On January 27, the League of American Bicyclists held a webinar in partnership with and supported by AARP Livable Communities to discuss the League’s data insights and new efforts for improving bicycling among older adults. This blog provides a recap of the insights presented, and we hope that you’ll give the entire webinar a watch.
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Visit our Data Portal to read a deep dive on the trends in biking among older adults
Danielle Arigoni, Director of Livable Communities for AARP and a League board member, shared AARP’s ongoing work to create great communities for people of all ages, where older adults can safely continue to bike and walk as they age. The United States’ population is aging and by 2034 there will be more people over 65 than under 18. Data tells us that many people outlive their ability to drive by 7 to 10 years, making transit, biking, and walking essential to keeping people active and engaged in their communities. The Livable Communities program at AARP focuses on age-friendly policy changes for housing, transportation, and public spaces that enable people to stay active in their communities. If you have an idea to make your community more livable, AARP’s Community Challenge grant will open in February.
Ken McLeod, Policy Director at the League of American Bicyclists, shared insights about biking and walking among older adults based on federal data. Federal data on the prevalence of biking and walking primarily comes from the American Community Survey’s journey to work data, making it difficult to report on the prevalence of biking and walking as people retire (or bike and walk for other trips.) Despite that limitation, recent data shows that biking and walking are increasingly used by older adults in order to get to work, and that older adults have some of the highest rates of biking and walking for exercise.
Unfortunately, older adults have been disproportionately affected by recent increases in traffic violence for people who bike and walk. In 2009, 162 bicyclists age 55 or older were killed in traffic. In 2019, that number more than doubled with 365 people age 55 or older killed by a driver while bicycling. In comparing 2019 to 2009 data, overall 215 more people biking were killed in 2019, and, of those 215 people killed, 203 were over the age of 55—older people accounted for 94.4% of all additional fatalities. Data from the CDC shows that people age 55-59 and 60-64 have the second and third highest percentage changes in age-adjusted fatality rate over the last decade, with increases of 40% and 45% respectively.
Data from the National Household Travel Survey tells us that older adults would bike and walk more if they felt safer and that the primary reasons they do not feel safe are “heavy traffic with too many cars,” “not enough lighting at night,” and a lack of “nearby paths or trails” and “sidewalks.” These issues can be solved by state Departments of Transportation and local communities investing in safer places to bike and walk. Nearly 80% of people 55 or older killed while biking and walking are killed on streets owned by a state DOT or local agency. Despite this, state Strategic Highway Safety Plans rarely directly address the safety needs of older adults biking and walking.
The trends show why we must demand state DOTs and local agencies provide safer infrastructure for people of all ages. There are steps that people can take right now to make themselves safer. The League’s Smart Cycling program, led by Education Director Alison Dewey, provides skills and educational materials for individuals who want to learn how to be safer and more confident bicyclists. The League has Quick Guides readily available in a variety of languages, and AARP members can receive it for free. The Smart Cycling program also includes in-person instruction, connections with local educators and advocates, and education for drivers about how to behave safely around people biking.
For many people, getting on a bike can be a harrowing experience. Anthony Taylor of Slow Roll Twin Cities finished the webinar by discussing how Slow Roll events have been a critical part of engaging older adults and more diverse audiences in bike rides. A Slow Roll event is not a cycling event, but instead an event that is focused on connecting people to their neighborhood and community, with bikes. By focusing on making routes that people care about – whether visiting new restaurants, scenic views, or learning community history or geography – rather than the act of bicycling, Slow Roll events get people active and connected in a safe and accessible way.