Aging-in-Place: Getting Around

This is the second in a series of four articles on the findings and recommendations of the Aging-in-Place Task Force. The author is Linton Stables, a member of the task force. This week he addresses “Getting around: Transportation and mobility recommendations.”

The Task Force’s recommendations for staying healthy in mind and body were reported here last week. Staying healthy often involves going somewhere: to visit with friends, go to the doctor, buy food, and pick up prescriptions. It becomes more difficult to make these trips as we grow older. Driving may be restricted to daylight hours, or not feasible at all. Buses and trains are infrequent, or don’t take us to the right places. Even walking becomes dangerous if the sidewalks are frozen. But one of the maxims of maintaining good health is “Keep moving!” and we need to find ways to facilitate that.

The Task Force recommendations for transportation and mobility reflect the importance of walkability to Swarthmoreans of all ages. The ability to access businesses, services, and social and civic engagement opportunities is critical for a strong intergenerational community. By making improvements to existing pedestrian routes and creating new ones, we can encourage residents to walk to visit friends, get groceries, take the train, go out to dinner and events. Sidewalks in good repair and free of leaves, ice, and intruding branches will go a long way toward improving the walkability of the borough. Curb cuts for wheeled walkers and strollers are a help for nearly everyone, as are improved lighting and welcoming benches. Policies that favor pedestrians over vehicles will result in safer crossings and walkways.

Access once at a destination in town is crucial, too. For those in wheelchairs or walkers, steps up or down into a business and inaccessible bathrooms are a serious impediment. But modifications to existing buildings can be expensive and disruptive. The Task Force recommends assisting business and property owners in making the improvements needed to offer their services and products to the entire community, without barriers.

Living in Swarthmore often depends on access to goods and services in surrounding communities: department stores, medical offices and hospitals, pharmacies, movies, shipping facilities, and many other necessities and diversions, are just outside our borough. Public transportation, taxi services, and volunteer drivers are needed to fill in the gaps for non-drivers. Promising technologies like autonomous-driving cars and drone delivery of packages may eventually help, but until then, the Task Force recommends improving and promoting public transportation and making it more accessible. For example, though SEPTA trains offer a quick and easy way into Philadelphia, getting on the train is not so easy, especially if using the commuter parking lot. Providing shuttle transportation within the borough, the college, and surrounding communities would open up the town for those who want or need to live without a car.

Reducing car use seems like a natural objective for Swarthmore, a community that prides itself on walkability. Fewer cars mean fewer accidents, safer pedestrian travel, less air pollution, and less land given over to roadways, parking, and automobile maintenance. Meanwhile, making it safer to drive and walk is important to facilitating aging-in-place. The borough is already making walking safer through stronger enforcement of sidewalk maintenance laws. The Pedestrian and Bicycle Accessibility Master Plan of 2013 noted several places around town that can use attention, and some of those are already being addressed. The Aging-in-Place Task Force endorsed those projects and recommended several additional places where improvements would benefit the entire community.

A copy of the AIP task force presentation to borough council is at http://www.swarthmorepa.org/DocumentCenter/View/390 and the full report is at http://www.swarthmorepa.org/DocumentCenter/View/391.

Next week: Living here: housing recommendations of the task force.

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