Designing for All Modes of Travel

By Mike Spack, PE, PTOE

I attended a North Central Section of the Institute of Transportation Engineers section meeting in 2009.  It was a panel discussion on “Complete Streets.”  The general idea is to balance service to private vehicles, transit users, bicycles, and pedestrians through the design of our transportation systems. Traditionally, vehicles have been the focus of our design with the other three modes treated as after thoughts.  The Federal Highway Association has a website and the Institute of Transportation Engineers has a report on the topic.

The most important tidbit I took away relates to the speed we are designing a road for.

Engineers typically design for a specific speed.  Often that is treated as a minimum.  So we’ll design a 30 mph street that can actually be used safely at 45 mph.  The Complete Street method has us target the real design at 30 mph instead of overdesigning it.  That makes it more accessible for all users.

A good example of this concept in the Twin Cities is Excelsior Boulevard in St. Louis Park, MN.  It has on street parking bays, median islands, bus stops, and narrower than standard traffic lanes.

I worked with Bill Weber at MFRA (now Sambatek) on a Guiding Plan for the B-2 District in Arden Hills, Minnesota. This is the area of the suburban city that would be considered downtown.  County Road E runs through the area and would be considered “Main Street.”  County Road E is currently five lanes wide of black asphalt.  It isn’t exactly pedestrian or bicycle friendly.  Bill and I worked on the re-design seen in the article image for the County Road E corridor (which was adopted by the City).  I guess we were designing a “Complete Street” without using the jargon.

Fast forward almost a decade since I saw that initial presentation, I have watched our profession embrace the concept of Complete Streets over the years and have covered the topic including Complete Streets Report: Safer, Stronger Economies. I am interested in hearing from readers on how their communities have adopted Complete Streets concepts? Have you seen a shift in “overdesigning”? I would love to highlight some stories of where it has been successfully implemented and some of the challenges people have faced getting officials, developers, or citizens to accept change.

Mike Spack Bio

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