Complete Streets: Flavor of the month?

It seems a lot of Michigan’s local government officials have suddenly discovered the benefits of Complete Streets. In fact twenty-seven communities have passed Complete Streets resolutions or ordinances so far.

Sounds great, right?

Well we’re not celebrating yet.

Certainly there are many communities that have gone the extra step to pass a binding ordinance or have developed non-motorized master plans. We’re not so concerned about them.

What concerns us are those communities passing resolutions that have no history of building Complete Streets. Did they suddenly realize that pedestrians and bicyclists should have safe transportation options? Are they not reading the newspapers about pedestrians and cyclist getting hit? Did their 1999 AASHTO bicycle design guidelines just arrive in the mail?

And, there are some communities with resolutions  that had opportunities to build Complete Streets and chose not to. In fact one Complete Street community very recently removed a series of pedestrian crosswalks in order to speed up car travel — including a crosswalk between the senior center and some stores/bank.

Setting the bar

Many Metro Detroit communities we’ve met think they’re already real walkable and bike friendly. Too often this is not based in reality. Perhaps this is because so many area communities haven’t done anything. The bar has been set so low that a pedestrian countdown timer is considered a home run.

The truth is the bar for Complete Streets isn’t being set in Metro Detroit. It’s being set in cities like New York, Vancouver, and in Europe.  And later this year, maybe we can add Detroit to the list — a city starting to build Complete Streets with neither a resolution or ordinance.

So, at least around Metro Detroit area , Complete Streets is bringing out many good intentions.

It remains to be seen if those lead to good implementations. We’ll definitely celebrate those.

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8 Responses to “Complete Streets: Flavor of the month?”

  1. Dave Says:

    Todd,

    Do you mind me sharing, in what context you are referring to when you say, “Many Metro Detroit communities we’ve met think they’re already real walkable and bike friendly.” Who is “we”, and as far as the community is concerned, what range of people do you talk to? Citizens, elected officials? Who do you talk to the most?

    Lastly, what “informs” these communities of being walkable? Are they living under a rock?

    I could easily have taken the time to strengthen my case where I live at, for enforcing simple ordinances of clearing sidewalks of snow by taking pictures, but then again, the city is just as guilty.

    When I walk to my public library (with snow covered sidewalks oftentimes along public and private property), and I’m really unaware of the ordinance regarding this, so perhaps the city lays off of enforcing this heavily because they theirselves don’t clear sidewalks that don’t abut private property?

    As far as design is concerned, I see all these ordinances passed, but what does it really mean? It seems like most cities, they are just trying to balance their budget and are aware that passing such an ordinance could give them preference in receiving funding, but I am unaware if there is a stipulation that says if a city is to receive preference in funding based on passing a C.S. resolution or ordinance, then they must comply with what the resolution or ordinance dictates to some degree in repaving.

    I’m guessing that the community that had the opportunity to make a street more complete street did so under the vague allowance of some type of excessive cost deterrent/allowance?

  2. Todd Scott Says:

    I have heard the “we’re walkable” from a wide range of people: elected officials, city staff, planning consultants, engineers, etc. I believe the big disconnect is that they attribute walkability to the presence of sidewalks and paths.

    Sometimes it seems walking is considered just a recreational activity in some communities.

    What they don’t consider is whether there are any places close to walk to. Walkability is more than taking the dog around the block. It’s being able to walk to a grocery store, restaurants, bars, school, a library, a coffee shop, the bank, etc. One of the best ways of measuring walkability is walkscore.com, which just improved their measurement algorithms.

    You bring up a good point about the preferential grant funding. Who will track the compliance? Are there penalties for not complying? In speaking with some at MDOT, I am not sure they have all the answers yet. It’s still new.

  3. Andrew Mutch Says:

    One of the elements I’m pushing for Novi after we adopt our new Non-Motorized Transportation Master Plan is a requirement that we evaluate our progress each year towards “completing” the plan. We should be able to show the community where and how we’ve improved our system to make it more walkable. It’s not just a matter of completing “x” feet of new sidewalk. As Todd correctly points out, there’s more to making a community more walkable than just building sidewalks. The same is true of Complete Streets. We need to show how we’re moving our streets towards the models of Complete Streets, not just slapping it on a press release and calling it good.

  4. Mike Says:

    That’s funny about the city removing the senior center crosswalk. Lived there and was considering buying a house. This move almost by itself soured me on the city. Watching these retirees shamble across 14 mile, with cars zooming around them, was absolutely stomach churning. Wrote an email to city hall and got a response about crosswalk removal being ‘green’ because cars stopping or going slowly is more polluting than cars speeding by.

  5. Fabian Lanzy Says:

    Wait…. a community commits to Complete Streets and then removes crosswalks around a senior center to ‘speed up’ vehicle traffic? Seems the city planners must be totally unclear on the concept of traffic calming- maybe they are playing ‘Grand Theft Auto-San Andreas’ when they should be reading their CS draft. Total Epic Fail here!

  6. Todd Scott Says:

    Actually the crosswalks were removed before the city committed to Complete Streets. It seems they could have left the existing traffic lights and just made them pedestrian/vehicle activated.

  7. Joel Batterman Says:

    Mike, would you mind sharing the text of the message you received? It sounds almost too crazy to be believed. My e-mail is “jomba” at “umich” dot “edu.”

  8. Mike Says:

    @Joel

    Wow – I still had this in my archives. I wrote a lengthy plea for the something to replace the crosswalks, and addressed it to the Mayor.

    “Mr. (Mike),
    I was happy to receive your letter and particularly happy to hear that you would like to stay here in Clawson. I graduated from Clawson High School in 1959 and over the years have lived in several cities. I was finally able to return to Clawson in 1986 and my wife and I love this city,
    I believe that you should have all the facts in this matter. The cost of replacing a light would be approximately $100,000. We also may have to repay a grant that was received to remove the lights. This was an environmental grant because we would be reducing the pollution of the cars having to idle at all of those lights. I have requested a review of all costs associated with the replacement of a traffic light.
    I want to assure you that the entire Council is on board to try to find a solution for pedestrian crossings on 14 Mile that will serve the citizens of Clawson. It is not a simple problem, nor is there a simple solution. We will looking at all options.
    Thank you again for your letter. I am always happy to hear from my neighbors here in Clawson who take an active role in their City. I welcome your comments and questions.
    Thank you,
    (REDACTED)
    City Councilman”

    Clawson only half gets it at best. In the local paper the city manager waved the ex-crosswalks off as something ‘political pressure groups’ had installed in the 1970s. (facepalm)

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