Conquent: Without Limits
Land Use Planning Division

John Bissell & Associates

Complete Streets

By John Bissell
Posted: 2010-02-01 18:53:41
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In 2008 the City of Seattle became one of the few cities in the country to adopt the Complete Streets standards as part of their transpiration design standards. The complete streets standards seem like an obvious notion, that is: streets should be designed for all users.

When we look at a street we may not realize that that street, from the pavement width to the striping pattern had do be designed. The design has to be made as safe as practical and so had to take into account statistics from collisions around the country. It would be impractical for an engineer to gather up all the statistics, study the statistics and design a street based on these studies. However, if the engineer misses something like the correct angle of a sidewalk ramp entering an intersection for instance and someone gets hurt at that intersection, the engineer bears the liability.

There are so many details that could lead to litigation (Is it safer to mark a crosswalk where there is not stop sign?) that it is just not possible for the engineer to create a successful design without a well researched manual. So every city, county and state (and tribe and national park etc) has a design manual. But every jurisdiction cannot study everything so they build a manual from the AASHTO (American Association of State of Highway Transportation Officials) manual with additions from the ITE (Institute of Transpiration Engineers) manual. The problem especially with AASHTO is the forth letter in the acronym: H. These standards are all about Highways, not streets, but they are routinely used to guide the construction of streets in most cities throughout the nation.

The highway manual is designed to keep automobile drivers safe. There is very little about pedestrians, bicyclists, buses, delivery trucks and so on. But if the City or County does not use a well studied design manual as guidance, they are taking on all the liability themselves. Then along comes The Complete Streets Coalition. They have provided lots of data about how city streets work and how they can be designed to accommodate all users. Little by little we are seeing cities adopt these standards. There is some resistance, but as the new concepts are constructed and used, we find that they really work. As they are shown to work, the resistance begins to fall.

If you live in a city that is not using Complete Streets, and you ever walk (from your parking spot to the store counts) or bike or skate or bus, its time to get some advocacy going in your neighborhood. This is the kind of thing that Conquent Land use and JBA consultants do, and wed be glad to help.

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