How safe are our streets for seniors and other pedestrians?

Special to KT by Peggy Edwards –

Unsafe sidewalks. Curb cuts that restrict pedestrians in wheelchairs and using mobility aids, poor snow removal, speeding traffic, and unsafe pedestrian crossings. These are some of the hazards identified by volunteers who conducted age-friendly walkability audits in the Hintonburg/Mechanicsville area in the Spring, Winter and Fall of 2015.

The audits were part of a two-year project by the Council on Aging Ottawa (CAO), in partnership with Ecology Ottawa, local Community Associations and the City. Participants aged 2 to 85 (and several dogs) used an age-friendly checklist (measuring safety, accessibility, connectedness and comfort) in three Ottawa communities.

“We were delighted to partner with the Hintonburg Community Association and the Good Companions Seniors Centre,” says Dianne Breton, Chair of the CAO Committee. “Special thanks to resident Cheryl Parrot who helped to develop the route maps and recruit other walkers, as well as participating in the audits.”

Photo courtesy of François Bélanger
Photo courtesy of François Bélanger

City councillors and representatives from the City of Ottawa Public Works Department joined the walkers on four routes in the Hintonburg/Mechanicsville area. At the time of the audits, the neighbourhood was under construction, which severely impacted walkability, particularly along Albert and Scott. Major safety concerns related to a lack of safe sidewalks and safe crossing points, and inadequate separation from speeding traffic.

Fortunately, the hazards related to construction have been fixed and the newly surfaced multi-use pathway and transit stop area on Scott Street have been vastly improved since the audits. However, narrow sidewalks continue to be a challenge. They are not wide enough for pedestrians and those using mobility devices; sometimes cyclists also use the sidewalk because the road is not wide enough to accommodate them. Conditions are exacerbated in winter when streets are icy and snow banks block visibility.

The age-friendly design and maintenance of sidewalks, curb cuts, road crossings and intersections are especially important for the safety of older pedestrians. Access to public toilets, shelter and places to rest are increasingly important with age. Winter weather imposes serious challenges to seniors and people with disabilities that need to be prioritized for attention in a winter city like Ottawa.

Strategies that address these concerns can prevent pedestrian falls, injuries and fatalities. By adopting an age-friendly approach that assigns priority to pedestrians, Ottawa will improve walkability and pedestrian safety for all ages, but especially for seniors and other vulnerable and valuable people.

Did You Know?

  • By 2031, more than one in five residents in Ottawa will be over 65.
  • Proportionately, older people experience a higher percentage of pedestrian deaths and serious injuries than younger people.
  • Uneven, broken, and slippery pathways can lead to falls, which often have serious, long-term consequences for older people.
  • Some 33% of Canadians over age 65 have a disability; 81% of people with disabilities use some kind of assistive device.
  • Wheelchair users are three times more likely to suffer a car collision, often resulting in death or serious injuries.
  • Driving 15 km/h over the set speed limit increases the chance of killing a pedestrian from 45% to 85%.

Peggy Edwards is a member of the Council on Aging Ottawa Pedestrian Safety Committee. The full report, called Safe Streets for Seniors and Other Valuable People in Ottawa is available at ecologyottawa.ca or coaottawa.ca.

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