February 2014 Common Council – Bicycling and independent mobility for the elderly

My name is Bob Fisch and I am the Chief Bike Fun Officer of Poky Pedaling Stevens Point.

Tonight, I want to speak about bicycling and independent mobility for the elderly.

Although I bike and walk for most of my transportation, I do own two motor vehicles. I don’t drive them much, but when circumstances dictate, I do.

Twenty years from now, though, I likely shouldn’t be driving. Most in their 70’s and 80’s likely shouldn’t be driving. We all have loved ones we wish would come to this realization on their own. Twenty years from now, many of you will be among those who shouldn’t be driving.

But this doesn’t mean that our elderly should be severely restricted from engaging in civic life simply because they make the responsible choice to stop driving cars. They should have the freedom to move about our city safely, comfortably, and independently by bicycle.

Bicycling is not only an excellent transportation option for the elderly, it is also excellent for personal health. In cities which excel at accommodating bicycles, it is common to see those in their 70’s and 80’s on bikes. Poor health in one’s golden years is not inevitable. Rather, this is a result of conscious choices to adopt sedentary lifestyles that dismiss biking and walking as viable means of transportation.

If you are honest about your personal health, I suspect most of you wish it were much better. You probably realize that if you had options decades ago to make biking and walking an integrated part of your daily routine, then your current health problems would be greatly diminished.

We can’t change the past. But we can shape the future. Do you want your children and grandchildren to suffer through the same chronic health issues you currently face? Or do you want them to have good options for biking and walking, giving them a better chance at growing old in a healthful manner?

And as you age, do you really want to face the constant fear of injuring or killing someone because you feel you must drive a car to reach your destinations? Do you fear feeling trapped inside your home for lack of good independent travel options? Or would you prefer being able to ride a bicycle to visit family and friends and to come downtown for entertainment and shopping and to otherwise engage with civic life?

On the AARP website, a policy brief about transportation, public health, and safety includes the following goals: expand transportation programs that offer options to the elderly and disabled so that driving is not the only option, and make safe, convenient walking and bicycling the cornerstones of a higher quality of life.

(Source: http://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/livable-communities/learn/transportation/policy-brief-transportation-public-health-and-safety-aarp.pdf)

A city where a bicycle is a safe, comfortable, and convenient option for transportation allows people of all ages – children, young adults, parents, empty nesters, and the elderly – to participate fully in urban life. That sort of city is simply a better city. Let’s make Stevens Point that sort of city.

A transcript of these and my past comments to Common Council can be found on my website, PokyPedalingStevensPoint.org, under the Speak Your Poky menu bar item.

Thank you for listening.

Editor’s note: Three days after I gave this presentation to Stevens Point Common Council, a post appeared on the BikePortland blog entitled “Bicycling and an Age Friendly Portland” discussing the same issue. I share this link to point out that there is broad acknowledgement of the need to improve bicycling accommodations in every city in order to more fully include the elderly in mainstream civic life.