My friend told me a story that left us both in tears.
An elderly man—who spent his career working in our community—had come into the medical clinic where she works to be assessed for his ability to keep his driver’s licence. Prior to his appointment, he told my friend how his career had been worked on Jasper Avenue in Edmonton, that he feared losing his licence and that his wife’s health was failing. She sincerely wished him luck as he walked down the hall into the examination room.
Some time later, she knew the news the clinician gave him wasn’t what he wanted to hear. She could hear shouting, things being thrown, the man threatening to end his own life.
As she recounted the experience, we both wept.
This man’s story has stuck with me and has kept me thinking about how we plan our cities, communities and lives. Sure, this man may have chosen to live somewhere where driving was his only option for mobility, as many have done and continue to do, but it’s our collective responsibility to ask for better designed communities that enable multiple modes of transportation. It’s a question of resilience.
In Oliver, we have multiple seniors residences. Our neighbourhood is built for a relatively resilient life; we have access to public transit, new bike infrastructure and lovely tree-lined streets that are a joy to walk along. Our residential neighbourhood has a number of services within it.
But if you live in one of these facilities— Manoir St. Joachim, Kiwanis, Ansgar, or Our Parents’ Home—you will often find you have to cross Jasper or 104 Avenue. Both are seven-lane roads with drivers that are prone to speeding.
Research shows this can be a barrier that keeps people trapped at home.
We are gaining a better understanding of how social isolation can severely impact our mental and physical health. People who lose their ability to drive often lose their independence. They can lose their social connections. And then they may lose their health. Urban design and transportation planning have far reaching impacts on our lives, some of which we may not realize until we are facing a driver’s licence suspension.
If you could no longer drive—maybe ever again—how much would your life change? Would you be able to meet all your needs? It’s an interesting thought experiment. Try it. And then advocate for a better community for all.
President, Oliver Community League