Completing the Streets for Better Transit

Safe crossings are important to good transit.
Safe crossings are important to good transit.

Complete streets and public transportation go hand-in-hand when improving our communities. Streets designed with all users in mind help connect transit to destinations – work, stores, school, and home. Every transit trip requires crossing the street at least once, and a complete streets policy ensures those streets have safe crossings and accessible sidewalks to get passengers, regardless of ability, from the bus or train to where they need to go.

Complete streets were key in a number of presentations at this year’s Rail-Volution conference, which annually brings together transit advocates to discuss new ideas and successes. From the opening plenary on Friday, the links between all modes of transportation were apparent.

Outgoing Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation James A. Aloisi, Jr. spoke about the need to make the nation’s transportation systems work for everyone. He expressed his dislike of the name “transportation enhancements” – a federal funding program frequently used for walking and bicycling projects – for making such accommodations sound like additional amenities when they should be fundamentals. Several presenters spoke about how pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit contribute to livability; some highlighted the need to integrate pedestrians and bicycle riders in Transit Oriented Developments (TODs), where the connections between transit and the destinations are sometimes difficult to traverse by foot or bike.

Of course, the complete streets connection was most obvious at the “Introduction to Complete Streets” session held on Saturday. With presentations from AARP’s Jana Lynott, the City of Boston Department of Transportation’s Vineet Gupta, District of Columbia Councilmember Tommy Wells, and me, the packed room heard about the benefits of complete streets, the need to ensure our older adults retain mobility in their communities, how cities are implementing complete streets, and the important role of politicians in project decisions (these presentations will soon be available from Rail-Volution’s website).

Bus stop prototype design from Rethinking the Suburban Bus Stop.
Bus stop prototype design for a busy roadway from Rethinking the Suburban Bus Stop.

Another new resource for creating Complete Streets for transit is from the Airport Corridor Transportation Association (ACTA), a Transportation Management Association serving southwestern Pennsylvania. ACTA found that many of its suburban bus riders felt uncomfortable when so near fast-moving traffic and most wanted more shelters and seating and better lighting. Their excellent “Rethinking the Suburban Bus Stop” (.pdf) uses suggests designs to improve four different types of suburban bus stops, and is a great guide for suburban communities and transit agencies to improve their stops. The report also stresses the need for contiguous pedestrian walkways and more crossings to keep passengers safe when walking from the bus to their destinations.

Perhaps most exciting, elements added during a complete streets planning and design process can help transit be more efficient. Transit agencies aren’t always consulted when roads are designed, so a complete streets policy enables decision makers to prioritize transit in roadway improvements, thinking through design solutions not just for car movement, but for bus movement as well. Bus-only lanes, curb bump-outs, bus priority signalization are some of the tools available to make transit trips faster and more reliable – and usually in the toolboxes of communities with complete streets policies.

Rendition of a new bus stop in Boulder, CO, with connections to a bike trail, the sidewalk network, and the streets.
Rendition of a new bus stop in Boulder, CO, with connections to a bike trail, the sidewalk network, and the streets.

Boulder, Colorado is a great example of the synergy between public transportation and complete streets has been investing in multimodal transportation for two decades, building complete streets throughout the city and adding new transit options. It’s not just the cool buses in Boulder, but also the integrated and well-designed bus stops. Residents of Boulder use transit at rates than twice the national average, and the percentages of residents who walk or bike are similarly high.

Complete Streets