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Making senior transportation sustainable 

The Mitchell Park parking-lot controversy reminds me of the challenges and the opportunities awaiting us. I’m 70 years old and want our grandchildren to enjoy a livable planet and that desire summons the buzzword, sustainability. Every politician talks about it, at least before elections. The United Nations-convened World Commission on Environment and Development writes that sustainable development must meet “the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” As children, adults, and seniors we all have mobility needs. The professional transportation planner considers transportation sustainable when it:

  •     Allows mobility in a manner consistent with human and ecosystem health and with equality within generations;
  •     Is affordable, operates efficiently, offers choices of transportation modes, and supports a vibrant economy;
  •     Limits emissions and waste to the planet’s ability to absorb them and minimizes consumption of resources to what is sustainable.

What are the implications for you and me? We all face a challenging task when it comes to air pollution caused by cars. Governor Schwarzenegger mandates the reduction of earth-warming gases, called greenhouse gases (GHG), pertaining to transportation as follows: By 2010, GHG emissions shall be no higher than 2000 levels; by 2020, GHG levels shall not exceed 1990 levels; and by 2050, such gasses shall be 80 percent less than 1990 levels. Is the climactic point of no return unavoidable? No, but only if we act decisively in the coming five to 10 years, according to leading scientists.

Last August I attended an excellent conference in Santa Barbara with the staff of our Air Pollution Control District and our planning agencies. The conference was hosted by the Local Government Commission and by the Attorney General of California. I can happily report that positive innovation is underway from Silicon Valley to Abu Dhabi.

What do I do as a transportation planner who also holds an additional master’s degree in ecology? I teach “Sustainable Mobility” and “Public Transportation” at Cal Poly. Some of the sustainability plans my students made for this county can be seen under www.ceenve.calpoly.edu/jud. In the last 14 years I have had the privilege of implementing or consulting for several projects related to parking, transit, and traffic calming.

What could the future bring for seniors and persons with disabilities? I am working on a federally financed research project “Providing Senior Citizen Mobility at Minimum Public Cost” and among others I discovered an interesting paratransit system. It is called the Service Route, and operates easily accessible buses hourly on a fixed route geared to the individual locations of seniors. It does not require advanced reservations. It does not fully replace our expensive door-to-door dial-a-ride systems but the combination leads to lower overall costs.

As Ride-On and our Regional Transit Authority are moving closer together, such a concept might be considered. The upcoming short-range transit plans of the city and county propose considerable improvements including a more simplified fare structure for seniors. One does not only have to concentrate on parking. Unfortunately, however, the current discounted senior Ride-On shuttle may be suspended for financial reasons. The Runabout will remain in operation.

Eventually, we can hope that the federal government will subsidize free bus transit for seniors after 9 a.m. as is done in the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, we have to work with all kinds of innovative systems such as taxi involvement, senior ridesharing, developing more solidarity among seniors and more solidarity between seniors and other generations. Fortunately some of this is already happening at the SLO Senior Center, but it could be carried further.

The Mitchell Park controversy illustrated our dilemma. Sustainable transportation mandates reduction of vehicular traffic and protection of greenery, but other interests should be considered. Fortunately in this case the rights of persons with certified disabilities can be fully respected while reducing vehicular traffic and basically maintaining the park as a park. While this episode may be behind us I encourage you as well to promote sustainability with dignity and consistency wherever you can.

Finally, many have asked me why I keep insisting on the inconvenient message of sustainability. We find four valid motivations out there:

  1. Utilitarian: “It makes the air cleaner for me.”
  2. Humanistic: “It helps mankind.”
  3. Philosophical: “My worldview includes performing random acts of kindness.”
  4. Religious: “I believe in a divine mandate such as Judeo-Christian creation care”.

The latter is my personal path. I am happy that many people, and especially Christians, are now discovering sustainability.

At the beginning of 2009 let us do some liberating introspection, review our values, consider lifestyle changes, and discover the deeper meaning of life!

Eugene Jud is a licensed civil engineer in all European Countries and a fellow of the Institute of Transportation Engineers with 46 years of professional experience.

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