Sunday, June 28, 2009

Mr. B. goes to City Hall: A preview

As I noted a while back, I plan to speak before the City Council on Tuesday, July 7th, during the public agenda portion of the meeting, to ask that the Council consider adopting a Complete Streets policy. What follows are some excerpts from what I'll be saying. As you'll see, my goal is to emphasize the practicality of such a policy--something that I think is true and compelling but doesn't often get voiced. Also as you'll see, I'll be referring to the June 11 Complete Streets webinar that WAMPO hosted and that I posted on here.
[O]ne crucial thing the webinar forcefully brought home to me that I would like to share with the Council is that Complete Streets are not just nice to have but are also extraordinarily practical.

During the webinar, one of the speakers described a street in Orlando, Florida, that has recently been converted from a four-lane, two-way street to a three-lane street with dedicated combination bicycle/bus lanes on either side. This street is a very busy one—in its previous form, 20,000 cars a day used it. But since its conversion, that street has seen a 43% reduction in accidents and an 87% reduction in injuries from those accidents—and, surprisingly, an increase in its use of 1,000 cars per day. The lesson here seems obvious to me: by not widening the street but by reapportioning its surface for various uses rather than one, the city of Orlando made that street at once more efficient and safer.

Perhaps the most practical argument in favor of Complete Streets, especially these days, is that some of these projects are much less expensive than conventional street-building and –widening, and some are much cheaper even than bike paths. WAMPO’s Regional Pathway System Plan, adopted in 2007, proposes three major east-west re-striping projects totaling 12.8 miles, one on Douglas from Webb Rd. to I-135, one on Waterman from I-135 west to the railroad tracks, and one on Maple from Garden Plain and Goddard to west Wichita, that in 2007 had a total estimated cost of under half a million dollars—far less money than the cost of the recently-approved and much-needed bike path that will connect the Canal Route path to the K-96 path (for which, by the way, I thank the council for approving).

I am not an engineer or traffic planner, but it seems to me that it is the rare principle of infrastructure design that can simultaneously increase a street’s traffic-handling capacity and actually make it safer, do so more efficiently without widening it, and save the city a substantial amount of money both in terms of construction and, later on, in terms of the costs saved because that street is safer. The fiscal conservatives among us can surely see the financial virtues inherent in these benefits. But there is also the more intangible but no less important benefit that Complete Streets provide: they contribute to making the city a little greener, a little more livable, a place where people and businesses don’t just want to locate but want to stay. It’s the rare idea that progressives and conservatives, that cyclists, pedestrians and motorists can agree upon, but surely Complete Streets is one of them. I urge that the Council consider making a Complete Streets policy an integral part of its planning for Wichita’s future.


Russell Arben Fox said...

John, I like your concluding point about progressives and conservatives being able to agree upon Complete Streets--it's true, of course, but it can't be said often enough. I admite the devotion you've given to this cause. Keep up the good work, and give us a report on how the meeting goes!

John B. said...

Thanks, Russell. This idea clearly cuts across ideological divides to benefit everyone in some way . . . at least, that's what I think will play best in front of an ideologically-diverse Council. I'll be sure to let you know how it goes.