Columns Opinion — 17 April 2014
Senior Corner: Designing roads for 
an aging population

By Jerry King

Jerry King

If you follow transit issues in this city, no doubt you have heard the term “complete streets” tossed around. But what is it and how does it apply to seniors?

The complete streets concept calls for creating roads that are safe and convenient for motorists, cyclists, pedestrians and users of mass transit regardless of age or ability. This idea has taken hold just as the senior population expands.

The Alexandria Commission on Aging has developed a strategic plan to address the needs of this growing community. Its goals include retaining affordable housing for seniors, improving communication from city service providers, encouraging entrepreneurship and providing better mobility options.

But to return to complete streets, this program — embraced by City Hall — must accommodate seniors. Only one-third of complete streets policies in the U.S. explicitly mention older road users. With an increasing senior population that is driving less and walking more, we should expect to see changes made to reflect our needs.

Alexandria officials are incorporating changes to accommodate future transportation demands through improved transit, cycling and walking. Providing safer streets will increase transit use, which for many older adults is their only means of transportation. Given the aforementioned demographic shift, there will be more non-motorized travel. The city must respond to this demand by improving non-motorized travel options.

The city’s investment in this area also will pay off in terms of lower health care costs. Although bicycling generally has a youthful image, many older Alexandrians get around on two wheels as well. Many are retired, like myself, and are riding to the nearest coffee shop, for example. Others are former runners who find bicycling easier on their knees. Making our streets safer will make it easier for residents to get out and exercise, which will bring added health benefits.

For our older residents, exercise is increasingly important as with age there often come health issues. It’s clear that there is a correlation between inactivity and chronic health issues such as diabetes, heart disease and depression. Embracing complete streets will help those less able to leave their home become healthy, engaged residents while improving the quality of life for all.

The complete streets program also will enhance intersection safety with improved street crossings and other pedestrian upgrades. Coupled with the current redesign of our major parks, this will invite our seniors to enjoy our open space. With increasing pedestrian traffic, the city is responding with changes that will provide a safer environment. We strongly support these endeavors.

If you would like to learn more about the complete streets program, city staff will present a briefing and field questions at the Nannie J. Lee Memorial Recreation Center at 1108 Jefferson St. on April 21 at 6:15 p.m.

- The writer is the Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee’s vice chairman for pedestrians.

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(1) Reader Comment

  1. I’ve yet to meet a senior who cannot get exercise because he or she is afraid of being mowed down on a sidewalk. As for bike exercise, there are plenty of calm places to bike, including trails, parks, and back streets. The real issue in this thinly veiled BPAC advertisement is that bikers want separate riding space at the expense of cars. They’ll invoke any argument – health, safety, world peace, whatever – to get what they really want.

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