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Volunteers and Partners Take to the Streets

Over 100 volunteers and a host of partner organizations turned out in late September as AARP Vermont launched Complete Streets Week across the state to shed light on the dangers pedestrians face as they walk their streets and sidewalks. Volunteers and organizations teamed up with AARP Vermont to assess crosswalks and intersections in Burlington, St. Johnsbury, Rutland, and Brattleboro. Volunteers evaluated how these intersections address walkers’ needs, such as whether there are adequate traffic signals, crossing signals and properly marked crosswalks or if there is enough time to cross the street. In many cases, some very glaring deficiencies were identified that directly impact the safety of pedestrians and cyclists alike.

The visibility and results of this week-long statewide campaign will be used to demonstrate the need for state Complete Streets legislation which would assure that road design incorporates the needs of all people, including cyclists, people with disabilities, and those who travel without a car. AARP will also assist local activists to make needed improvements to the areas that are surveyed. Reports are being drafted for each community surveyed and any resulting recommendations will be forward to appropriate town and/or state officials.

AARP Vermont, is working with some 40 organizations across the state, is working to pass Complete Streets legislation to make roads safer and more accessible for all Vermonters – regardless of age or ability or whether traveling by car, bus, bike or on foot. Complete Streets policies ensure that state and local transportation agencies routinely design and operate the right of way to enable safe access for everyone on the road. Complete Streets guidelines make transportation planners think about how people can access the community without a car. If bikers, walkers and others cannot be adequately accommodated, the agency must provide information to the public on why they could not meet the Complete Streets requirements. The design considerations are meant to apply to new roads and those being redesigned or rebuilt. Exceptions for interstate highways and dirt roads are included.

“AARP is working hard to pass Complete Streets legislation because as people get older they drive less or hang up the keys altogether,” said Jennifer Wallace-Brodeur, AARP Vermont state director. “Unless other ways of getting around are readily available, this life change can mean a lower quality of life, less independence and isolation if alternative ways of getting around are not available.”

The statistics paint a compelling picture. A recent AARP report found that 2 in 5 Americans age 50+ say their neighborhood sidewalks are inadequate. Nearly half cannot cross main roads close to their home safely, preventing many from walking, cycling or taking the bus. This is a key reason why 65 percent of non-driving seniors make fewer trips to visit family, friends or go to church.

Incomplete streets include anything from no sidewalks nor bike lanes to broken sidewalks and unsafe crosswalks. By 2025, people age 65+ will comprise nearly 20% of the population. Yet two-thirds of transportation planners and engineers say they have yet to begin addressing older people in their street planning.

Complete Streets is a concept that is gaining momentum throughout the country. Connecticut, New Jersey and Hawaii have recently adopted Complete Streets policies, and many more states are considering bills. In Vermont, Burlington and Montpelier are considering local policies. Find out more about Complete Streets online.

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