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How to Address Complete Streets Design Challenges

By Heather Kienitz

Streets and cars and people and houses.Complete Streets policies are critical to our communities’ transportation networks, health and safety, environment, and economies. Yet, transforming roadways into Complete Streets can be complex.

Here are eight common Complete Streets challenges and how to overcome them.

1 Incorporating diverse land uses

Street design and land use are inextricably linked. The existing and planned land uses influencing your corridor must be considered when planning and designing your streets. This can be difficult if your corridor is lengthy and accommodates many different land uses.

Solution: Develop context zones. Analyze your corridor to identify unique aspects of its visual character and associated land uses. Organize it into smaller, more manageable character segments (i.e., context zones), then treat each zone with a unique approach.

2 Identifying the priorities of a diverse mix of users

Convenient access to reliable transportation is important for the livelihood and well-being of any community and vital for underrepresented populations, such as low-income residents, people of color, and older adults.

Solution: Equitable engagement. Equitable engagement means connecting with everyone concerned and impacted, not just those who are most likely to participate. This is a two-way process that includes proactively engaging community stakeholders — particularly those who may be underrepresented — to obtain feedback and buy-in, inform and provide project transparency, generate excitement, and ultimately improve your projects.

3 Eliminating the highway feel

Streets are more than a conduit for traffic — they serve as outdoor rooms for our communities. Many streets lack the aesthetic appeal and buffer from traffic necessary for attracting and serving the needs of a wider range of users.

Solution: Add green infrastructure and streetscape elements. Eliminating the “highway feel” can be as simple as adding trees, streetscape furnishings, and other plantings. Adding public art and innovative stormwater treatment are also options.

4 Increasing walkability

Crossing the street should be efficient, safe, and easy. Yet, intersections with high turning volumes may have multiple turn lanes or channelized free-flowing lanes. From a pedestrian’s standpoint, these lanes increase the crossing distance and exposure to automobile traffic.

Solution: Slow motorists down; empower your pedestrians. Slow your motorists down — particularly those in channelized lanes — by using tighter radii or removing channelization completely. Increasing pedestrian visibility and shortening crossings with extended curbs, proper ramp placement, and median refuges can also improve walkability.

5 Providing for the safe flow of cars

Making room for all users sometimes means altering facilities and signalization previously designed to keep motorists moving. Signal timing, the number of lanes, and lane width are common concerns for Complete Streets efforts, mainly when traffic congestion is a concern.

Solution: Reach into the traffic toolbox. Field reviews and technical analyses of multimodal safety and traffic operations can determine the design and the number of auto lanes. When addressing safety and operational issues, look for opportunities to add turn lanes at key locations or convert from four to three lanes.

6 Improving comfort and safety for bicyclists

Our busiest streets are busy for a reason. They include key destinations and connections — sometimes across a barrier such as a highway or waterway. Making room for bicyclists on these corridors can be difficult because riding alongside high traffic volumes is stressful for most riders.

Solution: Build a separated bikeway. Use planters, flexible posts, barriers, and on-street parking to build separated bikeways (or cycle tracks) and provide bicyclists with physical separation from auto traffic.

7 Integrating transit

Transit has many moving pieces. In addition to options for local, express, and rapid transit routes, there is also bus traffic, passengers, loading zones, shelters, benches, signage, and more to consider.

Solution: Keep both passengers and buses in mind. Transit trips begin and end with a pedestrian trip — whether along a sidewalk, bicycle, or park and ride. Transit stop designs must be as efficient and safe for passengers as they are for the buses.

8 Balancing parking needs with those of other modes

The context of adjacent land use often determines the inclusion of on-street parking. Proposing to remove or reducing on-street parking with a project is often perceived as a burden by business and property owners.

Solution: Design parking to boost local businesses and pedestrian safety. Understanding delivery, parking along a street, and available alternatives, are crucial. On-street parking supports an urban character and development pattern, provides direct access to corridor businesses, and serves as a buffer from traffic for pedestrians along the sidewalk. Parking bays can include curb extensions that reduce the crossing distance for pedestrians and increase pedestrian visibility by aligning them with the parking lane.

Heather Kienitz, PE, principal and senior multimodal traffic engineer with SEH (www.sehinc.com). SEH is a member of the League’s Business Leadership Council (www.lmc. org/sponsors).