Learning about Walkable Communities and How to Create Them
In a rural, car-oriented community, what can you do when you are unable to drive?
Twenty seniors examined that question as part of “Making Connections: Mobility and Freedom As We Age,” a four-part workshop in September offered at Bugbee Senior Center in White River Junction.
Designed for people interested in helping solve mobility challenges facing older adults in the Upper Valley, the workshop examined not only the current choices for mobility in the Upper Valley but how we can work together to improve the options. The four sessions covered topics ranging from how we got to our current car-dependent transportation system to how we can all become advocates for mobility choices as we age. The series also connected seniors with regional leaders and culminated with a “walk audit” of downtown White River Junction.
The workshop was developed by Bugbee in partnership AARP Vermont, Advance Transit, Tri-Valley Transit, and Vital Communities and was designed by Claire Tebbs of Ear to the Ground. The project was made possible through a Mobility and Transportation Innovations (MTI) Grant from Vermont Agency of Transportation.
Led by Bugbee Executive Director Mark Bradley, the series featured guest contributors Kelly Stoddard Poor of AARP and John Haffner of Vital Communities. A session where local leaders connected with the participants also included guest speakers from relevant nonprofits and many levels of governance — just the people a transportation advocate would want to know — including Adams Carroll, Advance Transit Executive Director, and Mike Reiderer, Tri-Valley’s Community Relations Manager; Becca White, State of Vermont State Senator; and Lebanon City Manager Shaun Mulholland.
Participants said the topic truly hit home for them. “I’ve lived in Wilder for 60 years, but my son lives in Boston and I think about not being able to drive at some point,” said participant Geri Williams, a resident of Wilder: Through the workshop, she said, “I’ve learned to look at my community in a different way. For instance, there’s no sidewalk on my street. That makes it much harder to feel safe walking. We’re looking at what transportation services are available and what we need, what are the holes, the gaps, and how we can advocate for change. There are a lot of us older people, we’ve made a huge contribution to our communities but we’re kind of forgotten in our elder years.”
Williams’ fellow participant, Kate Keating, is a former longtime resident of Lebanon who relocated to White River Junction and purposely chose a home near an Advance Transit bus stop. She had found the workshop to be “inclusive and broad, with all the different ideas about how our communities were formed and could work better for everyone. We’ve talked about how we can get involved with making changes. And it’s been fun – we get to play with blocks!”
Now that the workshop has been taken for a test run, it may be offered in other communities around the state, said Vital Communities Housing and Transportation team member John Haffner, who helped plan the workshop.