Pedestrian Safety a Focus of AARP Grants

Posted on 12/31/23 by Michelle Cerulli McAdams

When Betsy Johnson, 73, moved from Boston’s South End to Springfield more than a decade ago, she went from walking and biking everywhere to living in a place where the car is king.

Not wanting to give up her healthy transportation habits, Johnson turned her attention to improving pedestrian safety in her new hometown in western Massachusetts.

Springfield has “a huge number” of four-lane roads running through its residential neighborhoods, she says, making it dangerous for walkers. Ten pedestrians were struck and killed in Springfield in 2021—the same as in Boston, despite Springfield having a quarter of its population.

Last fall, Johnson helped launch a training program called the Walk Audit Academy to help Springfield residents learn how to assess safety and advocate for changes to make their streets, sidewalks and intersections more pedestrian-friendly. The initiative was funded by a $25,350 AARP Community Challenge grant to WalkMassachusetts.

It was one of seven Massachusetts projects that received AARP grants in 2023, with a total of $77,750 awarded. The grants, part of AARP’s Livable Communities initiative, provide funding for quick-turnaround projects that seek to improve the quality of life for residents of all ages.

Rebecca Delphia, senior adviser for AARP Livable Communities, says walk audits are a growing focus for AARP. In the audits, a group of people generally record how safe it is for pedestrians to walk in a particular area by measuring the speed of passing cars, timing pedestrian crossing signals and counting the number of cars and pedestrians passing through. Delphia notes that while older adults overwhelmingly want to remain in their communities as they age, people typically outlive their ability to drive by seven to 10 years.

“Older adults in particular are very vulnerable to pedestrian injury and fatality when hit by a moving vehicle,” she says. Walk audits can lead to meaningful changes, such as making a light longer to give older adults more time to cross a busy street or adding benches to give people a spot to rest, she adds.

In addition to the Walk-Massachusetts project, three other AARP grants in Massachusetts also went to walk audits, with each winner receiving $2,500.

  • The town of Dunstable conducted three walk audits in the town center near public facilities, conservation trails and small businesses.
  • In the city of Lynn, the Bike to the Sea organization completed three walk audits to assess challenges that older adults face when accessing the Northern Strand Trail.
  • The Downtown Taunton Foundation organized three walk audits in its business district to figure out the best route for a walking path.

Fast cars, short signals

Along with the training academy, Walk-Massachusetts conducted five walk audits in Springfield. Three of the audits zeroed in on different aspects of a major road called Roosevelt Avenue. Home to four schools and a housing complex for older adults, the street has speeding cars and short pedestrian signals for the few crosswalks that do exist.

Residents of the housing complex who want to walk to a nearby community center have to cross Roosevelt Avenue. One of the audits timed the traffic light at the crossing and determined that it needed to be longer in order for older adults to safely cross.

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Betsy Johnson checks the speed of passing cars. Photo: Doug Levy

“Change is possible,” Johnson says. “And this is a place where improvements are needed.”

The 2024 AARP Community Challenge grant cycle opens this month, with applications due in March. To learn more and see the full list of 2023 Massachusetts winners, visit
aarp.org/communitychallenge.

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Giving Caregivers an Exercise Break


When Cyndee Goodinson-Lindsey, who works with older adults at Attleboro Nor- ton YMCA, learned that several members were no longer com- ing in to exercise because they were caring for spouses with dementia, she started looking for a way to help.

“They would tell me how much they missed coming to the Y and seeing their friends,” Goodinson-Lindsey says. “And I saw their health declining because they weren’t being active [and] they weren’t being social.”

The solution? The Attleboro Norton YMCA won a $25,400 AARP Community Challenge grant in 2023 for a pilot program offering free care to older adults with dementia while their caregiver exercises or uses the facility for other respite.

The Y partnered with a local health care firm to provide certified nursing assistants and other staff for the service, which offers morning and afternoon slots on Tuesdays and Thursdays for eight to 12 clients per session.

Goodinson-Lindsey hopes they’ll expand to serve 30 to 50 older adults total within a year. Caregivers receive a free YMCA membership while their loved one is in the program.

She hopes members who are caring for their loved ones “can find some respite ... and get some of their own wellness back.”

Michelle Cerulli McAdams is based in Massachusetts and has written for the Bulletin for nine years. She covers health, medicine, politics and policy.

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