This article was originally published on page A5 of the Monday, September 27, 2010 edition of The Columbia Daily Tribune.
For 40 years transportation officials unwittingly hurt the national security, health and economic vitality of the United States by worrying more about how to move cars instead of people. Entire cities were constructed without sidewalks, trails or bicycle lanes. At the time, it didn’t seem to matter because no one could imagine the energy, environmental and obesity crises of the future.
Today, as people start to awaken and look for alternatives to the automobile, they realize — even for the shortest trips — that they are trapped by the poor designs and shortsighted policies of the past. Now there is a better way, and it’s called “Complete Streets.” This term describes a way of designing roads so that they are accessible and comfortable for everyone, not just automobile drivers. Engineers consider the needs of bicyclists, pedestrians, wheelchair users and transit riders while designing new roads. Complete Streets have additional features that a typical street might not.
Things like sidewalks, well-designed crosswalks, bicycle lanes and narrower automobile lanes to control speed are all common parts of a complete street. Complete Streets enhance safety, improve accessibility and give people a choice in what mode of transportation they want to use. People can certainly drive an automobile, but they can also bike or walk if they choose. Those are choices that most Americans feel they do not currently have because of the way our roads have been designed in the past.
Seems like pretty sensible transportation planning, right? Unfortunately, this concept is new to many communities.
Columbia was actually the first Missouri city to have a policy like this. The new standards were passed in 2004, and they called for widened sidewalks, narrowed auto lanes in residential areas to lower speeds and that some type of bicycle facility would be built. The standards did not fix decades of poor design, and they are not perfect, but they ensure that new roads will be built with non-motorized users in mind. Although these policies seem like common sense today, they took four years to pass and several community members expressed concerns. Since then, Complete Streets policies have become more mainstream and much easier to pass.
One example is in Jefferson County. The PedNet Coalition worked as a subcontractor to the Jefferson County Health Department to craft a campaign to ensure passage of a Complete Streets policy in Festus and Crystal City. While I was in Jefferson County, I interviewed community members like city staff, city council members, school administration, health workers and business owners. Not a single person opposed the plan. In fact, two people looked at me incredulously and asked, “Who could possibly think this was a bad idea?”
Now other Missouri cities are realizing that Complete Streets makes sense and are passing their own ordinances. What was once seen as a semi-radical idea has become mainstream, with seven Missouri cities having passed complete streets policies: Columbia, De Soto, Ferguson, St. Louis, Independence, Crystal City and Festus. (Update: Kansas City, Lee's Summit, Peveley, Herculaneum and Elsberry adopted such policies since this article was originally published last year, -Tre
I’m convinced that in the next decade people’s views about transportation will continue to evolve.
Bicyclists, pedestrians and wheelchair users will continue to get a larger slice of funding at every level of government, and we will have complete streets policies at both the state and federal level. With this increase in non-motorized infrastructure, people will once again be able to do things that we used to take for granted in this country. Things like allowing their children to bicycle to school without fear, walk to their next doctor’s appointment or any of the other activities that they feel like they cannot do, thanks to some shortsighted policies of the past.
Reach Robert Johnson at 573-289-6479 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.Copyright 2010 Columbia Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.