More than two-thirds of older Alabamians say they can’t safely walk to the grocery store, and almost 70 percent say they can’t safely walk to public transportation, according to a survey released recently by AARP Alabama.
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“Non-drivers have to depend on friends and family members, or in many cases, take their lives into their own hands by walking,” said Joan Carter, AARP state director.
According to Transportation for America, Older Americans are two-thirds more likely to be killed while walking than those under 65 years of age, yet when polled, they express an interest in being able to walk because of rising gas prices, an inability to drive and a desire to remain healthy, among other reasons.
With that in mind, AARP Alabama is supporting HB342, or “Complete Streets” legislation. Complete streets policies help eliminate transportation access barriers for children, disabled users, the elderly, those who do not drive and others. The legislation is expected to be voted on in the current legislative session.
“Complete street designs are critical for ensuring that roads are designed to allow all users to travel safely and conveniently, that scarce transportation dollars are spent wisely and that Alabamians have choices when it comes to how they transport themselves,” said Adam Snyder, executive director, Conservation Alabama.
House Bill 342 ensures that future transportation investments made in Alabama allow for appropriate and safe transportation facilities for all people—motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.
“Alabama is currently ranked second in the number of obese residents, and complete streets encourage more walking and bicycling,” said Barbara Newman, environmental health program supervisor, Jefferson County Department of Health.
One study found that 43 percent of people with safe places to walk within 10 minutes of home met recommended activity levels, while just 27% of those without safe places to walk were active enough.
“Complete streets also make economic sense,” said Nichalaus Sims, planner, Jefferson County Land Planning and Development Services.
A balanced transportation system that includes complete streets can bolster economic growth and stability by providing accessible and efficient connections between residences, schools, parks, public transportation, offices and retail destinations, Sims said.
Complete streets can help ease transportation woes. Streets that provide travel choices can give people the option to avoid traffic jams, and increase the overall capacity of the transportation network. Several smaller cities have adopted complete streets policies as one strategy to increase the overall capacity of their transportation network and reduce congestion.
Complete streets make fiscal sense for municipalities, and ultimately, tax payers.
“Integrating sidewalks, bike lanes, transit amenities, and safe crossings into the initial design of a project spares the expense of retrofits later,” said Tom Maxwell, senior environmental planner, Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham.