Walking through the park
By Katy Bryce, for Commute Options

Baby boomers, those between the ages of 50 and 69, are happy to call Central Oregon as their home, for the active lifestyle, great weather and tight community. In 2010, 28.6% of the population in Deschutes County were baby boomers, making them the largest demographic in the county. And this is population is increasing rapidly! Between 2010 and 2014, the 65 and older population in Deschutes County grew by 31 percent—the fastest rate of growth in all of Oregon.

Central Oregon communities must make a serious consideration and commitment to provide safe transportation options for this large segment of our population as they age. Beyond driving their own vehicle—until they can’t afford it or are physically unable to—the two modes of transportation that seniors rely on are walking and riding the bus. Urban planning for livability, safe and pleasant walking infrastructure and accessible and efficient public transportation will all be key elements to providing transportation options for the boomer generation.

Urban planning and livability. Boomers and seniors will greatly benefit from compact communities with easily accessed services so they have the option to walk to basic amenities such as health and fitness facilities, pharmacies, supermarkets and banks. Allowing a variety of housing options, such as Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), shared housing arrangements, apartments and assisted living facilities can help provide centralized housing to access such services.

Walkability. Walking is considered the most healthy and inexpensive form of transportation for all ages—and a wonderful way to get exercise, especially for seniors. There are often barriers that can be improved upon to help promote walking. Complete streets with continuous, well-maintained sidewalks and curb ramps are important for safe and pleasant walking. Off-street pedestrian pathways, such as in parks and along the river, are best when they have good visibility, are well lit, and have a uniform surface.

Public Transportation. Older adults have different travel patterns than the average working commuter and they use public transportation differently, for trips such as visiting friends or shopping. Baby boomers did not necessarily grow up using public transportation, so they may not be familiar with timetables and route maps. Public transportation should have easy to understand timetables, and routes with a range of schedules to accommodate older populations. Buses, bus facilities and bus stops should also have physical infrastructure to provide safe and enjoyable bus riding such as covers and benches.

Rick Root was a Transportation Planner for the City of Bend for 20 years and understands the necessity for mobility for all ages. “The local transportation system is not just about making driving easier, less congested or more pleasant. It is also about making a necessary and proportionate investment in any infrastructure that will support senior mobility. The next generation of decision-makers will inherit the growing demands of the baby boomer population.”

Maybe you are a baby boomer or know quite a few baby boomers. It is up to everyone in our community to provide transportation options for this influential generation. Remember too, transportation options that are good for the boomers are good for all ages!

Commute Options promotes choices that reduce the impacts of driving alone. For more information, contact Executive Director, Jeff Monson at 541-330-2647 or visit www.commuteoptions.org

Katy Bryce is a freelance writer in Bend. www.katybryce.com