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How Age- friendly Principles are being put into Practice - 1 & 2 "Walkability" and Transport


Good mobility means older people can stay healthy and independent for longer

- Image courtesy of mahomed hassan

With over 1000 Age – friendly cities it’s hard to choose only a few, especially if they are all following a similar framework. Then there are also many others - including my own, which may not be members, but are also doing interesting things so this list will just to show some typical or interesting examples with links where you can find out more. There is also considerable overlap between issues so they don’t fit neatly into the various WHO categories either, so expect things to be a bit mixed up. e.g. Street lighting could come under Mobility or Safety. Smoke alarms should probably come under Safety not Housing and Intergenerational Housing is as much about Inclusion as Housing. I've also left some things together to show how a community is working towards a more general aim. I’ll leave you to decide and just get started. Today we’ll look at the first two things on the shopping list – mobility and transport.

Making walking easier

An important part of ensuring that people stay healthy for longer is to keep them connected to their family and friends, to be able to do things independently and to be able to enjoy the outdoors. This becomes more difficult as people age. Many will experience reduced strength, balance and mobility, impaired vision and hearing, be at higher risk of falls or suffer from other ailments such heart or respiratory disease. This means that they will also need to rest more often. For these reasons there is considerable emphasis on things like removing trip hazards, improving footpaths, making clear large print signage, improving lighting and lengthening crossing times at traffic lights. Two cities which have undertaken quite a bit of  work in this regard are Ottawa in Canada and Guadalajara in Mexico.

Ottawa has lengthened the time at 35 crosswalks, reprofiled pavements to prevent trip hazards, created curb cuts to allow easy movement of wheelchairs, scooters and strollers, improved 130 bus stops and upgraded the accessibility of its city buildings – think wide doorways, automatic doors, and ground floor access. Community Support and Health services have also been improved. 

The City of Guadalajara has spent almost a quarter of its Comprehensive Urban Interventions budget on projects to benefit the elderly. These include improving pavements to create safe pathways, better lighting and improving infrastructure where old people reside, urban maintenance, more green space and sports and leisure centres. 

Age- friendly Dijon in France, is another excellent example. Note the emphasis on providing adequate public toilets. Where I live, we are already seeing a lot of unisex toilets in public places leaving at least one with grab bars and room for wheelchairs.

More places to rest

Nottingham’s “Take a Seat” campaign in the UK is about encouraging older people to get out and about in their communities. Three hundred businesses have now signed up and they include shops, department stores, building societies, cafes, pubs, hairdressers and travel agents. It comes at no cost to them, but it enables older people to simply stop and have a rest and possibly a cuppa or a glass of water, with no obligation to buy. The City of Manchester also has a “Take- a -Seat” program with 800 supportive businesses. 

In the Netherlands, Tilburg has created an app that allows users with smart phones to extend the time traffic lights stay on.

New York has installed 1,500 new benches and 3,500 new or improved bus shelters. See the other ways in which it is ensuring its older people are able to stay healthy, independent and connected (below). This video is a bit longer but worth watching as the model is being copied in other countries as well. I particularly like what it says about the cost - i.e. it doesn't have to be much more expensive than what cities are doing already - it might just mean lowering the speed limit, and how making the city more accessible and enjoyable is good for everyone, not just older people. 



With many older people having to give up driving because of declining health, public transport has also had to become more responsive. Witnessing the loneliness and social isolation of the elderly as young people moved away, the City of Akita, was among the first to realise that affordable transport was the key to a better quality of life. It also became one of the first Age- friendly Cities.

 The Lesson from Japan

Japan was one of the first pIaces to encounter the effects of having an ageing population. In 2020 it had 28.4% of its population aged 65 and over and over and expects that to rise to 38% by 2060.

One of Akita's first projects to encourage older people to socialise more, was to start a one -coin bus service. It also offered free drinks and discounts at a number of stores and bath houses, established pathways for volunteer work by older people and put on a senior film festival. In collaboration with private companies it added more public seating, promoted employment of older people and put automated defibrillators in offices and neighbourhoods. A new intergenerational Community Hall was built with Age -friendly features such as provision of wheelchairs and walking aids. It also created a friendship group involving all ages.

Loncoche in Southern Chile had a high proportion of its elderly people living in rural areas and 41% of its seniors living in poverty. Despite having very limited resources, it has installed LED lighting and protection from the weather at bus stops where elderly people live. For those coming in from the country where there is only one bus service per day, its Older Adults County Union has created a central place in the city where people can rest, have free coffee, access the internet and use washrooms. A 50% subsidy for older people using public transport was to have come into force in 2019 along with the construction of more pedestrian friendly roads with more traffic lights, better lighting and rest stops. Loncoche is also an absolute star when it comes to countering negative attitudes towards older people, in that they bring older people with agricultural experience into Science classes so that young people can learn from them. iscrimination.


Everything said about the outdoor environment – large font signage, colour, tactile, colour and sound cues, ample seating, ease of access, also applies to public transport. British Transport Police have an excellent passenger assistance service to make it possible for people with mobility issues or dementia to travel. Transit Police, railway staff and business owners at stations are trained to deal with passengers who may show confusion or have other difficulties. Ramps are available for people with mobility issues to enter carriages. Carers, family or friends can be notified if travel arrangements change. Their video provides an excellent model for all transport services.

On the Buses

Though Hobart (AU) where I live, is not an official Age- friendly City, 95% of its buses are ‘kneeling buses’ – that is, they can bring the lower step down to street level to assist those who have difficulty climbing stairs. Inside, the elderly, pregnant women and the disabled have priority seating near the door and the seats can be folded up to make room for wheelchairs, strollers or mobility aids. A “door stopper’ service which used to pick up the elderly, the housebound and the disabled at their door and took them where they wished to go, has now been replaced with a contract service available through the relevant departments. Seniors get discount bus fares and taxi vouchers for things like medical appointments.

On demand Services

In addition to the usual ride -share services like Uber, there are volunteer drivers in many communities to enable older residents with limited means to attend medical appointments, go shopping or attend social activities. In Australia the Red Cross organises much of this.The quaintly named  OWLS  which stands for "Older Wiser Seniors," in Leeds (UK) does something similar and runs mini bus tours as well as befriending and running a telephone friends line. Their Bus Buddies are volunteers who help seniors in getting on and off mini -buses and do other tasks such as collecting fares. 

The USA has a large number of  volunteer organisations which do the same, as well as a number of paid services which are nevertheless below the cost of conventional services.

Mobility Scooters

These small low speed electric vehicles can give older people with mobility problems much greater independence since they give them the opportunity to travel short distances in their neighbourhoods - to the shops perhaps, to the library or to visit friends. According to the US Census of 2014, 40% of respondents who were 65 and over had mobility issues and as more people live longer, we can only expect such numbers to increase.
The sales of such vehicles have also increased by around 7.5% per year in the USA. While I have seen them used very successfully in Kalamunda in Western Australia, where the weather is warm, roads and footpaths are wide and largely flat and the traffic not so bad, this is not always the case. As the numbers of such vehicles has increased there have also been more accidents and even fatalities and there are now calls for more regulation and more driver training. In areas used extensively by older people, the provision of  dedicated paths may also be a worthwhile consideration, along with warning signs and lower traffic speeds. 


Cycling for the elderly is also taking off in a big way and we aren't just talking about two -wheelers. See for example South London's "Wheels for Wellbeing " Campaign, which enables people of all abilities and ages to enjoy all kinds of different forms of cycling. Then there "Cycling Without Age" Begun in Copenhagen 2012, it now includes 52 countries and ensures that the elderly can still get out and enjoy the wind in their hair, even if their own mobility is compromised.


Here's a bit of a summary of what we've been talking about from Nova Scotia, plus a bit of a lead - in to housing.Next time we'll take a look at a wide range of Housing Options