Suburban sprawl often comes without the pedestrian-friendly, traffic-calming inner-city grid of streets that make for safer, healthier and more economically viable communities.
Such poorly planned communities often leave pedestrians and bicyclists marooned on an island of winding streets and cul-de-sac dead ends and surrounded by a sea of snaking, sidewalkless arteries designed primarily for motor vehicles.
On par with smart growth development to improve the quality of life on a macro level, a growing number of communities are approaching the issue on a micro level and taking it to the streets.
They now have a digital grassroots coalition of proponents to act as an advocate on their behalf. CompleteStreets.org is a fledgling advocacy group comprised of America Bikes ; The League of American Bicyclists; other biking and walking advocacy groups; AARP; National Resources Defense Council; Smart Growth Alliance and a host of others, including planning, architectural and transportation organizations from the government, business and private sectors.
Their cause is to promote a Complete Streets policy to build new streets or recast old ones so that they are safe and accessible for all those who need to move around the community -- pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders.
There is no single Complete Street design or layout, but it typically includes sidewalks, bike lanes, plenty of crosswalks, wide shoulders, medians, bus pullouts, special bus lanes, raised crosswalks, audible pedestrian signals, sidewalk bulb-outs, and more. In a rural community or an urban one, a Complete Street balances safety and convenience for all who need access.
What sounds like a simple idea is really a complex achievement that comes with a host of benefits.
- Safety. Good design, that includes raised medians, intersections with cross walks and signals, reduces pedestrian risk and indirectly improves traffic safety by increasing the number of people walking or bicycling. Combined with the Safe Place and Safe Routes To School programs, Complete Streets allow kids to bike and walk to school, get physical activity and gain independence in a safe environment.
- Health. Streets that encourage walking and bicycling help improve health. Streets that force residents into their cars for every trip outside the home contribute to the epidemic of obesity that, unfortunately, has become an American way of life.
- Transportation. More people walking, biking or taking public transit means fewer people are congesting the highways, taxing the infrastructure with maintenance costs or working up a lather of road rage.
- Air Quality. Poor air quality in some areas is linked to increases in asthma and other illnesses. If each resident of an American community of 100,000 replaced one car trip with one bike trip just once a month, he or she cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 3,764 tons of per year in their community. A Complete Street helps make it so.
- Fiscal Sense. Integrating sidewalks, bike lanes, transit amenities, and safe crossings into initial project designs spares the expense of retrofits later. Small retailers also don't mind the extra foot traffic that puts people closer to retailers and other store-front businesses.
The CompleteStreets.org website is a living dissertation on the ongoing Complete Streets effort to help keep homes from becoming islands. It's also an easy-to-follow manual for those who want to get involved.
The site offers successful case studies, blueprints for establishing Complete Street policies in your neighborhood, resources to tap and a host of questions answered.