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Charlotte Provides Model as Congress Considers New Safe Streets Bill

“Like many cities across the country, my home district of Sacramento continues to bear witness to too many preventable accidents involving pedestrians. … 

“These needless and avoidable incidents are vivid reminders of why we need complete streets policies.  We all know there are best practices to make our streets safer, but without turning that knowledge into action we are unnecessarily putting many at risk.”

With these words, Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) introduced the “Safe Streets Act” on Thursday, along with Rep. David Joyce (R-OH), at a Congressional Briefing yesterday. The Safe Streets Act, formerly the Complete Streets Act, gives states two years to adopt comprehensive complete streets policies for transportation projects.

Complete Streets policies are popping up all over the country — the 500th policy passed just this spring.  And while we still need a national policy, much of the emphasis has turned to implementation.  And at yesterday’s briefing, Danny Pleasant, Transportation Director of Charlotte, NC, told the audience of Congressional staffers what Complete Streets can look like on the ground. 

Danny said that since the adopt of the policy, Charlotte has constructed more than $400 million worth of road projects — and all of them are “complete streets.”  Danny also answered some of the common questions about implementation of Complete Streets.

Does Complete Streets cost more?

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The slide shows the variance in the cost of building a 4 lane road over the last 4 years. While a complete streets with sidewalks and bike lanes does increase the cost, it is well within the price variance of the project.

Why a federal policy?

The consistency across states and communities is important. Danny said that some of the main roads in Charlotte are state roads and therefore maintained by the state -– including many around their light rail system. The streets were designed in a way that was inappropriate for the pedestrian traffic the rail system brought in, and the areas were losing potential development because of street design. Charlotte was able to work with the state to take over maintenance and control of the streets — but with a complimentary state policy, the city would not have had to do it.  Now North Carolina is implementing its Complete Streets policy as well. 

Political will to implement

Danny said that Charlotte was originally interested in a federal policy for economic development reasons. In Charlotte, the dense downtown experiences less than half the congestion of the less dense suburban like areas — and its where the housing market is shifting. The two biggest generations this country has ever had -– the baby boomers and the millennials — have shown they want to live in walkable and bikeable communities. Charlotte wanted to attract those demographics.  

Charlotte, Foxx and bicyclists

[[{“type”:”media”,”view_mode”:”media_large”,”fid”:”2020″,”attributes”:{“class”:”media-image”,”height”:”240″,”style”:”margin: 7px; float: right;”,”typeof”:”foaf:Image”,”width”:”160″}}]]Charlotte is a great test example, not only because it’s a southern city built as a low density metropolitan, but also because its home to Mayor Anthony Foxx, nominee for U.S. Secretary of Transportation. Foxx has said that he sees transportation as key to economic development and Charlotte’s economic recovery. 

When Danny was asked about building political will for complete streets projects he gave a shout to the bicycling community, saying they were the most active and consistent voices through the process, “always polite and helpful — and always there.”  

So thank you to Charlotte’s bike community. It sounds like you’ve opened the door for us at the federal level with the next Secretary of Transportation!

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