Nov 122011
Don’t Settle for Incomplete Streets!

Signage appropriate for INCOMPLETE streets.

Some people are asking why we need complete streets. Let’s turn this question on its head: Why would we ever put in place designs, approval processes and funding streams dedicated to making our streets INcomplete?

Traffic sign: Slow--children playing

What possible rationale could anyone suggest with a straight face for designing streets that make it difficult to get to a bus stop, unsafe for a cyclist to share a lane with a driver, treacherous for truck drivers trying to make a delivery to a grocery store, impossible for someone in a wheelchair to travel a few blocks on the sidewalk instead of in the vehicle travel lane?

That’s what we did, though. We have spent decades designing systems that are really great for people in cars and really bad for people who aren’t in cars.

Complete streets are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users. That’s all. When you have complete streets pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities can move safely along and across the street.

Who’s standing up to argue in favor of UNsafe streets?

Traffic sign--older people with a caneWho thinks it’s a good idea to have street designs that encourage use of a car for the shortest of trips? 50% of all trips in metropolitan areas are three miles or less and 28% of all metropolitan trips are one mile or less–distances easy to walk, bike, or hop a busy. Yet 65% of the shortest trips are now made by automobiles, in part because of incomplete streets that make it dangerous or unpleasant for other modes of travel. Incidentally, these are the dirtiest trips counted in air emissions.

Who wants us to keep spending our money on gas imported from other countries? We could be spending it instead on food grown right here, books from a local book storecoffee roasted by people you can meet and talk with to learn more about the people they know who grow the beans, clothing from a one-of-a-kind store or a local thrift shop that supports a local nonprofit, and yes—bike stuff at great local bike shops. That’s money that stays here more than it leaves town.

Who wants to make sure we don’t get the health benefits of walking or biking for transportation so we can keep packing on the pounds and ending up with diabetes, heart disease and premature death, instead of getting healthier ourselves and reducing air emissions for all?

Who wants to keep property values down by leaving streets and sidewalks unfinished and unpleasant for all users, instead of adding the connections that increase curb appeal and property values as well as usability for everyone?

Traffic sign--pedestrian crossingWho wants everyone to drive a single-occupancy vehicle and increase wear and tear on the streets because we’ve made it too scary to ride a bike, too muddy or impossible to get to a bus stop because there are no sidewalks, too unthinkable to walk a mile?

Who wants to keep building a system that ensures that people who can’t or shouldn’t drive–the young, the very elderly, people with certain disabilities, people without a car or a driver’s license or insurance–have no other way to get to school, work, the grocery store, or a doctor?

Hey, that’s it—let’s put more cars on the street to create more traffic jams and competition for parking spots and air emissions—especially air emissions because we really want to go back to the old days of being a non-attainment area under EPA regulations.

Fake traffic sign showing car/bike collision at four-way intersection
Signage appropriate for INCOMPLETE streets.

A really radical notion: streets for everyone, from the drivers of delivery trucks and semis to someone in a wheelchair, from your 8-year-old neighbor kid to your 88-year-old grandma.

Awesome people started a petition to the Spokane City Council, which subsequently adopted a Complete Streets ordinance. You could create a similar one for your town if you live somewhere else.

And if you agree, the next time you’re talking to an elected official or engineer who seems hesitant about the idea of complete streets, ask a simple question: “Why do you support incomplete streets?”

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Your Turn

  • Are you familiar with the term “complete streets”?
  • How about “Safe Routes to School”?
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