Complete Streets

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend BikeTexas‘ Shifting Gears: 2011 Transportation and Health Policy Luncheon and hear a presentation by international livable cities expert Gil Peñalosa. He’s the executive director of 8-80 Cities, an organization with a powerful mission to create vibrant cities and healthy communities.

Peñalosa’s presentation was both thought-provoking and inspiring. He said that most built environments are designed for an athletic 30 year old. Why don’t we build our infrastructure to accommodate our eight-year olds and our 80-year olds?

Why don’t we build our streets in a way that places the greatest emphasis on the needs of pedestrians, then bicyclists, then transit, and *lastly*, on cars? Peñalosa showed hundreds of photos of complete streets that did just that, with dedicated spaces for walkers, bikers, buses, and cars.

He placed special emphasis on the benefits of providing a physical barrier between bicycles and cars. Separating the two with merely a line of paint is a start, but it doesn’t substantially increase the number of cyclists on the road; however, a physical barrier, like a raised curb or parked cars, encourages many more people to feel comfortable cycling as an everyday mode of transportation. I know I would feel more comfortable on my bike if that one stretch of Airport Blvd I must navigate in order to get to work (and everywhere else I like to go) had a dedicated, protected space for bikes.

Peñalosa went on to highlight the benefits to communities that have implemented complete streets programs, including significant benefits to health, safety, the economy and mobility. But beyond the benefits, the impressive photos and the statistics that speak to the value of complete streets and livable cities, what really stirred me was his challenge to be a “doer.” He asserted that real change doesn’t happen by consensus. It happens through political will and leadership, and a whole bunch of doers working together. I want to be a doer!

Complete streets legislation has been filed in both the Texas Senate (SB513 by Senator Rodney Ellis) and the Texas House of Representatives (HB1105 by Representative Linda Harper-Brown). If passed, the legislation would require local, county and state transportation agencies that receive state or federal funding to include bicycle, pedestrian and transit accommodations in their projects. You can learn more about the concept of complete streets from www.completestreets.org.

3 thoughts on “Complete Streets

  1. As with most of his points, he’s operating in an ideal city much removed from the actual ones we live in.

    Separated bikeways work great IF AND ONLY IF all of the following conditions are met:

    1. NO CURB CUTS. No driveways. No cross streets.

    2. A huge investment is made in making sure the bikeway is regularly swept of debris.

    The opportunities for #1 are highly limited – most commonly rights-of-way which can be created next to creeks (where cross streets already have to bridge).

    The Lance Armstrong Stopway shows the problem with #1. Every driveway is an intersection and every cross street is a stop sign. And that’s on a corridor in town with relatively few of both.

    The 2-way bikeway on Guadalupe was a nightmare rightfully confined to the dustbin of history. Here’s hoping people aren’t fooled again.

    1. Owen

      Hear, Hear!

      M1IK has reality well summerized.
      The Brushy Creek path in southern Williamson County is very usable (I walk but encounter many bikes). It has one public cross road, but does not connect to paths to businesses (at least at the Round Rock end). It was damaged in last spring’s floods, but stays clean from some unseen effort (I suppose by Williamson County Parks Dept.)

  2. Now that complete streets has died for “lack of time,” one thing really needs to be pointed out to all of its supporters; there was plenty of time, but several legislators introduced time-wasting resolutions that caused this and many other bills to be left to die. They need to be called on the carpet for this and reminded that the Legislature’s job is to pass laws, not be a stage for them to give “shout-outs” to their buddies.
    A few examples: (There are a lot more; check your Rep’s introduced bills and start writing today.)
    HR 1366 Introduced: Congratulating Norris and Peggy Barron of Lamesa on their 60th wedding anniversary. (Introduced by Tom Craddick)
    HR 28 Introduced: Recognizing the 24th annual Grand Prairie Cinco de Mayo celebration. (Introduced by Roberto Alonzo)
    HR 26 Introduced: Honoring the life of Cesar Chavez and commemorating the 84th anniversary of his birth on March 31, 2011. (Also by Alonzo)
    HR 30 Introduced: Commemorating the 108th anniversary of Oak Cliff’s annexation to Dallas. (Another one from Alonzo. This guy needs to resign and get a radio show where he can recognize whoever and whatever he wants.)
    HR 32 Introduced: Commemorating the 25th anniversary of Mount St. Michael Catholic School in Dallas. (Alonzo again. I’d like to see some numbers on how much time each Rep wasted on these bills while important legislation waited and died.)
    HR 33 Introduced: Congratulating members of the Texas Agricultural Lifetime Leadership XII class on their selection for participation in the program. (Fred Brown this time)

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