OPINION: GUEST OPINIONS
By Lenna Kottke
The keen observations noted by Spense Havlick in his recent column, “The graying of Boulder” (Daily Camera, Feb. 18) come as no surprise to us at Via. For well over a decade, Via has been conducting growth scenario planning by community in order to prepare for the transportation and mobility options needed by the rapidly increasing population of people living with mobility limitations, including older adults. We have been well aware of this growth long before it became fashionable to speak of it. For Via, the surge Mr. Havlick anticipates has arrived.
In 2004, Via’s “serviceable population” in Boulder — those whose driving is limited by age, disability or health condition — was approximately 3,200 individuals. By 2030, that number will exceed 7,500. While this group is a subset of the larger demographic shift well-documented in the 2015 TRENDS Report produced by the Community Foundation, Via’s target population will grow at even faster rates than the larger older adult cohort. In 2015, Via served almost 1,200 Boulder residents in its paratransit, travel training and mobility options programs. More will need our services in the years to come, especially if current building and land-use trends continue.
Via’s foresight and planning illustrate Mr. Havlick’s viewpoint that the graying of Boulder is being met rather well at present. However, as current trends continue, that won’t last for long.
It is not financially feasible, nor desirable, to answer the growing need by simply putting more paratransit vehicles on the road. That’s why Via provides mobility options such as travel training to teach people how to use RTD public transit, supplementing our paid drivers with volunteer drivers, and maximizing use of other transportation resources through education, information, and referral. We also are evaluating different technology platforms and on-demand models that can promise accessibility and safety to vulnerable populations. Funders and planners must look at supporting and planning for these types of programs as additional options to ensure mobility for this important and growing subset of our community.
In addition, we must look at how to retrofit our communities with transportation options, housing and land-use patterns that support people living independently as long as possible…i.e., aging in place. The current affordable housing dialogues must consider the relationship between accessible housing and accessible transportation. To build housing, hospitals and other facilities needed by older adults and others with limited mobility on the periphery of communities where there is little or no public transit is sure to contribute to increased isolation as well as increased cost of supportive services such as those Via provides.
Seniors across all audiences targeted in the 2013 National Council on Aging study believe their communities should make more investments in transportation, health care services, and housing. “Better transportation options” was the highest-rated investment choice in the survey, surpassing health care and housing.
The graying individuals Mr. Havlick observes during his attendance at events such as the Conference on World Affairs, Boulder Philharmonic concerts, and city recreation centers are the fortunate ones. Many have gotten to those wonderful community events on their own. Daily, we see and talk to individuals and their family members seeking assistance because the nature of their mental or physical challenges limits their ability to take advantage of such experiences without some help in getting there. We do not perceive these individuals as social liabilities. We prefer to reframe aging and its associated changes as a transforming experience, both for the individuals themselves and for the inclusive communities that value them.
Via is challenged to realign, sustain and grow our services to ensure that people with limited mobility receive the help they need to maintain their independence and connection to the community. We’ll need the cooperation and partnership of land use, transportation, and affordable housing planners, as well as the media and funders, to ensure mobility for all.
Lenna Kottke served as Executive Director of Via Mobility Services from 1991-2016