Aging Baby Boomers Could Help Push Walkable Infrastructure

Ed Yourdan via photopin

Ed Yourdan via photopin

America’s population is aging. Nearly a quarter of the population, 76 million people, were born between 1946 and 1974, and an estimated 10,000 baby boomers reach traditional retirement age every single day.

It turns out that walking is an incredibly popular form of exercise for this age cohort. Walking is low impact, has zero entry cost, and comes with a host of health benefits, from slowing bone loss to reducing heart attack risk.

Transportation walking among seniors, as well as recreation or exercise, is also on the rise. A recent Dutch study concluded that an increase in “functional features,” including sidewalks and benches, combined with an increased number of destinations within a 400 to 800 meter buffer led to increased transportation walking among the study group aged 65 and older.

According to this 2012 paper by sociologist Peter Tuckel and Urban Planner William Milczarski, adults over 60 (empty nesters and those approaching retirement age), when given a choice (in a survey) between living in a typical “suburban sprawl” community or a “smart growth community characterized by mixed housing, ample sidewalks, and access to businesses and public transit,” opted for the smart-growth communities more than any other age group surveyed.

This segment of the population is also the wealthiest in the nation, has an enormous voting block, and frankly, has a lot of political capital. Advocacy seems to have focused largely on Millennials and their changing preferences. It’s time to get the Boomers on board, too. Together, these two groups make up 50% of the US population. Maybe we can bridge the generation gap with sidewalks and bike lanes.

Rebecca Airmet

About Rebecca Airmet

Rebecca is a Twin Cities transplant from the mountain west. She is an editor, writer, and bicycle advocate with Saint Paul Women on Bikes. She enjoys riding fast and far with her husband and nice and easy with her kids.

7 thoughts on “Aging Baby Boomers Could Help Push Walkable Infrastructure

  1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    “Maybe we can bridge the generation gap with sidewalks and bike lanes.” Here here!!

    One of the more amazing aspects of riding around The Netherlands is how many people there are older than this curmudgeon (and that takes a little bit) riding bicycles. Gobs and gobs of older couples and often holding hands (priceless). A lot of couples with one on a bicycle and another on a mobility scooter (and often holding hands).

    At cafe’s and grocery stores it’s quite normal to see an older person (or younger) pull up on their bicycle, step off using their bicycle to steady themselves, and pull a crutch or cane out of a holder on the rear rack. Sometimes there are walkers left available next to bike racks for people who need them once they arrive on their bicycle (or tricycle).

    Not everyone is heading to the cities though. Shoreview is attracting a number of older folks of accumulated wisdom thanks to its path network that allows most people to ride a path to many local amenities. It’s far from Dutch or even Copenhagen standards but isn’t bad and mostly does the job.

  2. Rebecca AirmetRebecca Airmet Post author

    Walker, thanks for sharing your experiences in Copenhagen. I think you’re right in that “smart-growth” communities, with mixed housing and local amenities/businesses, don’t have to be metro urban centers. They can also be suburban or small town centers. Bedroom communities and 7-lane stroads are a bigger hinderance to a sense of community than not being in an urban center.

  3. Julie Kosbab

    That said, we need to understand that smart growth also involves other amenities. An active senior who requires knee surgery after falling on stairs is not walking to PT or other appointments, or even hopping a motorized wheel scooter (not in a knee immobilizer). Nor are they driving themselves anywhere or using car share. Note that this is a reasonably short-term scenario, and not one in which a skilled nursing facility is called for or in scope.

    So you still need a solid network of ability to park and drive, whether through specialty public transport services or reasonable coverage for care-cab type services via Medicare.

    So the answer to accommodating aging requires a variety of creative approaches to transport, and probably a good kick in Medicare.

    1. Rebecca AirmetRebecca Airmet Post author

      Thanks for the link, Sam. I didn’t see that article. Glad to see that there is some increasing awareness of transportation planning with retirement planning.

  4. Elaine Clisham

    You may be interested in a project we recently completed in New Jersey, in which we evaluated every municipality on four key land-use characteristics that are helpful to older people: We then looked at where older people in New Jersey actually live. To no one’s surprise, there’s a huge mismatch in New Jersey between aging-friendly places and where most older people live. Huge challenge, and opportunity, for municipalities. Anyway, the things we studied match closely those you write about here.

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