Complete Streets: Paving the Way to Change

By Elisa Durand, December 11th, 2012 @ 7:14 pm
Little did Oregon know the impact its simple bike bill would have when it was enacted in 1971. The idea was novel at the time – requiring that all new or rebuilt roads be designed to facilitate bikes and pedestrians. It also assured that both local and state governments would provide funding and over time safely allow for the routine accommodation of various modes of transportation – motorized and non-motorized – within the public right-of-way.

In 2003 a group called Smart Growth America coined the term “Complete Streets” over the more generic and less marketable “routine accommodation,” and it worked. Other states started introducing similar bills and as of 2011, 23 states and more than 220 U.S. jurisdictions have either endorsed or adopted some form of Complete Streets legislation.

Anyone living in or around a major city is aware of the shift. Complete Streets initiatives dedicate specific (often color-coded) bike lines on major streets. They provide pedestrian crosswalks that give pedestrians the right of way. They also dictate changes in driver behavior beyond the ordinary, including violations for drivers who open their street-side car doors while cyclists are present. Advocates assert these initiatives improve safety, lower transportation costs and provide real alternatives to driving in congested areas.

How do these laws impact fleet managers? Simply put, these types of laws may require you to proactively ensure your drivers are not risking the public safety or incurring fines. This type of legislation is intended to make public streets more accommodating to cyclists and pedestrians; as a result, as cities and towns redesign streets in accordance with Complete Streets principles, changes can occur in the width of the traffic lanes or in the posted speed limit, among other things. For example, the Boston Complete Streets guidelines recommend that most city streets should not have a posted speed limit of more than 25 miles per hour. While drivers should always be alert to the posted speed limit, drivers in urban areas should pay particular attention to changes in the posted speed limits as more and more municipalities adopt Complete Streets principles and enforce them via legislation.

Keeping drivers informed of newly introduced Complete Streets laws will help prevent them from accruing fines as well. Over the past few years municipalities have begun to adopt much stiffer penalties for drivers who are found in violation of these types of laws as a means of enforcement. The most recent news regarding Complete Streets is in Philadelphia, where the City Council recently passed a new bill that increases fines for parking in bike lanes, among other things. A different part of the traffic code still allows vehicles to load/unload passengers in places where parking is otherwise prohibited and allows commercial vehicles a 20-minute load/unload window – bike lanes can still be used for these purposes. But as laws like this begin to take hold across the U.S., fleet managers may want to consider boosting awareness via information campaigns or even direct training of their drivers so as not to risk the fines that come along with many of these kinds of laws.

Many of the laws – like the newest one in Philadelphia – place requirements on cyclists as well, and include fines for those found in violation of those regulations.  And, like any change, there will be a period of adjustment. But as our urban centers become more crowded, and as residents choose different modes of transportation to get around, it is hoped that these laws will bring a degree of order and safety to all who need to traverse the streets.

Do you operate a fleet in a municipality that has actively instituted laws related to Complete Streets? Tell us about your experience!

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