TALLAHASSEE — With coming population growth in the state, most of it senior citizens, Florida’s going to need bigger signs.
Amy Baker, the Legislature’s chief economist, recently told state lawmakers Florida is poised to overtake New York and become the nation’s third most populous state by 2016, behind California and Texas.
Over the next 20 years, 4.8 million people are expected to move here, and nearly 57 percent of them will be senior citizens.
As of the last census, only 12 percent of Hillsborough County is aged 65 or older, but seniors make up about a fifth of Pasco and Pinellas counties.
The impact of that on the state is “going to be in a lot of areas that you wouldn’t think about, like street signs,” Baker said. “We know that areas that are very cognizant of seniors try to have larger street signs to make it easier.”
The Sunshine State has been way ahead of the game.
Since the 1990s, Florida’s Department of Transportation has had a program, now called Safe Mobility for Life, aimed at “improvements that benefit aging road users.”
They now include measures to increase visibility, such as widening pavement stripes from four to six inches and spacing reflective markers closer together, from 80 feet to 40 feet.
And yes, larger lettering on road signs.
Even the lighted overhead street signs now ubiquitous in Tampa were first designed with the older driver in mind.
“We’re all aging and we all need to get around,” said Gail Holley, the department’s program manager. “We want to prepare people to be independent and maintain mobility. It’s all about quality of life.”
More recent changes also benefit older pedestrians, including adding time at crosswalk signals to get across the street and building “refuge islands” in the middle of busy roads.
“We’re definitely supportive of anything that would make roads safer not just for older drivers but for all Floridians,” Florida AARP spokeswoman Laura Cantwell said.
Some studies have shown that older motorists are in fewer crashes than other age groups, though researchers note they also tend to drive slower and travel fewer miles than other drivers.