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NJDOT to Hold Workshops

Why You Need a Complete Streets Policy

James Simpson
By James Simpson
Commissioner, Departmment
of Transportation

When it comes to Complete Streets, New Jersey is leading the way toward safety for all who share the road. The policy adopted by NJDOT in 2009 has earned high praise for our state and is being used as a policy model by other states.

woman crossing street in the rain with red umbrella

The Christie Administration is taking an important step to advance the goals and objectives of Complete Streets by educating and encouraging local officials to extend the reach of Complete Streets by adopting their own policies.

NJDOT recently announced a series of workshops throughout the state, the first of which was held last month in Essex County. A team of experts have developed an educational curriculum for local and county decision-makers to learn about the benefits of adopting their own Complete Streets policies and how to design Complete Street improvements. The workshops will be held at 12 locations during 2012. Invitation letters will be sent out to community leaders in every town in the state.

Workshop participants can expect to achieve a better understanding of Complete Streets, the policy and design issues, and how to create a safer environment for all roadway users in their communities. Participants will learn that while Complete Streets policies are not mandated by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), states are strongly encouraged to embrace Complete Streets ideals. For example, FHWA now mandates that bicycle and pedestrian accommodations be considered in all projects using federal funds.

Beginning a dialogue about all roadway users at the earliest stages of project development enables the designers and the engineers to create solutions at the most affordable price. It is easier and less expensive to build it right the first time, than to have to retrofit a project.

Adopting a Complete Streets policy at the local level can raise awareness among residents, elected officials and the private sector. When such a policy is in place, pedestrian, bicycle and transit accommodations are no longer an afterthought—they become an integral feature of the overall plan. This concept is gaining traction statewide. Along with NJDOT, 26 municipalities and one county in New Jersey currently have formal Complete Streets policies in place. The goal of our workshops is to dramatically increase those numbers.

NJDOT is confident that Complete Streets policies will pay off by keeping all users of New Jersey’s roads safer. The investments we make in good design now will pay dividends for generations.
We are seeing more Complete Streets in our communities. You’ll notice more and improved sidewalks and bike paths, better markings at crosswalks, and intersection improvements (such as countdown pedestrian signals and accessible curb cuts). We need to build on this momentum.

However, it is equally easy to find examples throughout the state of streets that would be safer and more conducive to walking and bicycling had Complete Streets principles been woven into the design. I’m not trying to find fault with planners who might not have imagined the intensity of development that would arise along what were once rural highways. But, today we understand the unrelenting pressure of population growth on our land and roads.

Complete Streets policies at all levels of New Jersey government will help us build a network of streets and roads that promotes safety and efficiency. I urge local government officials to join us at these workshops and to take an active role in adopting Complete Streets.

Tips for Complete Streets Policy Making

Include a vision for how and why the community wants to complete its streets.

Specify that ‘all users’ includes pedestrians, bicyclists, and public transportation passengers of all ages and abilities, as well as trucks, buses, and automobiles.

Encourage street connectivity and aim to create a comprehensive, integrated, connected network for all modes.

Craft it to apply to both new and retrofit projects, including design, planning, maintenance and operations, for the entire right of way.

Make any exceptions specific and set a clear procedure that requires high-level approval of exceptions.

Encourage the use of the latest and best design standards while recognizing the need for flexibility in balancing user needs.

Direct that complete streets solutions compliment the context of the community.

Establish performance standards with measurable outcomes.

 

Originally published in New Jersey Municipalities, Volume 89, Number 5, May 2012

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