How we design our streets greatly impacts how we choose to travel. When cars are prioritized, people walk and move less. The average American today drives nearly twice as many miles a year than the average American did in 1970. He/She also carries about 20 percent more weight and is at a higher risk for diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease; diseases that are affected by how active we are.
According to an expanding body of research, the built environment is one the most powerful predictors of how much we move. Complete Streets represent a system-wide approach by which communities optimize the built environment to make walking, bicycling, and using public transportation the easy choice. They give people of all ages and abilities more options for getting around and thereby help make physical activity a natural part of a person's day.
In 2015, the Town of Weymouth's Board of Zoning Appeals and Planning Board adopted a Complete Streets Policy to promote and support safe and accessible travel options for all people in Weymouth regardless of age, ability, or mode of transportation. The goal of this policy is to use every local transportation project as an opportunity to make streets safer and more convenient for all users. In 2015, Mayor Susan Kay signed a Complete Streets Resolution endorsing the Planning and Zoning Board's Complete Streets Policy.
The Best Complete Streets Policies of 2015, an annual ranking from Smart Growth America’s National Complete Streets Coalition, evaluated all 82 Complete Streets policies passed in 2015. Weymouth’s policy was ranked as the nation’s fourth best, with a score of 92.0 out of a possible 100 points.
What are Complete Streets?
"Complete Streets are streets for everyone." SmartGrowthAmerica.org
A Complete Street describes a right of way that provides safe and accessible options for people of all ages and abilities and all modes of travel, including walking, bicycling, driving, and public transit. A network of Complete Streets expands travel choices by making it easy for people to cross the road, walk to school, bicycle to work, or hop on and off buses and trains. Complete Streets are designed with all users in mind, and they make non-motorized transportation more convenient, more attractive, and safer.
What does a Complete Street look like?
Complete Streets are context sensitive. They have no fixed design because each right of way is different in place and purpose. A Complete Street in an urban area will look very different from a Complete Street in a rural area. What matters is that the elements of each street reflect the needs of the people who use it, regardless of age, ability, or mode of travel.
Complete Streets elements can be realized on a large sale (e.g., intersection improvements) or can be more narrowly focused (e.g., adding a single bicycle lane). The MassDOT Highway Division gives the following examples of Complete Streets infrastructure elements:
- ADA-complaint curb ramps
- Audible pedestrian signals
- Bicycle racks
- Bus lane and pulloffs
- Bus shelters
- Curb extensions
- Designated bicycle lanes
- Detectable warning surfaces
- High-visibility crosswalks
- Intersection signalization
- Pedestrian crossing beacons
- Radar speed signage
- Share use paths
- Street lighting
- Street trees and furniture
- Traffic calming
- Wayfinding signage
What are the benefits of Complete Streets?
Complete Streets offer many benefits for communities, regardless of size or location:
|Complete Streets improve safety by reducing crashes through infrastructure improvements. Research shows that sidewalks reduce pedestrian crashes by 88 percent (FHWA); shoulders, 71 percent (FDOT); medians, 40 percent; road diets, 18 to 49 percent (ITE); and countdown signals, 25 percent (FHWA). Roadway design and engineering approaches commonly found in Complete Streets also provide long-lasting reductions in travel speeds. Although slower speeds benefit all users, they have a dramatic impact on pedestrian safety. 80 percent of pedestrians struck by a car going 40 mph will die. At 30 mph, the likelihood of death drops to 40 percent. At 20 mph, the fatality rate drops to just 5 percent.|
|Complete Streets nudge people into physical activity by making walking and bicycling easy. Physical activity has a direct and linear relation to personal health. A comprehensive study of walkability found that people in walkable neighborhoods do about 35 to 45 more minutes of moderate to intense physical activity a week and are less likely to be overweight or obese compared with people living in "low walkable" neighborhoods. Another study found that 43 percent of people with safe places to walk within 10 minutes of their homes satisfy the CDC's recommended level of physical activity per week. In contrast, just 27 percent of those without safe places to walk are sufficiently active. Diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease are all affected by how active we are.|
|Complete Streets revitalize town and city centers by improving access for non-motorized travelers. Local businesses see many benefits when people can easily travel by foot or bicycle. One study found that patrons of retail businesses who walk or bicycle to a shopping area are among the people who spend the most money and visit the most often. Investments made by communities in implementing Complete Streets policies also tend to stimulate private investment. Lancaster, California added pedestrian safety features as part of a $10.6 million downtown revitalization effort. Complete Street improvements included a pedestrian-only plaza, wider sidewalks, and traffic calming. The project spurred $125 million in private investment, a 26 percent increase in sales tax revenue, and 800 new jobs.|
|Complete Streets help ease transportation woes by efficiently moving more people in the same amount of space and increasing the overall capacity of the transportation network. Getting more productivity out of our existing roads and transit systems is key to reducing congestion. One study found that businesses in the San Francisco Bay Area lose over $2 billion a year due to employees being stuck in traffic. Complete Streets improvements can help recapture some of these costs. Streets that provide travel choices give people the option to avoid traffic jams and save money by walking, bicycling, or taking a train. Research shows that families living in walkable areas also tend to save $400-$500 monthly in travel costs compared to those living in car-dependent communities. In addition, one study found that when having a car is a necessity in your community, transportation costs consume up to an additional six percent of your household income.|
|Complete Streets help children and older adults gain independence by making it safe for walking, bicycling, and taking buses and trains. Studies show that children who use (or even see) safe walking or bicycling routes in the places where they live and play have a more positive view of their neighborhoods. Walking/Bicycling to school also helps kids to be more physically active, feel a sense of responsibility, and socialize with friends and family. In a five state study, walking and bicycling to school increased by 37 percent after sidewalks and crosswalks were improved. For older adults, eight of ten surveyed in the United States believe that “for many seniors, public transportation is a better alternative to driving alone, particularly at night.” One study found that more than half (54 percent) of older adults living in an inhospitable walking environment would travel more by foot, bicycle, or transit if safety improvements were made. Walking and bicycling have been shown to help older adults stave off cognitive decline, manage blood sugar levels, and reduce the risk for heart disease and strokes.|
Complete streets are good for air quality because they make it easy to choose zero- and/or low-emission modes of travel. Studies have calculated that five to ten percent of urban automobile trips can reasonably be shifted to non-motorized transportation. If every resident of an American community of 100,000 people replaced just one car trip with one bike trip every month, the impact would be a reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 3,764 tons per year. Similarly, use of public transit by a single commuter is estimated to reduce a community's CO2 emissions by more than 4,800 pounds each year. Boulder, Colorado is a community that has taken a Complete Streets approach to transportation - adding over 350 miles of bicycle facilities, paved shoulders, and a comprehensive public transit network. Between 1990 and 2003, fewer people in Boulder drove alone, more people bicycled, and transit ridership grew by 500 percent. The reduction in vehicle trips cut the city's annual CO2 emissions by half a million pounds.
What is a Complete Streets policy?
A Complete Streets policy formalizes a community’s intent to plan, design, and maintain streets so they are safe for all users of all ages and abilities. Planners and builders are instructed to incorporate Complete Streets elements as a routine part of all road maintenance, infrastructure improvements, and private development projects. Research suggests that policies like Complete Streets are effective at encouraging walking, bicycling, and other forms of physically-active travel.
Where are Complete Streets being built?
In 2006, the Massachusetts Highway Department (MassHighway), which was succeeded by the MassDOT Highway Division, became one of the first transportation agencies in the country to adopt a Complete Streets approach to building and renovating streets, parks, sidewalks, and parking lots statewide. In support of this policy, and in response to the establishment of M.G.L. Chapter 90I, the MassDOT established a funding program to encourage municipalities to regularly and routinely include Complete Streets design elements and infrastructure on locally-funded roads. Since its launch in February 2016, the Complete Streets Funding Program has approved over 100 municipal Complete Streets Policies in the Commonwealth. At the initiation of the program, just fifteen communities had policies that would have passed MassDOT’s criteria.
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