Complete Streets - Advance Planning Can Save Time and Money

These days, every agency is facing tight budgets. Given this situation, coupled with continued expectations from residents of always doing more with less, it seems impossible to do what needs to be done. Just when you thought your hands were full with tending to motorists’ needs alone, the concept of Complete Streets - making streets accessible to pedestrians, bicyclists and people of all abilities - may definitely seem like more than you can handle.

Creating ‘complete streets’ means making sure that their streets and roads work not only for drivers and transit users, but also for pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as for older people, children, and people with disabilities. While you probably will not include the concept of ‘complete streets’ on many maintenance projects, it is a good idea to think of places where sinple changes can help make your streets ‘complete.’

Before you decide to proceed with projects that don’t include ‘complete streets’, it is a good idea to take a look at the bigger picture. Planning ahead for full access by all users CAN save time and money. In addition to the significant time and cost saved if a facility needs to be rebuilt, redesigned, etc., because it was not fully accessible in the first place, if a facility is NOT fully accessible, the sponsoring municipality can be vulnerable to a lawsuit.

For example: suppose a road shoulder is rebuilt with a drop-off and gravel instead of replacing the original paved shoulder, this reconstruction method being used merely as a way to reduce costs. As a result, it is no longer possible to walk or use a wheelchair or other wheeled device on that section of roadway. Bicyclists are left with no buffer space along the edge of the pavement. If the issue of access or liability is raised, and the shoulder is mandated to be rebuilt and repaved as before, the reconstruction costs and redesign time will more than offset any savings anticipated from the initial plan.

Since each complete street is unique, it is impossible to provide a single description or template of what one looks like. Elements that may be found on a complete street include sidewalks, bike lanes or paved shoulders, comfortable and accessible transit stops, frequent crossing opportunities, accessible pedestrian signals, curb extensions, and more. A complete street in a rural area will look quite different from one in an urban area. On a rural road, simply providing adequate shoulders may work best to balance the safety, convenience and cost for everyone using that road, while an urban street will tend to include a variety of different elements.

Taking the time to plan ahead for ALL likely users and uses of the roadway is well worth it in the long run. In the end, it can cost less, and be much more valuable to the overall health of the community.

Spring 2010

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This work by the Cornell Local Roads Program (CLRP) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.