Sending a National Message for Safer Streets

A national complete streets law would help address dangerous roads for walking, such as southern NJ's Black Horse Pike.

Throughout the nation, we are living with the legacy of outdated roads, many of which can be downright hostile to those who travel them. For more than half a century, our infrastructure has been engineered to try to move automobiles as quickly as possible—frequently at the expense of the most vulnerable road users, pedestrians and bicyclists. A proposed federal law could change that.

That law is the “Safe and Complete Streets Act of 2011 (H.R. 1780), introduced by Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) in the House in May (the Senate equivalent, S. 1056, was introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin [D-IA] later that month). It would require all state departments of transportation and metropolitan planning organizations to create their own “complete streets” policies, providing blueprints of how pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders and drivers, of all ages and abilities, would be accommodated in future transportation projects that receive federal money. As a growing number of seniors and other Americans either choose not to drive or are unable to do so, the inclusion of pedestrian-focused infrastructure, such as continuous sidewalks, crosswalks and bus shelters, into initial road designs can improve travel conditions in a way that allows people to maintain full and independent lives.

Should the bill become law, or if its principles are included in a broader federal transportation law, specific recommended improvements would not be mandated from Washington, but would be context-sensitive and would vary widely depending on the needs of each local area. The bill has already garnered bipartisan support, as Rep. Steve LaTourette, a Republican from Ohio, signed on as a co-sponsor at the time of its introduction. Five more House members signed on last week, including Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ). Advocates throughout the nation are working to secure support for this potentially life-saving legislation from additional members of Congress.

With the recent passage of the complete streets bill in New York and the existing complete streets laws and policies on the books in Connecticut, New Jersey and numerous municipalities and counties in the region, there is hope our roads will become safer for non-drivers and drivers alike. Passage of a national law would ensure that whether you live in New York City, St. Louis or a small town in Idaho, engineers of any transportation project receiving federal money would have to demonstrate how the project would make travel safer all road users. The Safe and Complete Streets Act would reinforce the pedestrian and bicycle safety goals of states with current complete streets policies, and would provide technical guidance for other states in the creation of their own policies.

Photo: Matthew Norris/TSTC.

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