Identifying barriers to transport accessibility for pedestrians of reduced mobility

Science topics April 2015 Road safetyHuman behaviour

Claude Marin-Lamellet, Researcher in physical ergonomics - TS2 Department, LESCOT Laboratory

Walking is essential in order to use a public transport network. For certain so-called vulnerable users, for example seniors or persons with functional limitations, walking produces disabling situations and the risk of an accident.

In addition, changes that are taking place in the urban environment are creating new hazardous situations :

  • Areas with mixed traffic (HGVs and public transport vehicles); ;
  • Areas where pedestrians are mixed with cyclists and in-line skaters with no physical separation;
  • Meeting areas;
  • Low-noise vehicles (hybrid and electric).


Trips made more difficult according to the individual’s profile

Age-related changes in perceptive cognitive capacities tend to increase the risk of either an impact with a vehicle or falling. The ability to perceive vehicles when crossing the road can also be reduced by hearing impairment. Moreover, seniors have difficulty crossing major roads because pedestrian green times are too short. The reason for this is that they do not take into account age-related reductions in motor capacities which reduce walking speed (0.9 m/sec instead of 1.2 m/s). In this case, and in order to limit fatigue, pedestrians may decide to cross the road before a pedestrian crossing.
Likewise, blind or visually-impaired pedestrians may face difficulties due to the excessive number of obstacles on the footpaths - particularly parked two-wheelers - and the increasing complexity of some road layouts (multiple two-way traffic channels). Last, an important factor is that children with functional limitations like vision, hearing or cognition are at greater risk of injury than children of the same age without these limitations.
Road condition is also an important factor for the risk of falls, particularly in the case of senior pedestrians. Urban planners should therefore give careful attention to abrupt changes from one type of surface to another, which should be avoided, the slipperiness of materials and the identifiability of street furniture.

More appropriate transport conditions

In the case of public transport, the boarding/alighting movement is particularly hazardous for persons of reduced mobility. Low-floor buses reduce this problem, but only if the vehicle is correctly located in the bus berth, which is not always the case. Trams pose fewer difficulties in this respect because of the short distance between the platform and the step.
Travellers with reduced mobility are also vulnerable when making a standing up or sitting down movement. Questions are raised concerning the best way to ensure their safety in the event of sudden braking, as most injuries are not due to collisions but to unexpected deceleration. The principal injury mechanism is falling. Last, the feeling of insecurity, which is subjective and very closely linked to society, is a considerable problem among seniors.



Find out more ...

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  • Heyrman, E. and Marin-Lamellet, C. (2009). Quelles politiques d'accessibilité au transport en Europe ? Les Cahiers de l'Institut d'Aménagement et d'Urbanisme Ile-de-France n°150, pp.112-113.
  • Grange-Faivre, C. & Marin-Lamellet, C. (2010) Accessibilité des personnes à mobilité réduite et transports guidés urbains/régionaux. In : Innovations dans les transports urbains guidés et régionaux, Claude Soulas et Martine Wahl Eds, Collection Traité IC2 Série Systèmes Automatisés, Hermès, pp280-290.