Thursday, April 5, 2012

Lessons from SCAG's Complete Streets Training

Last week SCAG offered a full day of training on implementing Complete Streets, courtesy of its Compass Blueprint Toolbox Tuesdays program. Here are a few of the key lessons and resources from the training. You can download copies of the training materials here.

Incorporate all users into street designs
AB 1358 (the California Complete Streets Act) requires jurisdictions to incorporate complete streets into the Circulation Element of their General Plans as they are updated, but does not provide specifics as to how this should be accomplished. The training identified four steps to implementing Complete Streets:

1.       Adopt a general Complete Streets policy
2.       Identify a project/coordination team that can implement new regulations
3.       Develop pilot programs to create and refine detailed Complete Streets design criteria
4.       Review criteria and amend based on results of pilot programs

Complete streets should accommodate all roadway users, including vehicles, transit, bikes, and pedestrians, paying particular attention to those with reduced mobility (e.g. people in wheelchairs) and vulnerable users (bikes and peds). Complete streets should also incorporate stormwater best management practices like bioswales where possible.  

Complete streets generally do cost more to plan, and require more coordination between local agencies (planning, engineering/public works, fire) and the public. For example, a project like the Allision Avenue Streetscape Plan would cost as much as $150,000 to design and another $1.3 million to construct for about 3,000 ft of roadway.
Dallas Complete Streets Manual
San Ysidro Community Plan Update
Allison Avenue Streetscape Plan (La Mesa, CA)
Ocean Park Boulevard (Santa Monica, CA)
Mission Avenue (Oceanside, CA)

Design streets based on function, not “classification
In the past streets have been constructed according to a one-size-fits-all hierarchy (e.g. major arterials, collector streets, local streets) using generic street design standards that were applied to all roadways regardless of purpose. These standard designs, which remain in place in many jurisdictions, lead to over-engineered streets with wide travel lanes and inadequate facilities for non-motorized users. They also fail to take into consideration the purpose and neighborhood context of a particular roadway, ignoring the fact that some roads are, to use a term from the training, “destination roadways,” and not roads intended to move as many people as rapidly as possible.

The new trend in street design is to develop a set of street typologies based on function. Some examples might include a include Downtown/Main Streets, Commercial Corridors, or Bike Boulevards. Each street is designed to achieve a particular set of objectives that does not always prioritize moving vehicles over other goals (e.g. promoting economic growth, encouraging alternative transportation use, ensuring pedestrian safety).

New street design standards should also “work both ways;” historically street design standards were always implemented by widening roadways, but sometimes bringing a street up to today’s standards means narrowing it instead.


Model Design Manual for Living Streets
Downtown Los Angeles Street Standards

Work with all stakeholders during the street design process
Coordinate with public works/traffic engineering, public health, fire department, and other relevant agencies. Meet regularly with Fire Departments in order to understand their concerns in implementing complete streets concepts. For example, if they insist on wider street design, ask them why they need the width and try using design tools (e.g. Auto turn) to demonstrate how complete streets can accommodate larger emergency vehicles.

Find champions within each agency, especially at the higher levels, who can help move the project along and greenlight innovative strategies.

Involve the community, being sure to frame requests for input realistically. For example, if there is a limited budget or narrow right-of-way for streetscape improvements, be clear about the tradeoffs that must be made based on those constraints (e.g. more street trees vs. trash cans, wider sidewalks vs. diagonal parking). Also make sure to emphasize that although streetscape improvements can be expensive, there is also a real cost associated with doing “nothing” (i.e. maintaining the status quo) in terms of public safety, health, economic, and environmental impacts.  
Incorporate multiple travel modes into traffic analysis

There are a variety of new tools available for evaluating multi-modal Level of Service (LOS). Some are more generic (PEQI, HCM 2010, LOS+), while others are location-specific (Fort Collins pedestrian LOS). A challenge with incorporating many of the more generic tools into traditional CEQA analysis is that they are not particularly sensitive to improvements that might make a big difference in the pedestrian or cyclist experience. For example, a combination of significant changes like adding a 10-foot sidewalk, planting street trees, reducing traffic speeds to 30 mph, and removing a travel lane makes little difference in overall pedestrian LOS using the HCM 2010 methodology. While this doesn’t mean that using the HCM 2010 methodology to evaluate pedestrian LOS is wrong, it’s important to be aware of its lack of sensitivity to pedestrian improvements, particularly when conducting CEQA analysis.
Other methods of evaluating pedestrian LOS, like the one used in Fort Collins, are more qualitative and may more accurately reflect the impact of changes to the pedestrian environment. See the Fehr and PeersMulti-modal LOS Toolkit for a good summary of several LOS methodologies.

Plan for funding
Streetscape plans and design manuals don’t achieve much if they’re never implemented. Potential funding sources should be considered early in the process, before street design plans are finalized.  Designs should be targeted towards specific funding sources where possible. For example, a streetscape plan for a roadway near a school site should anticipate Safe Routes to School (SRTS) grants as a potential funding source, and incorporate design elements into the streetscape plans that would fit the criteria for receiving SRTS grant.

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