Wednesday, October 13, 2010

NJDOT shows marked progress on Complete Streets

Back in the early part of the summer I felt that I was given no other choice but to question NJDOT’s commitment to its Complete Streets Policy following the release of the preliminary draft proposal for a reconstructed Manahawkin Bay Bridge. The proposal at that time to rebuild the only means of access to Long Beach Island gave pedestrians and cyclists only the bare minimum of facilities. The preliminary plan would have made the crossing something to be endured and not enjoyed and it was clear that this crossing would only be undertaken by only the most desperate of pedestrians and only the boldest cyclists. Fortunately, word has it that bicycle and pedestrian access on this bridge is being reviewed, possibly in part due to the critique of the initial proposal from this very blog.

However the good news doesn’t stop there. WalkBikeJersey has also learned that NJDOT has been hard at work making sure that its designers, engineers and project supervisors fully understand what a Complete Street truly entails. To do so, this past summer they had no other than Michael Ronkin come and speak at NJDOT headquarters, who is by far one of the World’s leading experts on the finer points of Complete Street design. Word has it that there were a number of converts amongst those in attendance and that others took home good lessons as to what they should be striving for in their designs. This is very welcome news indeed and all of us here at WalkBikeJersey are more than happy to hear of NJDOT’s continued commitment to Complete Streets.

As you may already know, NJDOT’s work on Complete Streets doesn’t end there. Next week, NJDOT and its partners at the Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University will once again be hosting Michael Ronkin in a Complete Streets Summit for local municipal and county officials. Just as NJDOT felt that it needed to give its own employees a top-notch education on the topic, it also wants to give local officials the same opportunity to learn about Complete Streets from one of the best. NJDOT is hosting this summit because in the future, local projects seeking state aid will be evaluated for their commitment to the Complete Streets concept. The more complete a proposal is, the more likely it will receive state funding. This tying of state funding to Complete Streets will hopefully have a great impact on how local roadways are redesign since these local streets are where a vast majority of walking and biking already occur in New Jersey.

Bravo NJDOT!

Notes on Complete Streets:

  • A Complete Street is one that well serves the needs of all users, including automobiles, pedestrians and bicyclist, and where applicable transit users and heavy vehicles.
  • Complete Streets demands are context sensitive. What is appropriate to make a rural state highway “Complete” is not the same for where that same highway may enter a town and becomes that town’s long time, traditional Main St.
  • When designing a Complete Street there are a number of questions one should ask. Here are few that I came up with:

- Would you feel comfortable walking along this roadway?

- Would you feel comfortable riding a bicycle along this roadway?

- Would you feel comfortable walking along this roadway with a child in a stroller? Would you feel comfortable riding a bicycle along this roadway with a 10-year-old child?

- If near a school or other area frequented by children, would you feel comfortable allowing a 10-year-old child to walk or ride a bike along this roadway without direct adult supervision?

- Are crosswalks present? If there are attractors (destinations like shops, schools, residences, parks, etc.) on both sides of the roadway are crosswalks conveniently located or would pedestrians and cyclists need to travel a far distance (like 1000 feet) out of their way to the nearest crosswalk?

- Could an elderly grandmother cross the street safely or before pedestrian signal expires?

- Would you feel comfortable or even be able to travel along the roadway in a wheelchair? Would you feel comfortable or even be able to cross the roadway in a wheelchair?

- Would you feel comfortable walking a crosswalk blindfolded? This is essentially what your design will be requiring a blind pedestrian to do.

- Could you find the pedestrian signal button if you were blindfolded? (There are design standards for crosswalk button placement to address the needs on blind pedestrians.)

- Does the traffic signal require pedestrians to press a pedestrian signal button even though pedestrian traffic volume is high, if not constant?

- Could you press the pedestrian signal button if you had arthritic fingers? What about if you had no fingers? (Hint: Could you press it with your elbow or even just your shoulder.)

- If applicable are there safe areas for people to wait for transit service? Is there seating? Is the area sheltered from the weather?

- If there is bicycle parking demand (i.e. this is a downtown area with commercial establishments or other attractors), is bicycle parking provided for within the right-of-way if there is no room elsewhere? Is it properly located? Does the bicycle parking meet modern bicycle parking design standards? Does the bicycle parking provided meet the demand?

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