I’ve been a transportation professional for almost 40 years, working from California to Florida over that period. During my career, I’ve experienced the completion of the interstate system, the associated rush to expand suburban living yielding more and longer commutes, and now the emerging focus of many of those same communities to re-energize their pre-1970’s urban areas into livable, economically viable and multimodal places where residents can work, live and play without ever owning or using a car.
Across the country there is increasing dialogue about the nation’s failing transportation system and the need to plan and implement long-term transportation solutions that are sustainable, less impactful to the environment and community, and inclusive of all roadway users. Land use is becoming more integrated with street and transit systems and just in the last 10 years over 900 state and local governments have adopted “complete streets” policies to ensure that their communities offer increased transportation alternatives to all modes of travel and ages and abilities of travelers. More complete street systems expand the value and reach of strained government budgets and can transform communities in a powerful way.
The National Complete Streets Coalition says that Complete Streets are “streets for everyone.” Unlike more traditional car-centric solutions, Complete Streets are multi-purpose, supporting safe and efficient transportation for all users: pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists (both car and truck) and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Complete Streets are tailored to suit the unique needs of cities and their residents and roadway users.
As explained in a May 2016 APWA Reporter article, Making Streets Complete for Community Sustainability, in urban areas these streets typically include sidewalks, bike lanes, bus lanes, public transportation stops, intersection crossing opportunities (via enhanced crosswalks, curb ramps and sidewalks), median islands, accessible pedestrian signals, curb extensions, narrower travel lanes, roundabouts, and more. No user’s safety or access is compromised for another user.
I’ve recently been spending time working on a number of projects for the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), who adopted their Complete Streets Implementation Plan in 2015. FDOT is committed to consistently planning, designing, constructing, reconstructing and operating a context-sensitive transportation network that is balanced to safely serve all modes of travel. The whole implementation initiative is scheduled for completion in December 2017, and it’s exciting to already see the impact: a variety of safety, health and economic benefits that are enhancing quality-of-life for residents across the state.
The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) Complete Streets Policy and new Complete Streets Implementation Plan helps provide safer, context-sensitive roads by putting "the right street in the right place." Just last month, I assisted Smart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition in providing multimodal complete streets training to a number of agencies in the Orlando region. These in-depth workshops are helping state, regional and local agency staff evaluate where and how Complete Streets could be incorporated throughout the region, including discussions about land use context, transportation context, implementation strategies and public involvement.
It was exciting to see that so many different projects across the Orlando region have the potential for Complete Streets elements to be introduced: large and small projects, high-budget and low-budget projects, maintenance and new capacity projects, and complex and simple projects. These workshops represent a major paradigm shift in the way states and communities approach transportation projects. Rather than tackling a project with a primary goal of addressing existing problems, generally associated with motorized transportation issues, agencies are thinking more holistically. The Complete Streets concept encourages us to let the end users inform our decisions and to think long-term and big picture about how better planned and designed streets can contribute to more healthy, livable communities and improved quality-of-life.
In summary, I’m encouraged to see so many state DOTs, cities and neighborhoods considering the value of Complete Streets from so many different angles, and I’m confident that we’ll continue to see a steady increase in these types of projects for many years to come. Across the U.S. communities of every size are working hard to create sustainable transportation networks that more safely connect people and places, and for transportation professionals, there’s no more important goal.
Gresham, Smith and Partners
Senior Vice President