Complete Streets Are Streets For Everyone

by Darren Kessner

In November 2010, the City Council of Culver City unanimously adopted the Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan (BPMP). The BPMP was the product of a year and a half of research, and based on the input of all the members of the Culver City community: residents, owners and employees of local businesses, visitors, and city officials.

In the Introduction of the BPMP document, the City expresses its Complete Streets policy: “The City of Culver City is embracing a new vision of transportation planning, recognizing that it is essential to enhancing the quality of life for not only residents and visitors, but also the broader community and world. To this end, the City is adopting the concept of Complete Streets, which emphasizes a balanced transportation system that considers all users of the road when planning development and transportation projects, whether cyclists, pedestrians, transit riders, or vehicles. The City is also articulating its principal goal: To transform the City into a place with an extensive bicycle and pedestrian network that allows travelers of all levels and abilities to feel comfortable walking and biking to their destinations. In so doing, encourage more people to forgo car trips, when possible, in favor of alternative forms of transportation and become truly bicycle and pedestrian friendly.” (emphasis in the original BPMP document)

What does it mean to “consider all users of the road when planning development”? For example, if a city planner were thinking of only automobile drivers, he or she may think that nicely landscaped street medians would be a good addition to a business district. Medians may provide a pleasant view, but they are of no utility to pedestrians or cyclists (or drivers, for that matter). On the other hand, slowing down traffic, adding bike lanes, and widening sidewalks
to accommodate shade trees and benches create a much friendlier atmosphere, while increasing business at the same time.

For example, in West Palm Beach, Florida, a combination of traffic calming measures and investment in public spaces in the early 90’s transformed the dilapidated Downtown area into a vibrant city center. Some of the traffic calming measures used include raised intersections, narrowed streets, conversion of one-way to two-way streets, and removal of turn lanes. All of these measures slow down traffic by signalling to the driver: “This is a pedestrian zone.” Within a few years, commercial space went from 20% occupied to 80%, property values more than doubled, and the City’s $10 million investment was overshadowed by over $300 million in private investment in the area.

Closer to home, the city of Long Beach, California has added a number of improvements to the downtown area to slow down traffic and facilitate non-automobile trips. A new “Bicycle Boulevard” on Vista Street allows families to ride safely from their homes to several local schools. The Bike Boulevard includes roundabouts to slow down drivers, as well as a special
signal that provides safe bicycle/pedestrian crossing of a major street while preventing cut-through traffic from non-resident drivers. On 2nd Street, Long Beach has introduced green “sharrow” lanes, which remind drivers that they will be sharing the road with cyclists, as well as indicate to cyclists the safest place to be riding in the road. On 3rd St. and Broadway, the city is finishing up construction of separated bikeways, which allow cyclists full, protected access to these major thoroughfares. Long Beach has also begun to replace selected automobile parking spots with Bike Corrals that have space for 14 bicycles. Residents and business owners alike are excited about the expanded access to and increased foot traffic within the downtown business district.

Taking the incomplete, automobile-only viewpoint, one might see Culver City as a way to get from Marina del Rey to Beverly Hills. From the Complete Streets viewpoint, Culver City is a place where people want to live and work. Residents, business owners and employees, and city officials all stand to benefit from keeping the Complete Streets concept in mind when making decisions regarding the future development of the city.

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