Tuesday, June 06, 2023

We're unprepared for the Silver Tsunami

I was discussing Metro's Traffic Reduction Study for pricing roads (aka Congestion Pricing) to discourage driving. This very unambitious plan is targeting just three areas:
  1. DTLA (cordon area)
  2. I-10 between Santa Monica and DTLA (toll road)
  3. I-405 through the Sepulveda pass, including canyon roads (corridor pricing)
I wrote an analysis from a data-based and science (climate change, pollution) perspective, and encountered a lot of pushback. Everyone in the group is a driver, but I'm the only utility bicycle rider that rides in traffic. Others ride recreationally on the beach bike path or on low-traffic foothills roads. 

The reflexive response was, "What about the low-income (or moderate income) drivers?"

I was making maps using data from Los Angeles County CVA Social Sensitivity Index and was struck by how some areas of LA County are much older than others. That is, the coastal and hill sections have extremely high proportions of seniors.  It's especially dramatic if I map the census tracts by how many standard deviations they are from the mean. 

Darker magenta areas have more people over 65 years old than average. Bluer areas have fewer seniors. 

By implementation time for congestion pricing, today's 65 year olds will be > 73 yo. How long do you think they will be able to drive mountain roads? 

It gets more grim when I divided by transit access. These are high senior population percentage divided by standard deviations from mean transit access (which is already not great in LA County). 

Those are areas where we either need to improve transit and micro-mobility (for electric wheelchairs or sit-down scooters), or we need to move seniors out. Because people like to stay near their community, my preference is to coax them down from the canyons to multi-family housing where they are probably already driving for shopping, services, dining, recreation, or work. 

This leaves some voids in the flatter areas, which can be fixed by street space allocation, improved bus service, and some apartments near bike lanes & bus routes (hello, East Manhattan Beach). 

Anyway, congestion pricing is not going to harm seniors living in the canyons of Bel Air, Malibu, or Brentwood. They will soon age out of driving. It might cost them more to receive senior care in their homes if their caregivers have to pay to drive there. 

On the other hand, if it does improve traffic, then lower income workers will have more time for paid work and less unpaid time sitting in traffic. E.g. they can accept more clients per day because they will spend less time driving. This starts a virtue cycle where they won't have to pad their per visit charge as much, making senior care more affordable. 

You know what would create less traffic? If we let seniors live in congregate settings, where they each have their own small apartments, but caregivers are on site and can simply walk between clients. That would help alleviate traffic, the shortage of elder caregivers, and improve caregiver pay per hour. 

Instead of thinking about changes with fear, look critically at what is not working and how we might improve the status quo.