Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Complete Streets: What the Heck Are They?

Complete Street Vision, Portsmouth VA

Lately, we've been hearing a lot about the concept of 'complete streets'.  Because one is able to use the phrase, doesn't necessarily mean that one knows what that term actually means.  Here's a bit of a breakdown on the term and where you might find more information about design and implementation of  'complete streets'.

First, what does 'complete street' really mean?  A Complete Street is designed for all ages, abilities, and modes of travel. It means safe and comfortable access for pedestrians, bicycles, transit users and the mobility-impaired because all these components are an integral part of the planning process.  The idea is to development policy to guide transportation planners and engineers so that each discipline consistently designs and operates the entire street network for all road users and not only motorists.
Complete Streets are cost effective, sustainable and safe and promote livability. Human-scale design treatments such as street furniture, trees and wide pedestrian rights-of-way animate our public realm and encourage people to linger.  Complete Streets can exist in communities of all shapes and sizes; from downtown Montreal to Corner Brook and more suburban communities such as Surrey.

Since World War II, many communities have been designed to facilitate easy and fast access to destinations via automobile. In rural and suburban communities, people often rely on the automobile as their sole means of transportation and even in areas with public transportation and safe places to walk and bicycle, in a state of “automobile dependence”—automobiles are the central focus of transportation, infrastructure and land use policies to the extent that other modes of transportation, such as walking, cycling and mass transit, have become impractical.  Oregon enacted the first Complete Streets policy in the United States in 1971, requiring that new or rebuilt roads accommodate bicycles and pedestrians, and required state and local governments to fund pedestrian and bicycle facilities in the public right-of-way.  Since then 16 additional state legislatures have adopted Complete Streets laws.

Smart Growth America supports the National Complete Streets Coalition a comprehensive resource for communities and agencies that are working toward creating a safe, comfortable, integrated transportation network for all users, regardless of age, ability, income, ethnicity, or mode of transportation. In response to frequent requests from Complete Streets supporters, the Coalition has developed materials for communities at every stage in the Complete Streets process.

City of Calgary

The City of Calgary has achieved many milestones en route to making Complete Streets part of the City’s planning and engineering culture. It's approach has focused on Complete Streets design guidance first, followed by implementation. In 2005, Calgary began the Plan-It-Calgary process designed to gather detailed qualitative and quantitative information to inform the development of high-level policy documents.  Complete Streets were identified as a key policy direction and were subsequently integrated into the Calgary Transportation Plan and the Municipal Development Plan, both officially adopted by Council in September 2009. Since then, Calgary has focused on developing detailed design guidance to create consensus around how to actually implement Complete Streets on-the-ground. The City completed its first Interim Complete Streets Guide in 2010 to facilitate the planning, design, and construction of Complete Streets on new and existing streets. It released its second Interim Guide in February and will soon publish a Final Guide.

Despite an impressive engagement process, Calgary is facing some barriers with Complete Streets. Developers are concerned about the potential costs and the City is currently considering potential funding solutions (e.g., a levy). On the other hand, some developers have requested to build Complete Streets into their projects before the design and approval process has been completed.
Other barriers involve updating bylaws, revising policy documents, and creating new guidelines to align with the goals of the upcoming Complete Streets Guidelines. Several municipal and provincial bylaws currently create barriers for incorporating Complete Streets features into designs (e.g., cycle tracks) and need to be revised. Secondly, Calgary’s Environmental Capacity Guideline Policy and the Residential Streets Policy require Complete Streets supportive updates to ensure uniform implementation. Finally, a Calgary Bikeway Design Guide needs to be developed in parallel with the Complete Streets Guidelines to facilitate the uniform implementation of bike infrastructure in accordance with Complete Streets.

City of Edmonton

On May 22, 2013, the City of Edmonton became the forth city in Canada to approve a Complete Streets policy which will be used when planning, designing and constructing all streets, including those in new neighbourhoods and when old ones are rehabilitated in existing neighbourhoods.
The guidelines for Complete Streets adopt a more holistic approach to road design by considering all users including pedestrians, cyclists, transit users and motorists and the surrounding land use. Recognizing that “one-size” does not fit all, transportation and land use planners will have the flexibility to be creative and innovative when designing streets to reflect users of all ages and abilities, as well as the characteristics of the area.  The policy came about after one year of public consultation including workshops with internal and external stakeholders, and an on-line discussion forum. The Complete Streets Guidelines and policy are significant contributors to advancing the goals set out in Edmonton’s strategic plan The Way Ahead and its Transportation Master Plan The Way We Move.

Complete Streets policies improve safety, lower transportation costs, provide transportation alternatives, encourage health through walking and biking, stimulate local economies, create a sense of place, improve social interaction, and generally improve adjacent property values. Complete Streets can also have a positive effect on the environment. By providing safe options for people to walk and bike, Complete Streets can lead to fewer people driving alone in their cars. This means fewer dangerous emissions from automobiles, which benefits all residents. 

Sounds like a win/win to me.  What do you think?