By Kevin Gardiner, Principal Planner + Urban Designer at M-Group
Perhaps you’ve heard the term “complete streets” used in discussion of planning and street design. It’s a term we’re hearing more and more. What does it mean?
The term “complete streets” refers to roadways designed and operated to enable safe, attractive, and comfortable access and travel for all users - not just motorists. The concept is to provide parity between pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and public transport users of all ages and abilities rather than have one mode favored over the others.
The California Complete Streets Act (Assembly Bill 1358) mandates complete streets goals, policies, and programs be included in General Plans. Commencing January 1, 2011, upon any substantive revision of the circulation element, cities must modify the circulation element to provide for complete streets. This refers to a balanced, multimodal transportation network that meets the needs of all users of streets, roads, and highways for safe and convenient travel.
The State has provided an update to the Circulation Element section of the 2003 General Plan Guidelines to meet the requirements of Assembly Bill 1358. The guidelines specify that the circulation element be modified to plan for a balanced, multimodal transportation network that meets the needs of all users of streets, roads, and highways. The statute defines all users of streets, roads, and highways as bicyclists, children, persons with disabilities, motorists, movers of commercial goods, pedestrians, users of public transportation, and seniors.
Although some people may be hearing about complete streets for the first time because of the State mandates, the concept has been developing in planning and transportation circles for some time. The overall goal is to create streets that provide access and mobility for everyone in the community.
However, the concept of a complete street varies depending on whether the community is urban, suburban, or rural. This could include policies and implementation measures for both retrofitting and developing streets to serve multiple modes, as well as design standards appropriate to the particular urban context.
Over the years, many communities have already been modifying their roadways to accommodate a range of choices, so the concept of complete streets is not unfamiliar. Refinements over the years such as the addition of bicycle lanes and calming measures such as traffic circles speed tables have furthered the concept of complete streets for suitable for multiple users. The State’s updated General Plan Guidelines identifies policy areas for complete streets:
- The availability of a mix of transportation modes to meet community needs;
- Consideration of bicycle lanes and/or shared lanes as a standard street design principle;
- The consideration of transit accessibility as a standard street design principle;
- Traffic calming;
- The accessibility and accommodation of bicycle and pedestrian traffic on major thoroughfares;
- The development and improvement of transit and paratransit services;
- The connectivity of pedestrian and bicycle routes between homes, job centers, schools and facilities, and other frequently visited destinations;
- The provision of bicycle parking;
- The development of street tree, green median, and landscape standards for pedestrian and bicycle paths and trails;
- The inclusion of street trees as a street design standard.
The Guidelines also acknowledge a linkage between land use and transportation. Suggestions of policy areas include the creation of land use patterns that allow frequently visited destinations to be accessible by multiple transportation modes, and the availability of transportation infrastructure needed to accommodate increased density and transit oriented-development.
There are some new concepts that communities could consider to further implement complete streets such as:
A sharrow is a roadway that is shared by both cars and bicycle, rather than having separate bicycle lanes. The roadway has special “sharrow” arrow markings to alert cars to take caution and allow cyclists to safely travel in these roadway. Sharrows are typically incorporated where the roadway does not have sufficient width for a bicycle lane, but there is a need or desire to make accommodations for bicycles.
A cycle track is an exclusive bike facility that has elements of a separated path and on-road bike lane. A cycle track, while still within the roadway, is physically separated from motor traffic and is distinct from the sidewalk. Cycle tracks may be one-way or two-way, and may be at road level, at sidewalk level, or at an intermediate level. They all share in common some separation from motor traffic with bollards, car parking, barriers or boulevards.
A bicycle boulevard is a low-speed street which has been optimized for bicycle traffic. Bicycle boulevards discourage cut-through motor vehicle traffic, but typically allow local motor vehicle traffic. They are designed to give priority to cyclists as through-going traffic, with a distinctive look and/or ambiance so that cyclists are aware of the bike boulevard and motorists are alerted that the street is a priority route for bicyclists. The design elements are intended to appeal to casual, risk-averse, inexperienced and younger cyclists who would not otherwise be willing to cycle with motor vehicle traffic. Compared to a bike path or rail trail, a bicycle boulevard is also a relatively low cost approach to appealing to a broader cycling demographic. Existing roadways with high levels of bicycle traffic can be retrofitted to become bicycle boulevards.
Green Streets transform impervious street surfaces into landscaped green spaces that capture stormwater runoff and let water soak into the ground as plants and soil filter pollutants. Green Streets convert stormwater from a waste directed into a pipe, to a resource that replenishes groundwater supplies. They also create attractive streetscapes and urban green spaces, provide natural habitat, and help connect neighborhoods, schools, parks, and business districts.
For many communities, the update of their General Plan Circulation or Transportation Element provides the opportunity to develop these concepts through goals, policies, and programs. The solutions will differ for each place, whether it be urban, suburban, or rural. The overall goal is to create streets that serve the needs of all members of the community.