Cities are going to have to adapt to an aging population, not vice versa

corner view
Screen capture Google Street View

A 70 year old woman using a walker was killed recently by the driver of a car, crossing this big wide street in Mississauga, Ontario. Judging from the police tape in this photo, she was about where that black pickup truck is. It is an intersection, but the nearest traffic light is a full block to the west. In comments, they ask “When will people start taking personal responsibility for their actions?” and “too bad she didn’t use the light” (a block away).

Coincidentally, the local police have started a safety blitz, where according to the local news station,

Police say even if you have the right of way, it doesn’t always mean it’s safe to cross. Pedestrians are being reminded not to rely solely on traffic signals and stop signs, to look first and ensure all vehicles are stopped before stepping out onto the road, to remove ear buds, not to jaywalk or cut through traffic, and to keep your eye on your surroundings not on our cell phone.

reflective wrist bands© Peel Police

They are also giving away reflective wrist bands, essentially telling pedestrians that even when you have the right of way, you have to adapt how you act and what you wear, because it is just not safe out there. Now when ever I complain about this kind of thing, readers tell me that pedestrians have to take some responsibility, that it isn’t always the drivers’ fault. Nobody ever seems to stop and suggest that perhaps it is neither; is there something wrong with this street? Is it time to recognize that it isn’t working? That perhaps engineering a road with five wide lanes and designed for high speeds is a mistake for everyone, young and old?

A new study prepared by ARUP, Shaping Aging Cities, looks at how European cities are trying to adapt. The project leader behind the report tells the Guardian:

“Small innovations can make a difference. Older people are less likely to drive, favouring public transport and walking. The average person over 65 manages a walking speed of 3km/hour. At 80 that goes down to 2km/hour, compared with the average for a working age person of 4.8km/hour. Reducing the distance between transport stops, shops, benches, trees for shade, public toilets and improving pavements and allowing more time to cross the road all encourage older people to go out.”

guy crossing sgtreetGoogle Street View/Screen capture

So with the growing elderly population, we are going to have a lot more walking old people. Meanwhile, the corner of Enola and Lakeshore, where the woman was killed, has no amenities, nothing. It is a deathtrap, and even Google Streetview is catching people trying to cross it. Because they really have no choice.

Lakeshore Road is what Charles Marohn of Strong Towns calls a Stroad; they are not streets, which knit together communities and provide places to sit, shop and walk, and they are not roads, which connect places.

A STROAD is a street/road hybrid and, besides being a very dangerous environment (yes, it is ridiculously dangerous to mix high speed highway geometric design with pedestrians, bikers and turning traffic), they are enormously expensive to build and, ultimately, financially unproductive.

They are also deadly. They are no place for a seventy year old lady with a walker. So instead of once again blaming the victim for being where she shouldn’t be or not wearing a reflective wristband, perhaps we should be looking at how we can fix our cities and our stroads so that people who do not drive can actually live out their years there in comfort and safety. Because if we don’t, there are going to be a whole lot more of this.

Cities are going to have to adapt to an aging population, not vice versa
Why was a 70 year old woman with a walker in the middle of this?

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