Why did the senior cross the road?

Source: Moktamo

Source: Moktamo

The San Francisco Examiner recently reported on a protest undertaken by area seniors who are advocating for longer crossing times at a dangerous intersection. All they had to do to make their point was gather in a group and cross the street. Around 50 people showed up to participate.

As the Examiner explains, Jeanne Lynch, age 88, was one of the participants who is troubled and impacted by this short crossing:

The light across Masonic Avenue, in front of the City Target (formerly Mervyn’s), turned red when she — and others — were only halfway across.

Cars started to rev their engines and SUVs inched forward, impatiently edging toward the seniors as they finished crossing through a red light.

“Look at the size of this crosswalk,” she said in disbelief, pointing to its length. She added that due to the limitations she has walking, combined with short crossing times, “I’ve had to change my lifestyle” and has stopped coming to that intersection all together.

This story illustrates how powerful a simple demonstration can be. One look at any one of these seniors crossing and even a five-year-old could tell you the light was changing too quickly (and incidentally, the five-year-old would probably also have trouble getting across the street in this amount of time).

The solution to this problem is equally simple: Increase the crossing time at the light. I'm no traffic engineer but I'm guessing that a quick reprogramming of the light mechanism should do the trick.

Rather than doing this though, the response from the traffic engineer, as reported by the Examiner, was:

We are in the process of upgrading the transit priority and pedestrian signal timing programming to meet the newer 3.5 feet per second guidance.

This process could take months, endangering seniors and limiting their ability to shop, get to appointments, visit friends, exercise, and more—every day. We've written before about the isolation that our auto-oriented towns creates for seniors. It's a real problem. What's more, an organizer for Senior & Disability Action which led this protest says that the 3.5 feet per second adjustment won't be enough anyway.

Why not just adjust the timing right now for the key intersections that are clearly causing problems? What is the downside to a slightly longer crossing time?

At the National Walking Summit I recently attended in St. Paul, MN, one important point driven home during multiple presentations and workshops was that improvements that benefit people with mobility issues, people in poverty, and other underserved groups will benefit everyone in the process. It turns out that an intersection that’s safer for seniors to cross is also safer for children to cross and people in wheelchairs to cross and people carrying heavy loads of groceries… No one loses, unless you count the drivers who have to wait an extra few seconds before speeding through the intersection. But if that's the price we have to pay to keep the elderly in our communities safe, active, and connected, I think it is wholly worth it.

(Top photo source: Garry Knight)

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