We must protect the elderly and aging when crossing streets

The Mayor of the City of Toronto recently called to safety islands to be created for the elderly and aging to use when crossing busy and large intersections. This is has been an issue on my mind for a long time. The piece below I wrote last year precisely about this all too common threat. 

Bottom line: We must protect the elderly and aging when crossing streets.


Watching the ribbon of news on roll across the bottom of my television is often very disturbing. 

Often it lists the pedestrians killed on the road – too frequently with the notation that many of the fatalities
involve seniors.

There are likely many reasons that older pedestrians are at special risk. The question is, what steps can be taken to systemically decrease that risk?

I recently witnessed a pedestrian whose life was almost compromised within a
10-minute period while she was trying to cross a busy Toronto intersection – in
an area where many seniors live. Unlike some seniors who are willing to risk being hit by crossing the street midway between marked and/or traffic light-controlled
intersections in order to avoid the often long walk to the corners, this frail but determined senior was doing all the right things.

I watched from my car at the stoplight as she pushed the traffic light button and
waited at the corner, her walker mere inches from the road. The light took ages to change. Meanwhile, a car in the lane close to where she was hovering made a very fast turn with no speed hesitation and came very close to clipping her walker – which would have led to a motor vehicle pedestrian tragedy. 

I watched the driver as she made the turn and was quite sure she was not aware of the pedestrian, who was just behind the pole on which the traffic light button was attached, with only her walker actually sticking out ahead of her. I breathed a sigh of relief and then watched as she very slowly started to cross the street, first with the white crossing sign flashing and then as the numbers counted down to the red hand
indicating that the light was going to change. 

At this point, she was about two-thirds of the way across the street, since her gait was decidedly slow. A van whipped around the corner near the crossing and sped quickly by in front of her as she slowly walked across the street with her walker leading the way. The next car passed behind her, which seemed less dangerous than the previous one, as she was getting close to the pavement on the far side of the street. It was a veritable military-style exercise, trying to avoid “incoming” as weaponry is often referred to during battle.

This was summer. During the winter, the risks are even greater as many streets
may contain mounds of snow that block intersections and increase the risk of mid-intersection attempts to cross the street.

At one of the major hospitals in Toronto, the front entrance sits between two
intersections far enough away that many people, including the large number of
elderly attending the hospital, try to pass between the streetcars and automobiles
to avoid the extra, substantial walk between the intersections. The hospital’s main entrance is opposite a large parking garage, and this increases the likelihood of substantial pedestrian traffic. 

Why a crosswalk or traffic light does not exist at that point has been a mystery to me for a long time. I imagine that after a pedestrian death and the subsequent investigation or coroner’s inquest, this may be a major recommendation
– but too late, of course, for the person whose life may have been lost from what appears to be a perfectly avoidable risk.

Over the years, I have witnessed the result of what was called, especially by insurers
of the vehicles involved in the accident, “minor” injuries. The consequences have quite often been substantial in the negative impact they have on the victim’s quality of life and self-care abilities. In every case, I have found that even what appears to be a “minor” injury may leave substantial lifelong consequences.

Our focus must be on prevention of such events – based on good road safety design
and careful driving that does not over-estimate personal driving skills or underestimate the risks involved where senior pedestrians are concerned.