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New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner James Simpson took to the press yesterday with an op-ed about the often overlooked link between roadway safety and roadway design. He used his platform to highlight NJDOT’s Complete Streets policy which requires that all major NJDOT roadway projects going forward include accommodations for all roadway users, not just cars. That means pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, and the mobility impaired will have their needs addressed as much as automobile vehicles. This sounds like a no-brainer, but in the past, the needs of any roadway users besides automobiles has often been an afterthought at best.

The benefits of making a street “complete” can be dramatic for health, safety, equity, and the bottom line.

Benefits of Complete Streets
(from the National Complete Streets Coalition)

Complete streets can offer many benefits in all communities, regardless of size or location.Complete streets make economic sense. A balanced transportation system that includes complete streets can bolster economic growth and stability by providing accessible and efficient connections between residences, schools, parks, public transportation, offices, and retail destinations.

Complete streets improve safety by reducing crashes through safety improvements. One study found that designing for pedestrian travel by installing raised medians and redesigning intersections and sidewalks reduced pedestrian risk by 28%.

Complete streets encourage more walking and bicycling. Public health experts are encouraging walking and bicycling as a response to the obesity epidemic, and complete streets can help. One study found that 43 percent of people with safe places to walk within 10 minutes of home met recommended activity levels, while just 27% of those without safe places to walk were active enough.

Complete streets can help ease transportation woes. Streets that provide travel choices can give people the option to avoid traffic jams, and increase the overall capacity of the transportation network. Several smaller cities have adopted complete streets policies as one strategy to increase the overall capacity of their transportation network and reduce congestion.

Complete streets help children. Streets that provide room for bicycling and walking help children get physical activity and gain independence. More children walk to school where there are sidewalks, and children who have and use safe walking and bicycling routes have a more positive view of their neighborhood. Safe Routes to School programs, gaining in popularity across the country, will benefit from complete streets policies that help turn all routes into safe routes.

Complete streets are good for air quality. Poor air quality in our urban areas is linked to increases in asthma and other illnesses. Yet if each resident of an American community of 100,000 replaced one car trip with one bike trip just once a month, it would cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 3,764 tons of per year in the community. Complete streets allow this to happen more easily.

Complete streets make fiscal sense. Integrating sidewalks, bike lanes, transit amenities, and safe crossings into the initial design of a project spares the expense of retrofits later. Jeff Morales, former Director of Caltrans, said, “by fully considering the needs of all non-motorized travelers (pedestrians, bicyclists, and persons with disabilities) early in the life of a project, the costs associated with including facilities for these travelers are minimized.”

While New Jersey’s Complete Streets policy is a national model — it was ranked strongest in the nation by the National Complete Streets Coalition — Complete Streets isn’t just happening at the state level. Since NJDOT adopted its policy in 2009, 13 municipalities and one county have also adopted Complete Streets policies, and NJDOT is actively encouraging more local governments to follow suit.

NJDOT is working on a Complete Streets video that will be released soon, and they will be offering regional workshops in the spring of 2012 that will offer local and county officials an education on how to design a complete street, and why they are important. The National Complete Streets Coalition (NCSC) has a lot of good information on the basics of Complete Streets as well as an interactive Atlas of Complete Streets policies to see what kinds of Complete Streets policies other communities and states are implementing. If you’re looking to start writing a policy for your own town, a good place to start is by looking at NCSC’s key elements of an ideal Complete Streets policy to help you write one for your town. And of course, if you’re interested in learning more about implementing Complete Streets at the local level, you can always contact us.

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