Friday, May 7, 2010

Introduction to Complete Streets Policy for Laguna Beach

The Vision Laguna 2030 Strategic Plan completed in December 2001 states, "We will be a safe and enjoyable community to walk and bicycle with convenient transit and smooth traffic flow". Nine years later in April 2009 the City Council in a 4-0 decision approved the Climate Protection Action Plan (CPAP), however the agenda bill deleted the bicycle provisions. Subsequently the Council amended the agenda bill to authorize a task force to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety and re-incorporate bike provisions into the Plan. The "Complete Streets Task Force" has been meeting with City members since September 2009 to investigate mixed mobility for Laguna Beach including bicycles, pedestrians and public transit.

Both Laguna Beach residents and visitors are inconvenienced by traffic congestion and perceived scarce parking due to our romance with the automobile and a car saturated transportation system. At peak commute hours we experience traffic 'bottlenecks' because we rely on private vehicles as the sole means of mobility around town. Laguna Beach residents and visitors could help relieve traffic congestion by adopting a transportation system of mixed-mode mobility that includes walking, cycling, public transportation and private transport.

Mixed-mode mobility is consistent with other world class cities as the means to greater connectivity between destinations while improving the quality of life, raising the attractiveness of streets and towns, and lowering the cost to our environment. These benefits are not difficult to rationalize, simply consider that every driver you accommodate with a bus, bicycle, or a walking alternative, you remove one car from our roads and free-up one parking space. Recall the contentious debate that available storefront parking remains a huge necessity to attract, operate, and sustain retail business in Laguna. Adopting mixed-mode mobility relieves the demand for limited store-front parking.

Complete Streets allows different modes of mobility to co-exist with a better record of traffic safety. A complete street means an equal allocation of space is given to all four modes of mobility. A complete street revitalizes the business community by increasing foot traffic and increasing overall capacity of the transportation network. A complete street is designed and operated to enable safe access for all users. Pedestrians, dog walkers, bicycles, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities must be able to safely move along and across a complete street. Cities with complete streets policies make sure that their streets and roads accommodate all users in a balanced fashion, as well as seniors, children, and people with disabilities.

Streets are made complete through design interventions that balance mobility, but the adoption of complete street interventions is context sensitive. Design interventions may include sidewalks, accessible pedestrian signals, bike lanes, special bus lanes, accessible transit stops, curb extensions, and more. A complete street for a rural area and a highly urban area will look quite different, but both are designed to balance safety and convenience for everyone using the road.

Next week: The Complete Streets Act. This is state and federal legislation that makes complete streets a mandate when forming new city policy.