Journal of Urban Health

, Volume 90, Issue 4, pp 602–617 | Cite as

Aging and the Use of Pedestrian Facilities in Winter—The Need for Improved Design and Better Technology

  • Yue LiEmail author
  • Jennifer Anna Hsu
  • Geoff Fernie


Walking outdoors is often difficult or impossible for many seniors and people with disabilities during winter. We present a novel approach for conducting winter accessibility evaluations of commonly used pedestrian facilities, including sidewalks, street crossings, curb ramps (curb cuts and dropped curbs), outdoor stairs and ramps, building and transit entrances, bus stops, and driveways. A total of 183 individuals, aged 18–85 completed our survey. The results show that cold weather itself had little impact on the frequency of outdoor excursions among middle-aged and older adults while the presence of snow and/or ice on the ground noticeably kept people, especially older adults at home. The survey found that the key elements decreasing winter accessibility were icy sidewalks and puddles at street crossings and curb ramps. While communities have recognized the need to improve snow and ice removal, little attention has been paid to curb ramp design which is especially ineffective in winter when the bottom of the ramps pool with rain, snow, and ice, making it hazardous and inaccessible to nearly all users. We conclude that investigations of alternative designs of curb ramp are needed.


Winter Accessibility Pedestrian facilities Participation Physical activity 



This research was funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) through the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Universal Design and the Built Environment (grant #H133E050004-08A), a partnership with the Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDEA). We also acknowledge the support of Toronto Rehabilitation Institute who receives funding under the Provincial Rehabilitation Research Program from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care in Ontario. Equipment and space have been funded, in part, with grants from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Province of Ontario. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of these organizations. The authors wish to express their gratitude to Leslie Beard, Michael D. Grimble, and Dylan Reid for their invaluable assistance during data collection.


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Copyright information

© The New York Academy of Medicine 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Technology R&D TeamToronto Rehabilitation InstituteTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Department of Mechanical and Industrial EngineeringUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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