Complete Streets aim to please all users
For years, transportation planners have designed roads with enough room for bicyclists, motor vehicles, pedestrians and buses. Recently, though, communities have begun unifying those efforts under a set of shared policies called Complete Streets.
Last year, Illinois was the first government to pass a Complete Streets policy, which requires the state’s Department of Transportation to include safe bicycling and walking paths in all road projects in urban areas. To date, nearly 80 jurisdictions — cities, counties, regional transportation agencies and states — have passed similar policies, and Chicago; Seattle; Charlotte, N.C.; and Massachusetts have begun implementing changes to their road design guidelines in their jurisdictions’ projects.
The Complete Streets movement began in 2003 as the result of a push by America Bikes, a Washington-based coalition of national bicycling and trail advocacy groups, to include more funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects in the federal transportation reauthorization act, says Stefanie Seskin, state and local policy fellow for the Complete Streets Coalition, which was formed in 2005. While many states had passed laws that shared the group’s values before the coalition was formed, it sought to add uniformity to the laws.
The basic concept behind Complete Streets is to enact policies and practices that require new street projects to be designed to safely accommodate all users. Roads and sidewalks that follow the principles would include wheelchair ramps, bike lanes and audible crossing signals for the blind.
Columbus, Ohio, has been following many of those design policies for decades, says City Engineer Randall Bowman. The city updates the Central Ohio Transit Authority about street projects in order to coordinate bus stops and route changes. It formed a bikeways advisory committee in the mid-1990s, and it has a transportation and pedestrian commission that reviews transportation policy and project proposals. The city learned about the Complete Streets program last year and compared its existing policies to the program’s, Bowman says. The city council adopted a Complete Streets policy in July, and since then, the inclusion of bike lanes, sidewalks and mass transit accommodations in project planning, design and construction has become more routine. “This will continue to improve over time,” Bowman says.
The Complete Street principals have driven several initiatives in Columbus. “Our city council, just in June, adopted the first real holistic, comprehensive bikeway plan for Columbus,” Bowman says. Also, the city has set aside nearly $60 million for sidewalk construction over the next five to six years. “We typically have built sidewalks as part of some other roadway reconstruction effort, but this new program would be dedicated almost exclusively to sidewalk construction,” Bowman says.
Complete Streets also promotes more livable communities and healthier lifestyles. “Why should you get in your car if you live a block away from, say, the coffee shop,” Bowman says. “You walk there [instead], burn a few calories, breathe in the air, see your neighbors, I think that’s part of the Complete Streets ideology, just a better community.”
More information on the Complete Streets program and policies is available at www.completestreets.org.