We can use technology in the following ways to make communities more walkable:
• First, we start by urging traffic engineers to adjust traffic signal timing to allow people more time to cross the street. People of different ages and abilities walk at different rates of speed. By adding more time for crossing, traffic signals actually protect pedestrians by stopping traffic. Simply adding five seconds to the crossing time can make a major difference.
• Also, we can add countdown signals at intersections. These clocks show pedestrians how much time remains (second by second) to safely cross. When it is safe to cross, a white hand appears in the box; when the countdown reaches the minimum crossing time, a red hand indicates that it is no longer safe to carry on. This technology has been refined over the years and can make a major difference in intersection safety.
• Lastly, I've seen intersections that have audible signals to prompt pedestrians. Everyone benefits from these devices, but they are particularly essential for the visually impaired.
The AARP survey also showed that almost 50 percent of those polled did not have adequate sidewalks in their neighborhoods. I'll bet many of those people live in the suburbs, where cars rule and walkers are true pioneers. Along most suburban strips, you'll see "goat paths" where people have been walking. These "pioneers" are creating their own walking environment without the aid of public sidewalks. Redesigning suburban neighborhoods to include sidewalks with well marked crosswalks and appropriate signal timing can make a real difference in the feel and safety of these places. Many families are realizing that the mean streets of suburbia are yet another issue for their aging parents.
Public transportation, the least used way for people 50+ get where they want to go, also benefits greatly from technology. Today, it may not be easy for some older adults to ride the bus; it can take a long time, and it can be confusing. Technology can help:
• Imagine being at the bus stop and knowing in real time what your bus’s arrival time is.
• Imagine that your bus could get places faster by talking to traffic signals, telling them to stay green, so that the bus can get passengers to their destinations on time.
• Imagine that your bus actually "talks" and tells you what the next stop is.
All of the technologies I have described are making the travel environment safer for everyone. And every day, new technologies are moving from development to design to market. We all need to stay connected to the places where our friends and family are, and where we do business and enjoy ourselves. Technology promises to make people safer in their cars, on foot, and when using public
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