Why Your Municipality Still Needs Complete Streets

While COVID-19 has brought a world-wide pause to many activities, it also offers an opportunity to think more deeply about the future of our communities.  In that vein, we encourage you to consider the importance of Complete Streets in your community.  Although the Complete Streets way of thinking has been around for a number of years, many communities are still hesitant to embrace it. Reasons for this vary but include a lack of understanding of Complete Streets and the benefits that can be realized from them. There are also the perceived cost impacts, although there are public funds available to offset these costs. There may also be a feeling that “while these are nice ideas, they don’t apply in our situation”. Well, nothing could be further from the truth!

The Complete Streets concept, philosophy, and practice can be applied in every community – large or small, urban or rural. Complete Streets are designed to improve safety and better accommodate all users of our transportation system – pedestrians, cyclists, public transit riders, and drivers. The application of Complete Streets makes it easier to safely walk and cross the street, bike to the store, or take the bus to work.  They can also significantly enhance the feeling of community within a designated area.

What is a Complete Street?

Complete Streets are an integral part of our communities and allow us to reach important destinations and connect to others. However, many streets were, and still are, designed only for cars moving quickly through an area, and not sufficiently considering the other users or modes of transportation. While not every right-of-way can be treated in the same manner, applying a Complete Streets approach and philosophy would at least consider such items as traffic calming techniques, crosswalks, areas for bike travel, sidewalks, roundabouts, bus lanes and improved bus stop locations to name a few in the design or redesign of a street. Traffic calming measures could include speed display feedback signs, narrower marked travel lanes, roundabouts, and raised crossings. Bike lanes or wider shoulders promote safer bicycling by providing better separation between the bicyclist and motor vehicles. ADA compliant curb ramps and shorter street crossings with signals that have timer countdown displays with longer times allow for the elderly and other pedestrians to take their time. Benches with shade allow for all pedestrians to enjoy the area and take a rest.

These elements are all specifically incorporated to improve the safety and livability of the community. Transportation engineers and planners work with a community to create a balanced approach to the transportation system by taking into account Complete Street practices.

Key Benefits of Complete Streets

There are a number of benefits that can be realized by incorporating the practice of Complete Streets in your community. They include:

  • Slower vehicle traffic speeds
  • Reduction in the number and severity of motor vehicle-related crashes
  • Increase in walking, cycling, and transit use over driving a car by providing people with safe, attractive, and convenient travel choices
  • Consideration of the needs of all users including the elderly, disabled, and young
  • Reduction in traffic congestion in areas where the shift to other modes of transportation is successful
  • Enhancement of the local economy as placemaking actions and improved connections between a neighborhood and the business district create a pleasant and safe walk
  • Improvement in the individual health of community members as walking and bicycling are encouraged

Costs and Funding For Complete Streets

In many cases, implementing aspects or individual components of Complete Streets can be relatively low cost actions. Examples include crosswalk markings, signage, speed feedback displays, rapid rectangular flashing beacon (RRFBs), and ADA compliant curb ramps. Obviously constructing new sidewalks or shared use paths can be higher cost actions, although these types of projects can be effectively phased so as to spread out the costs.

A large number of State Departments of Transportation across the country have now adopted Complete Streets policies and in some cases, have provided some avenues for funding. One of the first and most encouraging program was initiated by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) in 2016. Their program provides participating municipalities grant funds for both developing community-wide Complete Streets Plans and implementing Complete Streets actions from the resulting plans. In order to obtain implementation funds, municipalities must both adopt a Complete Streets Policy and have a community-wide Complete Streets Prioritization Plan. To date, 240 of 351 communities in the Commonwealth have registered with the program, 174 have adopted policies, and more than $46M has been provided to Cities and Towns across the Commonwealth to construct Complete Streets actions.

Green’s Transportation Planning staff have been involved in the MassDOT program since its inception. We have been extensively trained and have helped municipalities apply for grant funds, adopt Complete Streets policies, develop Prioritization Plans, and oversee implementation of the projects. We have also applied our knowledge and practice of Complete Streets to various roadway projects in surrounding New England states as well.

Once you have decided to consider a Complete Streets program, our staff can assess the needs of your community and assist you in developing a Complete Streets Policy that is tailored specifically for your municipality. The Green way is to involve all the key stakeholders and residents in the process of deciding which Complete Streets actions would be most beneficial for your community. We know that each community is different and has different needs and goals. Therefore, the context of each community is taken into consideration in determining the best approaches for your municipality. In doing so, our approach will include identifying safety issues, levels of connectivity and gaps in the network through audits, and GIS mapping. Working with the local officials and stakeholders, we guide the priority decision making process and finalize the implementation plan for Complete Streets. To date as part of the MassDOT program, Green has been working with 20 communities in eastern and central Massachusetts and helped secure more than $5.1M of planning and implementation funds.

Just remember that implementation of Complete Streets does not need to be complicated or high cost, but by providing all people living and working in your respective communities with additional safe and convenient travel choices to make connections, it will enhance the quality of life of everyone.

We hope this peaks your interest in learning more about advancing the Complete Streets practices for your community and invite you to reach out to us for more information or to answer any questions that you may have.

Please reach out to us at completestreets@greenintl.com

*Route 138 in Portsmouth, Thayer Street Parklet, and Springfield College Crossing photography by Design Imaging Studios.

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