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Complete Our Streets

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BY J.M. RAYBURN
(Photo by J.M. Rayburn)

Complete Streets are safe and accessible for all users, including people of all ages and abilities who walk, bike, scoot, drive or take public transit.

In metropolitan areas, some problems cannot be solved within municipal boundaries, and decisions made by one city can have adverse impacts on other cities or even the environment (which impacts us all). Pollution and inefficient use of resources and infrastructure (land, water, air, housing, rivers, roads, energy, etc.) are examples of problems that spill over municipal boundaries. It’s why regional coordination and planning is crucial for the success of undertakings that are too large or complex for any one unit of government to address.

In the urban planning industry, we often refer to this pooling of resources and consensus-building as regionalism. To help further regionalism, most metropolitan areas have something called a metropolitan planning organization (MPO). Ours is called the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, or MORPC for short. At a recent MORPC meeting, we celebrated the growing list of communities that have adopted some form of a Complete Streets policy. But it also became apparent that many central Ohio communities still lack such a policy. Last month, we kicked off this column the topic of mobility with a dive into the world of electric bikes and scooters for rent. This month, let’s go a little deeper and talk about Complete Streets.

Complete streets are streets for everyone. They are designed and maintained to enable safe access for all users, including people of all ages and abilities who walk, bike, scoot, drive or take public transit. It sounds pretty simple, but it’s actually a very disruptive policy, because it challenges the “we’ve always done it this way” mindset. Okay, maybe not always, but certainly since the mid-20th century.

Think federal highway building, suburbanization and 20th century urban renewal projects. Transportation planning and design has instead created hundreds of miles of “incomplete” streets — those without safe places to walk, bike, scoot or take public transit. According to Smart Growth America, such streets are particularly dangerous for people of color, older adults, children and those living in low-income communities. These populations suffer disproportionately from poor street design and increased likelihood of illness, injury and death. They are also more likely to be cut off from jobs, doctors, friends and family, and to pay out much more of their budget to transportation than their counterparts. It’s why the Complete Streets movement has evolved to focus far more on implementation and equity — and rightfully so.

There are a few ways to bring Complete Streets to your community. The first step is education. In January 2010, MORPC received a grant from the Ohio Department of Health’s Statewide Wellness and Obesity Prevention program to develop a Complete Streets toolkit and conduct outreach on the importance of creating a transportation system that provides mobility options to all users. The toolkit and other relevant resources are available online at www.morpc.org/tool-resource/complete-streets/.

The next step is to do a little field work. Get out in your community and make a list of your best streets and worst streets through the lens of Complete Streets. One of my favorite local examples of a complete street is the stretch of Summit Street between Hudson Street and E. 11th Avenue. There are sidewalks on both sides of the street, crosswalks, a two-way protected bike lane, street trees and pedestrian safety islands. Now compare that to Polaris Parkway.

The last step is to show up to your local city council or neighborhood commission meetings and press the issue when the floor is open to public comment. Repeat as necessary.

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