Posts about Walkability
Reader Nacim B. sent along his frustrating experience trying to visit UPS' Landover warehouse as a car-free resident.
I came home one day to find a final delivery notice from UPS (I swear I never saw the other two!) and then was instructed by their website that my only option is to pick it up from their Landover warehouse.
I checked Google Maps, and while I saw that it was a ways out from where I live in Columbia Heights, I also noticed that it was pretty close to the New Carrollton Metro (I don't have a car) and I don't mind walking. I didn't find out until I got there that portions of the walk have no sidewalks, and one portion in particular is literally only passable if you run through car lanes.
The entire trip one-way took me about an hour and a half, and Google tells me it takes about 25 minutes by car.
The intersection of Ardwick Ardmore Road and Pennsy Drive is the real problem. There is no sidewalk on the approach from the east, just a desire path. There's also no crosswalk despite the slip lane.
The northern southbound lane of Pennsy Drive. is now widened so the western shoulder is now nowhere near the intersection. The eastern shoulder narrows down into nothingness and faces a very dangerous blind corner behind a tree from motorists turning from Ardwick.
There is literally no way to cross this intersection either legally or safely. I had to run across the northern portion and tried to be as visible as possible to turning traffic.
This is what the intersection looks like coming in from Pennsy Drive:
Photos by the author.
And here's what that blind corner looks like:
Looking more closely on Google Maps afterward, I could've improved my walk a bit by going on the sidewalk on Garden City Drive, but that would've only avoided me the shoulder on Pennsy Drive. The real issue is how impassable the above intersection is to pedestrians.
I'm not sure what UPS expects from people without a vehicle. FedEx's warehouse is at the intersection of Florida and New York Avenues in DC, a destination that's very transit-accessible and easily bikeable and walkable. Given how remote the UPS warehouse is, a reasonable solution would allow package recipients the option of picking up their missed packages from their nearby UPS location. That would've saved me about 3 hours today along with some serious risk from automotive traffic.
The last picture isn't as bad in the scheme of things, but it's illustrative. It's the entrance to the UPS warehouse that has the sidewalk completely fenced off.
Georgia Avenue between 16th Street and Forest Glen Road in Silver Spring's Montgomery Hills neighborhood is currently a dangerous mess of a suburban arterial. The Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) is looking at ways to transform it into an urban boulevard.
At a meeting last week at Woodlin Elementary School, SHA planners presented 7 alternatives to improve pedestrian, bike and transit access on Georgia Avenue. This stretch of road has the most vehicle collisions of any state highway in Maryland, as the reversible lanes make drivers confused. There's no median and the lanes are all at least 12 feet wide, making Georgia incredibly dangerous to cross on foot.
But this stretch of Georgia Avenue also has a number of notable small businesses in early 20th-century buildings close to the street. The popular Y and Q route Metrobuses stop here, and it's also within walking distance of the Forest Glen Metro, though few make that walk due to safety concerns. This area is ripe to convert to an urban boulevard.
SHA has produced 7 alternatives for this portion of Georgia Avenue, including not doing anything at all or using Transportation Systems Management, basically reworking the traffic lights but not actually building anything.
Alternative 3 is based on the North and West Silver Spring Master Plan. It includes 13.5 foot wide sidewalks but no specific bike facilities. A 16 foot grass median would replace the existing reversible lane. SHA also proposes narrowing each intersection to make it easier and safer for pedestrians to cross the street.
Alternatives 4 and 5 build on the Master Plan option by including a 14 to 16 foot curb lane that could accommodate a striped bicycle lane. It would also close the off-ramp from southbound Georgia Avenue to southbound 16th Street, which encourages motorists to drive as if they were on an interstate highway. It has no place in a dense residential area that's in walking distance of two Metro stations.
Alternative 6 would place 2 Bus Rapid Transit lanes in the median and room for a station at Seminary Road. The Planning Board is currently considering a countywide BRT network which would include a route on Georgia Avenue.
Alternative 7 would build a tunnel underneath Georgia Avenue between the Beltway and 16th Street. Not only would it be the most expensive choice, but it would move Montgomery Hills in the wrong direction in the Whirlpool of Induced Demand.
All 5 of the alternatives that involve building things would require widening the road, meaning that businesses may lose some property or even their entire building. Everyone I talked to at the meeting preferred Alternatives 4 and 5, with its median and bike lanes.
Most agreed that Alternative 7 was not a good choice. Not only would make the pedestrian experience even worse, it would cause more driver collisions due to its confusing nature. Where the tunnel ended at the Beltway, drivers would have to merge across three lanes to get to the on-ramps.
It's surprising how different SHA's work in Montgomery Hills is compared to what the Montgomery County Department of Transportation's proposed redesign of Old Georgetown Road in White Flint, which encourages speeding and has few accommodations for pedestrians and bicyclists. While Montgomery County transportation planners have chosen to ignore the county's vision to turn White Flint into an urban area, SHA planners have embraced an urban future for Montgomery Hills.
SHA's urban boulevard alternatives for Georgia Avenue are a step in the right direction. Hopefully, they'll find a solution that can make this street a place worth spending time in, not just a traffic sewer.
The Federal City Council, an association of business leaders, wants DC to ease driving in and out of the city. At the same time, it wants walkable, livable neighborhoods. But what about when these two conflict?
The group took a survey of its members, mostly business CEOs and presidents and the like. 68% say that traffic congestion is a "significant" problem facing DC businesses (though, actually, I'm surprised 32% don't think it's a problem!) and 71% say car-driving commuters are "very important" in making decisions about where to locate businesses.
99% want a more modern signal system "to ease the flow of traffic," which usually means timing signals for commuters, though 89% also want to see "active neighborhoods that provide a variety of amenities and services for all residents within a 20 minute walk."
This is, essentially, the decision planners are wrestling with in the MoveDC citywide plan: should transportation policy favor driving in and out of the city, or work to make neighborhoods more livable? The problem is that, in many situations, the two forces are in diametric opposition.
On arterial roadways through DC, like Wisconsin, Connecticut, Georgia, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania Avenues, immediate residents want a road with slower-moving traffic, shorter crossing distances, longer light cycles on cross streets, and maybe medians. Commuters want the exact opposite.
Which kind of places will Tysons, Bethesda, Silver Spring be?
It's easier to think about this in places that are on the tipping point between walkable urban place and suburban office park, like Bethesda and downtown Silver Spring, or Tysons Corner as Fairfax County envisions it. There's a strong consensus behind these being places where you can live and/or work; arrive by car, transit, bike, or foot; and while there, walk to enjoyable restaurants and shops, buy groceries, and so on.
But there's an obstacle to Silver Spring being even more of a walkable place where people both live and work: Colesville and Georgia. Both are very wide "traffic sewers" that take a long time to cross on foot, creating a barrier. Wisconsin and Old Georgetown do this, though a little less fiercely, in Bethesda.
Routes 123 and 7 will form massive barriers at Tysons, especially since the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is widening the already-huge Route 7 even more, and the signal timings will force people to cross in two separate phases. All of this is because their priority is to move cars most efficiently.
And traffic is bad in these places even today. As they grow, officials can focus on walkability and livability and not worry so much about worsening traffic, or they can keep commuters happy and sacrifice the goal of creating the next Dupont Circle or Columbia Heights or Clarendon. Traffic in Columbia Heights can be really frustrating, and it's a great place.
Congestion pricing, anyone?
There is, indeed, a solution to this conflict of congestion vs. walkability: congestion pricing. Keeping the roadways free of choking traffic only requires wider and wider roadways if you hold constant the assumption that everyone can use that road, anytime they want, completely free.
DC could charge each driver heading into downtown, and dedicate that revenue to expanding bus and rail options that give people an alternative to driving. Traffic could be lighter for people who do need to drive, and people who have an option not to drive will find their choices more appealing.
The biggest obstacle to this has always been that people perceive it as unfair. It's good for the business leaders who could easily pay the tolls, and even good for people like contractors for whom time is money. It's good for the poorer residents who don't have cars anyway, and who struggle with sub-par bus options.
But there are a lot of people in between who drive, don't want to pay any more for it, and would rather just deal with congestion (or lobby for wider roads or mythical magic timed signals). In the District, not only would the DC Council have to get past the politics, but Congress would likely interfere unless Maryland and Virginia representatives were supportive.
Barring that, DC, and Silver Spring, and Bethesda, and Tysons, and every other walkable or potentially walkable place will have to wrestle with whether to put placemaking first or high-speed driving. It's not a surprise that the CEOs of the Federal City Council want both, but until and unless they can help make congestion pricing happen, the survey still does not really help prioritize between the two.
38 percent. That's the growing percentage of District households that are car-free. Countless others are car-lite, relying mostly on transit, walking, and biking.
Too often we lose sight of this fact in local debates on issues like parking, transit improvements, redevelopment, and so on.
Basic lifestyle and mobility decisions are fundamentally changing for large segments of DC's population. Nonetheless, a significant number of District policies and discussions still assume that most residents will own a car and use it for many, if not all, of their daily needs.
The consequences of this misunderstanding impact all of us, ranging from higher housing costs, increased traffic thanks to unintentional subsidy of car ownership, and diverting resources from improving other transportation options.
In the end, what all of that means is a less walkable, less inclusive District.
To raise awareness of this misunderstanding, the Coalition for Smarter Growth has collected first-hand accounts from neighbors across DC, examining the various modes of transportation they use in their everyday lives.
We hope this project will help policy makers and skeptical (but open-minded) residents understand that the District won't face parking and driving Armageddon if we respond to changing lifestyle choices by getting rid of unnecessary parking mandates for new buildings, or by giving buses more priority on roads to make transit more reliable and convenient.
The District won't face that Armageddon because so many existing residents and new residents simply don't drive very much. Tastes and lifestyle choices are in the midst of a dramatic change, and despite what some hyperbolic opponents of transportation have said, a majority of our new residents are very likely to be car-free or car-lite and looking to stay that way.
Abstract statistics and shouting matches about who is right aren't what walkable living is all about. Instead, it's just regular people throughout the city who are leading this quiet but growing sea-change, that's making much of our 20th century transportation formulas less relevant to how we get around today:
- Longtime resident Wanda in Hillbrook notes how many of her neighbors walk to the stores along Minnesota Avenue, and pleads for more investment in pedestrian and bike infrastructure in her neighborhood.
- Rebecca in Petworth happily relies on Metro to drop her toddler off at daycare in L'Enfant Plaza, and walks to the grocery store to do her family's shopping.
- In Mt. Vernon Square, Keith says that on the rare occasions when he can't walk to where he's going, Car2Go, Bikeshare, or transit is there to fill the gap.
If you have other ideas to help explain this changing lifestyle preference to policy makers, neighbors, or the press, leave them for us in the comments section, or share them with the Coalition for Smarter Growth directly at email@example.com.
More and more young adults in their 20's and early 30's are choosing to live in urban areas. Unlike their parents, however, they don't want to leave when they have kids. While families seeking the urban lifestyle may face some challenges, there are huge opportunities for places that can convince them to stick around.
Three panelists from the real estate and education worlds discussed this issue with former DC planning director Ellen McCarthy at the ULI Real Estate Trends conference on Wednesday. AJ Jackson, partner at local builder EYA, noted that many young adults who spent their twenties in the District or Arlington are no longer moving to the suburbs when they have kids.
Revitalization of inner-city neighborhoods have made them safer and more attractive to young professionals. Meanwhile, rising congestion and farmland-consuming sprawl have removed much of the allure of suburban living. "They're not moving to the suburbs because ... the green oasis that our parents moved out to doesn't exist anymore," said Jackson.
Instead, young parents are looking at closer-in areas that offer a little more space without having to maintain a large yard or endure a long commute. EYA mostly builds rowhouses in walkable, inside-the-Beltway neighborhoods; as a result, 30% of their buyers are young families with kids, Jackson said.
However, this presents many unique challenges to young parents, as the Post's Jonathan O'Connell noted last year. Many parents worry about finding homes that meet their needs, unsure if they can comfortably live in a rowhouse or apartment. The quality of services in urban neighborhoods, like trash pickup, crime prevention and schools, is another issue.
Parents considering inner-city schools often ask, "am I going to be subjecting my children to inferior teaching and an inferior academic experience?" said Sharicca Boldon, vice-chairman of the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance.
Boldon finds that the best way to combat these perceptions is by exposing parents to the benefits of city living. She holds non-education-related community events at schools so parents can get familiar with them before enrolling their kids. Boldon also organizes tours of rowhouses to show how families like her own can live in one comfortably.
"I find that housing configuration to be very efficient for a family. I can be on the third floor and my kids can be loud on the bottom," she said. "I think it changes family needs that I need to be in the suburbs with a driveway and a two-car garage."
Even as they become more attractive to young families, inner-city neighborhoods can't take them for granted. McCarthy said that the District's population growth comes mainly from out-of-area migration, and that the city continues to lose more residents to Maryland and Virginia then it gains. "There aren't a lot of things that tie [young families] here if the District doesn't gain a reputation for being family-friendly," she said.
Increasingly, urban living is no longer synonymous with being in DC or Baltimore. The growth of job centers outside both cities are drawing young families to places like White Flint and Silver Spring in Montgomery County and Merrifield in Fairfax County, which offer both walkable neighborhoods and transit access alongside larger homes and higher-quality public services. In Montgomery County, young families are clustering in areas where they don't have to drive as much.
Jackson pointed out that the Mosaic District in Merrifield, where EYA is building new homes in a neighborhood with shops, schools and Metro close by, has drawn the firm's youngest homebuyers. "It's the experience and the overall atmosphere more than the specific location," he said, adding that newer suburban neighborhoods may have trouble competing with their inner-city counterparts to provide the same feel or history.
It's unclear whether this trend is limited to young parents. While there are many highly-rated elementary schools in the District and Baltimore, issues remain with many middle and high schools, which may discourage parents from sticking around. Even in good school districts, families may simply want more space and leave their rowhouses for single-family homes.
Mary Filardo, executive director of the 21st Century School Fund, raised three kids in Adams Morgan and says it gave her teenagers a sense of freedom and independence. She wonders what would happen to DC if more parents chose to do the same. "It'll be interesting if they stick around as their kids age," she said.
As singles, Millennials have led the ongoing revitalization of inner-city neighborhoods and encouraged the creation of urban places in the suburbs. However, it's what they do as parents that could have a lasting effect on the urban realm.
One of the best effects of open data is when people correlate data sets from very different places to generate interesting information. This graph cleverly combines DC's school quality tiers (known as "accountability categories") with Walk Score:
Sandra Moscoso wrote yesterday about how Code for DC's School Decisions Project has been gathering coders who want to use open data to help parents, students, and policymakers. This is one of the graphs they created at the recent Open Data Day using data from the Office of State Superintendent of Eduaction (OSSE).
I've asked to get access to the raw spreadsheet for this graph so we can look at, for example, which schools each dot represents. Here are the accountability categories by school. I will add the spreadsheet with WalkScore matched up with category when it's available. Update: here's the data as a CSV file.
A few things immediately jump out. The most successful DCPS schools have high Walk Scores, while the least successful ones mostly (but not entirely) cluster in the lower range. This may reflect the fact that a public school's success has a lot to do with the socioeconomic status of the neighborhood, and the local retail that is a big part of Walk Score locates in areas with higher incomes.
That income effect is also very pronounced in the graph Sandra posted yesterday:
That's not the case with charter schools. 3 of the 5 "reward" charters are in low-Walk Score areas (which could mean something, or just be a consequence of little data), while the "Rising" charters are basically all over the place. This may have a lot to do with the simple fact that since charters have to find and pay for their own space, they're in all manner of locations.
An interesting future step might be to correlate the school tiers with some data set about land prices or rents, or resident incomes. That could help illuminate whether charters end up locating in less-expensive areas, because they want to serve poorer residents and/or because they need cheaper land.
What do you see from looking at this data?
The new ANC 5D, which includes the neighborhoods of Ivy City, Trinidad, Carver Langston, and Gallaudet University, will hold its second monthly meeting next Tuesday at a location outside the ANC's boundaries. Why would the level of DC government closest to the people purposely meet at a place that makes it difficult for residents to attend?
When the ANCs were redrawn last year, I was part of the team that created the map for Ward 5 which the DC Council adopted.
We made a serious effort to push for geographically-smaller ANCs than the 3 large ones the ward had previously. One significant reason was to help residents reach meetings without driving long distances. We purposely drew what ultimately became ANC 5D to unite dense, urban, rowhouse neighborhoods in the southeastern part of the ward into a compact commission.
There are multiple community spaces that could house meetings within the ANC: Gallaudet University, churches, two recreation centers, multiple schools, and other locations open to the public. It would be easy to find a place where residents could walk a couple blocks to interact with their elected representatives.
Last month, the newly-seated ANC met for the first time at the Metropolitan Police Department's Fifth District headquarters, on Bladensburg Road in the Arboretum neighborhood. While located outside of the new ANC, this location is within the boundaries of the former ANC 5B, which included all of the new ANC 5D as well as more area to the north (Arboretum, Gateway, Brentwood, Langdon, and part of Brookland).
It made sense to hold the meeting at a familiar location, and I assumed this would be a temporary location until the commission chose a regular meeting space inside the new ANC's boundaries.
Unfortunately, at this meeting, the commission announced they would continue to meet regularly at the police station. They gave spurious reasons:
- Meetings would be held at the police station because people's emotions run high at these ANC events and it would be good to have the police nearby in case things get out of hand. If this were the case, why don't other ANCs all hold meetings in police stations?
- There is nowhere in the ANC that could hold the thousands of people who live in the ANC all at once. I have attended ANC meetings for years now, and I've never seen attendance higher than a couple dozen people. As noted above, there are many places in the neighborhoods that could hold ANC meetings.
- Everyone drives to these meetings anyway, so it doesn't matter if it's far from the homes in the constituent neighborhoods. This is the most facetious reasoning of all. It's a chicken-and-egg situation
— people drive to the meetings now because there's no easier way to get to the meetings. Biking is difficult because the most direct route (Bladensburg Road) is a dangerous six-lane arterial with speeding commuters and a long, steep hill.
Only one bus route (the B2) runs up to the police station from where most of the population lives, and it doesn't run frequently in the evenings when meetings are held. The end result is that those without cars have multiple reasons to not attend ANC meetings.
According to the latest Census estimates, approximately 51% of the households in ANC 5D have a car. By holding the meetings in a place where driving an automobile is the most logical way to attend, the ANC is selecting for a certain type of resident, and not receiving the input of at least half of the community.
Rob Pitingolo, NeighborhoodInfo DC, assisted with data for this post.
Will reducing parking minimums and allowing accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in upper Northwest neighborhoods make living more difficult for seniors? That's what a number of people argued at the Ward 3 zoning update meeting, but others cited seniors who will directly benefit from more housing, and more affordable housing, near transit.
Claudia Phelps wrote on the Chevy Chase listserv after the meeting, Tuesday evening in Tenleytown:
I was astounded at how many OP supporters spoke. I believe that every 2nd comment throughout the question period praised OP's work and their ideas! Some people around me suggested that OP had paid them to be at the meeting. (We have just a teensy bit of trust issues, I would say)
Many people at the meeting noticed that the pro-OP/radical change speakers were younger (30ish), and the anti-OP/radical changes were not so young. Apartment dwellers vs homeowners, most likely.
That last sentence evokes many of the anti-renter statements that have circulated throughout the debate, where some people insinuate (or outright claim) that anyone who doesn't own property is less worthy of consideration or will even harm the neighborhood.
One person wrote afterward, "I'm especially concerned about ADUs, and sympathized with the parent who expressed concern for his young children's safety if no controls were instituted on who could occupy such units." Steve Seelig replied, "Personally, I am appalled to hear and read about suggestions that those who would live in ADUs are going to have a greater tendency to endanger the children of our neighborhood."
As for age, I actually didn't perceive much of a difference between people who supported the (very much not radical, indeed quite timid) OP proposal, and those who opposed it. One speaker, Tad Baldwin, has gray hair yet said how important he thinks the proposal to allow accessory dwellings is. Others who appeared to be in their 30s argued against some of the changes.
Still, a pervasive theme throughout the discussion was whether the zoning changes would create problems for seniors. Moira Gillick spoke about the virtues of walkable neighborhoods, and a few people (somewhat rudely) shouted over her that walking didn't work for older residents.
In fact, a lot of pedestrians in Ward 3 are seniors, such as those who live in the assisted living facilities in the area. It's also certainly true that some people face mobility challenges, and need access to a car.
The fallacy in this debate comes when people assume that because one mode doesn't work for them, it won't work for others. One speaker called it ridiculous that people would come live in a building, like the proposed parking-free Babe's apartments in Tenleytown, without cars. Yet two speakers just minutes before had talked about how they live in parts of Ward 3 without cars.
One woman said she's not going to take the bus to Safeway with 5 bags of groceries. Fair enough. She doesn't have to. But on a Metro ride home (from Tenleytown, in fact) the next day, I stood on an escalator behind a man with 4 large bags of groceries. The majority of people in Ward 3 have cars, and that's not going to change if zoning allows a few new housing units marketed to people without cars.
Many seniors will benefit from transit-oriented housing choices
Some of those people will be seniors who can't drive any more. Herb Caudill talked about
his parents his wife's parents, who live in suburban New Jersey and are afraid of the day they won't be able to drive any longer. He said when they came to visit his home in Cleveland Park, they were amazed that he could walk to the grocery store, and asked if there was a library as well (there is!)
As a result, Caudill said, his parents are going to sell their house in New Jersey and their 2 cars and move into an apartment on Connecticut Avenue where they can walk to the library and museums. They can live independently even as their ability to drive declines.
(They will also become some of those "renters" that people are impugning on the listserv, or which people fear would come move into basements or converted garages and disrupt the character of the neighborhood.)
There is one obstacle for those like
the elder Caudills Caudill's in-laws, he noted: affordability. It's far cheaper to live in most of suburban New Jersey than in Cleveland Park "because the supply of housing is so limited," he said. That's why we need proposals like the accessory dwelling plan. "This housing is not just for young people," he said.
This is why we need proposals like OP's that expand the supply of housing. If anything, this plan does not expand it enough. A property owner who doesn't have an external garage today will be able to still build one as of right once the zoning update proceeds, but won't then be able to rent it out.
Richard Layman argued that at least near transit, zoning should encourage people to add extra housing on large lots with enough space for it. We could help more people like
the Caudills Caudill's wife's parents to live the retirement lives they want to have, but anxiety about "renters" and scarce parking has already led OP to water down its plans and lose out on one opportunity to let senior couples (and people of other ages) afford to come to DC.
The Office of Planning is holding their Ward 7 information meeting Saturday, 10 am at the DOES building, 4058 Minnesota Ave. NE, and a Twitter town hall using hashtag #ZRR at noon Monday, and finally the Ward 4 meeting at Takoma Education Campus, 7010 Piney Branch Rd. NW by Takoma Metro at 6:30 on Wednesday, January 16.
Correction: Herb Caudill emailed to clarify that the couple in question is his wife's parents, not his parents. I missed that when he was speaking at the event. Sorry for the error.
Oahu, Hawaii should be the ideal place to walk for transportation, but it has the nation's highest pedestrian fatality rate for senior citizens
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 someday
"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 yet
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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