South Florida roads are all about vehicles, getting motorists to destinations quickly with little thought given to pedestrians, bicyclists and public transportation users.
But a growing number of South Florida communities are beginning to think that roads shouldn’t be all about the motorist. They’re starting to think their roads should be “Complete Streets,” available to everyone, and are adopting policies to reflect that.
Complete Streets, a concept championed by the National Complete Streets Coalition, make it easy to cross roads, walk to shops, bike to work or catch a bus.
Roads can accommodate not only cars but also pedestrians and bicyclists, providing an infrastructure and welcoming environment for non-motorized traffic.
“It’s more than just having sidewalks and bike lanes,” said Bret Baronak, pedestrian and bicycle coordinator for the Palm Beach County Metropolitan Planning Organization. “We have roads [in the county] with bike lanes and sidewalks, but are they still conducive to biking and walking? That can be debated. … It’s having that environment with equal access for everyone and accommodating them comfortably.”
The Broward County Metropolitan Planning Organization recently approved Complete Street guidelines to help the county’s municipalities transform their roads.
Cities such as Deerfield Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Oakland Park and Pompano Beach have begun the process of adopting Complete Street policies.
“Folks really do want to change,” said Patrice Gillespie Smith, program manager for Urban Health Solutions, which helped develop the Broward guidelines. “Broward residents want to drive less.”
Two years ago, Boca Raton changed its long-term growth and development plan to reflect a Complete Streets philosophy.
The plan says the city isn’t concerned just about building sidewalks and bike lanes, but also about making the environment safer and encouraging more travel by foot and bike. To do that, the city would focus on creating wide sidewalks, crosswalks, pedestrian refuges in medians and pedestrian-activated traffic signals.
The city would focus on installing street trees for shade, on-street parking, narrow lanes for cars and traffic-calming devices to slow vehicular traffic.
The city also would require developers to create projects with pedestrians, bicyclists and public transportation users in mind.
West Palm Beach became a model for the Complete Streets concept even before the term was coined in 2003. With CityPlace, the city showed that a development could have a pedestrian focus while at the same time revitalizing a neighborhood and providing economic vitality, said Stefanie Seskin, deputy director of the National Complete Streets Coalition.
West Palm Beach didn’t actually adopt the Complete Streets policy until 2004. One of the city’s first projects incorporating the concept was done last year on Parker Avenue, where the city reduced the number of lanes to make the road safer for pedestrians.
The city is in the process of designing projects for Tamarind Avenue and 15th Street that will include improving pedestrian crossings and reducing the width of vehicle lanes to make room for bike lanes and to reduce the speed of cars.
“We’re making it safer for pedestrians and bicyclists to use these roads,” said Alex Hansen, the city’s senior transportation planner.
In Deerfield Beach, Hillsboro Boulevard east of Federal Highway has Complete Street elements, with its marked bike lanes, landscaping that separates the sidewalk from the road and bus stop shelters, Smith said.
It’s possible the street could use more improvements, she said, but such transformations can take time. Plus, the city plans to ask the Florida Department of Transportation to make Hillsboro west of Federal a Complete Street when the state resurfaces it in two years.
“They’re thinking, ‘We’re going to do the street anyway. Let’s make it more livable,’” Smith said.
The interest in complete streets is coming from residents, who are looking for ways to get around other than by car in a time of roller-coaster gas prices, a struggling economy and high childhood obesity rates, Seskin said.
About 350 communities across the country have adopted Complete Street policies, with 146 of those policies adopted last year, according to the National Complete Streets Coalition.
“The movement has really caught on a lot, especially in the last two to three years,” Seskin said. “Neighbors are saying, ‘It would be really nice if we could walk around our neighborhood.’”
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