Envisioning More Livable Cities

Livable Communities
Envisioning More Livable Cities
By Mac McLean

Talent is a city in Southern Oregon that’s home to 6,500 residents (Courtesy Talent Chamber of Commerce)

The city of Talent has spent nearly 30 years turning its downtown into a thriving community where people can get the amenities and services they need regardless of their age.

t’s a transformation that AARP Oregon hopes to make in other parts of the state through its Livable Communities program.

“It’s kind of fun to be on the front side of this effort,” said Talent Mayor Darby Ayers-Flood, reflecting on the work the city of 6,500 people has accomplished.

Last summer, AARP Oregon kicked off the most recent phase of this initiative by holding 13 public forums to find out what residents like about their communities as well as how to improve them.

Last summer, AARP Oregon kicked off the most recent phase of this initiative by holding 13 public forums to find out what residents like about their communities as well as how to improve them.

The organization recently compiled its findings into a report that it hopes will help state and local officials prepare for a future in which 1 out of 5 Oregonians will be 65 or older by 2025.

In 1991, the Talent City Council formed an urban-renewal agency to improve downtown by building parks, burying power lines, installing light posts and providing grants to business owners to update building facades.

The agency also added bike lanes, sidewalks and bus stops to the area’s key roads.

Ayers-Flood, mayor since 2015, said these early investments—particularly those involving the city transportation infrastructure—drew a steady flow of pedestrian and vehicle traffic to the area. That brought new businesses, homes and residents.

The resulting development boosted the city’s tax revenue and helped pay down bonds used to fund the initial improvements.

The investment in transportation also improved access to services for older adults in nearby housing complexes.

Seeking community feedback

Bandana Shrestha, AARP Oregon’s community engagement director, said transportation issues were one of the most common concerns people mentioned at last summer’s forums.

Some people worried they might have to move if they could no longer drive, Shrestha said. Others continued driving because they didn’t have another way to get around.

“We heard from people who had to make very difficult choices,” she said.

  Shrestha added that Oregonians were anxious, too, about access to health care facilities and finding other homes or apartments so they could downsize.

These concerns were magnified in areas where housing prices were increasing and threatened to push people out of the neighborhoods they love.

Shrestha said many thought their voices weren’t being heard and wanted local leaders—who would steer any major community redevelopment effort—to better listen to their concerns.

Ayers-Flood said elected officials must do everything they can to involve their constituents.

The Talent Urban Renewal Agency is governed by a group of residents who make it a point to get as much community feedback as possible.

Even now, the mayor is looking for residents to join a steering committee that will help guide efforts to improve transportation and affordability in other sections of the city.

“We face the same problems that other cities do,” she said.

Learn more about the AARP Livable Communities initiative at   aarp.org/livable

This article was originally published in the AARP Bulletin on April 29, 2019

Vision Zero’s vision: No traffic deaths

Livable Communities

Vision Zero’s vision: No traffic deaths

By Mac McLean

Rob Zalo started working with the Vision Zero initiative after a family was killed while crossing a busy street in Springfield.

SPRINGFIELD, OREGON — Moments of tragedy can motivate people to work toward goals that seem out of reach.

Rob Zako’s call to action came in February 2015, when a pickup truck driver killed three young children and severely injured their mother while they were crossing a highway outside downtown Springfield.

“Lots of people cross the street at that intersection every day,” said Zako, executive director of Better Eugene-Springfield Transit—commonly known as BEST—a nonprofit dedicated to improving Lane County’s transit services.

Zako began aggressively urging local communities to adopt a Vision Zero action plan to reduce pedestrian deaths.

With help from AARP Oregon and the Eugene Springfield Safe Routes to School Program, Zako persuaded the Eugene City Council last November to adopt such a plan.

These plans commit local officials to work toward eliminating traffic fatalities and severe traffic injuries through the “Four E’s” of Vision Zero’s comprehensive approach: education, enforcement, engineering and emergency response.

Seventeen cities, including Portland, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle, have adopted a Vision Zero action plan, according to the network’s website. More than a dozen others are considering one.

“When cities adopt Vision Zero, they make significant changes in how they do business,” said Bandana Shrestha, AARP Oregon community engagement director and a member of Portland’s Vision Zero Task Force.

Older adults make up a disproportionate share of Oregon’s traffic victims. Between 2004 and 2013, people who were 65 or older made up 13.6 percent of the state’s population and 22 percent of its traffic fatalities. People who were 75 or older made up 6.4 percent of the population and 12.5 percent of its deaths.

The fatal accident that motivated Zako occurred when a driver “unwittingly ran a red light” at the intersection of Main and 54th streets, according to law enforcement officials. His vehicle struck Cortney Hudson-Crawford and her three children—ages 4 to 8—while they were in the middle of a crosswalk. The driver wasn’t drinking, according to news reports, nor did he have a history of reckless driving or other serious traffic infractions.

“Our understanding is that the driver got distracted,” Zako said. The traffic light at that intersection was working properly, he added, and the crosswalk was clearly marked.

Steps toward safety

But that doesn’t mean similar crashes are unavoidable, Zako said. He suggested that communities could run massive public education campaigns that identify the busiest pedestrian intersections and encourage drivers to slow down at those locations.

Localities could also lower speed limits around those intersections and ensure there is sufficient enforcement, he said. Other traffic engineering features such as roadway medians would make drivers feel that they were boxed in and encourage them to be cautious.

And finally, cities could increase the number of available paramedics and ambulances so that if there were a wreck, victims could receive medical care as quickly as possible, he said. That might keep a serious traffic accident from becoming a fatal one.

Under the Vision Zero program, a city must conduct a comprehensive study to identify its most dangerous roads and what resources could be used to improve their safety.

Both Portland and Eugene are now making their way through this part of the process.

Shrestha said AARP Oregon is holding its own “NeighborWalks” in Portland and sponsoring walks in Eugene to get more residents walking and thinking about pedestrian safety and what transportation options are available.

AARP also plans to hold pedestrian audits, in which people look at traffic hot spots and gather information, including how long the traffic and walk lights remain on so people can cross, whether drivers slow down or stop for pedestrians, and the condition of sidewalks and curbs. The information will be shared with the Portland task force.

“We want to educate Oregonians about ways they can be safer,” Shrestha said.

This article was originally published in the AARP Bulletin on July 1, 2016