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Over the past 140 years or so, American advocacy groups and engineering techniques for each type of roadway user have evolved separately. Our nation’s paved roadways were initially designed (and sometimes paid for) by 19th century bicyclists. But their voices were lost during the subsequent era of auto-dominated highway building.
Around the 1970s, bicyclists began gearing up once more to lobby for better “bike/ped” (ped = pedestrian) facilities. Public transit promoters also raised their voices, as did advocates for people with disabilities and older adults.
The complete streets movement, born in the late 1990s, provides a forum for all of these modal advocates to join forces with transportation engineers, planners, and community leaders in an effort to create truly multi-modal networks for 21st century travelers.
What Are Complete Streets?
Complete streets are roadways designed to be safe for everyone who uses them. In many places, especially in towns and cities, this can be quite a diverse group of folks. Roadway users may include drivers and passengers in cars, buses, delivery vans, 18-wheelers, and golf carts; fast-moving bicyclists who prefer riding in traffic; slower-moving cyclists (including children) who don’t want to ride near traffic; and pedestrians of all ages and abilities, including people handling wheelchairs or walkers; riding skateboards, roller blades, or Segways; pushing baby strollers; and, oh yes, walking.
Could most streets be designed to support all these types of travelers? Yes. Should every street be designed this way? No. The complete streets concept is not about trying to make each and every road in a community serve all possible users. But it does aim to make sure all travelers, regardless of their choice of travel mode, can get where they need to go.
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Article continues with a discussion of the principal complete streets policies, and how a complete streets network is designed.
Hannah Twaddell is President and founder of Twaddell Associates, LLC, a consulting practice specializing in community planning, public engagement, facilitation, and education. Based in Charlottesville, Virginia, the firm provides planning, facilitation, and educational services to communities, government agencies, and private organizations across the U.S.
Before setting up Twaddell Associates, Hannah was a Senior Transportation Planner with Renaissance Planning Group, where she has worked on transportation planning and public involvement projects in several states. Prior to that, she served as Assistant Director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (in Charlottesville) and as chief staff to the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization.