Wednesday, an all-too-common tragedy occurred in LA: an elderly driver slammed into a bunch of people. The event is notable for the extreme age of the driver, 100, and the number of people hit, 11, but in many ways it’s sadly ordinary.
These sorts of accidents usually prompt discussion about the rights of elderly drivers verses the safety of people surrounding them. That’s a good discussion to have and some modification of the status quo is certainly in order.
But the underlying problem in these cases isn’t that elderly people are driving. Instead, it’s that they often have no choice but to drive.
In cities across the U.S., driving remains the primary means of transportation. As a result, people of all ages must drive to get to buy groceries, visit the doctor, or do anything else.
Indeed a common argument against tighter restrictions on elderly drivers is that without cars they’d be trapped. That argument presupposes that there’s nothing within walking distance (or wheelchair-ing distance) of their homes and that without a car they’d have no means to access anything.
A two-pronged solution could end this problem without putting more cars on the road. First, walkability needs to be improved. Neighborhoods for elderly people actually need to be hyper-walkable, with amenities even closer to homes than in other areas. Sidewalks need to be wider — to accommodate disabled people — and benches and shade need to be abundant.
Second, elderly people (like everybody else) need greater access to public transit. They need to be able to access basic amenities on buses and trains, and they need to be able to get to more distant locations, like airports or neighboring cities. The transit needs to be affordable, intuitive, and safe.
Provo is in desperate need of these kinds of measures. As Mayor Curtis recently pointed out, the Provo-Orem area was just ranked the best place to age in the U.S. Among other things, that means the area has and will have a significant elderly population. Improving quality of life for that demographic, as well as ensuring everyone’s safety, is desperately needed. Improving walkability and public transit are clear measures to help accomplish that goal.