A new piece of research from Eric Dumbaugh caught my eye — it finds that major arterials and areas with big-box stores are associated with a higher incidence of serious traffic crashes among older adults. The research suggests that a denser network of lower speed streets is safer for older adults, whether driving, walking, or riding a bicycle. Of course, this is not a huge surprise; as discussed in the AARP report Planning Complete Streets for an Aging America, older drivers fare better when speeds are lower and way finding is clear.
The newest research builds on earlier work by Dumbaugh (here is one recent paper), in which he finds that the streets that are safest for pedestrians were also safest for drivers.
This is a fundamental point for the Complete Streets movement to seize. As it grows and spreads, I’ve seen the movement described as primarily, or even exclusively, benefitting bicycles and pedestrians. This is a natural tendency, given just how desperately pedestrians and bicycles need safer streets. Yet to let it become a shorthand for bicycle and pedestrian facilities is to lose much of its power to upend our silo-based transportation planning system, in which each mode is treated as if it is a separate entity.
In fact, Complete Streets clarifies that streets are used by people riding buses and bikes, walking, and driving automobiles. Those people are young and old, slow and fast, with and without disabilities. Complete Streets policies are intended to ensure that transportation practitioners take all of that complexity into account in creating safer streets.
That complexity includes the surrounding land use — and the work of researchers like Dumbaugh should help transportation practitioners break out of another silo and make the case that their safety mission gives them some say over land-use decisions.
I’m told by Stefanie Seskin that we’ve recently crossed the 400-mark for Complete Streets policies at the state and local level. If we are successful, those policies will result in more than just a few bike lanes and sidewalks — they will encourage transportation agencies to discard the silos and take a holistic approach that creates roads that save lives while building better communities.