‘Complete Streets’ can pave way for aging population to move around

July 11, 2009 at 4:31 pm Leave a comment

Viewpoint from Maui News, July 5, 2009 by Mike Morris*

Some are calling the aging of Hawaii the “silver tsunami,” a demographic shift in the next 20 years that will result in 22 percent of our state’s population being 65 years of age or older. This increase in older citizens is going to mean the need to change some of the ways we do business, including making our streets safe for them to walk or cycle.

Unfortunately, Hawaii is already ranked as the most dangerous state in America to be a pedestrian or cyclist over the age 65. We have our work cut out for us. It is going to take a major culture shift in both state and county transportation departments and our community as a whole to make Hawaii’s roads safer and more convenient for people of all ages and abilities, not just the elderly.

Today our roads are designed to accommodate as many cars as possible at the highest speeds and in the shortest amount of time. Many of our communities lack sidewalks and bike lanes, and too many crosswalks require a multi-lane sprint against oncoming traffic.

As our population ages, demand for a greater variety of mobility choices such as walking, cycling and mass transit, is likely to grow. The challenge for planners is to design roads that are safer for mixed use by cars, cyclists and pedestrians.

That is where the concept of “Complete Streets” comes into the picture. The Hawaii state Legislature passed Act 54, the Complete Streets Act, in 2009. It requires state and county transportation departments to accommodate access and mobility for all users of public highways, including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, motorists and persons of all abilities. This law could pave the way for better transit services, safer walking facilities and better mobility options for all those more likely to try to move around our communities without a car.

Transportation is one of the keys to making sure that people are able to live independently and in their homes and communities as they get older. A recent study by AARP’s Public Policy Institute warns that two-thirds of American transportation planners and engineers have yet to begin addressing the needs of older people.

“Planning Complete Streets for an Aging America” recommends that federal, state, and local highway and street design guidelines serve older people by 1) reducing vehicle travel speeds at intersections where older drivers and pedestrians need more time to make decisions and execute changes, 2) making the physical layout of roads, crosswalks and sidewalks easier to navigate and 3) making it easier for older drivers and pedestrians to notice, read, understand and respond to visual cues and information.

Because of the time required to make such improvements, Hawaii should plan now for the coming age wave. Federal, state and local transportation planners and traffic engineers should focus on adjusting our roads to become safer and more user-friendly for everyone.

To help kick-start a statewide conversation on transportation planning for the silver tsunami, Jana Lynott, the principal author of the AARP study, will visit Hawaii this month to meet with key stakeholders to engage the public and policymakers on Complete Streets, lay the groundwork for successful implementation of Act 54 and prepare the public for involvement in the pedestrian master planning process and transit oriented development.

A free forum on Complete Streets will be co-sponsored by the AARP and the Maui County Nutrition & Physical Activity Coalition Tuesday at the Maui Beach Hotel from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

The time has come to prepare our streets for an aging Hawaii. The unprecedented growth in the number of older residents demands that we act now. This is a great opportunity for Hawaii to become a leader in implementing Complete Streets’ policies. You can get involved in this effort by participating in the Complete Streets discussion at the Maui Beach on Tuesday.

* Mike Morris is president and CEO of the Maui Family YMCA and chairman of the Maui County Nutrition & Physical Activity Coalition, a project of the UH-Manoa Office of Public Health Studies, John A. Burns School of Medicine.

Entry filed under: Building & Remodeling, Political Action, Seniors, Transportation.

SMS Newsletter, July 2009 Solar Tour Review – Maui News

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