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City hopes complete streets address "structural racism" of infrastructure

Marc Lefkowitz  |  03/21/18 @ 11:00am  |  Posted in Transportation

Since it launched in 2003, complete streets has ignited a nationwide movement to redesign roads to be more equitable; over 300 jurisdictions have passed laws that recognize how people use streets for commerce, socializing, walking and moving around without the aid of a car. Cities, towns and suburbs have codified complete streets as law — directing their departments of public works and planning to adjust to a community Vision that reduces traffic fatalities or to claim Jurisdiction over street design from remote bureaucrats in state capitals. Today, the Complete Streets Coalition, which merged with Smart Growth America in 2012, releases its Best Policies of 2017 report, as it has done for a decade, to shine a light on policies that are clear, goal oriented and in this year’s case, will bring about change that places vulnerable populations like seniors, disabled, and children first in the hierarchy of needs.

<br />East 79th Street in Cleveland has received little investment<br />Early plans for a new urban highway in Cleveland, in the same corridor as the previous photo of East 79th Street.

Baltimore is being held in high regard by the National Complete Streets Coalition today for drafting a policy that, if adopted, will place special emphasis on the most vulnerable while acknowledging how people of color have been historically disenfranchised and suffer disproportionately from the design of streets.

“The design of Baltimore City’s streets causes crashes, increased congestion, and deters biking, walking, and transit use,” writes Baltimore City Councilman Ryan Dorsey in a policy brief. “These negative impacts disparately affect communities of color and perpetuate structural racism.”

Dorsey backs his claims by marshaling statistics including from policies in effect for more than a decade. There’s nothing quite like empirically based evidence to support your arguments. In essence, complete streets provide health, environmental, social, economic and equity benefits. In Baltimore as in Cleveland, which adopted complete streets in 2011, those dividends are conferred to those who rarely receive any.

“In urban jurisdictions…a tradeoff in favor of non-automotive modes often does the most good for the largest amount of people. 30.6% of households have no access to a car, and that number can reach as high as 71.6%,” he writes about Baltimore. Cleveland’s car free numbers are also significantly higher than the region and national average.

“By prioritizing the needs of suburban commuters by car over those of city commuters by transit, bikes, or walking," the councilman continues, “existing policy poses a barrier to employment and costs the city lost tax income.”

Similar reports in Cleveland have pointed out the structural deficiencies of investing more in highways for suburban whites than in infrastructure serving people of color living in the city.

“While not a panacea, complete streets can play a crucial role in rebuilding disinvested, historically red-lined urban communities, and improving incomes and access to opportunity and amenities for residents of those neighborhoods,” he concludes.

Baltimore plans to walk the talk with a provision in its compete streets policy that will introduce stringent, binding requirements to proactively reduce disparities in community engagement, project delivery, and performance measurements.

Some of the more eye catching data points in the policy brief:

  • Dayton, OH traffic calming measures coupled with a homeownership program resulted in a 25-50% reduction in neighborhood crime. (Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center).
  • A recent survey of protected bike facilities built around the country found an increase of 21 to 71% in ridership after installation of those facilities. (National Institute for Transportation and Communities, 2014).
  • A high proportion of U.S. trips that are seemingly too short to justify driving are nevertheless made in an automobile, reflecting, in part, uninviting road conditions for walking or biking. 50% of trips are 3 miles or less, and 28% are 1 mile or less. (National Household Travel Survey Short Trips Analysis).
  • The average transit commute in Baltimore is 5 minutes higher than the benchmark for a livable commute of 45 minutes. (Cleveland’s average transit commute time is 90 minutes).
  • The Federal Highway Administration’s Livability Initiative found that, due to reduced vehicle ownership but also shorter travel distances, households in “location-efficient,” i.e. compact, transit connected places, spend 9% of income on transportation. By contrast, in auto-dependent places that number jumps to 25%.
  • A recent study found that of ten complete streets projects reporting before and after data, eight demonstrated property value increases. (Smart Growth America).
  • For the cost of one mile of road widening in the City, 185 miles of high-quality bi-directional protected bike facilities could be added.

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