Complete Streets: Assume Yes, Justify No…Make The Leap
When you are jumping over a canyon, don’t do it in two steps.”
~ Michael Ronkin, at the MAP Transportation Bonanza
Similarly, regarding the (re)design of our streets for people, we need to leap, not plan in successive increments to inaction.
Ronkin made the above comment last week in Lansing during his keynote address titled: Complete Streets 201—From Adopting a Policy to Implementation, How It Changes Business as Usual at the Transportation Bonanza. As would be expected from someone with a tag line of “National Bicycle and Pedestrian Expert”, Ronkin urged participants, mainly planners and engineers, to alter the approach in every project to provide for all users. Assume yes, justify no when it comes to sidewalks, bike lanes, traffic calming and context sensitive designs.
As an example, a tool he suggested was as simple as a re-prioritization of street planning to go from the typical approach of designing from the center to the edges, to designing from the outside in, beginning with the 8 foot sidewalks, 8 foot tree lawns and 6 foot bike lanes as the standard; automobile lanes designed with what remains. This would lead to a lot fewer instances of pedestrian traffic being set aside for “future consideration.”
The 2-day Transportation Bonanza was more than Michael Ronkin (I hope to follow-up on more of it), but his keynote and presentation on the Top Ten Things You Can Do To Create Walkable and Bikable Streets had the most impact on altering perspectives. At least it’s my hope that perspectives were altered.
Ronkin’s top ten? Not all of them are required and any combination of them can only help.
- Destinations: Create places to be.
- Land Use: Use zoning to create tighter connected communities.
- Street Connectivity: Utilize and enhance existing grid networks.
- People orientated: Design places at a human scale & streets where motorists expect to see people walking and cycling.
- Revise Level of Service standards/expectations: Historically focused on automobile speeds and flow, it’s now required to measure and provide for all users. Road/Street agencies need to evaluate the complete service to the community a project provides. The more diverse the level of service, the higher the community value. _________________________________________________________
- Restrict Parking: Eliminate or create maximum parking regulations, not minimum.
- Narrow Streets: Traffic calming is narrower streets and lanes substantially reduces crashes and crashes that result in injury. It also serves to cut asphalt costs to move the curbs in.
- Slow Traffic: Design for targeted speeds instead of relying on education and enforcement.
- Redesign Intersections: Pedestrians shall be the first priority at intersections. As well, the smallest possible turning radius is recommend, even if it means a change in vehicle preference. As Ronkin suggested, “Why are we designing roads to fit trucks? Adapt the truck to the community, not the community to the truck.”
- Street Crossings: Enhance, shorten, allow more crosswalks and emphasis observation to see where people want to cross. People aren’t cattle; the maximum distance most people will go out of their way to cross at a crosswalk is 50-75 feet. Further than that and we just don’t bother.
In a room full of road agency staff, all of which are dealing with decreasing budgets, his final message, for the remaining naysayers, was:
“We have the money, we just need to stop spending it on things that hurt us.“
Michael Ronkin leads the team at Designing Streets for Pedestrians & Bicyclists LLC.