Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Making City Streets More Complete by Stephen Geffon - Leader-Observer

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A new bill making its way through the state legislature would require that roads being built or redesigned using state dollars consider all users of the road, including pedestrians, bicyclists, people with disabilities, public transit and automobiles

Dubbed the Complete Streets legislation, the bill has passed the State Senate and been referred to the Assembly for consideration.

The Complete Streets Act of 2009 has also been introduced in the United States Senate and House of Representatives. This legislation would ensure that federal transportation infrastructure investments provide safe travel for Americans whether they are driving, bicycling, walking or taking public transportation.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2007, a pedestrian was hit by a motorist and killed every 113 minutes (about one every two hours) - a total of 4,654 fatalities nationwide. Forty percent of these fatalities were people 50 years of age and older. In addition, NHTSA found that a pedestrian is injured by motorists every 8 minutes with over 70,000 pedestrians injured in 2007.

A national report titled Dangerous by Design issued in 2009, noted that New York State had the nation's third-highest pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 people aged 65 and older. The report also notes:

  • 1 in 5 traffic deaths in New York State are pedestrians.
  • 22.5 percent of total traffic deaths in New York State are pedestrians. 
  • The national average was 11.8 percent in 2007-2008.
  • 31 percent of total traffic deaths in the NYC metropolitan area are pedestrians.

A new poll released by AARP in 2008 found that while many people age 50 and older are trying to move away from car transportation as a result of high gas prices, almost half (47 percent) of poll responders say they cannot cross the main roads safely.

A Federal Highway Administration safety review found that streets designed with sidewalks, raised medians, better bus stop placement, traffic-calming measures, and treatments for disabled travelers improve pedestrian safety.

Some features, such as medians, improve safety for all users because they enable pedestrians to cross busy roads in two stages, reduce left-turning motorist crashes to zero, and improve bicycle safety.

It can improve health, as well. One study found that 43 percent of the people with safe places to walk within 10 minutes of their home met recommended activity levels. Among individuals without a safe place to walk, just 27 percent were active enough.

The potential to reduce carbon emissions by shifting trips to lower-carbon modes is also undeniable. The 2001 National Household Transportation Survey found 50 percent of all trips in metropolitan areas are three miles or less and 28 percent of all metropolitan trips are one mile or less - distances easy to walk, bike, or hop a bus or train.

Yet 650 of the shortest trips are now made by automobile, in part because of incomplete streets that make it dangerous or unpleasant for other modes of travel. Complete Streets would help convert many of these short automobile trips to multi-modal travel. Simply increasing bicycling from 1 to 1.5 percent of all trips in the U.S. would save 462 million gallons of gasoline each year.

Bill Ferris, legislative representative for AARP, a lead advocate for the legislation, said getting the Complete Streets legislation adopted this session is a priority for his organization.

“We firmly believe our roads need to be designed for all users, not just automobiles,” he said.