with a response from Stuart Andreason
There are now 8 million older non-drivers in the U.S., comprising 21 percent of the population aged 65 and older.
As people get older driving patterns change either by choice or necessity. With the age boom upon us, the number of older non-drivers (65+) increased by more than 1.1 million between 2001 and 2009. There are now 8 million older non-drivers in the U.S., comprising 21 percent of the population aged 65 and older. 1 We all dread the thought of having to hang up the car keys. At the same time, many Boomers are looking to drive less by choice and moving into downtown or neighborhood settings that are within walking distance of amenities and services.
Of top priority for planners is creating an environment in which people can stay connected and engaged in the community, regardless of whether they drive or not.
Alarmingly, more than 50 percent of non-drivers over age 65 do not leave home most days, partly because of a lack of transportation options. 2 Disengagement from community life is not healthy and diminishes quality of life for older residents. As planners we need to look for solutions that provide options for those who can’t drive and allow all residents to stay connected and engaged with all that the community has to offer.
Designing Around the Human Footprint
Walkability is a fundamental contributor to livability to connect people to the community.
Walking is the second most popular means of travel among people 65 and older and almost 9 percent of trips by older adults are on foot. 3 As we’ve pointed out throughout this series, walkability is a fundamental contributor to livability to connect people to the community, but also to create downtowns and neighborhoods that attract business and bring in visitors.
For older residents it is important that sidewalks that are in good condition (to avoid tripping hazards) and that there is plenty of time to cross the street. There are many design elements to improve safety for people crossing the street, such as to shortening the length of crossings with bulb outs, providing pedestrian islands, slowing traffic and adding time to walk signals.
AARP uses “walk audits” to engage residents in identifying troublesome aspects of the walking environment and possible solutions. At these events, volunteers fill out a survey that evaluates sidewalks, intersections, and other conditions such as driver behavior along selected routes within the community. 4 This is a great way to educate residents about ideal design elements and get them involved in how to make improvements.
Editor’s Note: Take a look at these two video on doing walk audits. The first is of an AARP sponsored walk audit in South Austin, Texas. In the second Mark Fenton, host of “America’s Walking” on PBS, describes the basics of a walk audit
Connect Land Use and Transportation
How many times have we shaken our heads at the new residential development with sidewalks that end on the main road? Or when doctors’ offices, whose primary clientele are older patients, are sited outside of town with no existing transit service? It may seem obvious, but too often we don’t adequately consider transportation when land use decisions are made.
Planning commissioners can play an important role to make sure there is an integrated approach to land use and transportation planning as well as an overall vision for ensuring residents can connect to the community with or without a car. In addition to evaluating your core planning documents to ensure the dots are connected, additional tools to help with this process are described below.
Complete Streets is the buzz in planning and transportation circles across the country. The 500th policy was adopted in Memphis last year and many more are in the works. These policies are popular in part because they provide a mechanism to plan for our transportation system holistically, and not just for motorized vehicles.
Complete Streets policies require planners to consider the needs of all users — bicyclists, pedestrians, transit — of all ages on the front end of road projects.
Complete Streets policies require planners to consider the needs of all users — bicyclists, pedestrians, transit — of all ages on the front end of road projects. No longer are good sidewalks, safe intersections and bike lanes seen as “add-ons” or “alternatives” but essential components of a well-design transportation network that serves all members of the community. If your community doesn’t have a Complete Streets policy consider adopting one. If you do have a policy, look at what other steps are needed for implementation, such as drafting a transportation plan. A wide range of resources are available through the National Complete Streets Coalition, housed within Smart Growth America. 5
Transit Oriented Development
In larger communities, transit oriented development is a strategy that includes multi-use development integrated in walkable neighborhoods all within a short distance from transit stops.
Arlington, Virginia is a national example of TOD, which among other things makes accessing services and amenities easier for older residents. It has also contributed to an economically thriving neighborhood. According to a case study of the Rosslyn Ballston corridor, the assessed value of land around Arlington’s transit stations increased 81 percent in 10 years. In addition, 50 percent of residents take transit to work and 73 percent walk to stations. 6
TOD requires a certain population to support transit and make this strategy work. However, the concept behind TOD — to link transportations services with mixed use development — can be applied in many settings. In my relatively small community of Burlington, new affordable housing for seniors and families has been built on a bus route and is adjacent to a neighborhood grocery store and shopping plaza.
Transit and Volunteer Drivers
Transit use among people age 65 and older, as a share of all the trips they take, increased by 40 percent between 2001 and 2009.
While planning commissioners may not be directly involved with providing transit service or volunteer driver programs, it’s important to recognize these programs as an essential part of the puzzle that provide residents with mobility and connection to the community. According to an AARP analysis of the 2009 National Household Travel Survey, transit use among people age 65 and older, as a share of all the trips they take, increased by 40 percent between 2001 and 2009. Transit use is particularly important to nondrivers who use transit more often than drivers. 7
As discussed above there are strategies to create a more effective alignment of land use and public transit to serve residents and foster economic development. Even in rural communities, transit providers and community leaders are developing innovative ways to serve their residents. The Community Transportation Association (CTAA) is a good resource for information and their recent newsletter is dedicated to rural transportation. 8
Volunteer driver programs are effective and necessary in rural communities where there is not enough population density to support transit. These programs are managed by a variety of community organizations, including transit providers, faith-based organizations, disease groups such as the American Cancer Society, senior centers, and others.
The aging of America is just one contributor to a re-evaluation of how we get around. Climate change, obesity and other health concerns, and rising gas prices all demand new approaches to how we design our communities to support multiple modes of transportation. As complex as this seems the key question for planning commissioners is still the same: can all people, whether they drive or not, access and enjoy all that your community has to offer.
Jennifer Wallace-Brodeur has been at AARP since 2005, serving as Associate State Director in the Vermont State Office until 2013, and then moving to the national office as Senior Advisor States. In Vermont, she led the Burlington Livable Community Project, which established a vision and action steps for Burlington to meet the needs of its aging population. This was one of AARP’s first local livable community projects. She also led AARP’s campaign to pass Complete Streets legislation in 2011, which earned her the Outstanding Service Award from the Vermont Planners Association.
Jennifer is active as a community volunteer, currently serving on the Burlington Planning Commission and previously as chair of the Burlington Electric Commission. In 2012, she was appointed to the Governor’s Commission on Successful Aging and served as chair of the livable communities subcommittee.
A Response from Stuart Andreason:
The rise of social media, smart phones, and online interaction have been linked to declines in driving and car ownership among teenagers and young adults.
Jennifer highlights several important aspects of planning for alternative transportation for seniors. Young adults do not face the same “giving up the keys” pressures that seniors do, but many are choosing alternative transportation over driving. The days of teenagers waking up early on their sixteenth birthday to go to the DMV to get their license are in decline. The rise of social media, smart phones, and online interaction have been linked to declines in driving and car ownership among teenagers and young adults. 9
Communities need to be prepared to build the infrastructure to support the walking, biking, and transit or shared rides alternatives that young adults want.
Driving will remain an important part of any community’s transportation planning efforts, but communities should work to create opportunities for non-auto trips. There are a number of programs that can help communities of all sizes plan for and build walking and biking infrastructure.
The Safe Routes to School program promotes walking to school by advocating for and funding the building of sidewalks and pedestrian and bike paths between communities and schools. The Safe Routes to School National Partnership 10 gives information on programs and grants in every state. These connections benefit young families and others (including seniors) alike. Some communities are opening school libraries to the public or locating community centers on school property — making the new or expanding pedestrian network a link to a community asset. Many state Departments of Transportation also offer funding for bike and pedestrian programs.
Governmental organizations in smaller communities are also supporting ride-sharing, volunteer drivers, and carpooling. The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (the regional planning agency in the Charlottesville, Virginia, metropolitan area) coordinates ride-sharing and carpooling in the community. 11 The program helps to connect many rural communities with job centers. The organization guarantees a ride home in the case of an emergency for participants. As Jennifer notes, many other organizations provide similar coordination.
Creating safe and enjoyable options for active travel, transit, or shared rides can encourage young adults, children, and seniors to stay active and connected with the community.
Stuart Andreason is a doctoral candidate in the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of Pennsylvania where he studies community and economic development. He previously researched civic innovation in community participation.
Prior to entering graduate school, Stuart worked as the Executive Director of a Main Street Organization, the Orange Downtown Alliance, in Orange, Virginia.
- Jana Lynott and Carlos Figueiredo, How the Travel Patterns of Older Adults Are Changing: Highlights from the 2009 National Household Travel Survey (AARP Public Policy Institute, April 2011) ↩
- Linda Bailey, Aging Americans: Stranded Without Options (Surface Transportation Policy Project, 2004, Executive Summary). ↩
- How the Travel Patterns of Older Adults are Changing: Highlights from the 2009 National Household Travel Survey, p. 4 (AARP Public Policy Institute). ↩
- For information on how to do a walk audit, see AARP’s Sidewalks and Streets Survey: Tips, Tools and Resources for Organizers. ↩
- National Complete Streets Coalition web site. ↩
- Encouraging Transit Oriented Development, Case Studies That Work, p. 2 (available on EPA Smart Growth web site) ↩
- How the Travel Patterns of Older Adults are Changing: Highlights from the 2009 National Household Travel Survey, pp. 3-4 (AARP Public Policy Institute). ↩
- Community Transportation Association web site. ↩
- This is outlined in detail in A New Way to Go, a report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund. ↩
- The Safe Routes to School National Partnership web site. ↩
- Thomas Jefferson Planning District ride share program. ↩