By 2025, nearly one in five Americans will be over 65 years old-a fact that carries policy implications across the board, especially transportation policy. The AARP has a report about the importance of Complete Streets for this aging population, adding to the many reasons why street design should consider a variety of needs.
We have written about Complete Streets before, as well as the transportation troubles ahead for senior citizens. The major problem is a loss in mobility because of a lack of viable transportation options. The root of this problem lies in the fact that many of our communities-especially suburbs, where many aging people live-are designed for cars alone. As urban planners often say, cities should to be made for people, not cars. The same is true for all of our communities, because car-centric planning leads to unsustainable lifestyles and unsafe environments for nonmotorized modes.
The AARP report focuses on engineers and planners, who are on the front lines of designing our streets. As the report points out, these planners and engineers usually learn their profession in a car-centric manner. This is what leads to wide roads where cars can safely drive at high speeds through neighborhoods. The AARP report recommends slower, more narrow streets with higher visibility for pedestrians and cars alike. Of course, if streets are going to be designed for all users, they need sidewalks as well, which many suburbs lack completely.
The narrower, slower streets argument is one that our friends, the planning gurus at Strong Towns, have often supported. In a recent blog, they laid out ten points which support a solid argument for narrow streets. Besides being dangerous for pedestrians and too fast for elderly drivers, as Charles Marohn points out, wide streets are also incredibly expensive to maintain.
Complete Streets policies are wise, people-centric policies which will provide safer-and possibly less expensive-environments. They also help to move Minnesotans forward, no matter what mode of transportation they choose.