Redefining Success

Walking, bicycling, and driving in Boulder, Colorado.
Walking, bicycling, and driving in Boulder, Colorado.

As the impressive number of Complete Streets policies indicates, there is a growing demand for a new approach to our streets, one that measures success not by moving more cars more quickly through communities, but instead by prioritizing the safety, access, and mobility of all modes.

While each adopted Complete Streets policy must be unique to reflect local realities, the best policies are not simply blanket commitments to completing the streets. Instead, they prompt specific, measurable goals for the multimodal roads we envision.

Across the country, communities are building roads with these new goals and standards in mind, redefining what exemplifies a successful road. Communities are using a mix of metrics, both system-wide goals, like number of people walking to their destinations or miles of new bike lanes, and project-level outcomes, measuring things like speed and injuries before and after the changes.

In Boulder, Colorado, the city’s Transportation Master Plan sets tangible goals for completing Boulder’s streets, including: hold vehicle miles traveled would not exceed its 1994 levels; reduce the number of trips made by one person driving alone to 25%; and allow no more than 20% of the system to be congested. Also a goal: not allowing any one mode to be developed to the detriment of others. To accomplish this, Boulder focused on planning, funding, and implementing a balanced set of travel choices.

Measuring their progress (.pdf) through citizens’ travel diaries, vehicle counts, bicycle counts, transit ridership statistics, travel time studies and census data allows Boulder to assess how it is achieving its multimodal vision. An estimated 85% of Boulder’s arterial streets now accommodate people on bikes, and the city is making quick work of filling in gaps in the sidewalk network. As of 2009, Boulder’s residents walk three times the national average, hop on transit twice the national average, and cycle twenty times the national average.

South Columbian Way in Seattle, repaved in 2010
South Columbian Way in Seattle, repaved in 2010

Seattle, Washington, has been implementing similar changes. In 2006, citizens voted to pass Bridging the Gap, a nine-year tax levy to fund road maintenance and improve infrastructure for all users (this measure inspired Seattle’s Complete Streets ordinance a year later, which applies to all projects, not just those using funds from the levy). The city set key goals, such as creating safe routes to school near 30 elementary schools; reducing the infrastructure maintenance backlog through rehabilitated stairways, 8,000 of new street trees, and 150,000 replaced signs; paving and repairing 200 lane-miles of Seattle streets; enhancing transit and safety improvements on 3 key transit corridors; and funding the implementation of the city’s Bike Master Plan so that 95% of residents would be within ¼ mile of a bicycle facility.

Guided by these goals, the city has already paved 120 lane miles and constructed 77 blocks of new sidewalks. Residents are benefiting from 45,000 hours of new transit service; a nine-year goal achieved in just four.  It’s easier to cross the street too, thanks to 3,200 restriped crosswalks and pedestrian countdown signals at 133 intersections. Over 110 miles of new bike lanes and sharrows have been installed. And the air probably feels a bit cleaner too, given the 3,200 new street trees in the city. (You can see more of the goals in the Three Year Report (.pdf), covering 2007-2009 projects, and in the list of 2010 accomplishments.)

In the Park Slope neighborhood of New York City, Prospect Park West has recently become a more complete thoroughfare. In 2007, the community came to the Department of Transportation concerned with speeding cars and safe access to the park. The City responded with a pilot design that reconfigures the street to add pedestrian islands, new loading zones, and a two-way bike lane.

A radar study done before the pilot project found that 3 of 4 vehicles broke the speed limit. Now, that number is down to 1 in 5, with most traveling an average of 6 mph slower. The retrofitting of Prospect Park West has led to the 16% decrease in crashes, the tripling of weekday cycling, and shorter crossing times for pedestrians. Additionally, the changes resulted in very little lost parking (just two spaces) and almost no change in automobile volume. Prospect Park West now balances safety and capacity, delivering results (.pdf) that most community members desired.

Prospect Park West: Before & After
Prospect Park West: Before & After

On Lawyers Road in Reston, Virginia, the state Department of Transportation took the road from four lanes to three in a classic road diet fashion: gaining a bike lane in each direction and a center turn lane to minimize delay.  After the road diet, a survey of users and area residents (.pdf) revealed that car travel time on Lawyers Road has not been lengthened and users feel safer on the street and are encouraged to cycle more. Just like Prospect Park West, Reston’s Lawyers Road indicates that completing streets will create real change at the ground level.

From Virginia to Seattle, planners are proving that completing the streets means more than words on paper: it means setting and meeting tangible goals. These four cities showcased above illustrate the nationwide shift toward a broadened definition of a successful road. In these communities, and in many more, safe, accessible, “complete” streets are proving to be the best streets.

Krystle Okafor collaborated with Stefanie Seskin in the writing of this post.

Complete Streets