A pedestrian is injured every eight minutes in the United States and pedestrians account for a disproportionate share of traffic-related fatalities. Older Americans are especially vulnerable. Persons over 65 years of age comprise approximately 12 percent of the population, but account for 19 percent of U.S. pedestrian fatalities. In a recent survey of Americans over 50 years of age, almost half reported they cannot safely cross the main streets near their home. Although this age group is expanding, the AARP report finds that three-quarters of transportation planners and engineers indicated they have not addressed the needs of older Americans in street planning.
Research shows that well-designed sidewalks, bike lanes, intersections, and other street features to accommodate all modes of travel can significantly reduce injuries, deaths, and automobile crashes. Communities adopting the complete streets approach are discovering additional benefits including higher rates of physical activity among residents—an important factor for improved health—and more vibrant business districts and neighborhoods.
The Complete Streets Act of 2009 (H.R.1443, S.584) introduced by Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) and Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) illustrates how federal policy can address these issues.
On June 5, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) and Transportation for America (T4A) held a briefing to discuss how the next transportation authorization bill can help create safer streets and more livable communities. A newly-released report by AARP, Planning Complete Streets for an Aging America, examines how states, cities, and towns around the country have used complete streets policies to encourage the design of street networks that safely accommodate all users—including transit riders, bicyclists, and pedestrians of all ages and abilities. These policies have shown significant additional benefits for public health, travel mobility, and economic development. This briefing explored how such policies are developed and implemented, and how they can be incorporated into federal legislation.
- "Complete streets" policies would encourage the use of a wide variety of tools and practices to make transportation system safer and more useable for all users--including motorists, pedestrians, cyclists, parents with strollers, transit riders, wheelchair riders, and others.
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most traffic-related deaths and injuries are not caused by "accidents", but rather by unsafe street design where collisions can be predicted.
- Children and older adults are particularly in need of safe routes to school, stores, services, and other needs, and are also at a disproportionately greater risk of being killed or injured in traffic collisions.
- Common safety problems include poorly-designed intersections (left-turns can be particularly hazardous), streets that are difficult to cross, and lack of adequate sidewalks and bike lanes that force non-motorized travelers to use motor vehicle lanes.
- Safety problems are often caused or amplified by road design that encourages inappropriately high speeds, and reducing vehicle speeds is often an important design goal. Despite slower speeds, overall traffic flow is typically improved by complete streets measures.
- Safety problems often deter people from engaging in healthy behaviors and limit social and economic opportunities. Enhancing street design can improve individual quality of life and promote community vitality and livability.
- Streets do much more than move cars, they often define community character and serve as important public spaces. Small towns and larger cities alike are using complete streets policies to reclaim public space and solve traffic problems at the same time. For example, fixing a problematic six-way intersection at Times Square in New York created entire new plaza space for cafe and outdoor seating.
- Many complete street solutions are low-cost--some are as simple as changing paint-striping on pavement. Complete streets policies, in general, do not add cost but shift and enhance the use of existing funds.