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Thanks, Max Westerman

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with long-time Active Trans member Max Westerman, who reminded me of an increasingly important set of issues that are often overlooked and undervalued in our advocacy dialogue: safety and consideration for older adult pedestrians.

Max has been an avid cyclist for many years, and told me he has regularly enjoyed riding in Chicago throughout his life. Although he's been scaling back on biking considerably of late as he ages, he's truly enjoying getting to do more walking.

Max also noted that living in a walkable neighborhood is a terrific benefit to him as an older adult, which illustrates one of the most compelling reasons to promote walk/bike/transit friendly communities: the ability to age in place without being dependent on an automobile to get around.

But Max's main reason for calling was to bring attention to another issue that's fast becoming a big concern for him: bicyclist behavior and consideration of older pedestrians. Max said that he's been nearly knocked over on a few occasions by people riding on the sidewalk — including parents with children.

Anyone who's lived with or cared for an older relative or friend knows that a simple fall can be a profoundly disabling event for seniors. Sidewalks are pedestrian territory, period. Bikes need to behave accordingly when occupying these spaces (assuming it's legal in that community).

Crossing streets is certainly no picnic for pedestrians in general, and for older adults this can be especially dangerous as they often require more time to clear a crosswalk. While the biggest threat of death or injury obviously comes from crashes with motorists, bicyclists also need to remember that pedestrians have the right of way in crosswalks and that we're required to stop for them.

Where senior citizens are concerned, this is especially important, as evidenced by the recent tragic death of Coral Kier, 86, struck by a cab on Sheridan Road (read Bike Walk Lincoln Park's excellent blog post on the subject).

Finally, there's this: the universe willing, we will all be older adults one day. I used to have trouble fathoming this, before hitting middle age and the accompanying signs of a deteriorating body.

We will all hopefully be in Max's place, fortunate to live in an area where we are within walking distance to shopping, recreation and health care. So let's all pay it forward now and jealously protect the ability of older folks to get around safely, whether on foot, bike, bus or train.

If you live in the City of Chicago and are interested in continuing the conversation about Safe Routes for Seniors, contact Jerad Weiner at the Chicago Department of Transportation, at 312.742.7621, or via email at jerad.weiner@cityofchicago.org.