DC can do more to help seniors age in place

The proportion of seniors across the country is rising. As people age, it can be hard for them to stay in their homes and neighborhoods. To be a vibrant, inclusive place, a neighborhood needs to cater to all types of people—including older adults, who make up 11 percent of the District’s population. DC is doing a lot to be a more age-friendly place, but there are still many ways the city could do more.

In particular, local policymakers and planners can focus on three areas to help DC’s older adults get around more easily: pedestrian safety, public transit, and alternative transit options.

All of these, along with better mobility management options, will make it possible for seniors to have better choices and feel more comfortable in their communities as they age.

Aging in place has come up again and again in many recent urbanist discussions both local and national, from AARP and APA best practices, to the DC zoning rewrite to new bike lanes.

In a DC Zoning Commission hearing last year, Commissioner Hood asked how he or his elderly relatives would get around without a relying on a car. A new report, “Moving an Age Friendly DC,” by the Coalition for Smarter Growth has the answer.

Pedestrian safety

Pedestrian safety is fundamental to every person because every trip ends on foot. No matter what mode someone takes, whether they drive, bike, or take the Metro, they have to walk to their final destination.

Seniors are no exception, and in fact are an especially vulnerable group. In 2013, 4 of the 12 pedestrians killed in DC were over the age of 65. While older adults made up only about 11.4 percent of the total population in 2013, they accounted for 1/3 of the city’s pedestrian fatalities.

To be safe and comfortable as pedestrians, aging adults need better lighting, walking surfaces free from tripping hazards, and often more time to cross the street. Efforts to improve lighting, maintain sidewalks, and improve pedestrian crossings are essential for seniors, and will benefit other pedestrians, too.

Providing longer crossing times at crosswalks, creating traffic calming with medians, and including bike lanes can all help aging adults and other people on foot get around.

Bike lanes can help aging seniors not only by giving them a safer place to ride but also by keeping cyclists off the sidewalk where they could come into conflict with pedestrians.

Comfortable, well-lit, and safe environments will allow older adults to continue to move around their neighborhoods, access public transportation, exercise, and even walk the dog.

Public transit

Better fixed-route public transit is also key to helping aging adults stay in their neighborhoods, because not all people can walk long distances, and many aging adults are unable or prefer not to drive as they age. Public transit needs to be accessible where older adults live, preferably within a quarter mile or less of their homes.

The District also can help seniors by improving bus stops with more comfortable seating and clearer signage, and other amenities. Currently, only 31 percent of Metrobus stops in DC are fully accessible according to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards. If buses and stops properly accommodate seniors and people with limited mobility, people who would otherwise use MetroAccess can take regular transit.

Alternative transit options

But regardless of the quality of transit, some older adults aren’t able to take the bus, and need even more assistance to get around. For them a variety of services come into play, ranging from volunteer drivers to paratransit like MetroAccess, and taxi voucher services. The District has a ways to go in providing a better system of helping people navigate these services.

Mobility management services can help by coordinating all of the options seniors have from fixed route transit options, to paratransit to ride services. Systems like a 1-call-1-click service would help explain what options are available for different kinds of trips and allow seniors to take advantage of more and different options.

Right now, many senior villages and other assisted living facilities maintain such lists of services, but centralizing access to these services would help aging adults outside of such communities. New technology and better mobility management could go a long way to help seniors stay in control of their lives.

Successful services for aging adults could empower seniors and make them feel more comfortable in getting around the District. Better lighting, sidewalks, and traffic calming will make walking easier. Better buses to serve senior communities with improved bus stops can go a long way to help people to age in their communities. Mobility management can help older adults to connect with alternative transportation to get around when walking and busing is no longer possible.

If the District keeps working to make improvements like these, they’ll make it much easier for seniors to stay in their homes and neighborhoods as they age.

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