Master Transportation Plan and Complete Streets.

I posted this picture last week as a bit of a joke, but it really isn’t that funny to people who try to use bikes to get about. The Internet is full of ridiculous images of bicycle infrastructure build in such a way that it completely fails as bicycle infrastructure. The blog Bike Snob NYC always has great photos of these types of things, but they can be found anywhere transportation engineers try to fit a bike lane on the side of a road built for cars. 

It isn’t just the engineers. Bike lanes are used as bus stops, as right turn lanes, as defacto parking spots, as loading zones, as trash dumps, as construction staging areas, and as walkways. It is no wonder cyclists often feel safer on the sidewalk.
I was in a Public meeting where a Transportation Engineer for a major City in the Lower Mainland opined that cyclists got no respect from drivers because they were always hopping on and off of the sidewalks and no-one knew if they were pedestrians or cars. My only response to this is that cyclists do what they can with the infrastructure they are given. Hopping on and off is a sidewalk is actually quite the hassle for a cyclist when they really just want to be where they feel safest, and at times that is the sidewalk, at times that is the street. If the transition between the two is erratic, that is a damnation of the transportation engineer, not the cyclist. 
The problem is usually found in how old-school transportation engineers see bicycles and pedestrians: as things to accommodate as best as you can while building a road for cars and trucks. A “transportation” project is building a road, a bridge, or an overpass. After the road is designed to accommodate the traffic as best as possible. Then is the time to have the baubles attached: sidewalks and bike paths (if the budget allows).
There is a better way. There is a movement in the Excited States to encourage local governments to adopt a “Complete Streets Policy“. In essence, Complete Streets are those:

“…designed and operated to enable safe access for all users. Pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities must be able to safely move along and across a complete street.

The idea is that pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, along with infrastructure to allow people with mobility challenges to get around, are integrated in to the design at the top level, not added on a baubles afterwards. 
New Westminster is actually not too bad at this, really. Compared to other jurisdictions, we have a pretty pedestrian-friendly City. Those sidewalk bumps installed on Royal Ave that were the source of much mirth this previous election season are a relatively successful product of adding pedestrian-friendly elements to an infrastructure designed to move cars. Part of this might be a result of the “Pedestrian Charter” that the City established a few years ago. 
This doesn’t mean that all is well. The ongoing saga of 5th and 5th, where changes of the intersection to accommodate grocery trucks resulted in completely untenable compromises for pedestrians and cyclists, is an example of one user’s needs being met without consideration of the other users. 
So I am suggesting that the City’s Master Transportation Plan include a reccommendation to adopt a home-grown Complete Streets Policy. This will expand the idea of the Pedestrians Charter to include all users: pedestrians, cyclists, transit users, the mobility challenged, and those who, but choice or by neccessity, are stuck behind windshields. There are lots of examples available on-line of Complete Street Policies created by other jurisdictions, and one could easily be adapted to the New Westminster situation. 
Instead of figuring out ways to accommodate “alternative” users, we can design our roads and sidewalks and bike paths and green ways to work together to move all users through as efficiently as possible. Who can argue with that?

3 comments on “Master Transportation Plan and Complete Streets.

  1. Thanks for this post. The Toronto Centre for Active Transportation (TCAT) is currently coordinating the Complete Streets movement in Canada. We’d love to hear about the New Westminster experience, so drop me a line if you want to chat more –

  2. It’s a mind-set. A policy won’t help if there is no enforcement; no dialog with the other users. There is bias inherent in much transportation planning literature, with words like “upgrade”, “enhancement”, etc referring to car-based travel exclusively. So a street “upgrade” can totally destroy the place for bikes. Tod Litman has some good examples here:
    Change needs to start at the very basic level…

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