Environment Picture
Topic: Transportation Policy

Michigan's Baby Boomers face dismal transportation options

Study shows nearly 70 percent of Metro Detroit seniors have poor access to public transportation; other Michigan regions fare little better
Washington, D.C. and Lansing, MI – By 2015, more than 15.5 million Americans 65 and older – nearly a half-million of them in Metropolitan Detroit and hundreds of thousands in other regions of Michigan – will live in communities where public transportation service is either poor or non-existent, a new study shows.

That number is expected to continue to grow rapidly as the baby boom generation ages in suburbs and exurbs with few mobility options for those who do not drive.

The report, Aging in Place, Stuck without Options, ranks metro areas by the percentage of seniors with poor access to public transportation, now and in the coming years, and presents other data on aging and transportation. It ranks Metro Detroit as tied for third from the bottom among major cities when judging seniors’ projected access to public transportation by the year 2015. An estimated 68 percent of Detroiters will have “poor” access, the report concludes. That ranks only ahead of Atlanta (90 percent) and Riverside-San Bernadino CA (69 percent).

“The bad news isn’t surprising – Detroit is near the bottom when it comes to providing transportation options to its residents, including senior citizens,” said Tim Fischer of the Michigan Environmental Council. “The good news is that there is growing consensus on the tools we need to fix it. Light rail on Woodward in Detroit, consistent funding sources, consolidation of services, regional coordination and other improvements are getting closer to reality.”

Other Michigan regions and the percentages of seniors who will lack access to public transportation include: Grand Rapids-Muskegon-Holland (78 percent); Kalamazoo-Battle Creek (69 percent); and Lansing-East Lansing (60 percent).

“The baby boom generation grew up and reared their children in communities that, for the first time in human history, were built on the assumption that everyone would be able to drive an automobile,” said John Robert Smith, president and CEO of Reconnecting America and co-chair of Transportation for America. “What happens when people in this largest generation ever, with the longest predicted lifespan ever, outlive their ability to drive? That’s one of the questions we set out to answer in this report.”

Karen Kafantaris, AARP Michigan associate state director for livable communities, said: “As much as older Americans want to age comfortably in the homes and communities they love – and nine out of ten do – they fear being stuck at home when they don’t drive. But the suburbs and exurbs that will turn gray with the boomers in the next few decades are almost totally car dependent. The good news is that the range of public transportation services and improvements that aging boomers will need to get to the doctor, the grocery store and the movies will improve the quality of life for everyone.” Kafantaris added the report indicates “this is the worst possible time” for Detroit City Council and other municipal governments to consider cutting transit funding.

“Communities like Detroit have an enormous challenge before us, but it’s also an opportunity,” said Richard Murphy of the Michigan Suburbs Alliance. “It’s true that many of our suburban neighborhoods were built without considering the needs of an aging population. But many of the steps we could take to fix that – improving public transportation service, retrofitting our streets to be safer for walking – will improve quality of life for the entire community.”

“The basic findings come as little surprise as the locally available options are already being rationed,” said David Bulkowski, of Disability Network/Michigan. As the efforts to address this in our area progress, it is great to have a national framework to help show the widespread nature of the need and the many options available to address that need for seniors and persons with disabilities.”

The transportation issues of an aging America are national in scope, and cash-strapped state and local governments will be looking for federal support in meeting their needs. As Congress prepares this summer to adopt a new, long-term transportation authorization, Aging in Place, Stuck without Options outlines policies to help ensure that older Americans can remain mobile, active and independent, including:

• Increase funding support for communities looking to improve service such as buses, trains, vanpools, paratransit and ridesharing;
• Provide funding and incentives for transit operators, nonprofit organizations, and local communities to engage in innovative practices;
• Encourage state departments of transportation, metropolitan planning organizations, and transit operators to involve seniors and the community stakeholders in developing plans for meeting the mobility needs of older adults;
 • Ensure that state departments of transportation retain their authority to “flex” a portion of highway funds for transit projects and programs;
• Include a “complete streets” policy to ensure that streets and intersections around transit stops are safe and inviting for seniors.

“Today, about four in five seniors age 65 and older live in suburban or rural communities that are largely car-dependent,” said Megan Owens, executive director of Transportation Riders United. “Without access to affordable travel options, seniors age 65 and older who can no longer drive make 15 percent fewer trips to the doctor, 59 percent fewer trips to shop or eat out and 65 percent fewer trips to visit friends and family, than drivers of the same age. Also, as the cost of owning and fueling a vehicle rises, many older Americans on a fixed income are looking for lower-cost options.”

 To view the full report and see the extended rankings, please click:
 http://t4america.org/resources/seniorsmobilitycrisis2011/ ###
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