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Staying Here and Staying Mobile

The Post ran a very interesting series on growing older in Washington that is relevant to our discussions on transportation.

On Sunday, Annie Gowen pointed out that in two decades, one of every four drivers will be a senior citizen. She talked with a Falls Church retiree named Rita Turner who decided she was too old to drive, gave up her car and now regrets it every day, because it's so difficult to get around the suburbs without an automobile.

In today's paper, Fredrick Kunkle focused on life in the aging suburb of Fort Hunt in Fairfax County and a gas station that figured out it had to offer more full service pumps to help out people no longer comfortable using the self service.

Whenever I talk with retirees and senior citizens, their questions are similar: They want to know how they can stay here and stay mobile.

Some of the answers are in what they can do for themselves. That includes taking courses to maintain their driving skills. Both AAA and AARP offer them frequently. They also, as the two stories point out, can organize themselves into self-help groups with more mobile people taking care of the driving assignments to help out others.

Some of the answers involve government, civic and corporate action. The aging baby boomers are so numerous that they will affect the design of our transportation system. Communities need to become more walkable, road signs clearer, transit systems more extensive. Planners need to find more room for senior-oriented housing near transit centers.

We've seen some of this accommodation in recent years. Many of the local bus systems have introduced new vehicles and new services that help the elderly and disabled. These include the kneeling buses and wheelchair ramps. They also include the fare breaks for seniors traveling at midday.

That won't be enough. The numbers tell us that. Now's the time to be planning to help our parents and ourselves as the elderly population begins a surge that will last for several decades.

[Join me at 1 p.m. today for a Live Online discussion of all our local transportation concerns. You can jump in early and submit a question or comment now by using this link.]

By Robert Thomson  |  September 17, 2007; 8:16 AM ET
Categories:  Transportation Politics  
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""Rita Turner, who decided she was too old to drive, gave up her car and now regrets it every day, because it's so difficult to get around the suburbs without an automobile."" WaPo
This is the problem with the suburban design - if we want to stay in the home we've had for all these years, where our children were raised, we will continue to be dependent on our car - we can't walk to the store because its too far. That great cul de sac that we thought was perfect for our children is going to be the death of us.

Posted by: Carla Z. | September 17, 2007 9:38 AM | Report abuse

"Communities need to become more walkable, road signs clearer, transit systems more extensive. Planners need to find more room for senior-oriented housing near transit centers."

The problem of car dependency in suburbs just isn't a problem for seniors, it's a problem for everyone who has to drive 10 - 15 minutes to get to the nearest grocery store.

The only way to fix this problem is to design communities that allow its residents to utilize foot paths, bike trails, and accomadate short drives to places like grocery stores, schools, and ... unfortunately, walmarts.

And also, its unfortunate that its really too late to fix the problem here in the suburbs of DC. As the "more houses the better" idea is the law.

Posted by: Willis | September 17, 2007 9:51 AM | Report abuse

Great, *now* baby boomers recognize the error of the surburban planning ways, just in time to get young working folk to pay for the necessary mitigations.

Posted by: Lindemann | September 17, 2007 1:21 PM | Report abuse

The zoning in the greater Washington Metro area has led to this dilemma we are currently in. We have gridlock because there are no outlets except the major arteries - all the rest of the roadways lead into dead ends and cul de sacs. We really can't go around, there is no way to get over the Potomac except the same ways that we've had for decades. This might kick us in the pants if we have an emergency and have to evacuate the area. We build 'communities' faster than we build a roadway out of them. The legacy of the car continues to entrap us all.

Posted by: Leslie J. | September 17, 2007 2:58 PM | Report abuse

Willis - you are soooo right! my mother-in-law will not leave her home, she's in a development that was created in the early 60's out of a corn field; it has no sidewalks and because of its circuitous roadways it is highly unwalkable. Plus, it goes nowhere but out to a major 4 lane with grassy median artery. You need a car to get out of there and continue out to the nearest grocery or anything. She's attached sentimentally to it and it will be a burden to her in the future without driving priviledges.

Posted by: Damien W. | September 17, 2007 3:38 PM | Report abuse

My grandmother had this problem. Having grown up in New York City, she never had a driver's license. When she moved out to Long Island, my grandfather drove her everywhere, and she was able to take a bus (only one line near her house, runs once an hour, so not really useful except for getting to/from work) or taxi to and from work. When my grandfather passed away, she was housebound. My father and his brother respected her wishes to remain in her house, but that meant they had to drive her anywhere she needed to go, just like a little kid (except a little kid who lives 5 miles away). Finally, they said enough is enough, and they moved her out into a retirement apartment complex where they take their residents where they need to go.

DMV's are only getting stricter about revoking old peoples' licenses...remember that 80 year old geezer who crashed into the farmer's market in California? Public safety requires that we revoke their licenses when they can no longer drive, and once that happens, the seniors will need the support of someone in order to get around. Either they will need a public transit agency, a charity which provides transportation, or a family member who will take them places. In the suburbs and exurbs, the latter option might be the only way they can stay there. Either way, the working folks will pay for it with their taxes or their time.

Posted by: WP | September 17, 2007 4:38 PM | Report abuse

There are reasons for living in an apartment in DC. Walk three blocks to the Giant, one block to the bus stops used by three bus lines, taxi stand two blocks away, and a half dozen recent restaurants within four blocks. And never mind the hardware store, best buy, CVS, Whole Foods, dozen restaurants, etc. within a 15 minute walk.

Posted by: Laszlo | September 17, 2007 4:46 PM | Report abuse

One solution would be to create options for the seniors near existing Metro stations - some of that "smart growth" we often hear about from the anti-car and surburb-hating types.

Only problem is affordability. As it is now, the only housing built in "smart growth" locations ur region is high-priced housing that most people can't afford.
I don't see that changing anytime soon for two simples reasons:

(1) NIMBYism - no one is going to want the afforable neighborhoods and/or highrise housing near themselves. Happens every time they try to put apartments or condos near the Friendship Heights station.

(3) The ever-present ignorance and prejudice against PG County, which just happens to have the most under-developed Metro-centric areas.

Posted by: CEEAF | September 17, 2007 4:50 PM | Report abuse

Actually, there are some age restricted communities in Arlington (along the Orange Line) where units are significantly less expensive than non-age-restricted buildings right next door. Think about it...the buyer pool is much smaller due to the restrictions...less demand, less price. You'd think with all the school overcrowding issues that localities would love these sorts of developments.

I think people would be much less opposed to affordable housing for retired seniors than they would be opposed to affordable housing for working age people who choose not to be productive members of society.

But age of occupants aside, I think prices are so high in smart-growth developments because of their relative scarcity. Less supply mean higher prices. Some people do want to live in that sort of setting (and not all smart growth needs to be on top of a Metro station...), and developers aren't building enough of it.

And I'd hardly consider people not wanting to live/invest in Prince George's County ignorance. It is a fact that PG has higher crime and tax rates than other close-in counties in Metro DC. The crime is especially a problem in the inner beltway areas, which just so happen to be in the vicinity of the Metro stations. But I strongly believe that PG will have its day eventually. Most people thought DC was a lost cause, but people soon realized that the close-in accessible land was far too valuable to let sit dilapidated and underutilized. As the region grows, this is bound to eventually happen in PG.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 17, 2007 5:47 PM | Report abuse

The old people should just go ahead and die so we can quit being burdened with their slow driving and overcrowding of hospitals. They are all so medicated and delusional they wont even know they are dead.

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