People 65 and older make up around 14 percent of Texas drivers. But of course, as baby boomers hit retirement age, their share of the road is growing fast: In a little over 10 years, they’re expected to make up 20 percent.
That matters. Earlier this week, TRIP, a transportation-industry research group, and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials released a sobering study. Senior drivers, it turns out, account for only 8 percent of the miles driven in the United States but are involved in 17 percent of the fatal accidents.
To make driving safer for seniors, TRIP recommends various changes, including brighter lighting, added left-turn lanes, longer freeway merge and exit lanes, fatter highway dividing stripes and simpler signs. Those upgrades, we think, are a good idea. They’d make driving safer for all drivers. But basically, they’re a Band-Aid for a much larger problem.
According to the AARP, seniors outlive their ability to drive by an average of six to 10 years. Brighter lights, simpler signs and such might add a couple of months to the period that seniors can drive safely – but not much more, we’re afraid. And the urge to continue driving, long after you’re no longer safe, will remain.
In a car-centric city like Houston, giving up driving too often means resigning yourself to staying home. It becomes difficult to buy groceries, go to doctor’s appointments and see friends. Maybe you have to leave your home in the neighborhood you love. Life shrinks abruptly.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. What if you were able to go to interesting places without getting in a car?
For this reason, across the country, the AARP is urging cities and states to build “Complete Streets” – streets designed not just for drivers but also for pedestrians, bikers, transit riders, restaurateurs and shop owners. Instead of just making it easier to drive on our streets, the organization suggests making them safer, more satisfying places to be, whether you’re driving or not.
Complete Streets have narrow traffic lanes, wide sidewalks and easy crossings. Often, they include bike lanes, landscaping and street parking. With all those visual cues, cars naturally move more slowly. The slower traffic helps small businesses thrive, and those businesses make the place lively. You wouldn’t set up a sidewalk cafe on a freeway. But on a Complete Street, it feels natural.
A Complete Street becomes the center of its neighborhood, a destination not just for seniors but for people of all ages. It’s where adults bump into each other and where kids too young to drive can taste a little freedom.
And those young, well-educated people whom Houston employers are always striving to attract are particularly fond of such places. (See, for example, South Congress in Austin.)
Right now is the time to demand Complete Streets in neighborhoods all across town. Houston’s development, parking and infrastructure-design codes are all being updated now; MetroRail is about to radically expand; and the city is planning a wave of Rebuild Houston-related street renovation.
Complete Streets would go a long way toward helping seniors’ isolation. And they’d make life better for the rest of us, too.
Full Story: Why we need Complete Streets
Source: Houston Chronicle, February 24, 2012