept arrive at costs for crossings we ahd 3 options available zebra at £20,000, pelican at £40,000 and puffin at £60,000 and this was some years ago how on earth do they arrive at these figures for push buttons, traffic lights and simple sensors, it seems a case of not seeking best value, therefore gambling with peoples lives

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    This problem does not exist in Denmark. I highly suggest that British people take up more exercise so they can move faster later in life, due to being less fat and having more subtle joints. This way they would be more socially mobile and would be less prone to disease/illness/alzimers. In Denmark people use their bike/walk across cities – the car culture of the UK is killing its citizens.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    #104 - Leave earlier, especially knowing of potential delays on your journey.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    A lot of comments here refer to the flashing amber phase to allow extra time for pedestrians to cross. There is no flashing amber phase on many lights, especially those at traffic light junctions. In central London the time given for pedestrians (and very few are elderly) to cross is a significant problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    Near where I live they 'improved' a crossing. The lights were red for 20 seconds to allow for a single lane of road to be crossed. After 20 secs they would go red again. At peak times the road capacity was thuis reduced by 50%. The queues stretched back miles. What about the rights of commuters to get to work reasonably?

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    A rather pointless waste of time and money by someone with too much of both on their hands. It's not like drivers are entitled to mow down a pedestrian who hasn't quite made it to the other side on time is it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    #96 – The lollipop person assembles kids to lessen the driver’s obligatory halt, by ensuring more get safely across the road. There will always be a straggler. They also stop the children’s irresistible urge to eternally press the button - delaying you even more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    I don't believe the figures are accurate. There must have been many more older OAPs than 65 year olds in the survey.

    My dad is 75 and has pleurisy, yet doesn't have trouble with crossings.

    In any event motorists aren't going to mow down pensioners who are only 3/4 finished, so we needn't bother going to the expense of fixing a non-existent problem.


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