Commenting on the Sept. 19 meeting of the Ames City Council.
Earlier this year the council approved an agreement to work with Toole Design Group to create a complete streets plan for Ames. Complete streets has been discussed a lot over the last two years after becoming a main talking point in the 2015 council election. It was one of my primary platform components and something that I have been championing for well over 10 years. It is also something that is commonly misunderstood and it was clear from the start that a big part of Toole’s presentation was to clear up those misconceptions before discussing the scope of work and the process they would be using to create a complete streets guide for Ames. These points would be reiterated many times during the course of the workshop.
Complete streets is not a bike lane on every street, not a bus route to every destination, and absolutely not a reduction in one mode of service in favor of another. A complete streets plan is a gradual, targeted set of purposefully planned improvements to existing and new infrastructure to create “streets for everyone, no matter who they are or how they travel,” according to Toole’s presentation to the council. Research and experience confirm that people desire options for how they travel to and from school, work, and so on, but “73 percent currently feel they have no choice but to drive as much as they do.” While Ames has some nice segments of trails and recent improvements in on-street facilities, it still has gaps in that network that result in people choosing to drive rather than walk, bike, or take CyRide. The complete streets program will aim to close these gaps and over time create an “equity” for all modes.
The good news is that Ames is well ahead of many cities where Toole has done similar work. Our residential streets are wide and most have sidewalks on both sides. It is fairly safe and easy to choose modes other then driving in many of our residential areas. A lot of the problems arise around our arterial roads, like Lincoln Way, Duff Avenue, or Grand Avenue, and their lack of multi-modal support create gaps that are significant enough to prevent people from walking or biking at all despite the patches of safe routes.
Another big misconception is cost — it is assumed that complete streets will immediately increase the price tag of our transportation projects. Again, complete streets is about targeted changes. Not every project has to address every mode. Toole has documented over their extensive work in this area that, on average, complete street design does not increase cost and it is important to look at the costs and benefits citywide and not on each and every project. Project costs will vary but you will find that over time all modes can be accommodated without additional cost or reduction in service for any single mode.
I found the workshop very helpful and encouraging. Toole is an expert in this area and the city made an excellent choice in hiring them. I look forward to continuing to work with the city to improve our multi-modal transportation system and I encourage you to get involved with upcoming public input sessions and the finalization of this plan.
Thanks for reading,
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