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New York

Complete Streets Concept a Reality

Transportation engineers must consider pedestrians and cyclists when designing roads

But older pedestrians are well aware of the hazards. Getting volunteers to push for passage of the Complete Streets legislation wasn't difficult, said Erin Mitchell, AARP New York associate director for outreach. "A lot of them don't drive. They walk, and things need to be more safe and walkable for them."

Volunteers also helped AARP conduct a statewide walkability survey of 500 intersections in April 2010. "It really hit home when they went out and did the surveys," Mitchell said. "They realized, 'Wow, I really don't have time to cross that street.' "

Among those behind the effort was Shirley Bristol, 72, of Albany, a retired registered nurse who walks to go shopping several times a week. Some intersections in the city were difficult to cross, and Bristol worried about the safety of other older pedestrians. "Most times you don't want to cross alone," she said. "I used to wait until there were three or four people with me [before crossing] because I didn't think they'd hit three or four of us at a time."

Bristol's fears are not unfounded. In New York, pedestrians account for 23 percent of total traffic deaths, compared with 12 percent nationwide. According to a study by Transportation for America, New York has the fourth highest number of pedestrian deaths among adults 65 and older, behind Hawaii, Alaska and California.

Passage of the Complete Streets legislation offers hope for improvement, said Bill Ferris, AARP New York state legislative representative. "We think the passing of the Complete Streets bill is a key ingredient to building more livable communities across New York, where people can live and age independently for as long as possible."

O'Connell said the complete streets legislation will force designers and engineers to at least consider pedestrians and cyclists. "They don't necessarily have to implement changes, but they have to think about it. That's a significant step forward."

Also of interest: Making New York City streets safer for seniors. >>

Winnie Yu is a writer living in Albany, N.Y.

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