Want to Walk or Ride a Bike? Where's the Path?

A new poll by AARP finds that while many Americans ages 50+ are trying to move away from car transportation as a result of high gas prices, their attempt to go "green" is challenged by inadequate sidewalks and bike lanes, as well as insufficient public transportation options.

"More Americans age 50+ are trying to leave their cars behind but face obstacles as soon as they walk out the door, climb on their bikes, or head for the bus," said Elinor Ginzler, AARP senior vice president for Livable Communities. Almost one of every three people (29 percent) polled say they are now walking as a way to avoid high gas prices. But as those people set out to walk, almost 40 percent say they do not have adequate sidewalks in their neighborhoods. Additionally, 44 percent say they do not have nearby public transportation that is accessible. Almost half (47 percent) of poll responders say they cannot cross the main roads safely.

There's good news and bad news for Americans age 50+ looking to change their travel habits. In many states, the pedestrian fatality rate of those over age 65 is far above the national average.

"More cities and states are adopting policies requiring their transportation agencies to ensure that roads are routinely designed or redesigned for all modes of travel," Ginzler said.

"Some cities like Sacramento, Calif., and Kirkland, Wash., are ahead of the curve," said Ginzler. "They have extra-wide sidewalks, flowered medians, and flashing lights embedded in crosswalks at busy intersections. Bike lanes and bus stops line even some of the town's busiest streets. These amenities allow residents to be safer pedestrians and commuters and even help the flow of vehicle traffic."

At the national level, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), introduced the bipartisan Complete Streets Act of 2008 (S. 2686) this spring. Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) took a significant step for safer streets in May by introducing the Safe and Complete Streets Act of 2008 (H.R. 5951) in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bills would ensure that roads built and improved with federal funds safely serve everyone using the roadway -- including pedestrians, people on bicycles or those catching the bus, as well as those with disabilities. This is the first time that comprehensive complete streets bills have been introduced in the House and Senate.

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