02/21/13

MnDOT Leaders Consider Draft Complete Streets PolicyMnDOT Leaders Consider Draft Complete Streets Policy

Post Updated 3-6-13

By Steve Clark, Bicycling and Walking Program Manager

In 2010, the Minnesota State Legislature passed a law that called for the implementation of a statewide Complete Streets policy, "to reasonably address the safety and accessibility needs of users of all ages and abilities" and to consider "the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, and motorists."  The policy was to be developed in "consultation with stakeholders, state and regional agencies, local governments, and road authorities."

Last year, after BWTC conducted a Complete Streets Workshop with MnDOT staff, Central Ave NE became one of the first state highways in the Minnesota to incorporate Complete Streets elements

Such BWTC projects as the road diet on Douglas Drive in Golden Valley , the RiverLake Greenway, and Charles Avenue Friendly Streets in Saint Paul (a project coming in 2013), achieve results in keeping with Complete Streets goals. Our education initiatives have also included hosting local & national trainers to lead workshops on Complete Streets best practices. 

Text Box: Minnesota Complete Streets Draft Policy Vision Statement: We envision a world-class multi-modal transportation system throughout Minnesota that provides a safe and convenient network of complete streets, and serves people of all ages and abilities. The network is interconnected, cost-effective, and context-sensitive. It serves motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, freight, emergency responders, and other service providers without undue preference to any users at the expense of safe travel for other users. It enhances Minnesota's quality of life, health of our communities, economic vitality, and environmental quality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MnDOT is working toward Complete Streets policy adoption in 2014.

MnDOT has been working toward Complete Streets policy adoption, and is required to report to the legislature by January 2014 on its implementation. In 2012 I had the opportunity from my staff role on Transit for Livable Communities to serve on MnDOT's External Complete Streets Advisory Committee, in a capacity that tapped my experience on the BWTC team. The committee approved a draft Complete Streets policy in November, and presented it on December 18 to the Minnesota Department of Transportation's Stewardship Council (comprised of the top officials at MnDOT, including Commissioner Zelle).

 

Recently the committee was informed that careful review of the draft policy is underway, that officials are taking the recommendations very seriously, and that an internal rework of the suggested policy could be expected soon.

Policy Recommendations

Here are six elements of the draft policy submitted by the External Complete Streets Advisory Committee that relate to bicyclists and pedestrians:

1.       The recognition that Complete Streets offers many benefits to Minnesota including improving safety, economic vitality, and quality of life, and creating more livable communities, healthier people, and a better environment.

2.       The application of Complete Streets policy to all planning and projects undertaken by MnDOT.

3.       A commitment that MnDOT will play a leadership role in assisting local jurisdictions to implement Complete Streets policies and programs.

4.       The institutionalization of a multimodal project development process that automatically includes all modes in project purpose and need statements, and anticipates future demand for all modes and users.

5.       The development of performance indicators that will be used to evaluate implementation of the Complete Streets policy.

6.       The active support by MnDOT of mode shifts to nonmotorized transportation and a stated goal to reduce motor vehicle miles traveled (VMTs).

Challenges Ahead

I reference two other key policies that affect the Complete Streets implementation, but are outside the parameters of the External Complete Streets Advisory Committee.

Cost-participation remains a largely unresolved issue. Currently, if a local jurisdiction wants to see pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure as part of a highway project, it often needs to foot the entire bike/ped portion of the bill.

State Aid Standards were also recognized as an obstacle in the original bill to create a Complete Streets policy. These standards currently require more lanes and lane space for motorized travel than what best practices or context-sensitive solutions would call for. For instance, even though the FHWA uses the example of a street in San Francisco with 22,000 cars per day as a successful case history for a road diet (converting 4 lanes to 3 lanes and adding bike lanes), Minnesota standards prohibit such a conversion with an average of just 15,000 vehicles per day on a roadway. The standards also demand 11-foot minimum travel lane widths, even though other documents (e.g., AASHTO's Green Book) recognize the safety of narrower lane widths.  Because these changes can be made as part of a resurfacing project, and the new markings cost no more than putting back the old, the ability to narrow travel lanes or drop a lane altogether can be a very low-cost method of improving conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists and could help make Complete Streets implementation a reality on more roadways. MnDOT staff have committed to review the current standards and seem more open than ever before to offer greater flexibility.

Next Steps

An effort is underway to review and analyze existing bicycle and pedestrian laws to provide MnDOT and local governments with an understanding of how such laws already support Complete Streets implementation.  This law review will also help the External Complete Streets Advisory Committee as it continues its work to guide MnDOT on how to implement a Complete Streets policy that is fully consistent with earlier legislative actions. The review is expected to be completed in early 2013.

Working Together for Complete Streets

I must say it has been quite an honor to be part of this process that was only made possible by the good work of legislators on both sides of the aisle, and by active transportation proponents who came together in full force in 2009 and 2010 to help get this piece of legislation (Minn. Stat. § 174.75 - Complete Streets) passed. Even more uplifting are all the people within MnDOT and other agencies who have been open to a Complete Streets approach to our transportation system and are now some of the greatest champions for Complete Streets.

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