T.A.'s Safe Routes for Seniors campaign started in 2003 with the primary goal of encouraging senior citizens to walk more by improving their pedestrian environment. Funded by the New York State Department of Health's Healthy Heart program, this was the first program of its kind to address the unique needs of elderly pedestrians and consider the role of street design in maintaining good cardiovascular health in old age.
Census data shows that more and more people are aging in place and New York City is a great city for people to grow old. However, after surveying hundreds of seniors citizens, there are many changes that need to be made to our streets to make New York a more comfortable environment for older residents.
With information gathered from dozens of site visits, interviews, surveys and workshops with seniors across the city, T.A. developed a number of design recommendations that should be adopted as standards to make streets safe for seniors. Designing streets specifically for seniors takes the regulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) one step further to accommodate sensory changes that occur as people age:
- The street should be as flat as possible, with minimal convexity for drainage and a smooth transition from the curb to the street.
- Large streets should have wide median refuge areas with benches. Refuges should be as large as possible and contain amenities such as plantings and shelters.
- All bus stops near senior centers should have shelters and benches. Bus stops on excessively wide streets should have bus bulbs.
- Drivers should be prohibited from turning during the first 10 seconds of a traffic signal phase. This time is needed by seniors to ascend the curb and begin a safe crossing unobstructed by turning vehicles.
- Drivers should be required to stop 15 feet before a junction. This requires moving the stop bar back away from the crosswalk and placing a tactile surface on the stop bar. To further protect elderly pedestrians, where appropriate, the crosswalks should be built up or "raised" to line up with the curb. The addition of a raised crosswalk forces drivers to reduce their speed at the intersection.
- On busy commercial streets and bus routes, all curbs should be extended into the crosswalk to create better sightlines for pedestrians and drivers.
- On streets where there is more space than is needed to move traffic, the street should be put on a "road diet" where lanes or parts of lanes are reclaimed for wider sidewalks, planted medians and/or bicycle lanes.
In 2008, the City of New York launched its own Safe Streets for Seniors initiative, modeled on T.A.'s efforts. T.A. is working to broaden the City's program to better account for where seniors live and where they gom and to apply a neighborhood-wide application of senior-priority traffic calming with important amenities for seniors such as more seating, more refuges and bus shelters.