Thursday, October 31, 2019

HOW AGE-FRIENDLY IS OUR CITY?


Sometimes one can't help but wonder whether our city fathers and policy-makers consider the special needs of older people when they make decisions on improving the city's infrastructure and public facilities. Do they study the demographics when they brainstorm at meetings?

Admittedly there have been some improvement over the past few years, but there is still much more that City Hall can do to make Kuala Lumpur an age-friendly city. Taiping has just been picked for the first stage of the Age-Friendly Pilot Project financed with a grant of RM1.1million from UNDP. The project will be based on World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines. Perhaps KL can take a cue from the project.

Here are some suggestions on how City Hall as well as the private sector (and also city dwellers in general) can make it easier for older people to move around in the city, and enjoy a day out on their own or with friends.

PUBLIC TRANSPORT

I gave up driving about 20 years ago, and have been relying mostly on public transport to get around. So my grouses here are mostly about the state of our public transport system. Thank goodness the days of the pink mini-buses and their wannabe F1 drivers are gone.

SeniorsAloud used to run a weekly facebook post on Fridays to highlight shoddy public works, poor maintenance culture and lack of age-friendly facilities. We took hundreds of photos and posted many of them as evidence. Glad that there has been much improvement since then. 
It took years but public transport has improved tremendously with the introduction of air-conditioned buses and trains that run on schedule most of the time. There are now free shuttle buses serving Kuala Lumpur city centre and Petaling Jaya township. Senior citizens aged 60 and above enjoy 50% off all fares. Kudos to the Ministry of Transport for these improvements. When we make enough noise, they listen. (Click here to read some of our previous complaints).

All kinds of notices and advertisements, but no information on bus routes
However, information about bus routes is not easily available. Many senior commuters have no clue what buses to take to reach their destinations. They are not internet-savvy, so we can't expect them to go online to check for information. The design of buses leave much to be desired for the elderly who find the steps too high for them to board easily. Only a handful of buses offer wheelchair access. No wonder we hardly see any OKU out on their own in the city.

Facilities at LRT/MRT and monorail stations have improved, but stairs like the above can be challenging for the elderly. Not all stations have escalators and lifts, and not all are always in working condition.
Just looking at the stairs is exhausting to an elderly. But how
else to cross the busy road to Ampang LRT station if not by this overhead bridge?

PEDESTRIAN CROSSINGS AND KERBS


A challenge for the elderly to cross busy Jalan Ampang at KLCC. KL drivers and motorcyclists are not known for their patience.
The timing device at pedestrian crossings covering more than three lanes should be calibrated to give enough time for the elderly to make it safely across. An example is the Jalan Ampang crossing at KLCC/AvenueK. Is a 23-second time gap sufficient for the elderly and parents with young children to reach the opposite side safely? The elderly will have to cross busy roads at their own risk.

Evidence of poor planning and poor maintenance. The narrow sidewalk does not allow strollers or wheelchair access.

PUBLIC RESTROOMS 


Only squat toilets at this premier department store, and no grab bars. A challenge for older women with knee problems to use these restrooms. 
Incontinence is a common problem for most senior citizens. Is it any wonder that they prefer to stay at home than go out to crowded places where the public toilets are either in short supply or in a filthy state? There is also the problem of long lines at the ladies restrooms. There is no priority queuing for elderly ladies. And while on the subject of public loos, how is it possible that one of the biggest departmental stores in the country does NOT have seated toilets in their restrooms? Don't they know that the elderly can't squat because of knee problems?

SHOPPING MALLS


No benches to rest tired feet for the elderly while waiting for their e-hailing cabs or while waiting for their family members to finish their shopping.
Seniors enjoy walking around in shopping malls. The sights and sounds are a source of wonder and amazement to them, especially if they are visiting from the smaller towns. Unfortunately, the lack of facilities for wheelchair access, long lines at washrooms, and few rest areas make an outing to the mall an ordeal for the less abled elderly.

Educating the public about respecting the elderly is also important. How many young people will give up their seats on the train for a senior citizen, an OKU or a pregnant woman? Would older people be given priority in boarding buses?

The rush to board the bus. Gets worse during peak evening hours. The elderly get crushed by eager young men who push their way through. 

Credit must be given to govt buildings and banks that have special lanes or counters to serve the warga emas. We are also seeing more outdoor gyms for senior citizens and safer walkways and lanes for pedestrians. Let's hope for more improvements to follow.

The award for the worst design for bus stops goes to KLCC! No bus information boards, and these 'seats' are meant for perching on or leaning against, not for sitting and waiting for the bus. Most age-unfriendly!

For those interested in knowing what constitutes an age-friendly city, here is WHO's checklist of what an age-friendly city should be and should have. How does Kuala Lumpur fare?



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