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Gordon’s piece on entering the world of the old offered an important perspective on the difficulties of mobility for older adults. For a significant proportion of our citizenry, a 10-minute trip to the store can be a frustrating, intimidating, shameful, and risk-laden endeavour. Slower response times, poorer eyesight and hearing, and less agile movements put seniors at much greater risk of injury on our streets. The sheer hassle of even small trips keeps many seniors from venturing out; reinforcing the negative cycle of reduced social and emotional well-being, depression, and worsening physical health.
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City streets are designed mostly with able-bodied adults in mind, so of course many of us would not notice the dozens of ways in which streetscape design can make life difficult for those who are not as physically robust. In recent years this has been mitigated somewhat through accessibility initiatives intended to guide how engineers and designers approach street design with people with disabilities in mind.
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However, to date there has been little done in the Lower Mainland specifically for seniors akin to the many Safe Routes to Schools projects undertaken in the last decade which provide data-supported mitigation around schools to improve safety for the small, young, and easily-distracted.
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In New York, they’ve taken notice. Since 2008, the New York City Department of Transportation has undertaken just such an initiative specifically for seniors – the Safe Streets for Seniors program.
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The program began by analyzing crash data which revealed that although seniors (aged 65+) only accounted for 12% of the city’s population, they sustained 36% of the city’s fatal crash injuries.
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Screenshot 2016-01-31 19.48.19Safe Streets for Seniors Neighbourhoods
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Heat maps of the worst neighbourhoods for senior were created and teams assembled to survey how these crashes occurred and how the entire neigbhourhood’s street and sidewalk network contributed to this higher injury and fatality risk.
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Mitigation was introduced to make all pedestrians safer, but has included changes  to specifically help seniors:  increased crosswalk times, simplified intersections, enhanced street lighting, ‘wrap-around’ drop curbs, enlarged signage with upgraded retroflectivity, and improved audio crossing guidance, to list a few.
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Before and After
Chinatown, Manhattan
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 Fordham/University Heights, the Bronx – 1
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Flushing, Queens
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Fordham/University Heights, the Bronx – 2
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This program has been very successful at reducing actual crashes and improving senior mobility. It works. We should consider something similar here; because if we’re lucky, we’ll all be old someday and will greatly appreciate the genius of our own foresight.