Thursday, August 27, 2009

Complete Streets: A Policy Proposal

In the past few years Crystal City has been aggressive in pursuing infrastructure upgrades, such as new water taps, fire hydrants, curbing, and street overlays.  The city has had particular success securing STP grants through East-West Gateway, with three major projects planned over the next three years.  These projects all include major road resurfacing, placement of new sidewalks or replacement of deteriorated sidewalks, the creation of tree lawns where right-of-way is sufficient, and better stormwater management capabilities.  It should also be noted that the city had the foresight to team-up with Festus to create a joint Bike/Pedestrian Trail Master Plan to begin a process of upgrading the overall experience of our pedestrians and cyclists and to provide potential new avenues of non-motorized transportation for citizens to go to work.  These projects are critical to improving the quality of life for Crystal City residents and ultimately attracting a younger, adaptable and more affluent population.  Other communities in Jefferson County, such as DeSoto, have already adopted a Complete Streets policy and are enjoying positive press and a strong sense of community goodwill as a result of their hard work.

Our Proposal:  Crystal City should adopt a Complete Streets policy that will benefit all of our citizens-- young and old, today and tomorrow-- and work on this policy should begin now to prepare for the next wave of major road projects.  Additionally, Crystal City should explore a partnership with Herculaneum and Festus to broaden input, resources and implementation of a policy to better benefit our entire Tri-City region.

Information about the Complete Streets Program:
What are Complete Streets?
(courtesy of the National Complete Streets Coalition FAQ)

Complete streets are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users. Pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities must be able to safely move along and across a complete street.  Creating complete streets means transportation agencies must change their orientation toward building primarily for cars. Instituting a complete streets policy ensures that transportation agencies routinely design and operate the entire right of way to enable safe access for all users. Places with complete streets policies are making sure that their streets and roads work for drivers, transit users, pedestrians, and bicyclists, as well as for older people, children, and people with disabilities.

What Do Complete Streets Look Like?

Since each complete street is unique, it is impossible to give a single description. But ingredients that may be found on a complete street include sidewalks, bike lanes (or wide paved shoulders), special bus lanes, comfortable and accessible transit stops, frequent crossing opportunities, median islands, accessible pedestrian signals, curb extensions, and more. A complete street in a rural area will look quite different from a complete street in a highly urban area. But both are designed to balance safety and convenience for everyone using the road.  Look at our ‘Many Types of Complete Streets’ slideshow to see examples from across the country.

Why Do We Need Complete Streets?

Complete Streets foster strong communities. Complete streets play an important role in livable communities, where all people regardless of age, ability or mode of transportation feel safe and welcome on the roadways. A safe walking and bicycling environment is an essential part of improving public transportation and creating friendly, walkable communities.

Complete streets improve safety. A Federal Highways Administration safety review found that streets designed with sidewalks, raised medians, better bus stop placement, traffic-calming measures, and treatments for disabled travelers improve pedestrian safety.  Some features, such as medians, improve safety for all users: they enable pedestrians to cross busy roads in two stages, reduce left-turning motorist crashes to zero, and improve bicycle safety. Complete streets encourage walking and bicycling for health. The National Institutes of Medicine recommends fighting childhood obesity by establishing ordinances to encourage construction of sidewalks, bikeways, and other places for physical activity. One study found that 43% of people with safe places to walk within 10 minutes of home met recommended activity levels; among individuals without safe place to walk, just 27% were active enough.

Complete streets address climate change and oil dependence. The potential to reduce carbon emissions by shifting trips to lower-carbon modes is undeniable. The 2001 National Household Transportation Survey found 50% of all trips in metropolitan areas are three miles or less and 28% of all metropolitan trips are one mile or less distances easy to walk, bike, or hop a bus or train. Yet 65% of the shortest trips are now made by automobile, in part because of incomplete streets that make it dangerous or unpleasant for other modes of travel. Complete streets would help convert many of these short automobile trips to multi-modal travel. Simply increasing bicycling from 1% to 1.5% of all trips in the U.S. would save 462 million gallons of gasoline each year.  Using transit has already helped the United States save 1.4 billion gallons of fuel each year, which is a savings of 3.9 million gallons of gasoline every day.

What Are Some Benefits of Complete Streets?

Complete streets can offer many benefits in all communities, regardless of size or location.

Complete streets make economic sense. A balanced transportation system that includes complete streets can bolster economic growth and stability by providing accessible and efficient connections between residences, schools, parks, public transportation, offices, and retail destinations.

Complete streets improve safety by reducing crashes through safety improvements. One study found that designing for pedestrian travel by installing raised medians and redesigning intersections and sidewalks reduced pedestrian risk by 28%.

Complete streets encourage more walking and bicycling. Public health experts are encouraging walking and bicycling as a response to the obesity epidemic, and complete streets can help. One study found that 43 percent of people with safe places to walk within 10 minutes of home met recommended activity levels, while just 27% of those without safe places to walk were active enough.

Complete streets can help ease transportation woes. Streets that provide travel choices can give people the option to avoid traffic jams, and increase the overall capacity of the transportation network. Several smaller cities have adopted complete streets policies as one strategy to increase the overall capacity of their transportation network and reduce congestion.

Complete streets help children. Streets that provide room for bicycling and walking help children get physical activity and gain independence. More children walk to school where there are sidewalks, and children who have and use safe walking and bicycling routes have a more positive view of their neighborhood. Safe Routes to School programs, gaining in popularity across the country, will benefit from complete streets policies that help turn all routes into safe routes.

Complete streets are good for air quality. Poor air quality in our urban areas is linked to increases in asthma and other illnesses. Yet if each resident of an American community of 100,000 replaced one car trip with one bike trip just once a month, it would cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 3,764 tons of per year in the community. Complete streets allow this to happen more easily.

Complete streets make fiscal sense. Integrating sidewalks, bike lanes, transit amenities, and safe crossings into the initial design of a project spares the expense of retrofits later. Jeff Morales, former Director of Caltrans, said, by fully considering the needs of all non-motorized travelers (pedestrians, bicyclists, and persons with disabilities) early in the life of a project, the costs associated with including facilities for these travelers are minimized.
Crystal City has already taken the first steps through the adoption of the Pedestrian/Bike Trail Master Plan and by passing a resolution expressing interest in Complete Streets through a potential grant with Get Fit Festus.  Now let's finish the job!  By engaging in an open community-driven planning process, Crystal City can adopt a plan establishing firm guidelines for street and sidewalk projects going forward.  This plan would be formulated through citizen input, professional planning assistance, and overall best practices in modern road and sidewalk construction.  Perhaps Crystal City could team with Festus and Herculaneum to sponsor a workshop from the National Complete Streets Coalition.  A combined effort and planning process could greatly benefit our entire area through the adoption of similar or the same standards and requirements for providing access and service to bike and pedestrian traffic.  A unified network of biking and walking trails would be an amenity that younger people and younger families look for when moving to an area.  Additionally, and quite importantly, certain retailers that currently do not consider our community a fit for their establishments look for the presence of biking and walking trails and policies like a Complete Streets policy as indicators of a community's readiness for their goods and services.

If we come together as a community- Crystal City or the Tri-City region- we can create a lasting Complete Streets program that will better our transportation network and the overall quality of life in our communities in every respect.

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