Livable Travel Environments


Many people, including older adults, live in communities where driving is required. Residential housing is located far from grocery stores, medical offices, and other community features. Too often, no public transportation options are available. Residents should not have to rely on driving for transportation. Public transportation and sidewalks are essential features of safe, accessible communities. More can be done to ensure that walking and biking are safe, viable, accessible, and pleasant transportation alternatives for all. Doing so can increase health and cost savings over the long term. In addition, careful planning for e-bikes can ensure that they help more older adults (and other users, such as those carrying children) to remain mobile via bicycle as they age. 

More livable communities can reduce people’s dependence on driving. Complete Streets policies ensure that transportation infrastructure is designed for everyone. This includes pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Walking and bicycling promote physical and mental health. They are essential to the Complete Streets model. And walking is the second most popular means of getting around (after driving). Safe pedestrian pathways are a key component in transit systems since walking is the most common mode of traveling to bus and rail systems. As such, it is Department of Transportation policy to incorporate safe, convenient walking and bicycling facilities into all surface transportation projects unless exceptional circumstances exist. Many communities are not designed to promote walking and bicycling. Residential areas are often far from commercial facilities. Sidewalks are often nonexistent or in poor condition. And crosswalk signals are often not timed for the slower pace of older pedestrians. Unsafe conditions for pedestrians are most pronounced in communities with lower incomes and communities of color. In particular, members of Black, Native American, and Alaska Native communities are more likely to die while walking than other racial or ethnic groups. Older adults are also overrepresented in deaths involving people walking. People age 65 and older accounted for 18 percent of pedestrian fatalities in 2020.  

Communities are increasingly seeking to address road safety. Vision Zero is a program that aims to design and manage roads and other transportation infrastructure to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries. Vision Zero assumes that people will sometimes make mistakes and sets up the road system to default to safety despite such mistakes. As such, it minimizes the risk of death and severe injury, including for pedestrians, cyclists, and others outside the vehicle. Vision Zero addresses the many factors that affect safe mobility. These include designing roads to promote the safety of pedestrians and cyclists rather than focusing primarily on convenience for drivers, setting and enforcing appropriate speed limits, and using technology to improve safety. 

Signal timing: The walking speed set for signal operations is one of the most important design and operational parameters affecting pedestrian safety, particularly for older pedestrians, who have an average slower walking speed. Federal law requires states to upgrade substandard traffic control devices and to comply with the standards in the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices. 

Signs and pavement markings: Safety can be enhanced through a variety of signs and markings on the pavement. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has published guidelines for road and highway design to improve safety for older drivers. 

Supportive programs: Prompt medical attention following a crash is a strong determinant of survival. This is particularly the case for older adults because of their increased risk of fragility and frailty. The Yellow Dot program is an example of a voluntary driver-safety initiative. Motorists place cards in their vehicle listing emergency contacts, medical history, allergies, and doctors. This provides first responders with vital information about motorists who have been involved in a crash and cannot communicate. These types of programs can limit the risk of fatality or severe injury after car crashes. However, before instituting such a program, implementing agencies should be aware of potential concerns such as privacy, legal liabilities, and lack of information about the program by people outside the jurisdiction. 

Micromobility devices: Micromobility includes e-bikes, electric scooters, electric skateboards, and shared bicycle fleets. They both expand mobility options and present challenges for communities. On the positive side, they offer low-cost and flexible alternatives to driving. For example, they may give people who live too far to walk to a transit station the ability to get there without a car, enabling them to use a robust public transit system to commute rather than driving. They are therefore especially valuable in areas underserved by the current transportation system. However, they can also make it more challenging for pedestrians. For example, dockless rental bikes and scooters can be left anywhere and do not have to be attached to a docking station. They are sometimes parked on the sidewalk in a manner that obstructs passage for people with disabilities and other pedestrians. In addition, people sometimes ride micromobility devices on sidewalks at fast speeds. Some also ride them without a helmet. 

Personal delivery devices (PDDs): PDDs, sometimes known as delivery robots or sidewalk robots, allow contactless delivery of food and merchandise. They offer convenience. However, an influx of delivery robots could pose sidewalk safety and accessibility challenges. 



Complete Streets

Policymakers should create communities that provide a range of safe mobility options. They should adopt and fully implement Complete Streets policies to enable safe access for users of all ages and abilities. Policymakers should prioritize the safety of all road users. This includes pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and public transit users. Pedestrians, including people with disabilities, must have priority on sidewalks. For example, micromobility devices should not be parked in a manner that obstructs passage on the sidewalk. 

Vision Zero

Policymakers should adopt the Vision Zero program for road safety. They should set ambitious yet achievable interim road safety targets to improve performance and accountability toward the goal of zero deaths. 

Micromobility devices

Intentional planning is needed to balance the need for micromobility devices (including e-scooters, e-bikes, and dockless bike shares) with the goal of ensuring safe passage for all. These options should be expanded in areas underserved by the current transportation system while ensuring safety. 

Personal delivery devices

Policymakers should ensure that personal delivery devices are deployed in a manner that supports pedestrian safety and accessibility, including for older adults and people with disabilities. States should allow localities to regulate the use of personal delivery devices. 

Transportation design

Congress should provide financial incentives for design modifications that improve the travel environment for older adults. It should strengthen requirements that support the safety of infrastructure for all road users, including pedestrians and cyclists. 

Congress should require federally funded highways and roads to have clearly visible markings and signs, more lighting, and safe entries and exits. 

State and local governments should require and fund safe, well-maintained facilities and environments for non-drivers. These include sidewalks, crosswalks, benches, and bike paths. They should require emergency communications systems and traffic management plans. 

Local governments should expedite upgrades to substandard traffic control devices and install needed devices to conform to the crosswalk signal-timing revisions in the 2009 federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. 

Policymakers should focus on pedestrian safety and security in the design and operation of transportation facilities. 

Driver and highway safety: State and local policymakers should: 

  • make technological improvements; 
  • ensure the maintenance of and improved placement and visibility of highway signs, roadway markers, and pedestrian signs; and 
  • pursue engineering practices that increase public safety for all. This can be accomplished, in part, by adopting and implementing recommendations found in the FHWA’s Highway Design Handbook for Older Drivers and Pedestrians and by implementing a Complete Streets policy. 

Policymakers responsible for road design should apply Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Highway Safety Manual methodologies to their safety management and project development processes. 

State policymakers should inventory high-risk locations of all paved roads with posted speed limits of 40 mph or greater for skid resistance and establish priorities for correction. 

Improved Street Design: Policymakers should improve street design by incorporating design elements from the following publications: 

  • the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ Green Book, 
  • the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ Urban Street Design Guide and Urban Bikeway Design Guide, 
  • the FHWA 2014 Handbook for Designing Roadways for the Aging Population
  • the Institute for Transportation Engineers’ Designing Urban Walkable Thoroughfares Guide, and 
  • Proposed Accessibility Guidelines for Pedestrian Facilities in the Public Right-of-Way. 

Supportive Programs: Policymakers should support programs to promote the safety of vehicle occupants after car crashes. 

Alternatives to driving: State and local governments should provide information on alternative modes of transportation. 

Traffic enforcement

Traffic enforcement practices should be administered equitably, regardless of demographic or socioeconomic factors.