Older Scots are being discouraged from leaving their homes and visiting town centres as they struggle to operate pelican crossings, new research has found.
An academic from Glasgow Caledonian University told MSPs on Wednesday that some pensioners with mobility problems cannot cross streets in the time allocated between green and red lights, suffering embarrassment as a result and anxiety they are angering motorists.
The average walking speed for older men has been estimated at 3ft (0.9m) per second, and 2.6ft per second for older women.
The speed for crossings recommended by the Department for Transport is around 4ft (1.2m) per second, but local authorities can change the timing to suit localities.
“People with arthritis can’t make the Green Man, they just don’t want to go into town anymore” said Glasgow Caledonian University Professor Martijn Steultjens.
He warned MSPs that patients and older people are being left isolated and embarrassed as they can’t cross the street in time.
The problem has been identified as part of preparations for a large-scale £1.8m study to help improve posture, balance and stability for people with rheumatoid arthritis. Prof Steultjens is one of the leading researchers on a study which will take place over the next five years thanks to funding from the National Institute for Health Research.
Researchers are investigating a new treatment for walking problems in arthritis, known as Gait rehabilitation, which has been proven to help patients with mobility issues resulting from neurological conditions.
During preparations for the Gait Rehabilitation in Early Arthritis Study, the GREAT study, researchers are reporting a recurring issue raised by patients and members of the public taking part in the preliminary group investigations.
Prof Steultjens continued: “We know from speaking to patients that the issue makes them feel embarrassed and unsafe and is leading to social isolation for many. People just don’t want to go into town anymore and this is one of the main reasons given.”
The academic, who researches bio-mechanics of arthritis as Glasgow Caledonian University’s School of Health and Life Sciences, was giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party group on chronic pain.
He continued: “Crossing times at pedestrian lights are currently set in the expectation that a person is able to walk at a speed of 1.2m/s (roughly 2.7mph). Research by others has already shown that 85 per cent of older women, aged 65 and over, cannot walk at this speed.
“A small change to the timing on the Green Man light could have a massive impact to the lives of many and social participation. I don’t feel this story about the many people suffering because of the Green Man is well enough known, and I think it’s time that city centres consider whether they are catering for an ageing population and people who experience difficulties in walking.”
The need to improving pelican crossings has already led to innovations in Scotland. An Edinburgh-based start-up, Neatebox, has developed an app which allows those with partial vision to activate a crossing via an application in their mobile phone, eliminating the need to locate and then press a button.
First unveiled in 2014, the invention has since been installed at several locations across Edinburgh, including outside the Scottish Parliament and opposite the NHS building in Lauriston Place.
It was through working with visually impaired people that founder Gavin Neate came to realise pedestrian crossings could be a hindrance to their progress.