Complete Streets: Influencing Planning While Vehicles Remain Supreme

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“Hennepin Avenue rendering Courtesy of the City of Minneapolis”

Guest post by Jonah Finkelstein, EIT Spack Consulting.

This is the first in in a multi-part series regarding Complete Streets.

In 2010, Minnesota Governor (at the time) Tim Pawlenty signed a transportation policy bill which included a new state Complete Streets Policy. As defined by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), “Complete Streets” is an approach to road planning and design that considers and balances the needs of all transportation users.

The goal of the legislation and implementation of Complete Streets principles was to help broaden the focus from vehicle traffic delay to better accommodating all users on our transportation system, no matter what mode of travel they choose to use to get from point to point. Unfortunately, cars are still the controlling factor in most traffic engineering decisions. A past project I worked on in Northeast Minneapolis shows the current dominance of passenger cars despite the influence of the Complete Streets bill.

This project looked at two separate one-way corridors that were proposed to under reconstruction for future streetcar accommodation. The main goal of the project was to increase pedestrian and bicycle connectivity and accessibility, at the same time as increasing safety and mobility for these non-motorized users. In other words, pedestrian and bike infrastructure improvements, which seems like the perfect project under the new law.

Using Complete Streets as a guide for increasing non-motorized accessibility, we developed as many alternatives and layouts as possible for both the current one-way operation as well as two-way operation. These alternatives ranged from leaving the existing pedestrian space unchanged to increasing the space to the maximum preferred width as recommended by the ACCESS MINNEAPOLIS Design Guidelines. These defined alternatives were narrowed to a select feasible few and then modeled using PTV’s VISSIM software package.

Using VISSIM’s simulation capabilities, the selected alternative models were run to determine their feasibility for implementation. The criteria to determine feasibility included average vehicle intersection delay, average vehicle Levels of Service, and overall vehicle travel times. While Complete Streets and pedestrian and bicycle accessibility were the focuses of the project, the main quantitative results influencing the feasibility of the selected alternatives were travel times and delays for cars.

Unfortunately, this example is not uncommon. The 2010 Complete Streets policy, and other similar initiatives, has had a very visible impact in the planning and alternative development side of projects. More and more projects are either specifically focused on or have a prominent aspect of other methods of transportation designed to better accommodate all users. However, the car still reigns supreme and can truly drive decisions in a project with its focus on avoiding negative impacts to vehicle delays and travel times.

Our transportation system and coming projects are much better with this law and MnDOT’s continued work in this direction. I get that no one wants to be stuck in traffic an extra hour or two a day because bike lanes are installed everywhere. At the same time, we still need to figure out how to better balance some increases in car delays to make travel by other modes safer, quicker, and more appealing.

Future articles will explore how we are changing our traffic engineering studies and recommendations to achieve a balance in multi-modal transportation.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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One thought on “Complete Streets: Influencing Planning While Vehicles Remain Supreme

  1. Thanks. We in our northeastern city are having the complete street challenge right now. One issue is that the shared lanes were designed by non bicyclists with no feedback, or so it appears. They have been placed initially in a business district which bicyclists know to avoid like the plague – a gordian knot of complex intersections, driveways into strip shopping centers in quick succession, “traffic calming” parking along this corridor, a bus stop…bicyclists know that car doors are tremendously dangerous, and in a lane dieting, sharrow type of design, the bicyclists become the human shields to force local aggressive drivers into playing nice with other users. It just ain’t happening. The thing is, bicyclists had decided to avoid this area before the “bike lanes” were built, and had the review process uncovered bicyclist aversion and their feedback on the design drawbacks, maybe our city could have avoided making its first steps into bike lanes on exactly the wrong piece of roadway.