Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Complete Streets

Pedestrians


Arlington's new vision for Rosslyn doesn't address the "intersection of doom"

Arlington County wants to create more transportation options in Rosslyn and make it safer and more pleasant to walk or bike there. But the plan the county's working on may undermine that vision by ignoring existing bicycle and pedestrian safety issues.


Image from Arlington County.

Realize Rosslyn is a major planning effort; for over a year, Arlington County has been holding meetings, studying travel patterns, examining viewsheds and gathering feedback from all sorts of people who live, work or play in and around Rosslyn.

County planners are currently gathering feedback on a draft policy framework, a sort of vision statement for the plan. Overall it is great policy, calling for things like wider sidewalks, cycle tracks, a better-connected street grid, and connecting Rosslyn to the Potomac. What is missing, however, is any policy for addressing what Arlington cyclists call the "intersection of doom," Lee Highway and North Lynn Street.

This intersection is the most frequent site of bicycle and pedestrian collisions, according to Arlington County Police statistics. In August of 2011, a series of three cyclist injuries occurred within a single week.


The "intersection of doom" forces drivers turning right to cross paths with cyclists going straight. Image from Arlington County and edited by the author.

Pedestrians and cyclists going from the Mount Vernon Trail to the Custis Trail, or waiting to cross Key Bridge have to go through this intersection. Passing through the same space are two lanes of traffic trying to turn right to from I-66 to the Key Bridge.

Both groups have a green light at largely the same time. Cyclists and pedestrians get a "leading interval" where the walk sign has turned, but the light is not yet green for cars. Without a "no turn on red" sign for the cars, however, drivers can still turn right into the crosswalk while people are still in it.

This intersection presents many challenges. Arlington County, the Virginia Department of Transportation, the National Park Service and private individuals all own land right around this intersection. Any construction work in the area has the potential to significantly snarl bicycle, pedestrian and auto traffic.

Meanwhile, simple fixes like a "no turn on red" prohibition for the I-66 cars only address part of the problem and would likely back traffic up onto the highway. And there are viewsheds that people would like to protect, sensitive habitats, mature trees, and significant hills to contend with. That said, the status quo is clearly unsafe and a solution needs to be found.

Arlington is working on several projects that could address this problem. The North Lynn Street Esplanade and Lee Highway/Custis Trail Safety Improvements Project would improve sight lines, shorten crossing distances, and provide some additional space for bicycles and pedestrians at this spot.

But it will not fix the root issue, which is that a large crowd of bikes, pedestrians and cars all have a green light at the same time. In addition, it is LONG delayed. The last time there was a public meeting, construction was slated to begin in 2013. The current schedule has it beginning in 2015.

The county's Rosslyn Circle Study examined ways to relocate the trail so as to avoid these intersections. The Rosslyn Esplanade Study examined the potential for tunneling under Lynn Street.

In 2011, GGW contributor Steve Offutt proposed relocating the I-66 off ramp as one solution. Many folks think the proposal for an air rights development rights over I-66 provides a great opportunity to do that.

Whatever fix is decided on, the Realize Rosslyn framework needs to acknowledge that there is a problem. It is great that the plan calls for new trails and cycle tracks, and it is great that the plan calls for new parks and wider sidewalks, but the plan must also recognize that our current trail is unsafe and include a policy to implement a real, long-term solution.

This Tuesday, March 18, the Arlington County Board will vote on a "request to advertise" the policy framework at their 6:45 pm board meeting at the County Board Room, 2100 Clarendon Blvd #300 in Courthouse. Please consider coming out and letting the Board know that this is an unacceptable oversight in the plans for Rosslyn.

If you can't make it to a meeting, you can also send your thoughts to the County Board, the County Manager and the Principal Planner for Realize Rosslyn.

Roads


Valentine's cards for that special person who completes the street in your heart

Valentine's Day is coming up, but what do you do if your love for urban planning is eclipsed only by the love for your spouse or significant other? Reader Nick showed us how to combine the two with these cards from from the appropriately-named Planning Love blog.


All images from Planning Love.

Mixed use is better for our neighborhoods, but it's important to communicate that there is only one person for you.

Still, true love has no speed limit (unlike our city streets, which definitely do have speed limits and you should obey them).

And I know Valentine's Day can be tough for single people. Take heart and know there is someone out there for you though. Start by asking people if they'd like to know how DC's streets are organized and if they say yes, immediately ask them out.

Then, just imagine how you'll feel when you offer to pay for a cab after your first date, and he or she will look at you and say, "why don't we just take CaBi instead?" That's when you know you've found the one.

Roads


Putting pedestrians and cyclists first upsets the social order of the roads

Complete streets, or the idea that roads should be safe and effective for all users, aim to upend the social order, moving cars from first to last. Despite endless discussion of "safety" and "the law," many people seem to be upset by social, rather than legal violations of the rules.


Photo by EURIST e.V. on Flickr.

While the majority remains polite, a vocal minority is extremely attached to the status quo. In the current social order, roads are for cars, slow drivers are "bad drivers," and cyclists and pedestrians are expected to get out of the way.

The social order of the road is governed not by laws, but by socially-enforced rules. For example, one might voluntarily drive below the speed limit on the Beltway. That would be perfectly legal, but would also garner honking, headlight-flashing, and rude gestures. As everyone knows, appropriate driving speeds begin at the speed limit and extend upwards, not downwards. The power of these rules is such that police rarely issue a ticket, photographic or otherwise, for driving less than 10 mph over the speed limit.

Violating social norms

All this came to mind the other day, when I was bicycling in violation of the social order. I was riding in the center of a narrow lane and a driver started honking at me. Shortly thereafter, he pulled alongside and helpfully explained that cyclists are not allowed in the street unless they can "ride at the speed limit."

This struck me as quite the head-scratcher. After all, isn't the speed limit an upper limit? Those of us with Internet access have certainly read that cyclists should not be allowed on the road unless they "obey the law." Riding at a typical bicycle speed surely complies with the law. Nevertheless I've been told, even by friends, that cyclists must ride at the speed limit.

As it turns out, the speed limit is the single point of intersection between socially acceptable driving speeds and socially acceptable bicycling speeds. Cyclists who do not ride this tightrope, and that would be all of them, are in violation of at least one of these social conventions.

Despite endless discussion of "safety" and "the law" it is increasingly clear to me that many people are upset by social, rather than legal, violations of the rules. While the majority of drivers remain polite, a vocal minority is extremely attached to the status quo.

As old gives way to new, old ideas fall by the wayside. One of these is that automobile traffic is an unstoppable force. As a pedestrian, it is up to me to get out of the way or suffer the consequences. As a cyclist, there is no point in asking for bike lanes because they would simply put me in harm's way.

The complete streets concept recognizes that traffic is ruled by individual drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians, each of whom is able to slow down and even stop to avoid a crash. Complete streets are updated streets, often with narrower traffic lanes that have been demonstrated to slow motorized traffic. Pedestrians come first, followed by transit, cyclists, and cars.

Barbara McCann, author of Completing our Streets, describes supporters of complete streets as "a broad coalition of bicycle riders, transportation practitioners, public health leaders, older Americans, smart growth advocates, [and] real estate agents" who "came together to insist that we begin to build streets that are safe for everyone."

Because the automobile can't deliver the promises of speed and freedom to 100% of the population, people continue to take up walking and bicycling, often in the direction of the nearest Metro station. When these non-drivers get in the way of the cars, and they do so often in urban settings, they upset the social order. Transit planners participate in these changes as well by calling for dedicated bus lanes and new buses that give their drivers the power to change traffic signals. I myself joined AARP specifically because they are a champion of complete streets.

McCann cites a 2012 nationwide poll that found that "63% of Americans would like to address traffic congestion by improving public transportation and designing communities for easier walking and bicycling." While frustrating for some, a majority of citizens support these changes. The new social order, it seems, is here to stay.

A version of this post appeared in the Alexandria Times.

Pedestrians


This bill could make Montgomery's streets better for walking

Montgomery County's urban areas are growing, but their wide, fast streets, designed to prioritize drivers over everyone else, are holding them back. A new bill going before the County Council could level the playing field for pedestrians and cyclists.


Pedestrian-unfriendly Colesville Road. Photo by the author.

Last month, Councilmembers Roger Berliner and Hans Riemer introduced several amendments to the county's Road Code, notably to reduce the "target speed," which is usually the speed limit, of new or rebuilt streets. All streets in urban areas would be designed for speeds of 25 mph, or between 30 and 40 mph on suburban arterials. On smaller residential streets, the target speed would be 20 mph.

To achieve those lower speeds, in urban areas like Silver Spring, the bill would allow lanes no wider than 10 feet, tighter curb radii at intersections, and curb bumpouts, which reduce the distance pedestrians have to cross a street. It also lets developers work with the county to put bikeshare stations or car charging outlets in their projects.

"The overarching goal of this bill is to…facilitate the implementation of pedestrian friendly, bike friendly, walkable, livable urban areas as envisioned" in county plans for areas like White Flint and Wheaton, write Berliner and Riemer in a memo to the council.

Bill 33-13, as it's officially called, is an update of the county's Road Code, which was approved in 2008 as an attempt to create "complete streets" that accommodate pedestrians and cyclists in addition to drivers. To offer recommendations, County Executive Ike Leggett convened a 24-member task force, including representatives from groups like the Coalition for Smarter Growth and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, as well as AAA. Many of the bill's progressive features fell by the wayside due to AAA pressure to allow wider roads and remove street trees, which spokesperson Lon Anderson called a hazard to drivers.

Berliner and Riemer's amendments will help the Road Code fulfill its original purpose. Whether in emerging urban places like Wheaton or older communities like Bethesda and Silver Spring that were built before cars became common, wide, fast streets are unpleasant to walk on at best, and at worst, a danger to pedestrians. This bill will make those streets safer by slowing traffic and forcing drivers to pay attention.

But complete streets are also better for the county's economy. More people want to live in a walkable community, which translates to rising home prices in places like Silver Spring.

Streets that are nicer to walk or bike along mean more foot traffic, which means more customers for local shops and restaurants. And studies show that pedestrians and cyclists spend as much if not more at businesses than drivers do. That's especially good news for the county's Nighttime Economy Initiative, which seeks to encourage nightlife in its urban areas.

As in 2008, this bill could face resistance both now and if it's passed. The county's Department of Transportation has been reluctant to create more pedestrian-friendly streets in White Flint or even in school zones. Despite efforts to promote pedestrian safety, county police still side with drivers even when those on foot aren't breaking the law.

Berliner and Riemer's bill deserves all the support it can get. But for it to be successful, we'll need a change of attitude towards pedestrians and cyclists. Some will call lower speed limits and curb bumpouts an inconvenience to drivers, but they remove barriers to making Montgomery County a better and more prosperous place to live.

The County Council will have a public hearing about Bill 33-13 Thursday, January 23 at 7:30 pm at the Council Office Building, located at 100 Maryland Avenue in Rockville. To sign up or for more information, you can visit the county's website.

History


"Good Roads" and the push for complete streets today

Today's push to improve streets for pedestrians and cyclists mirrors the push a century ago for paved roads. Both ideas stated small but grew to become popular movements by increasing public awareness.


1912 Good Roads map. Photo by Orange County Archives on Flickr.

Over 100 years ago, maps of "Good Roads" led the push for paved roads by letting travelers know which roads were likely to be passable. In Slate magazine, Rebecca Onion recently posted an 1897 map of "Good Roads" in and around Philadelphia. Onion says that maps like these were a necessity in a time where standards on road quality and the funding for infrastructure was haphazard and sometimes non-existent.

Efforts like this are still happening today. While most of our roads and highways are now paved, many communities recognize that our streets need infrastructure upgrades in order to help more people feel safe while traveling on foot or by bike, as well as driving.

In the beginning of the 20th century, the "Good Roads" movement pushed governments to pave more roads to accommodate the newly-invented bicycle. Today, there is a push to create protected spaces for cyclists to use. Many cities are adopting "complete streets" policies that seek to standardize our street infrastructure and emphasize that roads are safe and accessible for all users whether they're on foot, riding a bike, or driving.

Like the "Good Roads" movements, maps are an important tool in advocating for complete streets. Both advocacy groups and local governments publish maps that show where the best routes to bike are. This isn't a new idea, either. Bicycle maps were being published in California as early as 1896.

In every debate over a new bike lane or changes to street parking, opponents sometimes argue that the status quo is fine and question why it should change. "Good Roads" maps show that our infrastructure is always changing, and the desire for better and more accommodating streets is nothing new.

Public Spaces


New sidewalk shows tension between people and trees

The sidewalk on the east side of Georgia Avenue in downtown Silver Spring just got a makeover, with new brick pavers and street trees. But will it have enough room for everyone who wants to use it?


New brick sidewalks and street trees on Georgia Avenue. All photos by the author unless noted.

Montgomery County's Department of Housing and Community Affairs (DHCA) managed the $650,000 project, which began this summer and lasted about five months. The agency's main goal was to level and lower the sidewalk to meet the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act. It replaced the existing concrete sidewalk, built in the 1980s, with sturdier and more attractive brick pavers, and created large new bumpouts at some intersections.

The new sidewalk is very attractive and will hopefully encourage visitors and shoppers to stray from the Ellsworth Drive strip and check out the businesses on Georgia. But it also reveals the tension between different users on Silver Spring's often-cramped sidewalks.

DHCA also removed all of the mature Zelkova trees along Georgia, arguing that the sidewalk reconstruction would disturb the trees and kill them. The new trees are Princeton or Lacebark Elm trees, which will apparently improve the visibility of shops and restaurants from the street.


The old sidewalks on Georgia last year.

The old sidewalks had trees in tree grates, allowing room that businesses could put out tables and chairs and leave enough sidewalk for people to walk past comfortably. But the new trees now sit in long, wide planter boxes with little gaps in between for street lights or people getting out of parked cars.

This isn't the only place in downtown Silver Spring with new planters. The county's Department of Transportation (MCDOT) also installed the same planters along Ellsworth Drive and Fenton Street, except with three-foot-high hedges. Some planters, like one on Fenton Street, extend for most of a city block to discourage jaywalking.

In 2009, when planning on the Georgia Avenue sidewalk project started, county-hired arborist Steve Castrogiovanni recommended doing the same thing with the new trees to "strike a [balance] between the trees' needs and the needs of pedestrians." But officials endorsed the bigger planters, saying it would give the trees more soil and help them live longer.


A corner bumpout at Georgia and Silver Spring avenues.

Street trees have a lot of health and environmental benefits. They can provide a feeling of enclosure on a street or sidewalk, calming traffic on busy streets like Georgia Avenue, and making pedestrians feel safer.

However, these planter boxes seem to provide the wrong kind of enclosure. Crowded sidewalks can be a good thing, creating a feeling of excitement and vitality on a city street. But when you push pedestrians and outdoor dining tables into too small a space, it can feel uncomfortable, and people won't want to stick around and spend money.

That's why restaurateur Jackie Greenbaum, who owns Jackie's, Sidebar, and Quarry House Tavern, all on Georgia Avenue, didn't want trees planted on the narrow sidewalk outside her businesses. "THIS WILL ELIMINATE MUCH OF MY PATIO SEATING!" she wrote in a 2010 email to DHCA. "This is NOT an improvement and is unnecessary, even undesirable." In the end, DHCA agreed not to plant any there.

Having healthy street trees and vibrant sidewalks aren't mutually exclusive. DHCA could have still created a bigger soil pit for the trees, giving them room to grow, while putting tree grates or permeable pavers on top, ensuring that there's still enough sidewalk space.


Wider sidewalks mean ample room for walking, for dining, and for nature. Photo by Jim Malone on Flickr.

And if county officials really wanted planters, they could have at least used a more attractive design, like these low, stone planters in NoMa that provide space for trees and plants while staying out of the way. Or they could have looked at a bioswale that cleans and filters stormwater in addition to looking pretty.

The real issue isn't the planters, but that the sidewalks on Georgia Avenue aren't appreciably wider. DHCA's project was simply to make the sidewalks meet ADA regulations.

This sidewalk may not get rebuilt for another 30 years, meaning we've missed an opportunity to have a larger conversation about how Georgia Avenue works. Wider sidewalks mean we wouldn't have to decide between landscaping, walking space, and outdoor seating. They mean we could have added new features, like benches, or a "shared use trail" for cyclists similar to the Green Trail on Wayne Avenue.

Doing this would require taking space for cars, which today constitutes the vast majority of Georgia Avenue, and giving it back to people. While that would probably be bad for drivers passing through, it would ultimately be a good thing for downtown Silver Spring, whose historic main street would become a more attractive, pleasant, and safer place to walk and spend time.

Transit


Notes from Seattle: A very complete street

Several GGW editors and contributors are in Seattle this week for the Railvolution conference. While there, they'll offer a series of short posts about their experiences.

Seattle is currently rebuilding its Broadway corridor to add a new streetcar line. When complete, Broadway will have both a streetcar and a cycletrack, making it one of America's most multimodal streets.

It's going to be quite a sight.


Seattle's Broadway corridor. Video from SeattleStreetcar.org.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Roads


Notes from Seattle: Neighborhood greenways

Several GGW editors and contributors are in Seattle this week for the Railvolution conference. While there, they'll offer a series of short posts about their experiences.

Seattle residents were sick of speeding cut-through traffic on neighborhood streets. In response, the city is creating a network of "neighborhood greenways" designed to slow drivers and make it safer to get around by foot or bike.


A cyclist and a driver navigate a roundabout on a "neighborhood greenway" in Seattle's Wallingford neighborhood. All photos by the author.

Neighborhood greenways are sort of a carrot and stick approach: speed bumps, physical diverters and small roundabouts at each intersection slow drivers down, discouraging them from cutting through the neighborhood, or at least encouraging them to drive more carefully.

Meanwhile, improved sidewalks and marked crosswalks make it easier and safer to walk. Bike lanes and sharrows, or shared lanes, give cyclists a safer ride as well. And all of those roundabouts and bumpouts are great places for landscaping, putting the "green" in "neighborhood greenway."

Seattle first got the idea from Portland, which pioneered the neighborhood greenway a few years ago. The city has completed neighborhood greenways in two communities, including Wallingford, where I'm staying this week.

There are nine additional greenways elsewhere in the city in various stages of planning and construction. Residents are big fans of the project, and have even started a citywide advocacy group to identify potential greenways and push for them.


Ellsworth Drive in Silver Spring is closed to through traffic, but lacks amenities for walkers and cyclists.

If the neighborhood greenway is a carrot and stick, traffic calming in the DC area is often just the stick. Hearing complaints from neighborhoods abutting commercial districts, local departments of transportation often respond by closing streets off entirely. This creates "fake cul-de-sacs" that not only push through traffic to main streets, but sometimes local trips as well.

But unlike neighborhood greenways, these treatments don't always come with pedestrian and bicycle improvements. In Bethesda, where Montgomery County's department of transportation limits access to several streets around downtown, parents say they can't safely walk their kids to school because of too-narrow sidewalks, poorly-timed stoplights, and a lack of crosswalks.

Speeding drivers and cut-through traffic can be a safety hazard, especially on narrow residential streets. But the answer isn't simply to keep them out, as some neighborhoods seek to do. By making it easier to get around without a car, neighborhood greenways create more transportation choices and make the street a more welcoming place for all.

Transit


Pedestrians will benefit from Montgomery BRT

Some Chevy Chase residents are fighting one of Montgomery County's proposed bus rapid transit routes on Wisconsin Avenue, saying it will create new pedestrian hazards. But building a better transit system can lead to a safer, more walkable environment as well.


Photo used with permission from BethesdaNow.com.

Pedestrian safety is an issue in Montgomery County. On average, drivers strike 400 people in the county each year, accounting for 20% of all traffic deaths. Nationally, buses were responsible for less than 1% of all crashes, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The lion's share of threats to pedestrians come from passenger vehicles, not transit.

As they stand now, the proposed BRT routes are a dangerous environment for pedestrians: fast, wide roads designed to maximize the flow of cars. By promoting a more multimodal transportation network, building a better transit system on these roads can be part of the solution. After all, people have to walk to the bus, and we need to get them there safely.

Concern that dedicated lanes will hurt pedestrian safety by allowing buses to travel faster also doesn't hold up. In Los Angeles, which has two major BRT lines, the rate of accidents in designated BRT lanes is significantly lower per mile than in the city's conventional bus system. Los Angeles has also reduced the speed limits for buses crossing intersections, reducing collisions even more. BRT is a fast and reliable service because vehicles have their own lane to bypass traffic, not because they speed on our already-busy roadways.


The rate of accidents in BRT lanes in Los Angeles is significantly lower per mile than in the city's conventional bus system. Photo by Oran Viriyincy on Flickr.

At a basic level, more cars on the roads means more potential for trouble. According to a recent report by EMBARQ, higher driving rates lead to more traffic fatalities. By attracting more riders, high quality transit service reduces the amount of vehicles on the road, directly reducing the chance for crashes and fatalities.

Montgomery County Planning Department staff have found that without rapid transit, countywide vehicle miles traveled (VMT) will increase 22% by 2040. That's a whole lot of additional cars on the roadways, meaning even more danger to pedestrians. In contrast, the Rapid Transit proposal is projected to actually reduce VMT levels by as much as 6% by 2040.

Higher transit use also means a greater number of pedestrians on the road, which studies have demonstrated make drivers more attentive. A report on the health impacts of BRT in the San Francisco Bay Area reinforces the safety in numbers concept, finding that pedestrians are less likely to get hit by a car if there are more pedestrians around.

Implemented correctly, Montgomery's rapid transit plans will add more foot traffic to the county's major thoroughfares, exponentially increasing pedestrian safety.


New Bike-Pedestrian Priority Areas in Montgomery's Bus Rapid Transit plan. Image from the Montgomery County Planning Department.

Design that encourages pedestrian use and alerts drivers to the presence of pedestrians will be critical. The current BRT proposal before the Montgomery County Planning Board incorporates several important recommendations for pedestrian and bike safety, like designating several new Bicycle Pedestrian Priority Areas, a state designation which targets investment in pedestrian infrastructure to certain areas. The plan also calls for improving intersection and sidewalk lighting, using different lane striping to highlight pedestrian areas, having more traffic signals to accommodate pedestrian and cyclist crossings, and building median refuges at intersections near bus routes.

These recommendations are a strong start, but we need to ensure the county both implements these plans and additional measures to stop treating pedestrians like second-class citizens. The proposed BRT routes are all roads under the jurisdiction of Maryland's State Highway Administration, which historically has prioritized moving cars over moving people. We will need to remain vigilant to ensure that BRT can help transform these dangerous, suburban roadways into multi-modal boulevards of the 21st century.

Doing nothing ensures continuing the status quo of unsafe roads, high pedestrian fatalities, and worsening traffic. Redesigning these roads to accommodate mass transit, as the BRT proposal suggests, provides the opportunity to improve these conditions and create a more walkable, safe environment on these roadways that Chevy Chase residents and undoubtedly many others desperately want.

Public Spaces


Seniors want more livable places, and AARP shows how

Oahu, Hawaii should be the ideal place to walk for transportation, but it has the nation's highest pedestrian fatality rate for senior citizensmore than twice the next-highest state. So the state enacted a Complete Streets policy in 2009, seeking to "reasonably accommodate" everyone"pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, motorists, and persons of all ages and abilities"on public roadways.


Photo from Dan Burden, Walkable & Livable Communities Institute, via AARP.

California, meanwhile, seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, passed a law in 2008 integrating transportation and land use planning at all levels, leading to "more transit and fewer auto-dependent communities" and less "suburban development that is far from retail and employment centers."

AARP collected these and many, many more case studies of livability initiatives in a report last year on state policies and practices that enable seniors to "age in place."

The organization says nearly 90 percent of people over age 65 say they want to stay in their home as long as possible. If the graying baby boomers reject the institutionalized old age that has been the fate of so many, communities will have to do a better job accommodating the needs of older residents.

In the year since AARP published its catalogue of best practices, they've taken their program across the country. In conjunction with Governing Magazine, the group has held roundtables in Des Moines, Lansing, Philadelphia and Salt Lake City to talk about the challenges those cities face as they await the so-called "silver tsunami."

Amy Levner, manager of AARP's Home and Community program, says the common thread among rural and urban communities alike is the "pressure on local budgets."

Luckily, very few of the best practices in AARP's handbook have a high price tag. In fact, many of them have the potential to save money (finding multiple uses for public facilities like schools, for example) or make money (like transit-oriented development). The organization suggests everything from integrated planning and complete streets to electric cars that "chirp" to alert pedestrians that a moving car is nearby.

Levner said the roundtables showed the depth of interest and excitement in livable communities. In Utah, the governor himself attended the event. The National Association of Counties, the Agriculture Department, Citigroup, and the Stanford Center on Longevity are among the many partners AARP has recruited to help with the livability effort.

In some cases, the changes AARP advocates for the benefit of the older population can seem contrary to what the older population has chosen for itself. After all, 64 percent of seniors that live in metropolitan areas live outside the urban core, according to AARP. Transportation for America has sounded the alarm about seniors being stuck at home with no mobility options once they stop driving, but those same seniors are the ones declaring their intention to live out their years where they are: in auto-oriented suburbs.

Local jurisdictions can wear themselves out building accessible, affordable multi-family housing in dense, mixed-use, transit-oriented neighborhoods, but the fact is, seniors have expressed their desire to stay in their own homes.

Levner says there's more nuance than that in the 90 percent statistic, and that really, what boomers are saying is that they're not about to take off for Florida or Arizona like their parents did. The 2011 report echoes that interpretation, stressing the importance of staying in the same community, whether or not seniors change houses.

During a lifetime, people develop connections to place and form relationships with neighbors, doctors, hairdressers and shopkeepers. They become intimately familiar with the route to downtown, the rhythm of summer concerts at the band shell park, the best places to get a coveted burger and personalized greeting. These associations, of value to both the individual and the community, cannot be quickly or easily replicated in a new environment. In essence, they can play a pivotal role in successful aging.

But the crux of that same report is the statistic that nearly 90 percent of seniors "want to stay in their residence for as long as possible, and 80 percent believe their current residence is where they will always live" (emphasis mine).

Livability improvements will benefit all generations and demographics, and the changes to accommodate seniors will be welcome somedayif not by the boomer generation, then by the next cohort of retirees. And they're not just for seniors. In fact, the other demographic that's equally passionate about improved transit and walkability is the millennials, four decades younger than the boomers.

"Our communities are very much structured around school-age children," Levner said. "But in the future, kids are going to make up a much smaller percentage of the population. Fortunately, a lot of the livable-communities features we want to see implemented benefit everybody."

As AARP noted in its report, localities looking to accommodate seniors can improve services for everyone else. With rural inter-city transportation on a starvation diet due to budget cuts, for instance, seniors aren't the only ones in need of good options:

Montana has made a concerted effort to address these issues. Three years ago, the state had nine rural transportation systems; today, there are almost 40. To achieve this, the state went to city and county governments and several county Councils on Aging (each of which already operated some type of bus service) and offered to help them devise and pay for a coordinated plan. "We went to these Councils on Aging and said, 'You're already running a senior bus service; if you open your doors to everyone, print a schedule and follow the FTA guidelines, we will help you pull it all together and receive FTA funding,'" said [Audrey Allums, transit section supervisor for the Montana DOT].

There are many communities that aren't doing enough to prepare for the demographic shifts that are underway, however. Some are barely even aware of them. "There are a lot of localities that are not thinking about this yetto a surprising degree, actually," said Levner.

But some communities do see the writing on the wall. Governing reported in September that officials in Arlington, Virginia have quietly set about widening sidewalks, installing crosswalk countdown clocks, and lowering bus platforms in anticipation of a graying populace.

Cross-posted at Streetsblog Capitol Hill.
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