New Coalition Says Safe Cities Should Accomodate the Needs of 8 year olds as well as 80 year olds

August 6th, 2010

Editor’s Note: 8 – 80 cities is an advocacy organization whose goal is to contribute to the creation of vibrant cities and healthy communities, where residents live happier and enjoy great public places. They promote walking and bicycling as activities and urban parks, trails and public spaces as a way to fulfill their goal.

When a hopeful Toronto Mayoral candidate casually compared the city’s freshly painted Jarvis St. bike lanes to a black diamond at a ski resort and said “I don’t want my kids on Jarvis…it’s just too dangerous” during an interview on CBC Radio, we all should have taken heed. How can it be that in Canada’s largest city, the latest and greatest we offer cyclist is a meagre painted strip which separates bikes from weaving cars and barrelling buses? Is this an example of the best transportation alternative we have to offer Canada’s diverse and aging population?

The reality is, as our population ages more and more Canadians will be in a position where driving is not an option and we need to start providing mobility alternatives.

Too often the norm in Canadian cities, cycling and pedestrian infrastructure fails to support the needs of Canada’s various ages and abilities. Crosswalks are designed to be sprinted across rather than walked, grocery stores and basic services are kilometres from peoples’ homes, public transit is expensive, inconvenient and often inaccessible and bike lanes are designed for only the young and fearless.

We’ve got to ask ourselves, who are we building our cities for? We may all be young at heart, but our population is getting old.

At 8-80 Cities we believe in a simple rule of thumb; if you build a city that accommodates the needs and safety of an 8 year old and an 80 year old, you’ll end up with a city that’s pretty good for everyone else.

In search of the best people-friendly urban initiatives, we’ve studied cities across the globe. We know that with strong leadership cities can make important changes to accommodate the needs of all users, young and old.

With municipal elections around the corner, we’ve come up with 10 doable short term changes any municipality can make to create a safer, healthier, and more age friendly city.

1. Lower the speed limit on all neighbourhood streets to 30 kph or below. This includes creating physical barriers so that drivers are forced to obey the speed limit. In addition to increasing reaction time, a pedestrian hit by a car going at 30 kph has an 80% probability of surviving whereas a pedestrian hit at 50 kph has only 20% probability of surviving.

2. Eliminate right turns on red.

3. Provide benches and shaded areas along pedestrian routes. Rest spots are important for older adults and also provide an area for the community to meet and interact

4. Give pedestrians a five-second head start over vehicles at green lights. This increases the visibility of pedestrians.

5. Increase lighting at intersections and street crossings to ensure pedestrians are highly visible at night.

6. Maintain sidewalks and street crossings – ensure crosswalks are clearly marked and clear snow promptly.

7. Keep public transit vehicles, shelters, stops and stations clean, safe, comfortable and attractive. People will not use public transit if the experience is unpleasant.

8. Create separate facilities for pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicles. In the short term, bollards can be used to separate cycling infrastructure.

9. Provide visible and secure bike parking at public transit hubs and points of destination

10. Improve pedestrian and cycling access paths to transit. To improve safety and useability pedestrian and cycling facilities must fully connect points of origin to transit stations and stops.

In a city where according to the Toronto Police, one pedestrian is injured the equivalent of every four hours, improving the safety of pedestrians and cyclists must become a priority. These simple and affordable actions can and should be taken by our municipal leaders.

Keywords: seniors, transit