Transportation Options, Walkability and Seniors

A recent article from Switchboard shows a video produced by AARP in collaboration with StreetFilms that illustrates how walkable, transit-oriented neighborhoods can help seniors. The six-minute video features conversations with residents, local officials and experts in transit-oriented development (TOD) in Arlington, Virginia—a walkable, mixed-use community with access to a variety of public transit options, entertainment and recreation, and basic services such as shopping and medical services.

The Atlanta BeltLine is linked to accessible gathering places all over town. Transit routes and the Atlanta BeltLine itself run alongside numerous parks, trails, fitness centers, restaurants, banks, grocery and convenience stores, places of worship, pharmacies and hospitals, shopping malls, salons and barber shops, as well as libraries and historical centers among many other destinations.

senior citizens and walkable communities
By creating walkable spaces near where senior citizens live, they are able to retain their quality of life when they give up driving a car. Photo credit: EPA.

An excellent report by the Environmental Protection Agency, Growing Smarter, Living Healthier: A Guide to Smart Growth and Active Aging, lays out the facts and stresses the importance of walkability in communities currently with only one type of housing, within one price range, and with few options for people who cannot or should not drive.

Here are some statistics from the EPA’s report:

  • The number of senior citizens is expected to double by 2030
  • 600,000 people ages 70 and older stop driving every year.
  • More than 20 percent of Americans 56 and older do not drive. Of those, more than half — about 3.6 million people — stay home on any given day because they have no transportation, AARP says.
  • Older non-drivers are likely to make 15 percent fewer trips to the doctor, 59 percent fewer trips to stores or restaurants, and 65 percent fewer trips to social, family or religious gatherings.
  • The average annual cost of owning and operating a car is $8,121 for fuel, maintenance, new tires, insurance, depreciation, and financing. A compact costs over $6,000, and an SUV over $10,000.

The bottom line is that more transportation options give seniors the chance to stay active and independent. The Atlanta BeltLine could actually encourage independence by reducing dependence on the auto, increasing travel choices, and improving senior quality of life.

From the EPA report:

Having the choice to get to downtown shopping or cultural events on our own terms and schedule, rather than waiting for a friend or an on-call van can ensure independent living for much longer.


“We’re used to hearing the phrase ‘it takes a village’ refer to raising children, but the same is true at our own end of the timeline. With a neighborhood structure that allows and encourages us to get out and about, and nearby places that are worth going to, we’re more likely to be noticed, and our absence noted as well.”

The developing Atlanta BeltLine is providing walkable, mixed-use communities with access to a variety of public transit options, entertainment and recreation, and basic services such as shopping and medical services.  These new amenities and services benefit not only senior citizens, but the entire community.

Consider this last tidbit from the report:

Elders and kids are the ‘canaries in the coal mine’ of walkability. If we build places and streets that make it easier for our oldest and youngest to navigate, we all will benefit.


Photo courtesy of the City of Portland, Oregon, Bureau of Transportation

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