Friday, March 13, 2009

National Complete Streets

The buzz over at Streetblog is about a possible 'complete streets' legislation at the national level. For the last two days all the discussion has focued on this issue, and not in a good light. Most of the community feels that its not going far enough and that the few examples given are a bad example of complete streets.

What are complete streets anyway? They are streets that are designed to allow safe, attractive, and comfortable access for all users.

While what we saw in the few pictures that everyone is complaining about is not an ideal solution from our communities perspective, it is still at least a step forward from a very big deficit in terms of street design. As a community of professionals and advocates we must push for streets that meet the standards of a new paradigm of livable/walkable communities. But the reality is that a lot of the public, and most of the officials that make these kinds of decisions still have the old mind set of SOV dominance. Most of our current streets are so bad that if 50%, or even 25%, of the improvements we all advocate for are implemented it will be an improvement.

That said, its dangerous to rely on the federal government to deliver the refroms in infrastructure designs that is needed. Community needs are best assessed on a local level, and we risk having just as many problems with a national "complete streets" policy as we find ourselves in now with our current transportation infrastructure.

Missoula, MT, the town I live in, is fighting the state and city government over these types of issues right now. The reconstruction of Russell St, a major artery, has been planned for more than a decade. The state and many inside the local government and big business want the currently two land road expanded to 4 lanes plus a turn lane, and taking the current intersection and making it a 24 lane intersection. The community wants a three plus option, which most likely wont happen.

Complaining will only get us so far, and within this community we are all sympathetic to the need to take reforms as far as possible. But we should realize that each community has its own needs and that even small steps forward have the potential to lead to greater success down the road.

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