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Perspectives on Increasing Transportation Options for Older Adults

September 18, 2012
Jen Horton, Policy and Planning Fellow, US EPA, for the Smart Growth Network

The U.S. Census Bureau projects that the number of Americans over the age of 65 will more than double by 2030. This projection adds a layer of urgency for smart growth advocates looking to provide more transportation options in communities. Of course, improving mobility for older adults in a community has the added benefit of providing more transportation options for everyone.
This week’s blog discusses two perspectives on how to provide more transportation choices for the elderly.

The first blog submission listed below comes from Shannon Guzman, a Policy Research Senior Analyst for AARP's Public Policy Institute, who says that transit-oriented development (TOD) "facilitates the independence and mobility of older adults." Below are Guzman's thoughts on how TOD relates to active living for all ages: "Making communities more livable is a goal that every urban, suburban, and rural community can adopt. Achieving this goal requires reflecting the needs of the entire community, including older adults, in the plans and policies that government adopts and implements. Coordinated policy decisions can better address the realities of transportation and housing costs and create more efficient communities. For example, policies such as transit-oriented development, a strategy primarily for urban and suburban areas that encourages compact development and a mix of land uses located within a half-mile of a public transit station, can provide many benefits for community members. Among the potential benefits of TOD are expanded transportation and housing options, improved access to community amenities and services, and increased opportunities for community engagement. Additionally, TOD communities create walkable environments that can provide more opportunities for exercise and healthy behaviors." The following video, "Active Living for All Ages: Creating Neighborhoods Around Transit," was produced by AARP's Public Policy Institute in collaboration with Streetfilms. The video shows how older adults in Arlington, Virginia are benefitting from living in a walkable, mixed-use community that has a variety of public transit options. In the video, Jane Lynott, a Senior Policy Advisor at the AARP Public Policy Institute, says, "Transit-oriented development is a way to really enable older adults to maintain their independence without having to rely on automobile transportation to get to where they need to go..." [video:youtube:6T7JHl4p8Mg] The second blog submission, from Rachel Fichtenbaum, calls for Smart Growth advocates to partner with mobility managers and organizations that coordinate community transportation. Fichtenbaum says these collaborations "will help the Smart Growth movement benefit all community members, including people who cannot easily walk, bike, or use mass transit due to age or disability." Below are Fichtenbaumís thoughts on the need for more community transportation efforts: "Smart Growth is a movement to refocus development and community design to meet the needs of the individuals, families, and groups who live in those communities. Many principles of Smart Growth relate to transportation, such as walkable streets or bike lanes. Although these transportation enhancements are important, they will not meet the needs of all community residents. Due to disability or age, some residents will remain unable to walk, bike, or access mass transit, and these needs will increase as Baby Boomers age and the population of seniors increases. Yet these residents also need and deserve livable communities, and have a lot to contribute to social and economic life when they are able to participate in their communities. As advocates for Smart Growth, we should expand our efforts to incorporate policies and practices that will increase the mobility of people who are unable to walk, bike, or ride mass transit. Luckily, efforts outside of Smart Growth are underway to address these needs. Community transportation services provide rides to people who cannot drive or afford a car, such as seniors, people with disabilities, and low-income individuals. For example, Councils on Aging provide transportation for seniors, and Medicaid recipients can get state-funded transportation to medical appointments. Two trends within the field of community transportation are ripe for alliance with the Smart Growth movement: coordination and mobility management. Both stem from the fact that community transportation services tend to be decentralizedómost programs have their own funding stream and are administered and operated independently. Coordination is important because all too often, services duplicate each other. For example, a senior and a person with a disability who live in the same neighborhood and need to travel downtown may ride in different vans, each only half full. Coordinating these services could save money for both programs and enable them to serve more people. Although barriers such as eligibility restrictions or differences in insurance can make coordination difficult, innovative models are emerging around the country. Organizations have found ways to share vehicles, reduce maintenance costs, and coordinate schedules. Fragmentation is not only inefficient for providers, but also confusing for customers, who often have difficulty identifying all the services available to them. Consequently, community-based organizations and transit agencies are increasingly looking to help riders plan trips through employing mobility managers, who gather information about available resources and then help individuals develop personalized trip plans. Mobility managers not only help community members make informed choices about their transportation, but can also collect information about unmet needs and then alert transportation providers to routes that are often requested but not available. By adding community transportation coordination and mobility management as components of Smart Growth, advocates can expand the reach of the movement to include people who cannot walk or take mass transit due to age or disability. Our communities are strongest when all residents are able to participate in social and economic life." What are your ideas for increasing the mobility, and therefore the independence, of older adults? What steps can smart growth advocates take to ensure that aging adults are included in the community decision-making process?

1 comment

Comment from: Lee [Visitor]
Creating a carpool network could also be helpful. A lot of older adults find public transportation overwhelming and stressful, and packed cars or busses can be too much for an older adult to handle. However a carpool system (or even a coordinated van system) would be a more convenient option. Some systems are already in place, but more could be created and smartgrowth could facilitate the coordination between current programs and assist with the creation of new ones.
10/02/12 @ 08:44

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