11/03/11

Biking, Walking, & Blogging: Complete Streets Workshops Bring People TogetherBiking, Walking, & Blogging: Complete Streets Workshops Bring People Together

Complete Streets Workshops Bring People Together

From Steve Clark, BWTC

Peter Lagerwey does not like it when people refer to the work that he does -  helping communities develop better bicycle and pedestrian facilities --  as "social engineering". Peter is a senior planner for Toole Design Group and is based in Seattle, WA.

"Making it easier for people to cross a street, isn't social engineering.  Adding bike lanes isn't social engineering..... Social engineering is really what we have been doing all along and that is designing our cities primarily around the needs of the automobile.... Making us dependent on the automobile... not allowing us a choice.... that's social engineering."

Lagerwey, along with Michael Moule, PE, PTOE, was in the Twin Cities October 25th and 26th to lead TLC's Complete Streets Workshops for area engineers, planners and policy makers.  Judging from the comments received during and after the workshops, people appreciated not only Lagerwey's keen observations about social policy, but Moule's and Lagerwey's technical expertise in creating more bike and pedestrian friendly communities.

 The workshops focused on two different streets, Central Ave NE in Minneapolis and Snelling Ave in Saint Paul.  Except for bringing people outside to walk each of the streets for a few blocks during an afternoon session, the basic training for each workshop was the same.  But interestingly, even the suggested treatments (developed by the workshop participants and not the instructors) turned out to be quite similar.

"What we find is that many roads can work better for bicyclists and pedestrians simply by reprioritizing or reprogramming the space that is there - paint is your friend!" Lagerwey explained.   Moule, a traffic engineer, demonstrated how this could be done with either eliminating a travel lane to add bike lanes or by narrowing the width of each of the travel lanes.  The instructors then provided documentation for how lanes as narrow as 10 feet are just as safe as 12 foot lanes.

"What's more," continued Moule, "the latest Roadway Capacity Design manual now confirms that lanes as narrow as 10 feet do not reduce capacity.... The same number of cars, trucks and buses can still use the roadway, but now there's also room for bicyclists - by using the freed up space to add a bike lane."

Road diets, reducing the number of travel lanes, also show huge safety benefits for all road users.  "What the studies show is that when  you go from 4 lanes to 3 lanes, using the center lane as a shared left turn only lane, crashes drop by 27 percent, " noted Lagerwey who worked with the Seattle Department of Transportation for 30 years.  According to Lagerwey, Seattle has now implemented 38 road diets -- some carrying as much as 28,000 cars a day.  Moule warned however that anytime you do a road diet with heavier volumes of traffic, an analysis should be performed to see how well it might work and how to optimize signalization and timing.  "In many cases," said Moule, "the overall operation of a roadway, beyond safety, will be improved by a 4-3 conversion." Moule showed an example of this for a road carrying 22,000 cars a day, but cautioned that it can depend on how many left turning movements there are.  (If there are few such movements, a road diet may not be as effective for improving traffic flow, but even in those situations, the center lane can often be used as a median to help with pedestrian crossings and traffic calming).  "It is a great strategy showing that we can often do "more with less" explained Moule.

Here are some other take aways from the workshops:

Budgets are moral documents.  At a time when more and more people cannot afford to own a car (or simply choose to live without one) and when more and more people are reaching an age where driving a car has become problematic, to not create better conditions for walking and bicycling and public transit, is a social justice issue.

While it is true that Complete Streets policy does not necessitate "all modes for all roads", the purpose of a policy should be to consider the needs of all road users....pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users, whenever a new project is being developed.  While all roads certainly don't need bike lanes (for instance residential streets) major streets that provide the most direct route to destinations (schools, stores, offices, etc.) need to have a safe way for people to bike and walk. To not make the effort to make conditions safer for bicyclists and pedestrians when doing a resurfacing project, for instance, on a street like Snelling Ave or Central Avenue would not only be a missed opportunity, but a misuse of public funds.

In the long run, implementing Complete Streets (aka routine accommodation) saves money.  This is because options other than the automobile are better investments for public health, economic development and energy use, and also because retrofits are so expensive.  Best to do it right when the opportunity presents itself!