Fix our footpaths, people say

1 Apr 2016

New research has found that for middle-aged and older people a lack of footpaths or uneven/broken footpaths is the biggest barrier to getting around their communities.

The Council on the Ageing (COTA) 50+ Report provides results of a survey of nearly 4,000 people aged 50 or over in NSW.

Half of the people surveyed said that walking was one of their main ways of getting around, second only to driving.  In Sydney, it was 60%. The proportion of people regularly walking for transport in rural and regional towns was slightly lower, but it was clearly the main alternative to driving.   There was a notable jump in the importance of walking for people in their sixties or older, compared to people in their fifties.

Interestingly, losing a drivers licence was not an issue for most people, their personal health and ability to walk was far more important to their ability to get around.

Almost 60% of respondents said there were things in the built environment that made getting around difficult. "No footpaths or uneven/broken footpaths" was easily the most significant factor.

"Overwhelmingly, the most frequently identified barriers to getting around related to footpaths, which were identified by about 50% of respondents living in metropolitan regions and by about 70% of respondents living in non-metropolitan regions."

Other significant factors were car parking, toilets, lighting and seating (which was increasingly important as people got older).  Interestingly, the importance of lighting declined substantially with age, probably because older people were less inclined to go out at night.

It is debatable whether these results reflect the importance of walking to help people get around their communities, or the poor state of footpaths compared to the high quality infrastructure provided for driving, but it's probably a mix of both. 

This research follows closely on the release of Victoria Walks research on the invisible road toll - people falling and being injured in the street. For more on that, look here.

The implications from both studies are clear - we need high quality footpaths free of trip hazards.