Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Victory, and a Victory with a Caveat for Complete Streets

Yesterday brought news of two victories for complete streets in New York. The first victory was Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s signing of complete streets legislation (press release here and to learn more about complete streets go here). The new legislation will require major transportation projects in the state to consider all street users - i.e., pedestrians, transit riders and cyclists - and not just automobile drivers. This is certainly a positive step, as many streets in the region are downright hostile to non-motorists. Building streets that essentially force people to drive even relatively short distances is one way that we have designed physical activity out of our daily lives, and contributes to the shockingly short distance that the average American walks each day. The new legislation only affects large transportation projects (ones funded on the state level), so it will still be up to municipalities to decide how to build and/or retrofit their local roads.

The second victory is for the bike lane along Prospect Park West in Brooklyn, which has been at the center of a contentious debate and become one of the most-scrutinized projects of transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn’s tenure. It is this victory that comes with a major caveat: the case was dismissed because Judge Bert A. Bunyan found that the bike lane opponents’ lawsuit was filed after the statute of limitations had expired. While this means that this specific bike lane now has a better chance of staying in place, it does not represent a precedent in favor of bike lanes in general.

This is important to keep in mind, because there will continue to be tension over bike lanes, as has been the case in Toronto. Those of us who are supporters of complete street measures need to engage in discussions with opponents. Rather than dismissing them as cranks, NIMBYs, or even just fearful of change, let's find out what the concerns are. Chances are there are some concerns worth hearing, and it does nobody any good to stay ensconced in echo chambers where opponents are simply anti-progress.

How can we more effectively demonstrate the benefits of complete streets? What are the concerns that need to be addressed? Readers, please share your thoughts - pro or con - on bike lanes, traffic calming, and other aspects of complete streets. The more we can learn about the arguments on both sides, the better we can move forward with efforts to make streets that truly deliver on the promise to consider all users.

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