En español | When New York City resident Amy Rogers moved across town a few years ago, she didn't count on having to navigate the "Bowtie of Death" intersection of three busy streets. Rogers, 66, uses a cane when walking, so getting from one curb to the other before the light changed was a challenge.
As the AARP Bulletin reported last year, New York's Safe Streets for Seniors program solved Rogers' problem. The city's department of transportation reconfigured a pedestrian island, extended crossing times and added countdown traffic signals.
"I do feel safer," she said, "and I am more willing to use that corner," which she had avoided whenever possible.
New York does not have a monopoly on unsafe streets. In fact, residents of small towns are even more likely to be injured or killed than residents of urban areas. In 2012, 54 percent of all traffic fatalities — including motorists, pedestrians and cyclists — occurred in rural areas. Pedestrian fatalities alone accounted for 14 percent of all deaths on America's roadways in 2011, and nearly 1 in 5 of those deaths was a person 65 or older. Sadly, every two hours a pedestrian is killed because of unsafe streets or crosswalks.
To combat this problem, more than 600 jurisdictions throughout the country have adopted safe streets policies. More than half of these are in small cities and rural areas. AARP strongly supports these policies (sometimes called "complete streets") because they require planners to take all users — pedestrians, bicyclists, bus riders and motorists — into account when designing new roads or fixing existing ones. Research shows that well-designed intersections, sidewalks, bike lanes and other features can significantly reduce injuries, deaths and automobile crashes. Yet, despite these efforts, too many people cannot safely walk, bike or take public transportation to their destinations.
Reps. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and David Joyce (R-Ohio) and Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) have introduced the Safe Streets Act. This legislation would require all states and local planning organizations to adopt safe streets policies for federally funded projects within two years. It promotes smart planning and design and would establish basic guidelines for states and communities to ensure that any new construction is done right the first time — saving time and money.
The Safe Streets Act does not require any new money, nor does it require transportation agencies to use a particular roadway design — and it doesn't tell highway engineers how to build individual projects. It simply calls on the U.S. Department of Transportation, as well as state and local transportation agencies that use federal funds, to adopt a policy that considers the safety of all users when they build new streets and roads or substantially rebuild existing ones.
The Safe Streets Act won't fix all our roadway safety problems overnight. But over time, our streets will be designed to be safer — and more people, like Amy Rogers, will be able to cross the street without crossing their fingers first.
A. Barry Rand is the CEO of AARP.
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