Safe Routes for Seniors

Goleta, California

Senior pedestrians provide the local government with critical data on where capital improvement projects will improve safety.

Identifying the Issue:
The Coalition for Sustainable Transportation (COAST) provides advocacy, education and outreach to improve transportation options in the Santa Barbara and Ventura Regions of California. Since 1993, COAST has been promoting rail, bus, bike and pedestrian access. Following a series of collisions involving the elderly in Santa Barbara County, COAST determined that local infrastructure was unsafe for senior pedestrians.

Using a Familiar Jumping Off Point:
To create more pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods, COAST decided to start a Safe Routes for Seniors Project in the city of Goleta and the unincorporated eastern Goleta Valley. The Safe Routes for Seniors project is based on the Safe Routes to School model, a highly replicable model that pioneered the approach of bringing together stakeholders, finding out their needs, and creating useful maps based on findings. As an organization that already runs a Safe Routes to School program, COAST had the capacity and previous experience to replicate and adapt their methods. COAST also decided to hand over their work specifically to local government once it was completed. Transportation Alternatives, an organization in New York City, set a precedent for this process when it piloted a Safe Routes for Seniors program that the NYC Department of Transportation was then able to take over (NYC DOT Safe Streets for Seniors).

Connecting with the Community:
In 2011, COAST began conducting a needs assessment study. Over the course of two years, the Safe Routes for Seniors Program went where seniors and people with disabilities live, and worked with 348 older adults and a number of volunteers in workshops, forums, community walks, and one-on-one consultations. Throughout their work, COAST incorporated extensive public outreach to educate local older adults about pedestrian safety as well as to determine which areas and intersections seniors found most troublesome. From this outreach and research, COAST put together a comprehensive matrix of attention areas for potential future capital improvement projects, as well as an interactive Google map with 64 data points illustrating areas of importance and concern. (You can see a sample Google map here.)

Handing it Over:
In July of 2014, COAST handed over a final report, including the matrix and their data, to the city. The final report, which prioritized projects based on pedestrian counts and senior input, is a novel resource for both jurisdictions as neither has a master pedestrian plan. COAST acknowledges the report includes a list of projects that require substantial funding, which will take some time, but is happy to have already seen a few quick fixes that are important to safety, including light bulb replacement and paint freshening.

Lessons Learned:

  • Take advantage of and partner with existing resources: Many communities across the U.S. have Safe Routes to Schools programs. Bring your expertise on older adult pedestrian and activity needs and consider learning from and partnering with this program for mutual benefit (e.g., older adult eyes on the road during walks to and from schools).
  • Reach out to communities based on what interests them the most: When COAST started public outreach, they realized they drew the largest and most active crowds when they gave communities an opportunity to provide feedback on the issues nearest to their hearts. Rather than approach the whole town about one large project, COAST made sure to approach each community with issues specific to where they lived and what they experienced day to day. 
  • Identify and actively recruit volunteers who are invested in the cause: Volunteers played a crucial role in going out into the community and moving the project along. While COAST had six full-time staff able to work on pieces of the project, the energy and interest from the volunteers ensured the project secured the best results.
  • Connect with funders invested in you and your cause: COAST leveraged their existing relationship with the Santa Barbara Foundation, a consistent funder, to support the Safe Routes for Seniors project. 
  • Seek political support for funding that helps achieve your goals: In November 2008, 79% of voters in Santa Barbara County approved Measure A, a transportation measure that will provide more than $1 billion of estimated local sales tax revenues for transportation projects over 30 years. Measure A not only funds the Safe Routes for Seniors project, but also COAST’s Safe Routes to School program.
  • Encourage cooperation with public officials: Since COAST intended to turn the Safe Routes for Seniors project over to the local government, it was imperative that public officials understood the project and were on board. COAST enjoys a great relationship with many public officials. The Mayor of the City of Santa Barbara and a former council member are both on its Advisory Board.
Maintaining the Momentum:
Now that COAST has turned the project in Goleta and the unincorporated Goleta Valley over to city officials, the organization is expanding its work into the city of Santa Barbara, starting with a senior walking program once a month to continue collecting data. The continued efforts of COAST provide the project momentum as well as ongoing connection and support for the seniors involved.

Rebecca Waid, Project Director, COAST

USAging Fact: Learn about your peers’ work—and how it can fit into your agency’s goals! The AIA Awards recognizes successful and innovative programs that USAging members have developed to serve older adults. Get inspiration from our 2023 winners!