Published: 20th NOVEMBER 2023

Why older people should be involved when it comes to improving infrastructure

Walking for everyday journeys has a powerful impact on 81-year-old Fay’s wellbeing. But, in her experience, busy roads and uneven surfaces can prevent older people from getting out and about. Determined to act, Fay has shared her story and has helped shape new research for Sustrans - exploring how low traffic measures could help older people stay active.

Fay Anderson is pictured at home wearing a red top and floral scarf.

Fay has shared her story as part of new research to explore the potential of low traffic measures for healthy active ageing. Credit: Fay Anderson

'Reducing traffic would probably encourage me to be more active'

I walk as much as possible.

"It’s really important to try and keep fit.

"I’m unfortunate to have had three transient ischaemic attack (TIA) mini strokes, but all the advice has been to carry on, which is what I try to do. 

“After I retired, I kept active by walking my neighbour’s dog.

"Walking helps you meet like-minded people, and, truthfully, most people speak to you when you are out and about. 

“Whenever I need to go to the shops or my church I walk, starting with the steps down from my first floor flat, and get the bus back when I have bags to carry.

"I live in Edinburgh and I am lucky that I can use the paths by the canal or the Water of Leith because the main road near where I live is a nightmare. 

“It is so busy with cars and sometimes I am hesitant to cross it.

"As you get older you become more nervous and some days I will walk quite a bit before I manage to cross the road because it’s not every day you feel confident enough to cross. 

“I heard that my church hall was being used by researchers from Heriot-Watt University to speak to people in an older age group about their experiences of walking to get around and I was happy to share my experiences with them because I know reducing the traffic would probably encourage me to be more active.” 

The potential of low traffic measures for healthy active ageing 

The new study carried out by Heriot-Watt University for Sustrans and funded by Transport Scotland, Ageing in Low Traffic Neighbourhoods: The potential of low traffic measures for healthy active ageing, explores whether older people thought reducing traffic could encourage more active travel.  

Fay is one of 20 people aged between 60 and 91 who took part in focus groups in one of five areas in Scotland identified as low or high traffic.

Discussions centred on experiences of staying active and whether low traffic measures might encourage activity.

Six participants, including Fay, took part in walking interviews around their area to explore some of the barriers and enablers to staying active.  

The study found that: 

  • Participants attached a great deal of importance to staying active, considered essential for many who highlighted physical, mental and social benefits. 
  • Most participants reported that they were prevented from being as active as they would like to be, with a range of barriers identified. Alongside age-related mobility issues and negative impacts associated with the Covid-19 pandemic, these issues primarily concerned the physical environment. 
  • Despite some support, perceptions of low traffic measures were often pessimistic, particularly regarding higher impact measures that would require significant changes to the landscape. 
  • There was a perceived lack of consideration for older people, with many suggesting that low traffic measures would negatively impact those with mobility limitations or who lack independence. 
Pictured is a build-up of traffic in an urban area.

The research considers the potential of low traffic measures for active ageing. Credit: Sustrans

Access to public transport impacted by uneven surfaces 

Fay is upbeat about the local traffic-free routes available to her but insists issues such as uneven pavement surfaces are preventing older people and those with mobility issues from remaining active. She added: 

“I do feel Edinburgh is quite a good city to find green spaces and to walk.

"Another positive is that there are so many buses.

"There are routes to most places in town from bus stops near my flat.

"I don’t drive and access to public transport is very important to me. 

“The problem is that just getting to the bus stop can be tricky because of the state of the pavements.  

“In places they are shocking and the surface at my nearest bus stop is in a bad way.

"It is a big hindrance to staying active and can mean that people with mobility issues who could still be out and about rely on taxis instead."

Blockquote quotation marks
It is a big hindrance to staying active and can mean that people with mobility issues who could still be out and about rely on taxis instead. Blockquote quotation marks

More road crossings needed

The study asked participants their views on introducing elements of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods as a possible solution.

This is because traffic calming and reduction measures are associated with increased levels of safety and active travel within the areas where these have been implemented.

Fay is realistic about the possible impact such measures could have in her local area. 

She said: “Some people I know have health issues that prevent them getting out and about, but others are just too nervous about crossing road to stay active so I can see how low traffic measures could be effective in my local area.

"We would all like to see more crossings but also more calming methods. I am not anti-car; I just know that the car is not going to go away.

“To be fair, there are some crossings on my road.

"There’s a little island crossing where some drivers will notice and let you cross but at others you just have to stand and wait until there’s a lull in the traffic. 

“I have missed the bus more than once just because I couldn’t get across the road so I feel more crossings would certainly help us pedestrians get across quicker and more safely."

Blockquote quotation marks
We would all like to see more crossings but also more calming methods. I am not anti-car; I just know that the car is not going to go away. Blockquote quotation marks

Making sure voices are heard 

There are a number of measures that could be taken to calm traffic, but Fay’s priority is ensuring that the voices of people who would use the pavements every day are heard. 

“It’s very important when considering any measures to reduce traffic or improve infrastructure that older people and people with mobility issues are involved in the process. 

“The difficulties that people with mobility issues face may sound trivial to others but are so important.

"It can be as simple as making sure there is a barrier for people to hold on to. 

“This report highlights the issues faced by older people and those with mobility problems who wish to keep active.

"I hope, therefore, that planners whether in building or other areas, town and city councils and other road users take note of the issues raised in this report and give due consideration to the needs of those less able either through age or immobility but who still wish to keep as active as possible for all the reasons outlined in the report.”

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