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Opinion: 'Complete Streets' Must be a Top City Priority

City Transportation Commission Chairman Kevin Posey says the Complete Streets initiative must be treated as a top priority and never as an afterthought.

When the Transportation Commission meets in December, it will be my last as its Chairman. I am pleased to say that our Commission made progress in moving Alexandria down the path to sustainable transportation policies. The most important of these was the City’s Complete Streets policy, which we originated. It also happens to be our biggest piece of unfinished business.

The Complete Streets policy calls for ALL users to be accommodated whenever a project is considered. If a new street is built or an old one repaved, the City’s Department of Transportation and Environmental Services must look into making it usable for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit, rather than just cars. The idea is to make streets safe for something other than a Hummer.

Why is this so important? Ask citizens of this City to name the important issues and most of will start off with these two: 1. Education; and 2. Traffic Calming. Both are linked to Alexandria’s kids, who are every family’s top priority. Better schools address the former; the Complete Streets policy can help with the latter.

But what of the raised voices over development projects that consumed entire forests of newspaper and days of public hearings? Clearly, voters sent an unambiguous signal that such debates weren’t their top priority, for they failed to support candidates who based entire campaigns on them. Indeed, elections are the ultimate form of public outreach, as they show whose opinion has broad support and whose opinion is merely loud.

What must happen now is for another unambiguous signal to be sent, but this one should go from the Mayor and Council to City staff. Complete Streets must be put on a higher priority, and never be treated as an afterthought. When a street is repaved, don’t automatically re-stripe it just as it was. Check to see where bike lanes can be added to calm traffic and protect cyclists. Look for crosswalks where ramps for the disabled need to be installed. Fill the gaps in sidewalks so our kids don’t have to walk in the street to reach the schoolbus stop. To do otherwise is to invite tragedy, and nobody will be impressed by fixes made after it’s too late.

Kevin H. Posey, Chairman
Alexandria Transportation Commission

Lee Hernly November 20, 2012 at 09:55 PM
Jonathan - My only point was when a city decides to "complete the streets," you make pedestrians, cyclists, wheelchairs, and transit users just as important as motorists. If motorists are expected to obey the law, shouldn't jaywalkers & most importantly bicyclists? In the last few weeks alone, I have seen over a dozen near misses with cars as bikes crossed through stop lights and stop signs.
Kevin H. Posey November 20, 2012 at 11:25 PM
I am seeing an argument that Complete Streets aren't worthwhile because some cyclists and pedestrians make foolish choices. That's akin to closing the interstates because some people drive badly (me, included, according to some). Humans are flawed; the question is how do we minimize the risk arising from bad behavior? The generally accepted thinking supported by various studies is to separate transportation modes and introduce better enforcement. If you don't want pedestrians to be hit by cars, build a sidewalk. If you want to keep bikes and cars from tangling, put in a bike lane. To make sure everyone behaves, train your police officers on proper enforcement and insist they actually do it. As for whether biking or walking is used by enough people to be worth encouraging, the answer is an obvious yes. Just check out he Mount Vernon Trail during rush hour, and that heavy use is in spite of our weak feeder infrastructure. It's been observed throughout the US that building supporting infrastructure encourages use of a given mode. Alas, that is why car traffic is so bad all over: it's what transportation planners used to encourage almost exclusively. Thankfully, we've realized what a colossal mistake that was. See our polluted skies, Middle Eastern wars, and freeway-bisected neighborhoods for examples. Complete Streets is just a new label for something we should all be familiar with: common sense.
Linda Fairall November 21, 2012 at 05:48 AM
I say bicyclists get stuff when they learn to FOLLOW TRAFFIC LAWS. There are signs ALL OVER OLD TOWN: Bicyclists MUST obey all traffic signs and signals. But like typical bike-snobs, they blow right through, and then get mad at drivers when we gesture and honk and yell at them. I'll share the road when they learn how ride safely and responsibly :P (sorry, GIANT pet peeve of mine. Maybe it stems from my hatred for hipsters :P)
Jonathan Krall November 21, 2012 at 04:56 PM
These comments are getting to be surreal. Do you also propose shutting down the beltway until drivers learn to stay under the speed limit? Speeding is a pet peeve mine, especially since the probability of a fatality skyrockets when the speed of a car exceeds 25 mph (40 kph): http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8062/8190486442_de7402843f_z.jpg Let us please be sensible. Most people who ride bicycles typically also spend time walking or driving cars. And studies show that all types of road-users break the law at about the same rate for about the same reason--they are trying to get where they are going in a way the believe to be safe and affective. The difference is that speeding is considered "normal" and rolling through stop signs at speeds faster than drivers roll through stop signs is _not_ considered normal. IMO, this is another reason we need education. If bicycle safety education were more universal, then people on bicycle would ride more consistently, expectations would be more realistic, and enforcement would be more effective. Finally, I rarely see people "blow right through" stop signs. To do so is dangerous. What most people do is slow down and then proceed when they think it is safe. And, no, they don't always use great judgement. But, as Mr. Posey says in his comment above, that does not mean they should not be given safe facilities.
billdsd November 21, 2012 at 08:15 PM
@Linda Fairall: I say motorists get stuff when they learn to FOLLOW TRAFFIC LAWS. There are signs ALL OVER OLD TOWN: Motorists MUST obey all traffic signs and signals. But like typical car-snobs, they blow right through, and then get mad at cyclists when we gesture and yell at them. I'll share the road when they learn how drive safely and responsibly. Motorists aren't any better at obeying the law than bicyclists are. You don't really care about bicyclists rolling stop signs anyway. It's just an excuse to rationalize your irrational hatred of people who are different from you and who you think shouldn't have a right to inconvenience you by existing. Seriously, grow up.

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