A recent news release from the Metropolitan Council reported good news: our region is thriving, with people wanting to live here, work here and hopefully, age in place here.

This report was based on population estimates for 2015 from the US Census Bureau, showing a population increase of 5.7% over the past five years for the region. Interestingly, that is the same estimated rate of growth experienced here in Washington County.

However, what makes Washington County really stand out is the projected increase of older adults who will want to remain in the community: a 290% spike in adults aged 65+ by 2030. This rate of growth is 2.5 times faster than the statewide rate of growth in the older adult population.

Obviously Washington County is a great place to live, regardless of a person’s age. In Washington County approximately 36% of seniors lived by themselves in 2010, higher than the state average of 30%. According to Aging 2030, Washington County has over 7,000 people aged 65+ living alone. This population is often coping with major life transitions (such as chronic illness; loss of spouse or friends; changes with housing; no longer driving) which requires dedicated community supports. Imagine when this population triples in size.

According to Lowell Johnson, director of public health and environment for Washington County, the county learned from a series of focus groups that one of the most pressing needs in coming years for older adults will be, among other things, support with transportation. The Metropolitan Council echoed this observation: “With more people choosing to live here, we need to provide transportation options. More transit will keep moving people and goods throughout our region efficiently…(and) a growing region means we need a growing transit system” according to Council Chair Adam Duininck.

But let’s not confuse transit with transportation. At Community Thread, our role is to assist older adults, particularly frail seniors, with support for independent living. Through the generosity of our volunteers, we provide transportation to medical appointments for those who do not have other means of transportation. Our volunteers pick up riders at their homes, transport them to their medical provider, and wait to transport them back home. We have been providing this service for almost 50 years, which is evidence that this need for transportation for our most vulnerable neighbors remains an ongoing issue in our community.

Let’s work together to plan community systems for transportation as well as for transit. And not confuse the two.

By Sally Anderson