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Cities Adapting to Older Populations

Cities with high populations of older adults are beginning to alter their programs and street signs to make it easier to respond to senior citizens' needs.

"Ahead of a federal mandate that will kick in in 2012, Aiken has begun installing oversize street signs downtown and on major thoroughfares; they have increased reflectivity as well, designed to help older drivers who may not see as well as they used to.

In Mayfield, Ohio (23.8 percent over age 65), the large number of seniors who no longer drive threatened to swamp a program offering $3 rides for older people to doctor's offices, shopping and the like. Says Stacey O'Brien, director of the Tri-City Consortium on Aging, "The demand is far greater than we anticipated." After analyzing people's travel patterns and consulting with the managers of complexes with high senior populations, the consortium is making plans to move away from what has essentially been a taxi system and toward a scheduled shuttle that would run a loop among set locations such as grocery stores and medical facilities."

The U.S. population older than 65 is expected to nearly double by 2050.

Full Story: Towns change programs, enlarge street signs to adapt to an older population



Federal program to enlarge street signs Misguided

Yes, it is a good thing to adapt cities to older populations, but the federal rules requiring enlarged signs on every roadway everywhere (without exception) is an example of how a well-intentioned goal gets perverted so as to be counterproductive. The article in the Washington Post uses the example of a "town" not a city, and even supplies a picture of a typically rural intersection and roadway with a sign warning of a signal-light ahead. More significantly, the roadway is minus sidewalks and shoulders —a complete street it is not. DOT is using good public policy —adapting cities for the elderly, to sell a bad law with huge social and financial costs, but with almost non-existent benefits.
Planners and communities have been taking part in a decades long fundamental shift, moving away from the convenience of over-engineered highway solutions, to cities that are "livable," by moving from streets that are "fast" to streets that are "complete." In most urban settings and particularly those in older established central business districts requiring highway-size signs, which is what the new federal regulations do, may assist the sight-challenged elder on their way to getting their eyes checked, but it will have a far more pernicious effect on city streets. Wayfinding signs will be illegal and the notion of "context-sensitive design" relegated to local streets only. Crammed with over-sized traffic signs streetscapes in many cities will become more highway-like than the modally integrated complete street some of us have been working toward. One-size rules do not fit all. And while appropriate in some contexts, large highway signs just do not belong on most city streets or in downtowns. This rule needs to be modified before it goes into full effect. If you live in a city, contact your elected officials to get this costly and dumb rule fixed before it’s too late.
Thomas J. DeSantis, AICP

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