By Nancy A. LeaMond
We must make our streets safer! Today in our country a pedestrian suffers an injury every eight minutes and one is killed every two hours! That’s been an upward trend in recent years. In the decade from 2003 to 2012, more than 47,000 people nationwide died while walking on our streets, 16 times the number who died in natural disasters during the same period. More than 676,000 pedestrians were injured over the same decade. These tragedies happen to individuals of all ages. But an older pedestrian is particularly vulnerable. Among pedestrian fatalities, nearly 1 of every 5 is 65 or older.
All we’ve seen in the over the past several years is a series of short-term patches. The DRIVE Act, the six-year transportation bill passed by the Senate last week, is a welcome departure. Included in the DRIVE Act is a critically important provision that would make streets safer for pedestrians and all who use the road. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) led the effort to promote this key provision to ensure that streets are planned and designed to be safe for people of all ages and abilities regardless of how they travel — by car, foot, bus, bike or rail.
Today, more than 1 of every 5 older Americans, about 8 million, no longer drive. They need a variety of options, including safe walking, to stay connected to their communities. Yet nearly half of people 50 and over tell us they cannot safely cross the main streets in their neighborhoods. Too many seniors today simply cannot safely walk, bike or take public transportation to their destinations.
By 2030, just 15 years from now, the 65-and-older population will have doubled from what it is today — to more than 70 million. All 50 states will see a rapid acceleration in the growth of their senior populations. Ten states will actually have more 65-and-older residents than school-age children.
We know how to design safe streets — research shows that well-designed intersections, sidewalks, bike lanes and other features can significantly reduce injuries, deaths and automobile crashes. A crosswalk safe for a senior is a crosswalk safe for a child. A community that is friendly for an 80-year-old can be friendly for an 8-year-old — and everyone else in between.
We believe that America’s state, federal and community leaders should focus on making our streets safer. That is why we are particularly grateful for the leadership of Sens. Schatz and Heller for leading the fight to give communities the tools they need to keep streets safe for people of all ages. And in the House, Reps. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and David Joyce (R-Ohio) have introduced the bipartisan Safe Streets Act, HR 2071. We urge its inclusion in the House transportation reauthorization bill when they take it up this fall.
AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond is the association’s chief advocacy and engagement officer.