Complete streets is an approach to road planning and design that considers and balances the needs of all transportation users.
Richfield, Minnesota, located south of Minneapolis, began a Complete Streets redesign in 2013. So how did it turn out? A retrospective study has found that while construction impacts remain on the minds of business owners and residents, Richfield’s program has improved community life and traffic times citywide. Safety and multimodal use are expected to improve.
Complete Streets is a transportation policy and design approach that requires streets to be planned, designed, operated, and maintained to enable safe, convenient, and comfortable travel and access for users of all ages and abilities regardless of their mode of transportation.
You betcha, says a new study by University of Minnesota researcher Carol Becker, who compiled 65 examples of innovative multimodal rural and small urban transportation projects from around the United States.
The study, funded by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, looks at alternatives for promoting and strengthening multimodal transportation in rural and small urban areas. Becker developed these six case studies to showcase different modes and strategies:
The city of Olympia, Washington, was mostly built during the automobile era. As a result, most of the city developed without sidewalks. In 2004, Olympia passed a voter referendum that linked enhanced parks with adding sidewalks throughout the city. The referendum was supported by parents who wanted safe routes to school for their children and by environmentalists who wanted alternatives to driving. But the key to voter approval was linking recreation at parks with recreation walking to and from the parks. The Parks and Pathways program is now retrofitting miles of sidewalks into neighborhoods.
Intercity Bus Service
North Dakota has the third-lowest population density in the United States. Despite this, it has a network of buses that connect small towns to larger regional centers. Such alternatives to driving allow residents — particularly elderly and disabled persons — to stay in their communities rather than move to large cities to access needed services.
A nonprofit in Mesa, Arizona, implemented a program to reimburse eligible seniors for car trips provided by other individuals. The program was moved to the regional transit provider for expansion. It did not scale up well, however, and was recently replaced with the East Valley RideChoice Program, which provides seniors and disabled adults with discounted cards for taxi service. RideChoice participants can receive up to $100 of taxi service per month for either $25 or $30, depending on their city of residence.
Integrating Highways into Small Town Fabric
One challenge to making smaller communities more walkable and pedestrian-friendly is that most small towns are built around highways. In fact, unless a bypass has been built, the main street of a small town is also typically a highway. This creates a conflict between groups who want to move vehicles efficiently and groups who want pedestrian-friendly downtowns.
Oregon took two steps to help mediate this:
Added a functional classification to the Oregon Highway Manual for the portion of roadway that runs through small towns. This functional classification has very different design standards that can accommodate walking, biking, commercial activity along the roadway, parking along the roadway and many other small-town needs.
“Main Street: When A Highway Runs Through It” was written to help local governments understand their options for creating a multimodal environment and better advocate for their interests with the Oregon Department of Transportation. The document explains ODOT funding processes and shows examples of design options. Local governments can then adopt these elements and standards into their local plans, which ODOT must work with when doing highway improvements.
Clinton, Iowa, is a city with a population of 27,000 on the Mississippi River in eastern Iowa. In 1995, the rail yard closed, which provided an opportunity to redevelop land. The city created a comprehensive long-range plan that included remediating soil contamination, purchasing land for redevelopment, realigning two streets and increasing transportation choices with a “complete streets” design. The reclaimed land will support a multi-use path, sidewalks and connections to cross streets.
Approximately $50 million has been secured for the project. A $2.7 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant was also received from the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2012 to pay for a multi-use trail with a direct connection to the Mississippi River Trail, decorative lighting and plantings. In the future, land will be sold for higher density, walkable development.
Impact Fees for Funding Infrastructure
As resistance increases to broad-based taxes, there has been a shift toward funding transportation with fees linked to specific projects. Examples include:
Concurrency laws, which require capacity in governmental systems (either planned or existing) before development can occur. If capacity does not exist, development cannot occur. In the state of Washington, a number of cities use concurrency to set transportation fees paid by new development. Bellingham, Washington, uses this kind of system to raise funds for transportation projects.
Development impact fees. Contra Costa County, California, has a capital plan for transportation improvements and sets a fee that is paid by new development to fund that infrastructure. Fees vary from under $1,000 to over $15,000 depending on where new development is occurring. The county expects to raise more than $845 million in transportation dollars from 2014 to 2030 using such a mechanism.
Allowing local units of government to create special districts to fund transportation projects.
Rural and Small Urban Multi-Modal Alternatives for Minnesota – Final Report
A new guidebook offers Minnesota cities practical advice for making their streets more accessible to all users.
Complete Streets from Policy to Project shares insights and examples from 11 communities across the country, including Albert Lea, Fargo-Moorhead, Hennepin County and Rochester, that have successfully implemented the strategies of Complete Streets — a holistic approach to transportation planning that considers all modes of traffic (rail, transit, pedestrian, motor vehicle, bicycle, etc.).
While many sources offer guidance for implementing Complete Streets, they typically only provide general information or come from an advocacy group stressing one transportation mode or another.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation wanted to collect case studies from practitioners and develop recommendations for best practices that are applicable to the unique circumstances, challenges and opportunities of Minnesota communities.
The book highlights six best practices areas: framing and positioning, institutionalizing, analysis and evaluation, project delivery and construction, promotion and education, and funding.
The research makes it clear that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to Complete Streets that will work for all communities, so any approach must be tailored to a community’s unique challenges and opportunities.
MnDOT requires the principles of “Complete Streets” to be considered in all phases of transportation planning, and more and more cities across the state are adopting similar policies.
This practitioner-oriented guidebook was co-funded by MnDOT and the Local Road Research Board.
“This was a very important step in building knowledge for MnDOT and other Minnesota entities,” said Scott Bradley, director of MnDOT Context Sensitive Solutions. “It takes us beyond general information that doesn’t necessarily translate to the challenges and opportunities we face in the state.”
If you’ve ever driven near a bike lane and not known what to do, you’re not alone.
A forthcoming video from the Local Road Research Board seeks to answer common questions about on-street bike lanes and help bicyclists and motorists better understand the rules. The video is due to be released this spring; in the meantime, we thought we’d give you a sneak preview by addressing three common misconceptions about bike lane rules and safety.
1) Are bicyclists required to use a bike lane, when present?
No. Although bike lanes usually provide the smoothest, safest and most efficient method of transportation — for everybody — they are not required to use them. They are allowed to ride outside bike lanes to make turns or avoid debris, and they still have the option of using an adjacent trail where available.
2) Are vehicles allowed to enter bike lanes?
Yes, but only to park or turn onto a driveway or street. Motorists should treat bike lanes like any other lane of traffic and yield to approaching bicyclists, but they do have the right to enter bike lanes when turning.
3) Do bicyclists have to follow the same rules as motorists?
Yes. Bicycles are considered vehicles under Minnesota state law and have the same rights and responsibilities. Cyclists are required to obey stop signs and signal their turns, just like motorists.
Watch for the LRRB’s new bike safety video on Crossroads this spring. In the meantime, check out MnDOT’s tips on bicycle safety.
Judging by the response we get whenever we post anything bicycle- or pedestrian-related on MnDOT’s social media channels, people seem to be hungry for research into this area. We recently had several new reports arrive on the topic, and I thought I’d share them here for those who missed them, along with links to any related webinars or news articles.
The Minnesota Bicycle and Pedestrian Counting Initiative: Methodologies for Non-motorized Traffic Monitoring
This study examined ways of counting non-motorized traffic (bicycles and pedestrians), with the goal of helping planners and engineers better incorporate these modes into our transportation systems. The report discusses the pros and cons of various counting methodologies (i.e. manual field observation, active and passive infrared systems, magnetic loop detectors, etc.) and looks at how Minnesota agencies are using them. The project also included a webinar, workshops and a coordinated statewide pilot count in dozens of communities around the state.
Best Practices Synthesis and Guidance in At-Grade Trail-Crossing Treatments
At-grade trail crossings have frequently been the sites of bicycle, pedestrian and snowmobile crashes in Minnesota and throughout the nation. The goal of this document is to synthesize best practices observed statewide and nationally in order to provide engineers and other transportation professionals with guidance on safety treatment applications at trail crossings.
Minnesota’s Best Practices for Pedestrian/Bicycle Safety
This Local Road Research Board-funded guide is designed to be used as a resource to assist local agencies in their efforts to more safely accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists on their systems of roads and highways. It discusses the relative merits of a wide range of strategies to reduce crashes involving bicycles and pedestrians.
Complete Streets Implementation Resource Guide for Minnesota Local Agencies
In this project, investigators developed a guide to help local agencies implement Complete Streets programs, including sample policy language from agencies in Minnesota, systems for classifying roadways that are appropriate for use in context-sensitive planning and a worksheet to help develop specific project plans.
Bike, Bus, and Beyond: Extending Cyclopath to Enable Multi-Modal Routing
Researchers incorporated multimodal routing into the Cyclopath bicycle route-finding tool to allow users to find routes that combine biking and transit for journeys where biking alone is impractical. Increasing the percentage of trips made by methods other than cars is a MnDOT priority, and providing route information can help to make alternative transportation options more viable.
On Tuesday, June 4, the University of Minnesota is hosting a free Complete Streets seminar. The event will serve as a preview of a forthcoming guide, “Complete Streets Planning and Implementation at Multiple Scales Guidebook and Case Studies,” funded by MnDOT and the Minnesota Local Road Research Board.
Unfortunately, the event itself is sold out, but you can still watch it online for free via webcast. You can find all the relevant information on this web page, including direct links to the webcast sessions:
According to the announcement, the event will cover “examples of Complete Streets policies, design guidance, engagement strategies, and financing mechanisms that help communities move from policies and plans to on-the-ground projects.”