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Complete Streets Pave Way to Healthier Communities

March 10, 2014
Pictured are (left) Prince Ave. in Athens currently and a rendering of the same area with a crosswalk and refuge island for pedestrians.
 
It’s long been established that physical activity improves well-being. But what would the benefits be if getting around on foot or bicycle to the office, school or the grocery store were possible through a transportation network that included sidewalks, bike trails and easy access to public transit?
 
Regular physical activity such as walking, even 30 minutes a day, lowers the risk of diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, reduces stress and increases the chances of living longer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The trouble is most streets are designed for the automobile, not pedestrians. Those who are getting out of their cars and walking or biking are taking big safety risks. In Georgia between 2000 and 2009 more than 1,500 died while walking, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT).
 
In a move to make Georgia’s streets safer, GDOT passed a Complete Streets design policy in 2012 for all transportation projects managed by the GDOT that will help pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders to travel safely. Each Complete Street is unique to its location and uses and might include sidewalks, bike lanes, widened paved shoulders, special bus lanes, accessible public transportation stops, median islands, pedestrian signals, curb extensions and narrower travel lanes.
 
The idea of Complete Streets is not new and some Georgia cities have included those concepts in their long-term transportation planning for quite some time. For example, in 2005 the city of Decatur began forming a Community Transportation Plan (CTP), which today mirrors the state’s Complete Streets model by making sure city streets work for walkers, bikers and transit users as well as the automobile.
 
“We were very deliberate about the word community and that this plan should reflect what the whole community wanted,” said Decatur City Manager Peggy Merriss. After gathering extensive input through many public forums, workshops, meetings and surveys, Decatur’s CTP was adopted in 2008.
 
An important piece of Decatur’s CTP was the recommendation to include a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) that would provide critical safety data on intersections and streets so that the city could determine where to invest its limited transportation funds in order to make the biggest impact on public health. Decatur became the first city in the country to include an HIA making health a cornerstone of sustainability and a core responsibility of local government.
 
“The concept of active living is a holistic system that came out of connecting neighbors to the city’s business districts,” Merriss said. Decatur is phasing in several Complete Streets by planting trees, narrowing or reducing lanes, adding bike lanes and cross walks.
 
“You just have to start going after it a little at a time and understand it will be an incremental progress,” Merriss said.
 
In 2009 Roswell became the first city in Georgia to adopt a stand-alone Complete Streets policy, according to transportation planner Andrew Antweiler. “The city is always looking to be on the cutting edge of innovative solutions,” he said. The policy goals ensure safety and convenience to all pedestrians and mass transit users, the elderly and those with disabilities, as well as motorists, emergency vehicles and adjacent land users.
 
Roswell keeps costs down by using in-house studies to identify corridors feasible to be opened to all modes of transportation and ideas for future implementation. In-house studies also identified right-of-way constraints, environmental impacts and utility relocations.
 
A study of one Roswell road resulted in making minor shoulder improvements before repaving the two-lane roadway. Now bicycle riders can use the road alongside cars. Another road will have the addition of a multi-use trail on one side of the road and the curb modified to provide bike lanes. To make the most of funds, the city looks for op-portunities to make improvements to streets and roadways slated for reconstruction as well as local, state and federal funds and grants.
 
Athens adopted a Complete Streets policy in December of 2012. Goals include improving pedestrian safety, providing safe walking and biking connections and promoting healthy lifestyles.
 
Currently a citizen-organized proposal to turn high traffic corridor Prince Ave. into a Complete Street is being examined. Information was gathered through public input and revealed speeding cars and pedestrian and bicycle safety were priorities. Possible so-lutions include better sidewalks, more crosswalks, bicycle lanes and traffic calming measures.
 
“The Complete Streets campaign for Prince Ave. represents a perfect opportunity for state and local government to cooperate on a desirable road safety project,” said Brent Buice, executive director of Georgia Bikes and a frequent pedestrian, bicyclist and motorist on Prince Ave. “Prince is partially controlled by Athens and GDOT, it connects historic neighborhoods schools and in-town business districts and is exactly the type of urban corridor that Complete Streets policies are meant to improve.”
 
For more information on Complete Streets in Georgia go to: www.dot.ga.gov/travelingingeorgia/CompleteStreets. For information on the Complete Street proposal in Athens go to: completestreetsprince.org.