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Road Management & Engineering Journal
Copyright © 1997 by TranSafety, Inc.
April 1, 1997
TranSafety, Inc.
(U.S. and Canada)
(360) 683-6276
Fax: (360) 335-6402

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Researchers Study the Walking Speeds of Older Pedestrians

Researchers Study the Walking Speeds of Older Pedestrians

Recognizing that the North American population of older pedestrians is increasing, Canadian researchers Ann Coffin and John Morrall designed a study to learn if the timing of pedestrian signals at crosswalks should be adjusted to a slower walking speed for the elderly. Coffin is with Reid Crowther and Partners in Calgary, Alberta, and Morrall with the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Calgary. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada funded their research.

Coffin and Morrall summarized results of their research in "Walking Speeds of Elderly Pedestrians at Crosswalks." The article appeared in Transportation Research Record No. 1487: Planning and Administration Safety and Human Performance-- Nonmotorized Transportation Research, Issues, and Use.


The authors pointed out that Canada and the United States use "[w]alking speeds of pedestrians . . . to determine the pedestrian clearance interval of pedestrian signals or, in locations where there are no pedestrian signals, to obtain the minimum green time for concurrent traffic." The U.S. Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) refers to 4.0 feet (1.2 meters)/second as the "assumed" normal walking speed while the Canadian Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Canada (UTCD) says that normal walking speeds are from 1.1 to 1.4 meters/second. Neither MUTCD nor UTCD specifies a normal walking speed for elderly pedestrians. These manuals recommend the use of "engineering judgment" in adjusting crossing speeds where elderly pedestrians are numerous.

When Coffin and Morrall surveyed municipalities in North America to find out what walking speeds they used to figure pedestrian crossing time at intersections, twenty-six municipalities responded. Eighty-five percent said they used a walking speed of 1.2 meters/second. This corresponds with the MUTCD "normal walking speed" of 4 feet/second.

Reviewing previous research on walking speeds, Coffin and Morrall found that "studies demonstrate[d] some connection between age and walking speed." Two research projects concluded that age might not be the primary variable in walking speed; one study found "walking speed actually decreases with decreasing mobility level," and the other concluded "that fitness level is a better indicator of walking speed than age." In indoor testing, the first study recorded walking speeds for the elderly of 0.399 meters/second to 0.931 meters/second. These indoor speeds were slower than outdoor speeds recorded in other research.

Research in 1980 by D.G. Wilson and G.B. Grayson reported walking speeds at midblock crosswalks for more than 11,000 people over 15 years of age. This study also recorded the number of times pedestrians glanced toward the near or far side of the road while crossing and correlated frequent glances with increased caution and decreased walking speed. They found pedestrians over 55 seemed more cautious; however, Wilson and Grayson concluded that walking speeds of older pedestrians were not significantly slower, and they felt older pedestrians should not be considered as a separate category. Their research yielded an average walking speed for male pedestrians over 60 of 1.10 meters/second and for females of 1.15 meters/second.

Other research suggested that pedestrian crosswalk speed varied with location. For example, a Japanese study revealed elderly pedestrians walked faster than normal at signalized crosswalks. Researchers theorized this may have been because of the time limitation imposed by the signal.

Indoor Study Design and Results

For the present study, researchers collected data in the hallway of a seniors club in Calgary, Alberta. They measured walking speeds of pedestrians over 60 years of age and asked each subject to complete a questionnaire after their walking speed was recorded.

At the seniors club, 184 physically strong, alert people over 60 took part in walking-speed timings. The seniors were timed while walking first at normal speed and then at their fast speed a distance of 13 meters (42.7 feet) down a straight, well-lit hallway. A questionnaire completed after the timings requested basic information (gender, age, height) and asked whether they had any problems crossing streets in Calgary. Finally, researchers classified each participant as "adult" or "senior." These categories were "based on an intuitive reaction on the part of the researcher to the interviewee's attitude and alertness."

Timing results showed the mean normal walking speed for all women was 1.24 meters/second; for all men, the mean normal speed was 1.29 meters/second. In all cases, the mean normal speed was slower for "senior" participants than for "adult" participants. For example, the mean normal speed for adult men was 1.34 meters/second compared with 1.13 meters/second for senior men.

When describing problems they had with crosswalks in Calgary, elderly participants said they were "extra cautious because of a mistrust of drivers, fear of turning vehicles, difficulty negotiating curbs, inability to judge vehicular speeds, problems during winter, and annoyance with quick-changing lights." The questionnaire also revealed older pedestrians did not understand the meaning of Walk, flashing Don't Walk, and solid Don't Walk signals.

Outdoor Study Design and Results

The six outdoor timing locations for this study included: two pedestrian-actuated midblock crosswalks, two crosswalks at signalized intersections, and two crosswalks at unsignalized intersections. Researchers chose locations near shopping malls and other areas frequented by the elderly. Timings were taken for 30 elderly pedestrians at each crosswalk. Pedestrians were unaware they were being timed. After they had crossed the road, elderly pedestrians were asked to respond to questions about the intersection. Researchers computed study results using data only for those elderly pedestrians willing to respond to the questions. The distribution of walking speeds revealed by the study is illustrated in the graph below.

Average Walking Speeds of Elderly Pedestrians

Average Walking
Speed (m/s)
Type Location Width (m) Women Men Total
Signalized Chinook Centre
Ped-Actuated Market Mall
Lion's Park
Unsignalized Four-Way Stop
Two-Way Stop

The fastest crossing speeds were at the two signalized intersections. At all crosswalks, the average crossing speeds were faster for men than for women. Researchers concluded average crossing speeds indicated "15 percent of elderly pedestrians walked slower than 1.0 and 1.2 meters/second at midblock and signalized crosswalks, respectively." They pointed out, "The 85th percentile is commonly used in transportation engineering as a fair compromise between the needs of the majority and realistic design." Following this principle, Coffin and Morrall advised:

Suggested design walking speeds for elderly pedestrians at midblock crosswalks and signalized intersections are 1.0 and 1.2 meters/second, respectively. At signalized intersections near seniors and nursing homes, a design walking speed of 1.0 meters/second is suggested.

These recommendations indicate the MUTCD's "assumed" normal walking speed of 4 feet/second (1.2 meters/second) is adequate for timing pedestrian lights at most signalized intersections. However, at all midblock crosswalks and at signalized intersections near nursing homes or other areas where large numbers of seniors live, the authors advocated assuming a somewhat slower walking speed to allow seniors to cross safely.

Elderly pedestrians will benefit when signals allow them enough time to cross the road during the Walk phase. It is also helpful if motorists know which crosswalks older pedestrians use frequently (e.g., crosswalks on routes between a senior citizen apartment complex and a shopping mall). Elderly pedestrian crosswalk signs serve this purpose. This sign below marks the location of a crosswalk.

Copyright © 1997 by TranSafety, Inc.

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