To Complete a Low-Volume Residential Street, Make Motorists Slow Down and Share

How do you implement complete streets policies on low-volume streets in residential communities where it’s rare to find sidewalks, bike lanes or even shoulders?

A New Jersey bill that took a step forward last week aims to address exactly that. If enacted, the bill would make it easier for residents of neighborhoods where most streets lack sidewalks to have speed limits lowered in their communities. Only roadways classified in the New Jersey Administrative Code as Residential Access Streets, which “are designed to carry the least amount of traffic at the lowest speed, and are generally found in residential developments,” would be eligible.

This bill would require the Commissioner of Transportation to designate a 15 or 20 miles per hour speed limit on all residential access streets within a community or neighborhood, upon the request of the community’s association or a majority of the residents in the neighborhood, with the approval of the appropriate governing body.

While the bill’s provisions would mostly be used in small towns and rural communities, it actually takes a cue from speed reduction techniques used in cities. Neighborhoods in New York City, for example, can apply to become Neighborhood Slow Zones, where speed limits are reduced to 20 mph and traffic calming devices are installed. In England, instead of lowering speeds one neighborhood at a time, some cities have adopted default 20 mph default speed limits for all residential streets.

The bill, which is co-sponsored by Republican Scott Rudder and Democrat Celeste Riley, highlights the challenges of implementing complete streets on rural and exurban roads, where the cost of sidewalks and dedicated bicycle facilities can be more difficult to justify than on urban streets. It is important to remember, however, that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions when it comes to implementing complete streets. While a “complete” urban arterial that accommodates hundreds of vehicles each hour might include wide sidewalks, cycle tracks and crossing islands, a small town residential complete street that carries only a handful of vehicles each hour could operate more like a woonerf — a street with slow-moving traffic where pedestrians, cyclists and motorists share the same space

The provisions of this bill can only work if motorists comply with lower speed limits, so when municipalities roll out new speed limit signs, added enforcement and context-sensitive traffic calming measures must also be considered.

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