Walking in old age: A year-round perspective on accessibility in the outdoor environment and effects of measures taken
Abstract: Accessibility throughout society has been gaining interest on both international and national levels in order to meet the transportation needs of, for example, older people as pedestrians. The overall aim of this thesis is to examine the implementation process in municipal planning, and effects of measures taken, to achieve barrier-free outdoor environments the year round. Older peoples’ perceptions as pedestrians in terms of usability, mobility, and perceived safety, as well as municipal employees’ views, contribute to the findings presented. A mixed-method approach is applied involving qualitative (interviews, focus group interviews, and participant observations) and quantitative (questionnaires) studies, which are conducted before and after measures to improve accessibility in both bare-ground and snow/ice conditions are implemented. An index, developed within this thesis, shows a large variation in the implementation process concerning accessibility among Swedish municipalities. Thus, there is still much to do to accomplish a society accessible to all citizens. Knowing which measures to prioritise will likely benefit the implementation process. This thesis shows only minor effects of the implemented measures though. Nevertheless, difficulties reported in walking due to physical barriers have in fact decreased. In conclusion, removal of physical barriers the year round have potential for encouraging walking in old age, especially among older people with functional limitations and mobility devices. A travel-chain perspective on accessibility is essential though involving removal of physical barriers from indoor to outdoor environments, from one transport mode to another, from public to residential areas. Older peoples’ needs as pedestrians are not completely fulfilled by current legislative directives on accessibility (BFS 2003:19 HIN1), which calls for a focus on other issues as well, e.g. problems with bicycles and cyclists on pavements and footpaths as well as the need for benches to rest on. In snow/ice conditions, it concerns improved ice prevention and snow removal, especially snow removal on detailed level. Safety/security-related issues are important as well; however, barrier-free environments are to be considered as a basic precondition for peoples’ ability to use an environment at all. In the end, this thesis has implications for further research and for policy/planning at different levels in society.
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