LA Times: Crosswalks are increasingly deadly for the elderly

New Yorkers cross at the corner of West 72nd Street and Brodway in Manhattan. As America ages, baby boomers retire and people walk more, planners are having to rethink streets and crossings designed for fast-moving traffic and younger pedestrians. (Carolyn Cole, Los Angeles Times / June 12, 2011)

Traffic planners start to rethink streets designed for fast-moving traffic as America ages and slower pedestrians take more time to cross.

By Tina Susman, Los Angeles TimesJune 11, 2011, 8:03 p.m.

Reporting from New York—

The wide avenues of the Upper West Side have some of this city’s handsomest neighborhoods, premier cultural venues and long stretches of green space. They also have a remarkably deadly history for pedestrians, a fact not lost on Joel Ruben as he ambled across Broadway.

Ruben, 88, stood on the sidewalk and looked north into four lanes of traffic heading his way. As other pedestrians inched into the street against the “Don’t walk” sign, looking to get a head start on the green light, Ruben hung back until he had the “Walk” sign. “I’m very careful,” he said after reaching the other side, a few seconds after “Don’t walk” began flashing red.

For good reason: At least a dozen pedestrians aged 66 to 93 have been killed within a 10-block radius of this spot since 2001, highlighting what transportation experts say is a nationwide problem confronting cities that for decades designed streets for fast-moving vehicles.

What they didn’t consider was the aging of America, a trend laid bare by the 2010 census and now presenting cities — especially pedestrian-heavy ones like New York — with a problem.

“Streets are no longer primarily for moving traffic as quickly as possible. That’s a very 1950s notion of middle America,” said Noah Budnick, the deputy director of Transportation Alternatives, a New York research and advocacy group. “Our streets are where we live in this city, and walking is the primary mode of how people get around. But older people simply don’t have enough time to cross the street.”

Transportation for America, based in Washington, highlighted the issue last month in “Dangerous By Design,” a study of traffic fatalities from 2000 through 2009. Nationwide, people 65 and older make up 13% of the population but represent about 22% of pedestrian deaths.

Both organizations link the disproportionate number of elderly victims to street plans that failed to anticipate a number of social shifts in the country: the first of the 78 million baby boomers turning 65 this year; more retirees moving to urban areas; people living longer; and walking being the main form of exercise for the elderly.

The 2010 census showed growth in the percentage of middle-aged and elderly people far outpacing those 45 and younger. By 2030, the 65-plus crowd is expected to account for 19% of the nation’s population.

“We’re going to see lots more people living to 85 and beyond,” said David Goldberg of Transportation for America. “The impact of having designed our communities so totally around being able to drive for your every need is going to be felt in a very significant way.”

Read the full article at the LA Times website.