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Aging & Longevity

Pedestrian lights slowed to allow senior citizens more time to cross street

Irish study finds seniors walk too slowly to cross road safely, especially if they are thinking

Pedestrian street light in Dublin, IrelandFeb. 2, 2016 – Senior citizens tend to walk more slowly than younger people and studies have found that walking speed can even be used to determine longevity. In Ireland, however, researchers have found seniors may be hastening their deaths by taking too long to walk across the street.

One in three Irish seniors aged 65-74 do not have enough time to cross the road at pedestrian light crossings, according to the study released by The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA).

In Ireland, the green “man” signals an invitation for pedestrians to start to cross the road. The amber “man” indicates that pedestrians should continue to cross the road if they have already started, but that they should not begin to cross. If a pedestrian begins to cross just before the light changes from green to amber, pedestrians must walk at a minimum walking speed of 1.2 metres per second (m/s) to cross the road.


Based on their usual walking speed, one in three Irish adults aged 65-74 years and three in five adults aged 75 years and older walk slower than 1.2 m/s (3.280 feet per second) and therefore would not have enough time to cross the road in the time provided at the pedestrian crossings, say the researchers from Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.

Women walk more slowly than men and therefore, a larger proportion of women are affected compared to men at all ages.

Walking while carrying out another task, even just a mental one, typically results in even slower walking speeds. Three out of every four Irish adults aged 65 years and older walk slower than 1.2 m/s when performing a cognitive task while walking.

This suggests that an education and awareness campaign highlighting the importance of giving full attention to the task of crossing the road and targeting changes in pedestrian behavior is required, the researchers suggest.

 “Crossing the road is an important part of everyday life for many people but these findings highlight that pedestrian light settings often do not match older adults’ walking abilities,” said author Dr. Orna Donoghue, who is Project Manager on TILDA.

“Not being able to cross the road comfortably can impact on older adults’ social engagement, physical activity, functional independence and quality of life.”

Click to watch video of JAMA study predicting the longevity of senior citizens can be determined by their walking speed.

The report illustrates that increasing the duration of the pedestrian light signals would allow a greater proportion of older people to cross the road safely. Dr. Donoghue says, however, “The impact on traffic flow, driver behaviors and the needs of all road users should be considered before introducing a significant change.”

Over several months, the authors report they have been working closely with Dublin City Council to review the pedestrian crossings in the city. As a result of this collaboration, the duration of the amber light has been increased at over 30 crossings in Dublin.

Co-author and Principal Investigator of TILDA, Professor Rose Anne Kenny said, “Crossing the road is a concern for many older adults. Ideally, changes to the pedestrian light settings should rely on evidence-based data. TILDA can provide this for older Irish adults and therefore it is in a unique position to contribute to this evidence-base.”

It is important to remember, the authors say, that there are also some steps that pedestrians can take themselves to make crossing the road a more comfortable experience. These include staying physically active to maintain their walking speed, starting to cross the road when the green man appears and avoiding distractions when crossing.


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