Age-friendly design on the Seoul Subway System

Last month I travelled to the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics World Congress in Seoul, Korea. Active Streets Active People team members (such as myself) are trained to observe how different environments facilitate the mobility of older adults. In this blog post, I would like to share with you some of the neat things that Korean planners have done to make it easier for older adults to get around on their public transit system.

With a population of 11 million, the Seoul subway line is massive. It consists of 17 different lines serving a sprawling city.


Imagine you are an older adult trying to make you way from one station to another. First, you will take a series of hallways, elevators and escalators to the train. At some stations, there are moving sidewalks (like the long treadmills that you see in airports). If you are able to walk, making your way to a train is a great opportunity to get some exercise!

ImageAs you approach the train you will look for small brass arrows on the ground. These brass arrows are engraved with the picture of an older adult, seated with a cane. If you wait at these designated arrows, when the train stops you will be in the correct position to step onto a car in which most of the seats are reserved for older adults, pregnant women, and people with disabilities.

When I waited at this arrow (I was intrigued) I noticed that most younger people looked down at the arrow, realized that this was a designated section, and moved in order to get onto another car.

ImageThen you will want to find a seat. In these designated cars, there are two sections. The first section is for pregnant women, people with disabilities, and people travelling with babies or small children. The second section is for the same people, but it is also saved for older adults.

In some cars, the sections for older adults are clearly demarcated in colourful seats. The “everybody” seats are covered in bright blue upholstery fabric, while the seats for older adults are covered in a dark red. On my first day in Seoul I almost accidently sat in a red seat, when a Korean friend grabbed my arm and said “You can’t sit there!” (With 11 million people, I was never able to get a clear shot of this seating arrangement, so I have provided you with a visual).

special seats CT blog J

 My trips on the Seoul Subway system reminded me that we can always learn from different contexts, and there is always someone, somewhere in the world, who has found a creative solution to an everyday problem. If you see a clever design that makes life easier for an older adult, be sure to share it with us!


 By Catherine Tong, MA, Doctoral Trainee

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