Sunday, November 7, 2010

Seniors and Road Safety in Car Dependant Places

I stumbled upon a neat article from the LA Times that came out in January called "When to ask your parents for the keys", which is about adult children trying to determine if their aging parents can drive safely, and if not, how to broach the subject of giving up driving.

This quote jumped out at me:
"Losing the ability to drive impacts a person's dignity and independence, especially in California, where transportation options can be limited."
So why is it that we have allowed things to come to this pass? Why have we consented to live in places with infrequent and inconvenient transit service? Why have we consented to live in places where destinations are so spread out that they are hard to walk or bike to? Why have we consented to live in places where, if you think about it, there isn't enough time on a walk signal to cross a street unless you're young and healthy enough to walk quickly?

Because of my age I don't often think about these things in terms of what they mean to senior citizens. However, some of the best arguments for a balanced transportation system reveal themselves when you think about the questions posed by the article. What the hell are you going to do when you, or your parents, are too old to drive safely? What is the aging baby boom generation going to do in it's largely suburban landscape?

This issue is only going to become more urgent.

[Note on the schedule: due to unspecified (but good) additional things that I now have to do, I'm going to have to scale back my posting, probably to two new posts a week.]


  1. You have a schedule? Good on you! I have a "post when I feel like it."

    Also... be clear on what you mean by consent. I grew up in rural California, most decidedly without my consent. I moved to the suburbs because that's where I got in to college (and later grad school). The only way for somebody to revoke their consent to live in transportation wastelands is to move to places with options- and those places tend to be in rather high demand, and hence expensive. Furthermore, moving just isn't always an option- otherwise this urbanist would have a comfy loft in SF or Vancouver by now.

    Social consent is a very tricky concept. Our government rules by the theoretical consent of the governed... but try revoking your consent.

  2. It's true that people sometimes have limited options, and that the choice of where to live is can be severely constrained by many things, such as income. I'm living with those constraints right now as well.

    However, I think it is fair to say that there has been a social consensus for suburbanization in America over the past 70 or so years.

    I mean "we" in a really broad, abstract sense. In that sense "we" consented to have the interstate highways built, "we" have consented to have major fossil fuel and mortgage interest subsidies, and "we" have overwhelmingly made our homes in the suburbs despite the existence of other (albeit imperfect) options.

  3. This is a really interesting page from the 2006-08 American Community Survey:

    It shows that America's housing stock is 61.7% 1-unit detached. Not all of it is terrible. Detached houses on small lots can work all right in fostering the things I care about.

    By contrast only 5.7% of the nation's housing units are 1-unit attached (rowhouses). Imagine if those numbers were reversed. Suburbia would function in a totally different way, and I'd feel much less inclined to vilify it.

    That pattern didn't happen because a small group of people forced it on everyone. There was broad (but never universal) public support which manifested itself in public policy and private transactions.

  4. There is a question as to whether baby boomers will cut back on their driving as they get older, as previous generations have done. Some believe they'll continue to drive as they always have, putting off retirement and maintaining a fairly active lifestyle. We can either expect a huge decrease in driving, or a huge increase in fatalities (the fatality rate for drivers 85+ is 9x that of younger drivers, given the same VMT, due to physical fragility and risks of hospitalization).