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Posts from the "Elderly & Disabled" Category

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As Baby Boomers Age, They Take Their Foot Off the Gas

Baby Boomers, the greatest cohort of gasoline consumers the world has ever seen, aren't driving quite so much as they age. Image: AARP

They may be remembered as the driving-est generation. Baby Boomers, who came of age in the heyday of suburbia, have always driven more than any other generation. At the height of their driving years, boomers averaged 51 miles per day. They continue to drive 17 percent more than all other age groups, according to a recent report from AARP.

But in 2009, for the first time since the National Household Travel Survey began asking Americans about their transportation habits, in 1969, driving declined among all age groups. And it was the second time the survey showed less driving among boomers, who are reaching retirement age, a period of life that typically coincides with decreased driving.

Which has everyone watching and wondering: How will the huge number of Americans in this age bracket respond to retirement? If boomers continue to drive less, which seems likely, that will have huge ramifications for American transportation policy.

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Report: New York’s Transit and Walkability Keys to Age-Friendly City

New York's transit system and walkable streets are the key to its senior-friendliness. Photo: StevieB44/Flickr

The best places to grow old aren’t in Florida or Arizona, according to a report released today by the Milken Institute, a California-based think tank. Phoenix’s woeful transportation system, which offers few travel options for people too old to drive everywhere, disqualifies that purported haven for retirees. No, the best places for the fast-growing 65-plus demographic are ones more like, well, New York City.

The greater New York metro area, which ranks fifth in the Milken Institute’s survey, is buoyed less by its world-class hospitals than by its transportation system, which earned a perfect 100-point score. Those who grow old in New York can easily maintain their independence thanks to a robust transit system. The city’s density means even people who can’t walk as far as they used to have access to neighborhood amenities, and its increasingly safe streets are especially important for this particularly vulnerable group of pedestrians.

The Milken Institute says its rankings provide the most comprehensive and data-driven view of what makes an aging-friendly city, using 78 quantitative indicators. New York’s high score is largely the result of its senior-friendly transportation network; it put up middling scores in many other categories and, predictably, fared quite poorly in terms of housing affordability. Utah’s Orem-Provo area, which boasts extremely healthy habits and relatively walkable towns, came in first.

New York may have a competitive edge over its rivals when it comes to competing for those who will, eventually, want to age in place, but the region can’t rest on its laurels. Though the AARP helped pass a state complete streets bill last year, many local governments still lack such a policy. Transit cuts, such as those in New York City and Nassau County, have left some seniors feeling stranded, and older New Yorkers are still disproportionately at risk of being killed in traffic crashes.

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DOT Proposes Traffic-Calming Redesign for Deadly Adam Clayton Powell Blvd

Converting the left lanes of Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard into turn lanes would allow for the installation of median extensions at intersections, shortening crossings for pedestrians. Image: NYC DOT

After more than three years of delay and debate, safety improvements may finally be coming to one of Harlem’s deadliest avenues. Under a plan tentatively okayed by Manhattan Community Board 10′s transportation committee last night [PDF], Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard will get wider medians, shorter crossing distances, and narrower traffic lanes in an attempt to improve safety for all users of the street.

The need to redesign Adam Clayton Powell is pressing. Since 2006, ten people have been killed in traffic crashes on the boulevard, according to DOT, compared to two on nearby Frederick Douglass Avenue and three on Lenox Avenue. The victims, all pedestrians, were mostly senior citizens close to home. Their average age was 62, and nine of ten lived within a block of Adam Clayton Powell. “Seniors are tough and resilient,” said DOT Planning and Operations Coordinator Naomi Iwasaki, “but we all know they’re our most vulnerable street users.”

The problem is rampant speeding. During the morning rush hour, the average speed on the street is 36.8 miles per hour heading southbound and 39 miles per hour northbound, according to DOT Bike Program Coordinator Hayes Lord. After 8:00 p.m., when traffic is lighter, average speeds spike to 52 and 49 miles per hour: highway speeds on a neighborhood street, far exceeding New York City’s 30 mph limit. The speeds reflect the interstate-like design of the street — three 12-foot wide moving lanes in each direction.

Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard is a deadly speedway with lanes wide enough to meet standards for interstate highways. Under a DOT proposal, the lanes would be narrowed and the medians extended to shorten the crossing distance for pedestrians.

In response, DOT proposed converting the left-most lane in each direction, where most of the deadly crashes took place, to left turn lanes. At intersections, this would free up space for pedestrian medians to be widened with paint and planters or flexible posts, reducing crossing distances. And by moving through traffic out of the left lane, the change is expected to reduce dangerous weaving and help prevent the most common kind of crash on the boulevard, rear-end collisions.

Where drivers can’t make left turns because of one-way cross-streets, pedestrian space can be extended on both sides of the median using the same materials. This would further shorten crossing distances at those intersections, a particular boon for the large number of seniors and children who live in the neighborhood.

At all intersections, the paint-and-planters treatment would be used to extend the median into the intersection, providing more protection for pedestrians in the crosswalk. Traffic lanes would be narrowed to 10 feet for left-turning traffic and 11 feet for through traffic.

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Active Living For All Ages: Creating Neighborhoods Around Transit

Streetfilms teamed up with the Public Policy Institute at AARP to bring you a look at how Arlington, Virginia plans for its senior population using transit-oriented development (TOD).  Arlington has been practicing TOD since the late 1970s, when Washington’s Metrorail first began service there, and it’s proved very effective in accommodating the population growth of this inner suburb.

TOD helps older adults maintain their independence by providing good pedestrian access to a variety of public transit options, entertainment and recreation, and basic services such as shopping and health care.  As Rodney Harrell, senior strategic policy advisor at AARP’s Public Policy Institute points out, “When you plan for older adults, you plan for the entire community.”

Learn more about the Public Policy Institute’s Livable Communities initiatives.

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Wider, Straighter, and Faster Roads Aren’t the Solution for Older Drivers

This response to a new report from AASHTO and TRIP on safety issues for older drivers was written by Gary Toth, senior director of transportation initiatives for Project for Public Spaces, and co-signed by Congress for the New Urbanism, the WALC Institute, and Strong Towns.

The issue of safety and older drivers is an important one. And we are grateful for the way the special needs of those drivers are highlighted in a new report called “Keeping Baby Boomers Mobile: Preserving the Mobility and Safety of Older Americans.” Unfortunately, the report, produced by AASHTO (the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials) in collaboration with TRIP, a national transportation research group representing contractors and engineering firms, continues to reinforce the “forgiving highways” orthodoxy that the transportation establishment has been promoting for too long now. (On the positive side, it also endorses a number of measures that AARP has been pressing for: better signs, retroreflective paint, brighter street lighting, etc.)

What is remarkable is how thoroughly and blindly the profession has adopted these principles.

It is time for AASHTO, TRIP, and other members of that establishment to recognize the limitations of “forgiving highways” principles. This approach, which aims to reduce crashes by designing roads to accommodate driver error, might work well for interstates, freeways, and rural highways. But it should not be applied to the rest of our nation’s roads. Evidence is mounting that not only does the “wider, straighter, and faster” philosophy fail to fix safety problems on urban and suburban arterials — it actually makes them worse.

Let’s consider the issue of older drivers and safety from an engineering perspective. Engineering involves the practical application of science and math to solve problems, so we’ll take a closer look at the problem defined in the report and the applications suggested to address that problem.

On page 5, TRIP and AASHTO point out that left turns are of special concern because elderly people have more trouble making speed, distance, and gap judgments. These are all speed-related issues caused by cars going too fast through intersections. So what are the solutions proposed?

  • Widening or adding left-turn lanes and increasing the length of merge or exit lanes
  • Widening lanes and shoulders to reduce the consequence of driving mistakes
  • Making roadway curves more gradual and easier to navigate

In other words, make the roads wider, straighter, and faster. How will this help?

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AASHTO’s Vision of Safe Streets for Seniors: Bigger Type on Highway Signs

Last June, Transportation for America brought the nation’s attention to the fact that older Americans are increasingly stuck in the suburbs without adequate transportation options, leading them to see family and friends and even doctors less. That same month, the Senate Banking Committee held a hearing on transportation access for older Americans.

Not all mobility improvements for seniors involve getting in a car. Photo by Dan Burden via Transportation for America.

The debate raged: Was transit expansion the answer to the mobility crisis? Or should seniors be moving to more walkable neighborhoods? Could resource-starved local transportation authorities support more paratransit services? Or would driverless cars save the day, as proposed by Randal O’Toole of the Cato Institute?

Now, a transportation research group known as TRIP has teamed up with AASHTO to produce a new report on how to keep baby boomers mobile as they age [PDF]. Their solution: brighter signs and wider lanes.

TRIP and AASHTO also mention designing and operating roads to accommodate all users – “when appropriate.” They throw a few bones to pedestrians, like refuge islands and countdown signals. But they must not have been thinking about the safety of those pedestrians when they suggested widening lanes, adding left-turn lanes, and making roadway curves more gradual. As David Burwell of the Carnegie Endowment’s climate program says, those changes would just create “more pavement for those pesky walkers and bicyclists to cross.” TRIP also suggests adding rumble strips to alert drivers when they’re leaving the lane – and, of course, to leave cyclists riding on the shoulder miserably saddle-sore by the end of their ride.

And as for “clearer, brighter and simpler signage with larger lettering, including overhead indicators for turning lanes and overhead street signs” – the number one recommendation in the report? “Great idea,” said Burwell. “And how about the pedestrians, bicyclists and other road users — maybe we all should be required to carry bright signs in large letters saying ‘Please don’t hit me!’”

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DOT Proposes Five Ped Refuges For Hillside Avenue in Queens

One of the most dangerous streets in Queens is slated for a safety upgrade, with the Department of Transportation proposing five new pedestrian refuge islands along Hillside Avenue [PDF]. The intervention is a relatively modest one, however, with no narrowing of the roadway and fewer pedestrian refuges than a previous proposal for the corridor.

Hillside Avenue at 197th Street in Queens. DOT has proposed replacing the painted median with a solid pedestrian refuge. Image: NYC DOT

Hillside Avenue badly needs the safety improvements. On the 1.5 mile stretch between 172nd and 199th streets, an average of 84 people have been injured in traffic crashes every year, putting Hillside in the top five percent of most dangerous roads in Queens, according to DOT.

Image: NYC DOT

The five pedestrian islands, proposed for the intersections of 172nd, 175th, 187th, 197th, and 199th Streets, should make it easier for pedestrians to safely make it across the wide street. Hillside has two traffic lanes in each direction. During rush hour, the parking lane in the peak direction is converted into a moving lane as well.

While the upgrade will make walking safer — DOT projects as much as a 46 percent reduction in pedestrian crashes — the impact of these islands may be smaller than in other locations. At each of the proposed locations, Hillside already has a striped median where the refuge island would be installed. The islands won’t narrow the roadway.

Hillside Avenue was previously targeted for safety improvements under DOT’s Safe Streets for Seniors program. In January 2010, DOT presented Queens CB 8 with a proposal to install eight pedestrian refuges at an overlapping but not identical set of intersections. Those refuges were not built, according to a DOT spokesperson, though a leading pedestrian interval was installed at two intersections under the Safe Streets for Seniors program. Seemingly, these five refuge islands are an alternate proposal to the larger number put forward two years ago.

Queens civic activist Pat Dolan, herself an advocate for improved transportation options for senior citizens, was killed by a driver while crossing Hillside at 198th Street last November.

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Time to See Older Drivers Through Dry Eyes

“Have you cried at your desk at work yet today? Would you like to?” Time Magazine asked last week, inviting its readers to indulge in emotion on behalf of an Iowa couple whose story went viral last week. Gordon and Norma Yeager died as the result of a car crash, the same way about 630 Americans die per week but with scant media attention. The Yeagers, after seven decades of marriage, passed away holding hands in the hospital.

Norma and Gordon Yeager died following a car crash this month. Photo: Times-Republican

And while this heartwarming story (more about the couple’s sweet life than their sad death) seems unique, it is not. It is quite common for the media to miss the point in stories about crashes involving older drivers.

While we don’t know the medical facts of this particular case, the elderly are more likely to die or sustain debilitating injuries in crashes that would cause less serious harm to younger people. After age 70, drivers are twice as likely to be involved in fatal crashes, per mile driven, as they were when middle-aged; after age 85, they are nine times more dangerous to themselves and others.

Two weeks ago, Gordon Yeager failed to yield at an intersection. He and his wife died. The crash sent another couple to the hospital. Missing from most media reports was the fact that Gordon Yeager “was facing pending action by the Iowa Department of Transportation to have his license removed” at the time.

The media conversation around aging drivers tends to focus on the anguish surrounding the question of when and how to take the car keys from Grandma or Grandpa, but rarely do these stories take us all the way to a family’s decision to do so. In a landscape built for cars and a culture built on the sanctity of independence, it feels horrible to be responsible for circumscribing a loved one’s life. As hinted at by the inconclusiveness of these stories, we often avoid this responsibility. Because there’s more hand-wringing than decision-making going on, it can take several traffic crashes before a driver is barred from the road, whether voluntarily or by family members or the government.

The desirability of extending the driving life of older people is largely taken as a given. Consequently, the media tend to play up assuaging statistics showing that older drivers tend to self-regulate and drive less; they offer non-threatening solutions such as more driver education, more automotive technology, or use of car-based services.

It would be better to focus not on the means — driving the car — but the motive, which is maintaining the mobility that a landscape built around personal vehicles will inevitably deny the aged.

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PlaNYC Program Will Bring 1,000 Sleek New Benches to City Sidewalks

DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan with City Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito (left) and Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs (background right). Photos: Brad Aaron

Joined by East Harlem seniors, advocates and City Council members, transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan today kicked off a program to provide new and improved sidewalk seating.

CityBench, a product of PlaNYC 2.0, will bring 1,000 shiny steel benches to locations across the five boroughs. The first two were installed outside the Leonard Covello Senior Center on E. 109th Street, where Sadik-Khan said the primary aim of the initiative is to make streets and sidewalks more accommodating to seniors and the mobility-impaired.

“CityBench brings a new design standard that elevates our streetscapes and simply makes it easier and more enjoyable for New Yorkers of every age to walk and take transit,” said Sadik-Khan. The benches will be sited strategically near bus stops, commercial districts and areas with large populations of seniors and the physically disabled. Members of the public may also recommend locations via 311.

“Not only will these benches allow seniors and other residents to sit down and rest, they will also enable them to chat with their neighbors about their day, their families, and the overall state of the community,” said Melissa Mark-Viverito, who was lauded by Sadik-Khan for her work in bringing separated bike lanes to First and Second Avenues. Council Member Jessica Lappin and Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs were also on hand.

The lion’s share of funding — 80 percent — for the $3 million CityBench program comes from the Federal Transit Administration, with New York State DOT covering another 10 percent.

After the crowd from the presser had for the most part dispersed, I spoke with bench designer Ignacio Ciocchini, who is director of design for Chelsea Improvement Company. Ciocchini said every facet of the bench was developed with the city in mind, from the powder-coated steel, designed to dissipate heat and shed snow, to the 26-inch seats, allowing for what Ciocchini described as “proper social space” and intended to leave room for whatever a pedestrian might be carrying, from a shopping bag to a small child.

“It fits all sizes,” said Covello Center executive director Suleika Cabrera. “It’s fantastic.”

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Complete Streets Passes Legislature Unanimously, Cuomo Expected To Sign

Whether in rural or urban contexts, complete streets make sure there is room for all users to have safe space on the street. Image: TSTC

Complete streets legislation passed both houses of the state legislature unanimously yesterday. With Governor Andrew Cuomo expected to sign the legislation, safer and more inclusive road design should be coming soon to streets across the state.

“Everyone knew that something had to be done,” said AARP New York legislative director Bill Ferris, “so the political will was there.” In the five largest upstate counties, a pedestrian is killed by a car every ten days. On Long Island, a pedestrian is killed once a week, and in New York City, once every two and a half days. Older pedestrians are disproportionately killed in traffic crashes.

Complete streets legislation would require planners to take account of all users, including those on foot, on a bicycle, or with limited mobility, when designing a road that receives state or federal funds.

After stalling out in the Assembly in the past, the complete streets bill passed this year due to some changes to the legislation’s language and support from the governor’s office, said Ferris. “The argument that it was an unfunded mandate was put to bed,” he explained, by including a provision clarifying that municipalities wouldn’t have to spend more on complete streets projects than what was already allocated from state and federal funding. Since the governor’s office participated in the crafting of that language, explained Ferris, “we believe that the governor will sign this into law.”

In addition to support from Cuomo’s office, the complete streets bill was able to continue forward in the Senate despite the change Democratic to Republican control, thanks to support from the new chair of the transportation committee, Charles Fuschillo. “Senator Fuschillo picked up the reins on this issue from last year and pushed it over the top,” said Ferris.

Assuming that the complete streets bill is signed into law, Ferris said that AARP will next be looking into ensuring that there is sufficient funding for pedestrian and bike projects and the state DOT’s Safe Seniors program.