An 82-year-old woman was fined more than $100 for crossing against a don’t-walk signal. Mayvis Coyne began carrying her groceries across Foothill Boulevard in Los Angeles while the WALK signal was still on, but could not cross the wide road before the light changed. One elderly neighbor resorts to calling a cab simply to cross the poorly designed street.
Incomplete streets a problem for older Americans
Central to the creation of livable communities is the ability for everyone, regardless of age or ability, to travel safely. Yet, many of our nation’s roads do little to meet the needs of the growing population of older Americans. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2025, nearly one in five Americans will be over the age of 65, totaling 62 million Americans. Many older adults will continue to drive for most of their trips, but some will face physical and cognitive challenges that must be addressed to enable their continued mobility and independence.
A transportation system that prioritizes fast automobile travel has created roads that are difficult to navigate or unsafe to travel by foot, bike, or public transportation. Crossings are long, intersections are expansive, sidewalks are absent, and transit stops offer no place to sit. These roads are especially trying for older adults, even when behind the wheel. Almost 40% of Americans over the age of 50 say their neighborhoods lack adequate sidewalks, 55% report inadequate bike lanes or paths, and 48% have no comfortable place to wait for the bus. These incomplete streets have deadly results: In 2008, older pedestrians were overrepresented in fatalities; while comprising 13% of the population, they accounted for 18% of the fatalities.
These incomplete streets limit safe mobility and can breed isolation. As people age, some will stop or limit their driving. More than 50% of older Americans who do not drive stay home on a given day because they lack transportation options. Older Americans make just 6% of their trips on foot or bike – far less than in some European countries, where adults over the age of 65 use these active modes for about half of all trips. Non-driving seniors make 65% fewer trips to visit family, friends or go to church; many report they do not like to ask for rides.
Complete Streets help create livable communities
Complete Streets policies offer the opportunity to improve travel options of people of all ages. Planning, designing, and building roads with all users in mind will provide older adults a variety of options for getting around, whether walking, taking public transportation, or sharing rides with family and friends.
A majority of people aged 50 or older support complete street policies. More than half (54%) of older adults who reported an inhospitable walking, bicycling, and transit environment outside their homes would walk, bicycle, and take transit more if those problems were fixed. Eight of ten of older Americans surveyed consider that “for many seniors, public transportation is a better alternative to driving alone, particularly at night.” Complete Streets also create safe space for older adults to walk or bike as exercise, helping them achieve a healthier lifestyle.
A community with a Complete Streets policy considers the needs of older residents every time a transportation investment decision is made. Following a Complete Streets process will balance the sometimes-competing needs of older drivers and older pedestrians by slowing vehicles down where necessary, creating an easily navigated multimodal network of streets, and improving visibility. Proven methods to create Complete Streets for aging pedestrians include retiming signals to account for slower walking speed, constructing median refuges or sidewalk bulb-outs to shorten crossing distances, and installing curb ramps, sidewalk seating, and bus shelters with seating. Improved lighting, signage, and pavement markings are among the measures that benefit drivers of any age, particularly older drivers.
[all fact sheet citations are available in the downloadable files]
Planning Complete Streets for an Aging America
AARP Public Policy Institute, 2009
Aging in Place: A State Survey of Livability Policies and Practices
National Conference of State Legislatures and AARP Public Policy Institute, December 2011
Growing Smarter, Living Healthier: A Guide to Smart Growth and Active Aging
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2009
Beyond 50.05 A Report to the Nation on Livable Communities: Creating Environments for Successful Aging (.pdf)
AARP Public Policy Institute
2008 Traffic Safety Facts: Older Population (.pdf)
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2009
Funding the Public Transportation Needs of an Aging Population
American Public Transit Association, 2010
Aging and Disability: Implications for the Housing Industry and Housing Policy in the United States
Stanley K. Smith, Stefan Rayer, and Eleanor A. Smith, 2008
Designing for Active Living Among Adults Research Summary (.pdf)
Active Living Research, 2008
Neighborhood Design and Aging: An Empirical Analysis in Northern California (.pdf)
Upper Great Plans Transportation Institute at North Dakota State University, 2007
Aging Americans: Stranded Without Options (.pdf)
Surface Transportation Policy Project, 2004