Monday, December 08, 2008

Senior Citizens, Driving, and Development

:en:Category:Images of Pasadena, CaliforniaImage via Wikipedia

Every time there is an accident involving a senior citizen, there is always a question of should they have had a license? The worst accident I ever had was when a senior citizen got confused in an intersection and turned in front of on coming traffic which happened to be me. Despite getting behind the wheel of stock cars and racing, I was never injured but this accident not only put me out of work for a month, I couldn’t get back behind the wheel of a race car again.

Senior citizens have become the biggest victims of 70 years of auto centric development. The only way most senior citizens can get their basic needs is to continue driving despite impairments, depend on family members, or move into a retirement home.

When I was growing up in Pasadena, California my mother managed several apartment complexes along a street block. More than 70% of the residents were widows or widowers from 60 to 80 years old. Most of them did not have a car because they didn’t need one. There was a small grocery store on the cross street to the south and major doctors offices on the cross street to the north. The RTD (now Metro) ran regular bus service along the cross street to the south. Other major services were very close by.

Contrast that with the situation my in-laws are in. My father in-law is blind in one eye and cannot drive at night. My mother in-law has to do the driving at night but her driving skills have been compromised with age. The problem is, because they live in an area were they have to drive just to by groceries or go to the doctor, they continue to drive.

Many senior citizens feel that their lives are over without their cars because there is not alternative for them. This is largely what has fueled the market for retirement homes. Because these places are expensive, many senior citizens wait until it’s almost too late before deciding to move into one. In addition much like a mall (or Gateway), a retirement home is design to make the person dependent on the facility and not make it easy to access anything else. The residents can either drive if they are still capable or ride the facility provided vans to different stores.

In addition many of these facilities are placed in areas were it is convenient for family members to come visit grandma on Sunday, but not convenient for the residents to use public transportation or to walk to neighborhood stores.

The ones at 11400 South and 700 East are a perfect example of this. There is not public transportation available, nothing is in walking distance so the residents either have to drive or more likely is dependent on the facility provided vans.

After my father passed away my mother ended up in a situation very much like her former residents in California. She lived in a section of Spokane were she could walk to the store (or they would deliver), walk to a café, dry cleaners, doctors offices and other small stores, or had regular bus service from her front door to downtown. Despite not having a car she was able to live on her own until a stroke caused some major health issues and she had to be put in a nursing home.

Which situation would you rather be in? Forced to drive or go into a retirement home, or have the freedom to live on your own and not have to depend on others? Personally, I prefer the latter.

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Brad said...

You know, I've tried to tell people and warn politicians and other policy makers about the big wave of retirees that is coming that are going to feel slighted and let down. They don't seem to get it. I agree with you, and wish we had people that has some vision making determinations about how we develop and redevelop. Communities that are walkable are so much nicer for everyone involved. It is to bad that Density is such a bad word in the public eye. A bit more density and a lot better design would see a big shift in how things are perceived and how much freedom the very young and the elderly could have. The middle aged too when gas prices go back up. Lots of food for thought here.

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