Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Wrong direction on Complete Streets

In Disney parlance, it might be called "Imagineering," where creativity and practicality intersect in new and innovative ways.
Here, at the University of South Florida's Marshall Student Center, metro planners captured the attention of the lunch crowd one day last week with an issue of compelling interest to all who navigate the most-traveled -- and least pedestrian-friendly -- corridor in the county.
The summit was a coming-out party of sorts for the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization's (MPO) Livable Roadways Committee -- the first time the group has taken its Complete Streets plan to the people who have the most at stake: the car-less masses that use them every day.
From Smart Growth America, what does a complete street look like?
There is no singular design prescription for Complete Streets; each one is unique and responds to its community context. A complete street may include: sidewalks, bike lanes (or wide paved shoulders), special bus lanes, comfortable and accessible public transportation stops, frequent and safe crossing opportunities, median islands, accessible pedestrian signals, curb extensions, narrower travel lanes, roundabouts, and more.
A "complete street"
Smart Growth America has a hard time defining Complete Streets. Let me help.  Take a look at the suburbs.

Many of these ideas are worthy of discussion, but they do not come without costs or other tradeoffs.  For example, we favor more and safer bike lanes.  However, we are against carving bike lanes out of existing roads, which is often a remedy -- it reduces road capacity and is less safe for the bikers.  Similarly, we are against carving out special bus lanes or beautification projects on our overloaded roads.

Meanwhile, back at the Complete Streets summit:

Streets are about moving people, not moving cars, and people move in many ways," says Lynn Merenda, a public engagement specialist for MPO.

On and around the USF campus, that might entail a bike, a skateboard, a bus, a wheelchair or a sturdy pair of feet -- all of which present unique challenges and opportunities for roadway design.

Don't forget the horses and buggies.  

Seriously, what about golf carts?  100,000 people in the The Villages get around the town entirely accessible by golf carts.

How does all this "imagineering" get paid for?  By automobile driver, with their gas taxes... that pay for this.
"This is about people who don't have cars," says Stephen Benson, a student, a citizen and a planner on the MPO roadways committee. Not everyone can afford a car or has the ability to drive one, he says, and finding ways to address their needs "is how we should be spending our transportation money."
Actually, cars have been a great equalizer over time, empowering the vast majority of people mobility and to live where they want.  Cars are not always cheap, of for everyone, of course, but those who drive cars are also the main source of  "our transportation money" via gas taxes.

MPO has embraced the Complete Streets concept and Lisa Montelione, chairwoman of the Livable Roadways Committee, was ecstatic with the amount of information collected and shared at the summit, the result of setting up shop in a high-traffic area frequented by a critical target population.

Livable roadways? What is that?  Can we have some driveable roadways?

A number of projects are in progress, among them a University Area Transit Circulator Study to improve bus service in an area that encompasses USF, Moffitt Cancer Center, Florida Hospital and other large employers in the area.

"We already have the ridership," says Montelione. "The issue at the end of the day is money."

University Area Transit Center
We like the idea of circulators. They don't require a livable roadway or complete street.  A driveable roadway or regular street will do.  Start now.  It will be less money than waiting for "livable roadways".

Now for some imagineering:

The budding Imagineers drew walkways in the middle of parking lots, wide bike lanes, raised crosswalks that served as speed humps and dedicated bus corridors that would allow mass transit to breeze past cars choked in traffic.

Multiple elevated walkways were envisioned to allow safe passage across Fletcher and Fowler avenues. Medians -- green with grass and lined with trees -- supplied aesthetic appeal with an underlying practical agenda.

"If you have a beautiful environment, people (driving cars) tend to slow down," Merenda says.

This does seem to be all about impeding traffic and slowing down on some of our most traveled, most highly utilized, and most congested roads.  I'm not exactly sure how these ideas improves mobility for the vast majority of people who use their cars as the primary mode of transportation.

For sure, plenty of roads in Tampa Bay need drastic improvement.  There is at least $3.2B in unfunded road maintenance, traffic and safety improvements backlog in Hillsborough County alone.  So let's keep the eye on the target -- improving safety and mobility in a cost effective manner.
"We have got to take the 'duh' out of Florida," he says. "It's going to take time." 

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