Recently I spent a week in Washington DC with the National League of Cities members. One of my primary goals was to learn what other cities are doing to address the needs of our senior neighbors, and as a tangential bonus I met transportation engineers who are addressing traffic congestion and pedestrian safety in the DC area for people of all ages. In other words, how is DC becoming Age Friendly?
DC gridlock is abysmal; their traffic is ranked the very worst in the nation by many measures. Being #1 in this instance is definitely not an honor.
We face similar problems in Seattle, especially during rush hour or during a bad event like a fish truck or propane truck flipping on a highway. WSDOT confirms what we already know: traffic delays continue in the central Puget Sound region because more cars and trucks than ever are trying to get through our relatively narrow corridor. See: WSDOT’s 2015 Congestion and Corridor Survey.
So if DC has the worst traffic, what’s to learn from them? Interestingly, traffic in one adjoining neighborhood south of Downtown DC runs much more smoothly than the rest of DC, and Arlington offers some best practices.
Like Seattle, Arlington County is a growing residential and jobs center. Thousands of new residents have moved in during the past decade and millions of square feet of commercial space have been added. Thousands more who are aging are choosing to stay there.
DC has recognized that “Every trip starts and ends with a walk trip, made either on foot or aided by a mobility device. With that in mind, cities with complete streets policies that accommodate all pedestrians are the foundation of an age-friendly city.” How to Create an Age-Friendly City, page 4.
Like Seattle, Arlington County’s transportation planners recognized decades ago that people would not be able to get where we want to go if all of us try to drive there. This is not an anti-car sentiment, it’s simply a fact: no matter how much we love our cars, more single-occupancy vehicles in our limited geographic space will not reduce congestion nor can traffic speed up.
Arlington tried some novel approaches early on, and the majority of residents and employees now plan their commutes differently – they ride a bus, take the Metro, car pool, walk or ride a bike to get to get between home and work. And by traffic planner’s measurements, 45,000 car trips have been removed from the streets of Arlington daily.
It’s hard to believe when we’re stuck in traffic, but Seattle has been implementing many of the same mobility management tools recognized as being successful in Arlington.
According to SDOT, 70% of us who work Downtown find ways other than driving alone to get to our places of work. I walk or ride my bike every day to get to City Hall. Watch this short video to see how the majority of us get around: Streetfilms – Seattle the Next Top Transit City to see what others are doing.
With much thanks to Seattle voters, we’ve said YES to funding more affordable housing along our light rail line and in our urban centers. Voters said YES to more transit hours and Rapid Ride solutions. Voters said YES to expanding our Link Light Rail north, south, and east. These approaches are helping now, and will make a big difference when fully implemented.
Combining those funded projects with our new Pedestrian Master Plan and Bicycle Master Plan strategies, we will be better able to get around. Through our Age Friendly Seattle efforts we will have mobility choices irrespective of our physical or financial capabilities.
What components will improve conditions for all of us? According to Kathy Sykes, Senior Advisor of the EPA’s Aging Initiative, “Making sure that there is adequate time to cross intersections, good lighting for visibility and safety at night, and having connected sidewalks for those who use canes or wheelchairs are some of the key things that communities can provide.” (Italics mine).
Consistent with our new Pedestrian Master Plan, I am promoting new ways to fund and improve sidewalks and crosswalks so everyone can choose to safely walk and make connections within our neighborhoods. We have models from other jurisdictions to follow for funding options, and this will be the topic of upcoming articles on this blog. Stay tuned!