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Mitch Barloga

Mitch Barloga is transportation planning manager for the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission.

Aging is certainly inevitable, but the impact is greater today than at any time in the history of our country. Those born after World War II -- between 1946 and 1964 -- are affectionately described as the “baby boomer” generation, which in turn produced a huge spike in our population. Now they are beginning to retire and settle into the “golden years.”

In Northwest Indiana, our aging population is even more pronounced. According to NIRPC’s 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan, our region is aging more quickly than both the state of Indiana and nation as a whole. A number of factors contribute to this, but one fact is clear: A need exists to make our streets safer.

Leading the charge nationally on this topic has been the American Association of Retired Persons, better known as AARP. Recognizing the growth of our aging society, they have been at the forefront of advocating “Complete Streets” policies to help our communities provide safe, walkable and livable streets that welcome everyone.

I have written on Complete Streets before in previous articles, but this topic has become a critical issue for those whose mobility becomes affected by age. As you would expect, as motor skills diminish, our senses are much more likely to become negatively impacted. This is most pronounced with our eyesight and hearing. Other infirmities include arthritis and joint issues, which may cause the elderly to resort to wheelchairs for mobility.

For most who age -- because of these physical shortcomings -- they lose their ability to drive. Because our society is so auto-centric in its land-use planning, this leaves many unable to accomplish basic errands without the aid of public transportation (if available) or safe streets.

Thus it becomes imperative that local policies be enacted taking into account our aging population by making certain our communities are walkable and accessible. A major step in this direction was the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, in 1990. I wrote about this back in March and the infrastructure designs satisfying this law.

As important as the ADA remains, it doesn’t help with the ongoing issue of streets without sidewalks and unsafe traffic conditions. Speeding has become a national epidemic threatening our daily lives. For the elderly, the threat is far more pronounced, and thus streets that run through residential and commercial districts must employ “calming” measures to slow traffic down and create a safer environment for walkers.

The AARP website at aarp.org offers a number of valuable resources to help those interested begin the process of enacting Complete Streets policies in their communities. NIRPC also offers a guide on the topic via our website at www.nirpc.org/greenways-blueways. Feel free to contact me at mbarloga@nirpc.org or 219-763-6060 if you have any additional questions.

Mitch Barloga is nonmotorized transportation and greenways planner for the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission. The opinions are the writer's.

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