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Editorial – Better biking, walking conditions offer older Mainers a chance to age in place (BDN)

By April 24, 2015Featured Posts

This article originally appeared on bangordailynews.com

Better biking, walking conditions offer older Mainers a chance to age in place (BDN)

Posted April 23, 2015, at 11:56 a.m.
Making communities more livable is a goal that every urban, suburban and rural community in Maine can adopt. Achieving this goal requires reflecting the needs of the entire community, including older adults. By better integrating decisions, policies and actions, Maine communities can become more livable and sustainable, a positive achievement for residents of all ages.
It is well known that Maine is the oldest state in the nation. Half of Maine’s population is over 44 years old, and nearly 18 percent of the state’s residents are older than 65. This presents our state with some great opportunities and resources. For example, the biggest percentage of new businesses in Maine have been created by people over the age of 50. However, an aging population also presents Maine with challenges. Many of these challenges concern the long-term care needs of older adults, which can be particularly expensive if residents need to move into institutional settings instead of remaining in their own homes and communities.

A recent AARP survey of Mainers 50 and older showed that they overwhelmingly want to “age in place” in their own homes and communities as they grow older. Seniors who age in place continue to give their time charitably, support local businesses and remain engaged and invested in the communities they love.
One of the biggest challenges for people who want to age in place, however, is the lack of mobility options, which enable both independence and freedom. Mainers should have a range of safe, accessible, dependable and affordable transportation choices that include options for safe walking and biking.
By making our communities more walkable and bike-friendly, and by supporting robust public transit systems, Maine can enhance livable communities for everyone.
Something as simple as a well-maintained sidewalk can be helpful to residents of all ages. A parent with a child in a stroller will benefit from a safe crosswalk just as much as an older person using a walker or motorized wheelchair. A protected bike lane along a busier road could enable healthier seniors and other residents to use bicycles for errands or for basic transportation.
In more rural communities, safe road shoulders and sensible speed limits can encourage older adults to stay active. Staying active has huge long-term health benefits, so investing in walkable and bikeable communities, whether in town or in the countryside, helps adults of any age maintain a fitness level that can stave off high blood pressure and diabetes. Healthier residents signal a higher quality of life and a likely reduction in future medical expenses.
In addition to improving the physical environment to support aging in place, changing the policy environment is equally important. Creating laws that make sure motorists drive safely in the presence of walkers and bicyclists can help improve safety for Mainers of any age. Establishing zoning policies that encourage bicyclists, drivers and walkers to safely share the road ensures easier access to services and stores.
The time to act on these important issues is now, and Maine is fortunate to have a number of partners working together to ensure that as Maine continues to age, it will be able to provide safe and sustainable livable community options. AARP Maine and the Bicycle Coalition of Maine have found common cause in the effort to make Maine a better place to walk and bike.
The Maine Legislature is currently considering two bills that would make biking and walking safer and more inviting. LD 1301, sponsored by Sen. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, would protect “vulnerable users” who are not in cars, clarify the responsibilities of bicyclists to ride safely, and require drivers to stop for pedestrians crossing the street. LD 193, sponsored by Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, would fund a multimillion-dollar backlog of sidewalk, crosswalk and multi-use path projects across the state. We applaud these efforts. To learn more or to get involved, go towww.bikemaine.org/action.
Transportation choices beyond driving are critical for everyone, especially older adults, who count on being able to get around as they age in their communities. Aging “successfully” means having sustainable options to stay connected to family, friends and services in order to thrive in a safe and comfortable community.
Let’s work together to make this a reality across Maine.
Nancy Grant is executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine. Amy Gallant is advocacy director for AARP Maine.