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Active Living Bemidji: Complete Streets helps community design with everyone in mind

Unfortunately, the term "Complete Streets" attracts a lot of negative attention because of the assumption that Complete Streets will cost a lot of money or deem that every street or road include bicycle lanes, sidewalks and medians. But complete Streets is about reframing transportation priorities and considering the needs of all users equitably.

We will dive into all of the gory details of Complete Streets with this question-and-answer column and hopefully help clear up any burning questions about Complete Streets that might be out there.

Q. What are "Complete" Streets?

A. "Complete" streets are designed and operated to be safe and accessible for all users of all ages and abilities including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders and drivers of motor vehicles.

Q. What do Complete Streets look like?

A. There is no prescription for a complete street. Complete Streets look quite different from community to community because of varying factors such as context, traffic speed, road function and pedestrian and bicycle demand. Common features of a complete street include:

-- Sidewalks

-- Paved shoulders

-- Bike lanes

-- Safe crossings

-- Accessible curb ramps

-- Pedestrian refuge medians

-- Bus stop access

-- Sidewalk "bump-outs" at intersections

-- Access to adjacent trails in a corridor

Q. What do Complete Streets policies do and why are they important?

A. A Complete Streets policy directs transportation planners and engineers to consistently design with all modes of transportation in mind.

Q. Have other communities in Minnesota adopted Complete Streets policies?

A. In 2010, Gov. Tim Pawlenty passed the Complete Streets Law, which applies to the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The Minnesota Department of Transportation is currently exploring how to implement Complete Streets on the trunk highway system. Also, several communities, including Hennepin County, Rochester and Duluth have adopted local policies.

Q. Complete Streets sounds expensive. Can we afford that?

A. Complete Streets policies typically affect all future transportation projects and do not require expensive retrofits of existing roadways. Often the best time to include pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure is when the roadway is being constructed, reconstructed or resurfaced. In many cases, if it is done right the first time, money will actually be saved in the long run.

Q. Does this mean that there will need to be a sidewalk, bicycle lanes and medians on all roads?

A. No, context is very important with Complete Streets. Not all roads function the same way. A county road on the outskirts of town is not the same as a local road in the downtown core. It is important to understand the function of the roadway, identify destinations and determine what works for the community.

Q. We already have really nice trails and some bicycle lanes. Why do we need a policy?

A. Complete Streets policies assure that the needs of pedestrians and bicyclists will be considered on all future transportation projects unless there is a verifiable reason to exclude such needs.

Q. What are the benefits of a Complete Streets policy?

A. Transportation impacts more than just mobility. Complete Streets allows us to maximize the total public benefit of our roads beyond the capacity for just cars, including:

-- Safety for all modes. More than 20,000 pedestrians and bicyclists have been injured or killed in Minnesota in the past decade. Complete Streets can help to address and begin correcting this problem.

-- Access and equity. Many Minnesotans do not drive, including children, seniors, people with disabilities and people who cannot afford a car. Complete Streets helps to ensure that everyone has safe access to lead an active, healthy and independent life.

-- Health. More than 60 percent of Minnesotans are overweight or obese and at risk for serious long-term illness. In the next 10 years, the costs associated with chronic illness are anticipated to add several billions of dollars in health care expenses for Minnesotans. Complete Streets helps provide more opportunities for people to be physically active and helps improve health and longevity of Minnesotans.

-- Affordable transportation choices. Rising and erratic gas prices are hitting the pocketbooks of many families hard. Complete Streets supports transportation options that help a community (and family) be more resilient to gas price spikes and keep more money in the local community.

-- Quality of place. Complete streets can help calm traffic on residential streets, create walkable neighborhoods and increase community interaction. A place where physical activity is the safe, easy and convenient option is a place people want to live and tourists want to visit.

Active Living Bemidji and the Minnesota Complete Streets Coalition co-hosted the Bemidji Area Complete Streets Workshop Nov. 16 to explore the development of a possible Complete Streets policy.


Minnesota Complete Streets Coalition:

Active Living Bemidji: