Last Monday, Minnesota became the fifth state this year to introduce complete streets legislation. Bills SF 2461 and HF 2801 will ensure every road construction, reconstruction, or rehabilitation project funded partially or completely by the state to follow a complete streets approach. The legislation is a major step forward for Minnesota, supported both by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the Minnesota Complete Streets Coalition, and over 70% of Minnesotans.
The Minnesota Complete Streets Coalition, Representative Mike Obermueller (author of the House bill), and Senator Tony Lourey (author of the Senate bill) held a press conference after introduction (see video). Rep. Obermueller cited the safety imperative of the legislation. Over the last decade, 500 bicyclists and pedestrians were killed on roads in Minnesota, and another 20,000 were injured. “One of the reasons for these injuries and fatalities is that state standards too often dictate that Minnesota roads move cars as quickly as possible and ignore the abilities of seniors, children, pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders,” Obermueller said. Sen. Lourey emphasized that the bill would apply to all future projects and could save money by preventing costly retrofits.
Enthusiasm for complete streets has been on the rise in Minnesota. A state-mandated report from the DOT, presented to the legislature in December, recommended adoption of a statewide complete streets policy. The National Complete Streets Coalition has held eight workshops across the state. Every breakout session at a recent the US DOT event in Minnesota featured at least one complete streets proponent. Communities as diverse as the Cities of Rochester, St. Paul, Albert Lea, and Bloomington, and Hennepin County have already adopted policies, with several more working to develop policies.
The bills will help these local communities achieve their complete streets ambitions by establishing a statewide pilot program for local jurisdictions to use more flexible design standards as an alternative to the current state-mandated standards. The Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune, in a supportive editorial, cites the many cases where current state standards have created inhospitable roadways in rural and urban communities, hampering economic well-being as well as community livability. Furthermore, by establishing a policy at the state-level, the DOT will be able to better assist local agencies.
The Minnesota Complete Streets Coalition represents health, family, environment, senior, and transportation advocates and has worked tirelessly to advance complete streets across the state. Organizations from AARP and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota to Transit for Livable Communities and Fresh Energy were on hand at last week’s press conference.
More than 60 percent of adult Minnesotans who are overweight or obese, which could add $3.7 billion in health care expenses by 2020. “Current road designs often create barriers and discourage people from walking and biking,” Dr. Marc Manley, Chief Prevention Officer at Blue Cross, said. “We need to make it easier for people to be active and achieve or maintain a healthy weight. This Complete Streets policy is a creative solution that not only can make our transportation dollars stretch farther, but also encourage more people to lead an active lifestyle, thereby improving health and saving health care dollars.”
The bills have bipartisan support in the legislature. In addition to the five original House authors, another ten have been added in the last week. Five Senators support the bill.
The bill will make its first and only House committee stop in the Transportation Finance Committee tomorrow, February 16.