Having access to only one mode of transportation is an unsustainable lifestyle. If something happens to that mode, you lose the ever-important element of mobility. In much of Minnesota, the Baby Boom Generation has been focused pretty exclusively on the car and far flung car-dependent suburbs. As Boomers age, this situation turns against them.
According to a recent AP article, “eventually most people will outlive their driving ability – men by an average of six years and women by an average of 10 years.” Within 15 years, 1 in 5 licensed drivers will be 65 or older, according to a recent National Transportation Safety Board forum on “Safety, Mobility, and Aging Drivers.” As life expectancies rise while driving abilities decline, a large demographic is starting to face the reality of needing to rely on alternate transportation forms.
We have already begun to see this trend in Minnesota. According to the Star Tribune, our suburbs have increasingly older populations with younger families moving in at a slow rate. This presents a problem for suburbs with facilities built for younger populations, but it presents a bigger problem for transportation. Here’s a perfect summary of this problem:
Suburbanites often wondered why Minnesota was spending so much money to subsidize light-rail transit when they needed new highway lanes. Now they can brace for this: The subsidy for the costliest form of public transit – collecting seniors in cul-de-sac suburbs one by one – is more than 10 times higher, per passenger, than the subsidy for the Hiawatha Line.
American suburbs were never created with public transit in mind: they were built almost exclusively for the automobile. This led suburbanites to heavily criticize publicly financed transit systems because they didn’t want to pay for something that wouldn’t directly benefit them. Now there is suddenly a loud demand for public transit in sparsely populated areas lacking well-organized networks for an effective transit system – and the price isn’t even close to comparable to that of urban transit systems.
We should all stop, think, and learn from this situation. Opposing public transit and excluding everything but your car for transport — until gas prices soar, or until you outlive your own ability to drive — is short-sighted and detrimental to the future of Minnesota’s infrastructure. Let’s take a moment to figure out solutions for our current dilemma, and then move forward with this lesson in mind.