How will the city look after you as you age?
Yarra’s streets can be better for seniors if they can safely walk or roll on mobility scooters to shops, activities or their friends houses. Even better, if streets are shaded by trees and have seats and places to rest, meet and socialise.
Freedom to get around
People who are older (and people with disabilities) deserve the ability to move safely, conveniently and enjoyably around Yarra. As people become too old or unwilling to drive, their best available transport options within 20-minute neighbourhoods are walking, e-biking, rolling (on mobility scooters) and public transport. The most effective way to enable these transport options is to fund the construction of a best practice network of protected footpaths and protected bicycle paths throughout Yarra, including level access to trams and buses.
Walking (or rolling with a mobility scooter) is the easiest, lowest cost option for seniors, and requires a network of wide, even footpaths. The Global Street Design Guide describes how to design a good footpath, including “provide sufficient width, 1.8–2.4 m, so two people using wheelchairs can comfortably pass each other. In shopping streets with heavy pedestrian volumes the width should be 2.4–4.5 m.”
Seniors would benefit from more pocket parks, rest stops (e.g. seats on footpaths, next to a tree) and places where people can interact. The City of Yarra should not offer the excuse that “many streets in Yarra are too narrow to accommodate traditional park bench style seating”. Yarra has enough public land to build a footpath network that complies with best practice, including seating. All we have to do is reallocate space from on-street parking to walking (and bench seats).
As people age they may lose their ability or confidence to operate a motor vehicle, however they can still ride. Within 20-minute neighbourhoods, cycling is an option that offers almost as much independence as a car; but without the cost and risk of harming other street users. There are two barriers preventing older people from cycling; getting up hills and the fear of being hit by a car. These two barriers can be solved by modern e-bikes and by constructing a network of protected bicycle lanes and shared zones.
Economically rational investment
Note that it is economically rational to invest in safe travel infrastructure (such as wider, level footpaths) because this enables people to age longer in their own home; and to live healthier, happier lives with less need for external care and support, thus imposing a lower total cost to the ratepayer and taxpayer, across all levels of government.
Yarra’s Ageing Strategy
Yarra has an Active and Healthy Ageing Strategy with a vision that includes:
The City of Yarra is an Age-Friendly City…Our environments and public spaces are safe and supportive…Active and Healthy Ageing Strategy
The strategy identifies a key theme as:
The key to living well in Yarra is the ability to independently access a variety of programs and support services which allow them to connect to other people and experience the health (mental and physical) benefits of socialisation and exercise.Active and Healthy Ageing Strategy
The strategy identifies several goals, including:
GOAL 1: Outdoor spaces: …increase mobility and decrease car dependency.
GOAL 2: Transport: People 50+ can get out and about…Active and Healthy Ageing Strategy
However, the strategy fails to recommend significant increase in the budget for wider, smoother footpaths, including continuous footpaths (raised threshold treatments) at intersections. Indeed Actions 1.1.2, 1.1.3, 1.2.1, 1.2.2, 1.3.1, etc all claim that upgrades and improvements can occur within existing resources. This is false. Yarra needs to increase its expenditure on walking, cycling, place making and public transport by an order of magnitude. We need improvements to many footpaths in Yarra, because too many are too narrow or obstructed.
Guidance from the CNU
Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) writes that an ageing population needs walkable, bikeable cities:
According to Jana Lynott, senior strategic policy adviser with the AARP Public Policy Institute, we outlive our driving years by on average a decade.1 One in five people over 65 don’t drive. By age 80, 65 percent are no longer driving, while only 40 percent have difficulty walking. Seniors eventually have to give up driving even as they are still able to walk…Help older residents understand their future will probably involve walking and biking instead of driving, not the other way around. Active transportation facilities can help them maintain their independence when they can no longer drive.CNU