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Complete Streets: Key Components and Future Potential for Community Development

ES&S explains how Complete Street could impact community development.

​Complete Streets is a community planning concept that moves away from developing roads primarily for cars and other vehicles. Adopters of the Complete Streets method accept that people of all ages and abilities use streets, including those who bike, walk, and wheel. That means taking a whole new approach to civil engineering and designing communities with streets that work for everyone.

How is this change in mindset affecting community planning and the civil engineers who work on designing and building modern communities? Here are five examples of how civil engineering might have to change to incorporate Complete Streets policies.

1. Balanced Infrastructure Design
Today’s civil engineering teams don’t need any additional expertise to take on Complete Streets-based projects. What they do need is to take a more balanced and fair approach to creating an infrastructure that works for everyone. That might mean adjusting the way they create utilities or involve extending and lowering curbs or designing roads with slow vehicle lanes.
An important change for many civil engineers is to engage with communities to find out what is important to them. That means listening to all members of the community, not just leaders and heads of local businesses, to ensure the consideration of everyone’s needs for safety, health, and well being.

2. Developing Communities Around Safer Roads
One of the key reasons Complete Streets exists is to make roads safer for everyone — including vehicle drivers. Infrastructure that prioritizes vehicular transport may create a more hazardous environment for all members when combined with communities full of pedestrians and cyclists.
According to Smart Growth America, in a recent three-year period there were more fatal car and pedestrian collisions nationwide than in the previous three decades. Complete Streets policies in towns like Durham, NC and Pittsburgh, PA, have led to safer street design, safer crossing options, and safer ways to access public transport through better-designed bus stops.

3. Increased Accessibility
Older towns and cities were designed and built without a good understanding of people with varying abilities and mobility needs. Today’s towns must be accessible, and that means civil engineers working with communities to understand their needs.
Road diets reduce the number of vehicular lanes and increase walkways and safe crossings. Beyond this, crossing signals suitable for blind and deaf people, and tactile paving on crossing areas, can all help make towns and cities more accessible.

Designing a community to be accessible for the least able makes it accessible for everyone, for many years to come. Engineering Surveys & Services strives to provide accessible solutions that are built into the infrastructure of the community, rather than tagged on as an afterthought.

4. Merging of Rural and City Areas
Several local municipalities adopted Complete Streets policies that have allowed them to make effective changes to increase safety, and also to make the city and the rural landscape more accessible. Engineering Surveys & Services worked closely with Columbia Public Works to develop Mid-block Pedestrian Crossings. Areas that potentially had dangerous pedestrian crossings were now safe locations that enabled pedestrians to cross streets safely and efficiently. 

Engineering Surveys & Services coordinated with MoDOT, the city of Columbia, and Columbia county to plan and design roadways to Battle High School. The roadway was widened and new signals were installed to ensure the safety of the students and to provide drivers with an optimal site for pedestrians near the school. 

In Texas, several local municipalities adopted Complete Streets policies that have allowed them to make effective changes to increase safety, and also to make the city and the rural landscape more accessible. One change in North Richland Hills was to tie the existing bike trail system into new cycle lanes within the city limits. The city roads became safer, and cyclists could integrate the city into their bike ride organically.

Similarly, in Fort Worth, civil engineers have created a hiking and biking trail that runs right out of the city, improving the opportunities for people to stay active while linking the town to the surrounding landscape. Community planning will no doubt include more concepts like this moving into the future.

5. Creating Connected Communities
In many towns and cities, it’s become the norm to connect areas via vehicular routes, leaving pedestrians and cyclists to make circuitous journeys to their destinations. Complete Streets works to connect important destinations such as schools, libraries, parks, and employment centers for all citizens — not just those who drive.

In Huntsville, AL, temporary safety projects demonstrated the potential benefits of Complete Streets policies. Prompted by unfortunate car crashes involving pedestrians, measures included giving the town a road diet and restoring those missing connections. New signals, lane changes, and a thorough engagement with the community helped transform Huntsville and make it safer for everyone.

Complete Streets isn’t without its challenges. As a concept, it takes away space for cars and other vehicles, which some in the community will always oppose. However, as community planning becomes more focused on people instead of business or budgets, expect Complete Streets policies to become the norm.

If you’d like more information about how Complete Streets is transforming civil engineering and community planning, get in touch with Engineering Surveys & Services (ES&S) today.

Image Credits: 
Unsplash @Creative Commons

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