Complete Streets…and all that
Complete Streets. A movement. A philosophy. A way of looking at the state of things and creating new avenues of change.
Hmm…avenues of change. Figuratively, or literally?
Complete Streets (figuratively)
What does it even mean? Well, to understand that, we need to go back…way back. History of transportation in 25 words or less: People walked. They started riding on animals and making carts. Bikes and roads came along. Then motor vehicles pushed everyone else off the road.
I did it, with one word to spare. The reality is that as each new mode came along, people were forced further and further off the road. Complete Streets is about changing the trajectory. We have historically looked at “throughput,” a term engineers and planners use to mean “how can we ‘improve’ the road so that we can get more cars through here faster?” In America, over time, the road became almost exclusively for motor vehicles. Pedestrians and other road users were shunted over to the edges, and only tolerated rather than acknowledged as legitimate users of the roadways.
And now, we’re taking another look. It’s far too late, but voices are beginning to be heard. There are simply too man y people dying on our roadways every year. We “accept” 30,000 to 40,000 lives lost every year as the cost of doing business. Thirty to forty THOUSAND mothers, fathers, children, sons, daughters lose their lives because we need to get to the shopping center, or across town, or to visit our relatives a few states away faster…
Complete Streets (literally)
So what are we doing? Taking another look at streets. Why are they designed the way that are? Does that street really need to have 3 17- foot lanes in each direction? Does the median need to be 100 feet wide? Using that example, we observe that the speed limit of 35mph is ignored by virtually all motorists. And why wouldn’t it be? The road is begging them to go faster! Would they go fast if the lanes were 10 feet wide, with a narrow median? Studies have shown that the answer is no. Yet, there is very little difference in throughput when lanes are narrowed down…
Hmm. So narrower roads do not really affect how many cars will pass, but slows them down in the process…Sounds like there may be an opportunity there. How about giving some of that space back to other road users, maybe? Like people on bicycles, people on foot…you know, the ones who were using roads before there were cars. It’d be greener, too. And it would take some of the motor vehicles off the road!
That’s one example of how Complete Streets can impact the trajectory. The idea is to look at all roadways, particularly when road changes/improvements are planned. In the design/redesign, think about all road users: how can we make this safe for anyone who needs to use this road, regardless of the mode of transportation? Is a separate bike lane needed? How about green space? What should the speed limit be?
Retrofitting is obviously harder than designing from scratch. But that’s the real world. We have to look at all of the existing roadways and figure out how we do a better job so that the cost of business comes down – WAY down. We CAN’T just keep killing people and saying its ok.