Coming of age in the Valley of the Sun in decades past meant open streets, vacant lots, and lots of literal wiggle room when it came to driving skill. Maybe six or seven other cars going from here to there. Tumbleweeds! The population boom has changed all that, and when our thoughts turn to traffic these days, we sometimes long for those dusty tumbleweeds and open spaces. So it's a good thing that the recent Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) "Transportation and Aging" conference provided a smart overview of increasingly flexible transportation options for older Arizonans. MAG also coordinates the Age Friendly Arizona initiative, which honors the needs of nearly 700,000 Arizonans age 65 and older.
Since isolation has been highlighted as a significant risk factor for poor health and premature death, getting "from here to there" is now properly viewed as a health issue. And while transportation to doctor appointments is essential, it is finally being acknowledged that older adults might also want to go other places, such as shopping, lunch, movies, friends' homes, worship, the gym, parks, the boyfriend's house, and more.
What we don't often consider is how traffic density impacts health in other ways:
- Congestion contributes to air pollution, which directly affects our ability to, uh, breathe. The Brown Cloud effect places us in the Top Ten -- some say Top Five -- most polluted metropolitan areas in the nation.
- Research also points toward air pollution as a contributing factor in cognitive impairment and dementia.
- Finally, more traffic means more risk of accidents and more stress, which is directly related to the top diseases that take our lives each year.
Anyone traveling today's roadways in Metropolitan Phoenix knows the challenge and complexity of making transportation work. The good news is change is happening: both public and private interests are investing heavily in making traffic make sense. Public policy is starting to reflect the social costs of private car ownership (Manhattan just implemented congestion fees, which, as it turns out, have nothing to do with sinuses). Private entrepreneurs are partnering with public entities to work towards solutions. While the Western U.S. is still very much a "car culture" (it worked really well for a long time) the increasing social, economic, and public health costs of this dependency will surely shape decisions in years ahead.*
*if you live on Campus and are thinking of giving up the keys and want to talk about how to still get from "here to there," let's talk about options. Call Josephine at x16117.