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Safe Routes for Seniors

DSC_0651The proven benefits of Walking

In this recent New York Times article, a new report from the Journal of the American Medical Association shows study results concluding that a prolonged program of walking (and other exercise) significantly decreases the likelihood of further physical disability in our senior population.  This is very encouraging news, but as our older community members are inspired to get out and walk more, it places even more importance on the need for safer, more pedestrian-friendly facilities and infrastructure.  All the more justification for our Safe Routes for Seniors effort!  Find out more below.



What are we doing?

Safe Routes for Seniors is COAST’s latest project, begun in June, 2012. Funded by Measure A and the Santa Barbara Foundation, the purpose of this project is to improve pedestrian infrastructure for seniors and the mobility-challenged in Goleta and unincorporated eastern Goleta Valley.

COAST is conducting a 2-year survey consisting of public outreach and research to put together a comprehensive matrix of attention areas for potential future capital improvement projects. Neither jurisdiction has a pedestrian master plan, so they will rely on this study to assess the state of the current facilities and the attention areas that need to be addressed. The resulting matrix will serve as a resource to guide the agencies when deciding where future capital projects are most needed.

How are we doing it?

COAST is conducting a needs assessment study for the government agencies that incorporates extensive public outreach. The surveying is being done by COAST with guidance from these government agencies. Our job is to find out where area seniors and the mobility-challenged are regularly going and what obstacles and infrastructural challenges they face. These could include missing ADA ramps, cracked or missing sidewalks, crossing signals that don’t allow enough time to cross, and other unsafe pedestrian conditions. We will also assess the needs of bus riders and cyclists, where possible.

Our approach to pedestrian safety is based on public outreach. We have gone to places where seniors and the mobility-challenged live or congregate, and have surveyed them about their needs.  We have thus far met with nearly 350 residents to gather feedback.

Using the compiled feedback from surveys and forum discussions, we are developing an online interactive map of attention areas, highlighting locations that are in need of improvements. In a time of limited resources, it is important to target our efforts in those place that get the most use or present the most critical safety risks. Some such locations include shopping and residential complexes such as the Calle Real (shopping) Center, the Goleta Valley Community Center, Encina Meadows, Encina Royale, Maravilla and Alpha Resource Center.

The results of this public outreach will be supplemented by our own surveys of facilities, pedestrian counts, and observations of pedestrian and driver behavior. Our initial Project Director, Caitlin Carlson, was trained in these techniques in a program offered by the Office of Traffic Safety, and is a certified expert in bicycle and pedestrian safety.

Why is it important?

The danger is real: On Calle Real, 90-year-old Mary Robles was killed on September 12, 2011 when crossing the street at Kingston Ave in Goleta.

Supported by new mobility technology and federal law, there are more handicapped people who are leading active and normal lives. The same goes for seniors. People today are living longer and staying active longer. In the United States, people over 65 today comprise 13% of the population, up from 4% in 1900. This is estimated to increase to 19% in 2030. Santa Barbara has an even larger share of seniors because people like to retire here.

Seniors also walk more than others. They know it is healthy for them, and in their retirement, they are less in a hurry. Many walk out of necessity and need to get safely to and from bus stops as they are no longer able to drive. Being able to walk safely and use public transportation can enable seniors and the handicapped to live independently when they otherwise might not be able to do so.

At the same time, seniors and the mobility-challenged are especially vulnerable as pedestrians because they are slower than their younger counterparts and may have physical limitations. Older people, if they do get hit by a car, are more likely to die of their injuries. The percentage of pedestrian crashes resulting in death exceeds 20 percent for pedestrians over age 75, compared to less than 8 percent for pedestrians under age 14. As our population ages, this problem will only increase.

Our streets were often designed to move cars, not people on foot. We need to restore the dignity of pedestrians, especially those who are aging and vulnerable.

Has there been anything like this project before?

The only thing close to what we’re doing has been in New York City. They have had a Safe Routes for Seniors program since 2003. Transportation Alternatives, an organization much like COAST based in New York City, started it until the City took it over. As a result of their work, New York City has installed curb extensions, refuge medians, longer walk phases, and other safety measures to help an aging population.

How else can Safe Routes for Seniors help our community?

The approach of working with a group of stakeholders, surveying their needs and developing maps for certain centers of activities was pioneered by the Safe Routes to School movement. It can be applied to other vulnerable populations, such as seniors and the mobility-challenged. It can also be applied in other jurisdictions. Moreover, while the results are specific to a certain place, this community outreach approach is portable.

We will also be watching for patterns that may emerge, problems that are pointed out again and again, and this may be transferable to other jurisdictions. Walking, by definition, is local, but the problems encountered by walkers may well point to a regional pattern. This could be helpful to other jurisdictions that are facing the same problem: There are ever older and more mobility-challenged people using our streets.

Want to get involved? Have questions or feedback?

Please contact us at or call (805) 875-3562. We hope to hear from you!

Source for Statistics:

View Safe Routes for Seniors in a sample Google map.