Once drivers hang up the keys, how do they get around?
Not surprisingly, the most popular means of travel for former drivers is to slide over to the passenger seat. However, what may surprise you is what comes in second.
The AARP Public Policy Institute has found that walking is second to private vehicle travel for all ages, regardless of driver status. Not only that, but the Institute’s analysis of 2009 National Household Travel Survey data shows that non-drivers’ share of walk trips is significantly higher than those who drive.
Looking ahead, the majority of people planning to retire (or already retired) are choosing to age in place. Overwhelmingly, that “place” is in a suburban or rural area that heavily favors driving and not walking. Yet for older adults, walkability is a vital factor in their ability to stay connected and avoid isolation.
To encourage and expand safe and inviting places to walk, I helped AARP’s Create the Good program develop the Sidewalks and Streets Survey. This toolkit shows volunteers what to look for while conducting simple walkability surveys, along with tips to seek improvements based on survey results. Criteria include:
- Are sidewalks broken or cracked? Do sidewalks exist? Is there a buffer between the sidewalks and streets? Are there curb cuts from the sidewalk to the street?
- Do pedestrian signals give people time to cross the streets? For wide streets, would medians help slower walkers have a place to safely wait?
- How is the comfort and appeal of the route? Are there shade trees or landscaping? Are there benches or places to rest?
Crossing streets safely is a particular concern for older adults. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, people age 70 or older have a higher rate of death from being hit by cars than any other age group. However, a national movement called Complete Streets is helping make it safer to take a walk.
Complete Streets policies consider the needs of all road users – including those who walk, use transit, ride a bicycle or use a wheelchair – when designing and improving streets and sidewalks. The AARP New York State Office used the Create the Good survey to seek passage of a state-wide Complete Streets policy. Five hundred volunteers surveyed 2,000 intersections over a one-week period in 2010. By February 2012, Complete Streets became law across the state. Across the U.S., more than 300 Complete Streets laws and policies have passed at the state and local levels.
New York City is a leader in creating Complete Streets. The city’s walk-friendly measures include:
- Putting wide avenues on a “road diet” to narrow the streets and slow traffic
- Extending street corners and rounding them into “bulb-outs” that slow turning vehicles and make street crossing distances shorter for pedestrians
- Installing medians where slower walkers can pause, and
- Turning Times Square into a no-car zone with tables, chairs, and other inviting features.
If pedestrians can make it there, they can make it anywhere – provided that forward-thinking measures are taken. I’ll share more success stories in next week’s column.
Lori Cohen writes the Mobility Lab column “Here and Here to Stay” on quality-of-life issues for seniors. This topic has a crucial connection to mobility management, and Lori has a knowledgeable perspective, having worked for such organizations as AARP and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.
Photo by Ed Yourdon