Older road users and pedestrians

As the share of older road users increases it’s important to pay more attention to their safety as road users and pedestrians. Transport planners have to draw together urban design, street and road design as well as traffic signal technology. This makes the design landscape crowded with regulations and competing interests between vehicles and people.

A road crossing with a confusing arrangement of tactile markers.

The mobility and road safety of older people relies on the design of the whole transport system. This includes infrastructure, traffic engineering, traffic signals, signs, and markings. They all impact on safe, barrier-free and inclusive transport.

A conference paper from Germany outlines some important findings on the safety and mobility of older people. Basic requirements for transport system design are:

Two women using wheelie walkers are crossing the road in a country town.
  • Reduction of complexity of traffic situations
  • Improvement of the perception of traffic regulations and systems
  • Design of safe crossings
  • Avoiding detours for pedestrians and cyclists

For traffic engineers this raises conflicting needs and goals but there should still be good compromises. Of course, considering older people in design solutions usually have benefits for other road users.

The paper covers traffic signal standards and regulations in different countries and the design and timings of traffic and pedestrian signals. Green signals and arrows at intersections can be confusing for drivers and pedestrians alike. Countdown and “don’t walk” signals are beneficial for all. These are common in the United States, Japan and Singapore. Older pedestrians can have more confidence about clearing the intersection.

The Green Man + card in Singapore is like a Seniors Card, and tapping this at the signal button provides more time to cross. Another idea is special buttons or sensors to request a longer time. However, the risk of misuse and the technical complexity rendered this idea unworkable in Germany.

The paper discusses intersection layout, routing of pedestrians and cyclists and control strategies. The author notes there is also a responsibility for pedestrians to enter the crossing at the beginning of the green signal, not some time afterwards.

The title of the conference paper is, Considering the requirements of elderly road users in traffic signal control. Or you can download the PDF version.

From the abstract

The share of elderly road users in total traffic is increasing in Germany as well as in most other OECD countries. To ensure mobility and road safety for this group, special requirements have to be considered in transport system design.

Besides basic requirements in transport planning, traffic engineering can help significantly to improve mobility and road safety for the elderly. This paper outlines elderly road users’ requirements in traffic signal control. The paper discusses standards from Germany, United States, United Kingdom and other selected countries as well as examples from practice.

Signal program design, intersection layout, control strategies, and technical design of signal lights are covered. The paper closes with conclusions on how well elderly road users are considered in traffic signal standards already. It also highlights the need to apply such regulations in practice, despite goal conflicts and financial constraints.

Inclusive future mobility

To make future mobility inclusive and accessible automotive practitioners and researchers need to understand the fundamentals of universal design. People from diverse backgrounds and levels of capability should be included in the design processes of future mobility services. That’s the conclusion of a group of automotive researchers and they’ve come up with a framework to help.

A mobile phone is lying flat with a pop up cityscape rising out of it. Inclusive future mobility.

The framework helps designers to think of essential design dimensions for inclusive design. There are possible trade-offs, synergies/new options, or other impacts that a decision for a particular design option has. Using a fictional case study they showcase the design process.

The design framework serves as a tool for automotive practitioners and researchers for communication, ideation, or reflection. Following the universal design process the researchers explain how they created the framework and then how to use it. The framework is built on previous work, and the mobility experiences of experts that work in inclusive facilities.

Case study using the framework

The authors advise that sticking to the standard principles of universal design could result in overly complex processes and products. However, thinking about potential users and their abilities increases the chance of identifying synergies. That is, finding solutions that suit the wider population as well as “non-average” users.

Technology will be a major influence on future mobility and connections with web interfaces will form part of the design solutions. The authors take readers through a step by step process. Key sections of the framework cover:

  • The users’ needs and capabilities
  • The journey’s context
  • What does the transportation service look like?
  • How do people interact with the service?
  • Training for the journey.

The application of the framework is based on fictional designers, not mobility users. This is very useful for designers new to the universal design concept. By using two designers in the case study scenario, they discuss the pros and cons of each method and idea.

The title of the paper is, An Emergent Design Framework for Accessible and Inclusive Future Mobility. For non-tech people the last part is most useful. For technical people the paper speaks to many aspects of automotive design.

From the abstract

Future mobility will be highly automated, multimodal, and ubiquitous and thus have the potential to address a broader range of users. Yet non-average users are often underrepresented or simply not thought of in design processes of vehicles and mobility services. this leads to exclusion from standard transportation.

Consequently, it is crucial for designers of such vehicles and services to consider the needs of non-average users from the begining. In this paper, we present a design framework that helps designers take the perspective and thinking of the needs of non-average users.

We present a set of exemplary applications from the literature and interviews and show how they fit into the framework, indicating room for further developments. We demonstrate how the framework supports the universal design approach in a fictional design process.

Inclusive Autonomous Vehicle Design

Ergonomists and engineers are considering ways to design autonomous vehicles to include a diversity of users. That includes people with disability and impairments. However, it’s not just a case of adding universal design principles into the design process. Designing an inclusive autonomous vehicle requires attention to many other factors. It’s an interdisciplinary design process.

A blue and white drawing of a small car against taller blue buildings signifying an autonomous vehicle.

Autonomous vehicles (AVs) present an opportunity for redefining the standard ergonomic design approaches especially when designing for people with disability and impairments.

Researchers in Europe have come up with a way to integrate relevant design data to ensure designs meet standards and the diversity of users. Overall user perception is linked to user perception and satisfaction and this is where ergonomics come into play. The paper is very technical and mainly of interest to engineers and ergonomists. The researchers claim that this platform will turn attention to “human-centric” design rather than engineering design.

For those who advocate for inclusive vehicle design, it shows the complexity designers have to deal with. However, it is good to see this important issue being addressed at this early stage of future mass production.

The title of the paper is, Inclusive Autonomous Vehicle Interior Design (IAVID) Platform. Click on the “Article” button to download the open access copy.

From the abstract

Passenger comfort in vehicles is a complex, human-centric segment of the vehicle interior design process. Autonomous vehicles (AVs) present an opportunity for redefining standard design approaches. There are options for improved ergonomics and meeting the needs of a wide range of users, including persons with impairments.

However, the complexity of incorporating universal design principles together with all other interdisciplinary information in the development process requires a suitable method to systematize the data and simplify their use.

This paper proposes a platform for inclusive autonomous vehicle interior design (IAVID) which can be used as a tool to support the creation of ergonomic and inclusive AV interiors. The proposed IAVID platform is based on model-based systems engineering. It is intended for organizing and updating all relevant interdisciplinary information to input in the AV interior development. By doing so, the interdisciplinary collaboration among vehicle development teams is strengthened.

Air travel with a wheelchair

Wheelchair users find air travel the most challenging transport of all. Not because of a personal issue, but because airlines don’t like wheelchairs. Every wheelchair user crosses their fingers and hopes that their wheelchair will come through the flight without damage. The other inconveniences and indignities just add to travel stress.

Wheelchair users can stay in their powered wheelchair in taxis, trains and buses, but not in aircraft. The Transport Research Board has concluded that installing wheelchair securements is a win-win for wheelchair users, airlines, and everyone else involved in transporting wheelchair users.

A 12 year old girl is distressed in an aircraft aisle chair after her power wheelchair was taken away.

No major design or engineering challenges stand in the way of securing power wheelchairs in commercial airplanes.

Transport Research Board.
Photo credit Heike Fabig (in Daily Mail)

The title of the article is, Transportation Research Board details efforts to make national travel more ADA accessible. It was published online by Transportation Today.

“In air travel, preliminary research from a TRB consensus report determined that no major design or engineering challenges stand in the way of exploring the market’s need for and technical feasibility of securing personal power wheelchairs in commercial airplanes. This would be a major boost for non-ambulatory travellers, who are not currently allowed to use their personal wheelchair as a seat when flying.

Close up of a row of aircraft seats which are bright blue with grey backs.

Currently, people are potentially put on a flight in a seat that is not appropriate for them. Travellers and airlines risk injury in transfer and in flight. It also risks serious damage to a person’s necessary chair.

The indignity of being hoisted from a personal wheelchair is just one of the difficulties. Worrying that the wheelchair will be unharmed at the end of the flight is another. If it is damaged there is rarely a suitable replacement. Most wheelchair users have their chair fitted for their particular requirements. Some wheelchair users dehydrate themselves before the flight so they won’t need the bathroom during the flight.

Designing bus transit infrastructure with universal design

Norway has a long-held commitment to universal design across all sectors. However, with the best will in the world the concept is still poorly understood in transport infrastructure. When Trondheim initiated its new rapid bus transit system, universal design underpinned the design parameters. But designing bus transit infrastructure requires some joined up thinking and joined up standards.

The Trondheim infrastructure experience

The case study of Trondheim in Norway shows how the best laid plans can go awry if there isn’t joined up thinking at the planning stage. Once this was realised the next step was finding ways to remedy the situation. That’s because Trondheim replaced their whole fleet with the new metro buses.

The new bus transit infrastructure in Trondheim. A long articulated bus in bright lime green and dark grey.

At a late stage in the planning process, with construction of the stations and delivery of the buses well underway, it was discovered that the stations and the buses had been built to different accessibility standards.

Photo of the Trondheim bus transit

In a conference paper Jacob Deichmann outlines the issues and the different ideas and lists them in a handy table. All the stations were built to Norwegian State guidelines for accessible design. The “kneeling” buses were designed and built in Belgium. But there was a big gap between bus and kerb edge. The size of the gap also depended on the skill of the driver in getting as close as possible to the kerb.

Once this discrepancy was discovered advocacy groups complained to the media and to politicians. The response was that they met the access standards, but manual flip ramps would be added. However, this does not provide equitable access as someone has to deploy the ramp taking up valuable travel time. And efficient travel times was a key element of the system.

The paper has a chart giving an overview of the different remedies suggested based on product research. It lists the various ramp systems, gap-fillers and bus pads at kerbside. The chosen solutions were training of drivers in the short term. In the medium term there was to be a trial of motorised ramps, the bus pad and a guiding system. Longer term solutions were the gap-filler method and raised platforms.

When standards and guidelines aren’t enough

Both the platform designer and the bus manufacturer followed valid guidelines and best practice. The lack of consistency in the guidelines makes it difficult for non experts in universal design to make the best choices. In the worst case scenario, following standards can prevent a universal design approach.

More training on universal design is required at the planning and procurement stage. The underlying concept of providing an equitable and accessible means of transport needs to be fully understood.

The title of the conference paper is Universal Design in the Metrobuss System of Trondheim, Norway – Challenges and Solutions.

The short video below shows the convenience of an automated Perth bus ramp deployed for a wheelchair user and then everyone else used it.

Automatic ramp on a Perth bus was used for a wheelchair user and then everyone else.

A better example of universal design is the Bergen Light Rail project.

Inclusive Design Wheel: does it work?

The Inclusive Design Team at the University of Cambridge have completed their Dignity project on digital access to transport. They worked in four European cities to see how best to help travellers and providers. The aim of the project was to see how all stakeholders can help bridge the digital gap. They did this by co-creating more inclusive solutions using co-design methods. Their Inclusive Design Wheel was devised as a means to drive and guide a co-design method to improve digital access to transport.

The evolution of paper-based train and bus timetables to digital formats has benefits and drawbacks. On one hand, digital formats offer more detailed information to help plan journeys. On the other, the amount of information can be overwhelming – that is, if you can find what you are looking for. And if you don’t have access to digital services then this format is of no use at all.

A pile of mobile phones

The idea is to create mainstream digital products and services that are usable by as many people as possible.

Policy-makers can use the information to formulate long-term innovative strategies.

The Inclusive Design Team devised a Inclusive Design Wheel which conceptualises the research co-design process. It is another way of presenting participatory action research. The key elements of the Wheel are Explore, Create, Manage and Evaluate.

A graphic showing a complex circular chart with many elements. It looks very academic and take time to read and perhaps understand.

The Inclusive Design Wheel looks very complex. However, it has all the elements described in the Dignity project report.

The Dignity report is long, comprehensive, and uses academic language. It details the methods in all four cities: Ancona Italy, Barcelona Spain, Flanders, Belgium, and Tilbug Netherlands. The Inclusive Design Wheel process was used to develop concepts, prototypes and recommendations for more inclusive mobility services in their regions.

Insights and lessons learnt

The project report is about applying the concepts in the Inclusive Design Wheel itself. Consequently, the feedback was generally about the ease of use and understanding. The key take-away message is that the process itself needs to be simplified.

  • Users of the Inclusive Design Wheel needed better links to the document to find their way around it.
  • There was difficulty in expressing iterative processes without making them look linear in a chart.
  • Personal support was considered valuable by the practitioners and it is likely this will always be needed.
  • Some teams were unclear about which activities were essential and optional.
  • The Cambridge team needed to emphasise the importance of the purpose of the activity. They also needed to encourage teams to carry out the activities.

Editor’s comment: The takeaway message for me is that abstract concepts need to simplified with plain language. While academics might find it easy to express their concepts in charts and words, practitioners want to know what to do. Hence the personal support element appears critical for success. This is particularly important in explaining the purpose and importance of the project activities.

While the Inclusive Design Wheel has merits, it could be simpler to run educative workshops with simplified processes. Fully understanding the concepts of inclusion is a good place to start. Once the concept of designing for all is understood, the rest will more easily fall into place.

Universal design and co-design methods do not easily lend themselves to lock-step methods. Iteration often means the next step isn’t always clear until the current one is completed.

Using technology to plan travel

Transport services are only useful for people who can access and use them effectively. Groups that could benefit most from improved access to transport are more likely to lack access to technology to plan travel. This was a finding by the Inclusive Design Team at the University of Cambridge.

Two hands of an older person are poised above the keyboard of a laptop computer.

The survey found that older people, people with disability, and people with low education had low levels of technology access and understanding.

A survey carried out in Germany asked questions about access to technology, ability to use the technology, and using it for transport planning. Vulnerable and excluded groups included women, older people, people with low education, and people with low incomes. Older people and people with disability were the least likely to use a device to access information about transport.

A pair of hands belonging to an older man hold a mobile phone.

Owning a smartphone does not guarantee the ability to operate complex digital services.

The research paper is detailed with many variables. Three groups – people with low education, older people and people with disability had the lowest level of interaction with technology. If these groups also have low incomes, acquiring devices and being able to afford internet connections would also be a factor.

A man stands on a train platform looking at his smartphone. He is wearing a hat and has a bright yellow backpack.

Older people and people with disability were limited in regular travel because they couldn’t plan travel or use transport.

The title of the article is Toward Inclusive Digital Mobility Services: a Population Perspective. This research project is one of four similar projects conducted in Europe and UK. The reference list is useful for further reading.


Digital mobility services have great potential to increase passengers’ transportation options, improve their experiences and reduce exclusion. However, these advantages are only available to those who can access and use these services effectively.

To facilitate the development of inclusive services, information is needed on the range of potential users’ technology access, use, attitudes and capabilities. A population-representative survey examining these characteristics was carried out with 1010 participants in Germany in 2020.

The results are examined for groups and intersections of groups identified in previous work as particularly vulnerable to either digital or mobility exclusion. Older people, people with disabilities and people with low education levels had particularly low levels of all technology variables.

Caution is thus required when rolling out digital mobility services. Non-digital alternatives are needed to ensure an inclusive service and any digital interfaces need to be designed carefully to be usable by and reassuring to digital novices.

Accessible cities and public transport

Public transport is the focus of the latest quarterly magazine from the Association of Consultants in Access. The articles cover streetscapes, buses and trains, and the personal experiences of a wheelchair user.

The upgrade to the Como Rail Station showing the long flight of steps and the level pathway to the elevator.

Como Railway Station has received a significant upgrade for accessibility

The opening article is by Kiersten Fishburn who is Deputy Secretary, Cities and Active Transport at Transport for NSW. She covers a lot of ground: improvements to infrastructure, micro-mobility, on-demand service and the taxi subsidy scheme.

Julie Sawchuk is Chair of the Ontario Standards Development Committee in Canada. She discusses her experiences as a traveller using a wheelchair. She makes an important point:

You’ll have noticed that my tales have addressed only my own experiences as a wheelchair user: that is, after all, my area of expertise. We need to listen to all users.

Julie Sawchuk

Jane Bryce’s topic is accessible streetscapes and public transport for people who are blind or vision impaired. Silent e-vehicles are an obvious issue for this group, as are shared pathways.

Toe bone connected to the foot bone, Foot bone connected to the heel bone, Heel bone connected to the ankle bone…

Dem Bones

The song “Dem Bones” is a good analogy of the needs of people who are blind or vision impaired who wants to leave their house, to be independent. Everything needs to fit together; each part is essential. Each element that makes up a part of a journey, whether on public transport or not, in a city or elsewhere, needs to be accessible for people who are blind or vision impaired.

Francis Lenny talks about his view of accessible bus travel. He reiterates the need for passengers to be at the centre of design decision-making processes. Confusion with the Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport (DSAPT) is a key issue.

Inter-city train design and the outcomes achieved is the topic of Jen Barling’s article. Designers and operators are encouraged to go beyond the DSAPT. Indeed, DSAPT encourages alternative means of access to public transport, not just the specified standards:

…using methods, equipment and facilities that provide alternative means of access to the public transport service concerned (but not using separate or parallel services) with equivalence of amenity, availability, comfort, convenience, dignity, price and safety.

DSAPT 33.3 Equivalent Access

Howard Moutrie discusses handrail height and Cathryn Grant covers off the Smart Cities for All Toolkit.

You can access the online version of the magazine or download the 8MB PDF version.

How can Melbourne be more accessible?

A Melbourne street scene showing pedestrians and a tram.

Melbourne is one of the most ‘liveable’ cities in the world and the Victorian Government wants to keep it that way. But Melbourne can’t be truly liveable if it isn’t inclusive and accessible for all. Infrastructure projects, buildings, open space, and transportation need to link together seamlessly. 

Melbourne has done some good work. Retrofitting tactile footpath indicators and Auslan-interpreted performances are a start. But steep ramps at railway stations are still a problem and Federation Square has a multitude of stairs and rough tiles. An article in the Smart Cities Library says that developers are not on the same page as the Victorian Government. 

Front cover of the report.

A report from the University of Melbourne looks at some of the issues for people with disability. Academics worked with City of Melbourne staff and disability advocates to brainstorm ideas that would work. They assessed these ideas to see which were the most important and feasible.

Transportation was the key issue across all disability types, and issues with footpaths were high on the list. This links with another report about Victoria’s Public Transport Journey Planner.

Transportation is key

 Victoria’s Public Transport Journey Planner enables travellers to plan ahead for their journey. But does it work for wheelchair users? 

Distance view of a major train station showing platforms and trains.

Three case studies of train stations in suburban Melbourne show that in spite of a policy aim of going beyond the Transport Standards to take a whole of journey approach, there is some way to go when it comes to full accessibility. 

A nicely written report with a detailed methodology that can be used as the basis of further studies across Australia. The title is: “Does information from Public Transport Victoria’s Journey Planner align with real life accessibility for people in wheelchairs?”  Perhaps another case of bureaucrats not actually knowing what constitutes accessibility? Sometimes it is more than “access”.

Front cover Melbourne Transport Strategy 2030

Melbourne published their Transport Strategy 2030 which has updated information. There’s a lot about bikes but not much about inclusion and accessibility.

Public transport and dementia

Long view of a Singapore bus interchange showing the different coloured directional arrows on the floor. Public transport and dementia.

Noise, lights, crowds: public transport for people with dementia becomes increasingly challenging.

It’s common for people with dementia to become less confident when using public transport. The noise, the lights, and the crowds are distractions causing a lack of orientation. Dementia Singapore decided to find a way to help orientate and guide people through busy stations and interchanges and devised the “Find Your Way” initiative.

A large purple icon is attached to a column making it highly visible. The same icon is used from the beginning to the end of the route through the interchange.

Brightly coloured icons guide travellers in the right direction.

Dementia Singapore set up a working group of local dementia advocates and the major public bus operator, SBS Transit.

Working group

The aim of the Find Your Way initiative is to help people with dementia use public transport independently. The working group consisted of local dementia advocates, two members of Dementia Alliance International, and a major bus operator.

The technical advice focused on designs that are intuitive and easy to understand. Emily Ong’s short article has more on the technical group, the Environmental Design Special Interest Group (ED-SiC) that worked on the project.

Singapore already has Dementia-Go-To-Points where members of the public can take people who are lost at train stations and bus interchanges. However, this does not aid independence.

Floor plan showing the colour zoning and interchange layout

The Find Your Way project uses colour coding for district zones. The colour makes it easier to perceive the space and find information in a busy complex environment.

The incorporation of a childhood game is part of providing information in multiple formats. Large directional arrow markings on the floor also aid people in orientating themselves and finding their way. The photographs show how colour and icons are used.

Staff of SBS Transit give the thumbs up to the directional arrows on the flooring.

SBS Transit staff give thumbs up to the wayfinding design at the Toa Payoh Bus Interchange.

The title of the short article is, Designing public transit systems for accessibility and inclusion of people with cognitive impairments. It’s a quick overview of the project by Emily Ong, Project Lead and Co-Chair of DAI ED-SiG.

You can find out more from Dementia Singapore website where there are more photos of the project. You can also connect with Emily Ong and join the international group working on this initiative.

A train station showing a poster for the Go To Point for people with dementia.

People living with dementia want to remain independent for as long as possible and that means being able to use public transport. Dementia Go-To- Points help.

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