Jennifer Wallace-Brodeur of Burlington is state and community outreach Director at AARP Vermont. She has led the effort to form and direct the Burlington Livable Community Project ñ a partnership with Burlington and a host of stakeholders aimed at preparing the city to accommodate a rapidly aging demographic, particularly in the areas of community engagement, housing and mobility.
A top priority for AARP Vermont in its statewide transportation agenda is the passage of Complete Streets. Think of some of the things that are vital to older residents in their community — staying active physically and mentally, traveling to stores, visiting friends and family, attending recreational events and walking around the neighborhood comfortably. In short — mobility.
If you can't get where you need to go, you're stuck and isolated. Sadly, a significant mobility barrier for many older Americans today is the condition of our streets and intersections.
Q. How do you intend to move this effort along?
With the active support of some 45 partner organizations around the state, AARP Vermont is leading a campaign to pass legislation that will improve safety and access for pedestrians and other users of Vermont roadways. Regardless of age or ability or whether traveling by car, bus, bike or on foot, Vermonters deserve a safe way to get around. Complete Streets guidelines will require engineers and street planners to consider roadway accessibility and safety of all people, including the much-neglected non-motorist population, when building new roads or making improvements.
Q. Will the greater public support this?
While safety concerns for pedestrians and others are paramount, there are a host of other reasons to support Complete Streets, including the environmental benefits of fewer cars reducing our collective carbon footprint. In addition, enabling more citizens to walk and ride will lead to positive health and fitness outcomes while improved land use and public transit considerations are other important benefits. That's why groups like Local Motion, Smart Growth Vermont and the Vermont Natural Resources Council are among those actively supporting this effort.
Q. What's makes a street "incomplete?"
Incomplete streets include anything from no sidewalks or bike lanes — to broken sidewalks and unsafe crossings.
Q. Is this a real problem?
The statistics paint a compelling picture: A recent AARP report found that two-in-five Americans over 50 say their neighborhood sidewalks are inadequate; nearly half reported not being able to safely cross a main road near their homes. This is a key reason why 65 percent of non-driving seniors make fewer trips to visit family and friends, or to shop and attend community events.
It is unacceptable that so many older Vermonters are staying home and missing out on activities that are so vital to mental and physical health due to inadequate pedestrian access or safety concerns. By 2025, people age 65+ will comprise nearly 20 percent of the population. Yet two-thirds of transportation planners and engineers say they have yet to begin addressing older people in their street planning.
Pedestrians, cyclists, and public transportation users of all ages support Complete Streets as an important step toward ensuring we are able to make the most of our communities in the future.
Q. What's the rush?
Let's face it, we're all getting older. In fact, Vermont is older than most states. We need to prepare for a population that might not always hop in the car to get around.
AARP Vermont: www.aarp.org/states/vt
National Complete Streets Coalition: www.completestreets.org