Monday, August 15, 2011

The Mandate Of Complete Streets

(Today's post at MWaT: Are Our Driving Skills A Collective Effort? reminded me to finish this post that I started earlier this summer)

When I think of Complete Streets I think of streets that are safe for everyone. And by making streets safer we lower what economists term externalities or "social costs".

A street designed as complete will be safer for everyone resulting in a net economic gain to society.

In other words, what is a life worth? Not just to that person's family and friends but to the economy as a whole? What are the economic benefits if lawsuits are kept out of the courts, insurance isn't used, employees don't miss work, first responders are available for other emergencies, and on and on?

Traverse City has had numerous conflicts this year between street users.

Example from 9and10: Two Bike, Car Crashes In One Week, Police Cautioning Everyone Be Safe

These pedestrian-bike-vehicle conflicts are happening across the country just as they did in 2008 when there was a spike in gasoline prices forcing people out of their cars.

The most well known accident this summer is the case of Raquel Nelson whose 4 yr old son was struck and killed while attempting to cross a multi-lane road (See NPR: Child's Death Casts Light On Pedestrian Traffic Woes)

A similar tragedy occurred in Traverse City in 2007. See the Record-Eagle:Boy from Greece, 6, killed in accident on U.S. 31
The boy's family stopped in the turn lane halfway across the road to wait for traffic to clear...

As a parent it is hard to imagine anything more horrific than having my child being run over by a semi-trailer while I helplessly watch and knowing design choices played a part in the tragedy.

Doesn't seem appropriate to call these accidents as if they were unpreventable.

Plenty of studies indicate the dangers poor street design poses. See Wired: Report: Streets Pose Mortal Threat to Pedestrians
More than 47,000 people were killed walking the streets of the United States between 2000 and 2009

And while dedicated bike lanes can improve safety for bicyclists pedestrians are always the most susceptible street users as a recent bike-pedestrian accident in San Francisco demonstrates (via NPR).

In the case of Raquel Nelson she was facing three years in jail for jaywalking, the person who was in the car that killed her son? Two years of jail time.

And here we have the problem. It seems that in a state where we are free to walk the beaches of the Great Lakes we are not welcome to walk across the street.

What Grist calls the criminalization of walking.

This is a design decision. Driving requires concentration though we act like it does not. It is why I won't even talk to my passengers when I drive. Yet I still feel the same urges to speed or to use my vehicle to "teach a lesson". We all drive on the road given to us. Apply the neuroscience of behavioral economics to roads and design streets for people.

That is my three word description of Complete Streets: design for people.

This is my hope for Complete Streets in Michigan. A stronger economy by design. And not just in the reduction of negative externalities, but as Fast Company reports complete streets build jobs: Want Jobs? Build Bike Lanes
Cycling projects create a total of 11.4 local jobs for each $1 million spent. Pedestrian-only projects create a little less employment, with an average of 10 jobs for the same amount of money. Multi-use trails create 9.6 jobs per $1 million--but road-only projects generate just 7.8 jobs per $1 million.