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At-Home Aging Is Easier in Pedestrian-Friendly Communities

Suggestions to improve 'walkability'

Barb Bush volunteered with AARP members to note barriers and suggest ways to make the area more pedestrian-friendly.

Barb Bush volunteered to walk through Avalon and Bellevue with AARP members and borough officials to note barriers and suggest ways to make the area more pedestrian-friendly. — Photo by Scott Goldsmith/Aurora Select

Living alone can be isolating, so Mary Dee Heim of Avalon tries to get out every day for a walk on the streets of her town north of Pittsburgh. She heads to the adjacent community of Bellevue, where residents can shop for groceries, pick up prescriptions and check out library books without buckling a seat belt.

But it's not a walker's paradise.

Heim, 91, said crossing streets can be dangerous because drivers don't always stop for pedestrians.

See also: Keep your memory strong by walking.

Repainting faded crosswalk markings is one recommendation in a report on how Avalon and Bellevue could be better designed for pedestrians, bicyclists, wheelchair users and people pushing strollers.

As part of an effort to make neighborhoods friendlier to pedestrians, AARP and the Walkable and Livable Communities (WALC) Institute are looking at communities nationwide, hoping to transform them into places where residents can go about their daily lives without relying on cars.

"We've built towns, cities — places where you have no choice but to drive," said Dan Burden, executive director of the nonprofit institute that helps communities encourage walking. "Once you can't drive, you have to get somebody else to drive for you."

He said communities that require the use of cars for daily tasks are not conducive to people who want to age in their own homes.

In each community, the effort begins with workshops that provide tips for local officials who want to make it easier for residents to leave their cars parked.

AARP Pennsylvania is focusing on three communities, hoping to make them more friendly to older adults who can't drive or would rather walk for exercise and shopping. Bellevue and Avalon were chosen because the combined area has a compact business district and several apartment buildings where older adults live, said AARP Pennsylvania spokesman Steve Gardner. A similar program is planned in Allentown later this year.

Together, the boroughs of Bellevue and Avalon have about 13,000 residents; more than 15 percent are 65 or older.

As part of a November workshop, about 30 borough officials and residents walked through Avalon and Bellevue, taking note of barriers to pedestrians.

Next: Trees, bike racks, better signs needed. >>

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