Sunday Commentary: Designing Complete Streets Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Punishing Automobiles

When I read the editorial by the Davis Enterprise, I was a bit disturbed by the implication of this statement: “The operative principle in all these projects seems to be that if only we make driving (or parking) inconvenient enough, then people will drive less, or slower, or somewhere else.”

Columnist Bob Dunning doubles down on this idea in his latest column.

Are there people in this community who think that way?  Absolutely.  We see it in the comments of some folks here on the Vanguard.  That’s fine, people are certainly entitled to their points of view.

But to imply without documented evidence that that was the thinking behind some of the projects and road designs in this community is to attribute to malice or intentionality what is better explained by a variety of other things – most notably a difference of opinion and perhaps a miscalculation.

What are they trying to do?  They are trying to allow other modes of transportation to safely access a street or corridor.

As a good example let us take Fifth Street.  The previous form of Fifth Street had four travel lanes designed exclusively for motorized vehicles.  There was no room for bike lanes, and bike travel on Fifth Street was hazardous to both bikes and motor vehicles.  You can argue that the previous version of Fifth Street was even poorly designed for cars – with long waits for red lights even when no other cars were around and long back ups during peak hours.

The re-design has enabled bikes and pedestrians to utilize the roadway along with motor vehicles.  When the road was designed, Steve Tracy, an advocate and consultant who helped design complete streets in other communities, explained to the Vanguard that the idea was to slow vehicles down but to allow them to get through the corridor more smoothly with fewer stops and less congestion.

All of this is part of a smart growth movement to create “complete streets.”  The goal of complete streets is not to take people out of automobiles or to make driving inconvenient, but rather to create safe access for all users of roadways: pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities.

The idea is to make it easier to cross the street, walk to shops, and bicycle to work.

As Smart Growth America puts it: “Creating Complete Streets means transportation agencies must change their approach to community roads. By adopting a Complete Streets policy, communities direct their transportation planners and engineers to routinely design and operate the entire right of way to enable safe access for all users, regardless of age, ability, or mode of transportation. This means that every transportation project will make the street network better and safer for drivers, transit users, pedestrians, and bicyclists—making your town a better place to live.”

Look no further than the letter from Elaine Roberts Musser.  Those who know her, know she is not one who would buy into a concept to make it more difficult to drive an automobile.  On the contrary.

But she was a member of the transportation committee that devised the update to the Transportation Implementation Plan.

She explains: “One of the key tenets of this plan is what is called multi-modal share. That is to say, all modes of transportation need to be taken into account when planning for road improvements.”

In her letter she did note that some of the “loud voices” in the community came from the bicycling community, “who wanted much more emphasis on bicycle safety.”

Given the fact that this is considered one of the top bicycling communities in the nation, such a focus makes a lot of sense.

But, as she explains in her letter, the committee simply weighed that concern among many and she writes that “in the end, we wisely decided to make sure all modes of transportation were taken into account, with bicycle safety as only one, albeit very important, component of the plan.”

Now she believes that the consultants in the Mace Boulevard design did not really follow what the members of the Transportation Implementation Plan advocated – which is another story here – but the bottom line we can glean from her letter is that “all modes of transportation have to be taken into account when implementing changes to road configurations.”

Again I am not going deny that there are some voices in the community who do believe they can make it inconvenient enough so as to compel people to get out of their cars.  However, as I explained yesterday, the world is slowly changing how we approach transit and our roadways should accommodate those changes.

There are certainly a lot of roadways that are designed strictly for automobiles, which makes it very difficult for people to use other forms of transportation if they so choose.

A big driver here is safety.  In their publication, “Dangerous by Design 2019,” Smart Growth America and National Complete Street Coalition present data showing that over the decade between 2008 and 2017 “drivers struck and killed 49,340 people who were walking on streets all across the United States. That’s more than 13 people per day, or one person every hour and 46 minutes. It’s the equivalent of a jumbo jet full of people crashing—with no survivors—every single month.”

In fact, the number of people struck and killed while walking has increased over time, with 2016 and 2017 being the two highest years since 1990.

They note: “What this report shows is that our streets aren’t getting safer.”

The Enterprise concludes their editorial: “So we can have it all: a project that keeps the existing traffic flow while still improving access for bicycles and pedestrians. That should be our goal every time.”

I suspect that, if asked, the Davis City Council would say that was what they sought to do here.  You can argue there were some design flaws that they hope to fix, you can argue that circumstances which were unforeseen changed traffic patterns, but I don’t think you can argue that they intentionally tried to make it more difficult for drivers of automobiles to utilize the roadways.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
$USD
Sign up for

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

Related posts

12 Comments

  1. Ron Oertel

    From article:  “As a good example let us take Fifth Street.” 

    The primary reason that the Fifth Street “redesign” (sort of) works is because of the new dedicated left-turn lanes.  Prior to that, one would get stuck behind those making a left, essentially turning the street into one-lane in each direction.  Even more frustrating, if the driver ahead didn’t signal his/her intentions well-ahead of time.

    For all practical purposes, there has been no traffic lane reduction on Fifth Street. (Unless the dedicated left-turn lanes become so backed up at some point that it blocks the through-traffic lane.)

    The truth is that there’s only so much “redesign” that can be successfully accomplished, in a limited space with competing uses and increasing traffic. Some might argue that some of the redesigns are focused on the smallest number of users, at the expense of the largest number of users.

    1. Alan Miller

      The primary reason that the Fifth Street “redesign” (sort of) works

      Add:  For CARS . . . as that is what you are saying.

      Some might argue that some of the redesigns are focused on the smallest number of users, at the expense of the largest number of users.

      Some (such as I) might argue that the other users don’t have a chance if there aren’t right-of-ways for them.  Either to increase mode-share, or to safely navigate.

      1. Ron Oertel

        Alan M.  “Add:  For CARS . . . as that is what you are saying.”

        No – not necessarily (although they motorists are the primary users).  Doesn’t it also work better for cyclists?

        (Assuming that Bob Dunning is “incorrect” as some allege, regarding shifting traffic onto 8th Street.)

        One thing for sure – traffic is increasing, and is increasingly “unpredictable”, it seems (e.g. with apps redirecting some traffic).

        In general, I agree that bicyclists need separation from motor vehicle traffic to safely and comfortably navigate. It’s a judgement call, regarding which streets are best-suited for it and how to accomplish it, e.g., without totally disrupting other users (as we’ve recently witnessed).

        Seems like even the traffic engineers make mistakes, at times.

  2. Ron Oertel

    From article above:  “Columnist Bob Dunning doubles down on this idea in his latest column.”

    If David actually included another important point (or at least a link to the Bob Dunning article as noted below), perhaps a more complete picture would arise.  Fortunately (and unlike a dissected and “selectively analyzed” partial email exchange), Dunning’s article is easily accessible to all:

    “The only problem is that much of that traffic simply shifted over to once-pleasant East Eighth Street, which is now an early-morning and late-afternoon nightmare.”

    “Put simply, it’s a vehicular form of robbing Peter to pay Paul””

    https://www.davisenterprise.com/local-news/dunning/bob-dunning-when-experts-get-it-wrong/

     

    1. David Greenwald

      My intention was to take issue with one point not provide a full summary. But I think he’s mistaken there. 8th St has only become heavily congested in recent months due to L and Covell road work redirecting traffic.   I don’t think Fifth impacted it that much.

    2. Richard McCann

      Ron, Dunning’s characterization of the change in traffic patterns on 8th, as with many of his anecdotal observations, is wrong. Traffic on 8th had already increased substantially several years before the redesign of 5th. It’s not clear whether the change on 5th has had any impact on 8th. Many people had already switched to 8th (including me when I lived in  West Davis) because of the fact that the middle 2 lanes on 5th through downtown had turned into de facto left turn lanes, as you observed already. It’s becoming intolerable how much misinformation Dunning spews now. (And please don’t tell me that he’s an “entertainer” that we shouldn’t take seriously. That’s what they said about Trump in 2015.)

      1. Rik Keller

        I agree with David’s and Richard’s comments here. I don’t Dunning is accurately describing the situation on 8th Street traffic being related to the 5th Street re-design. And his statements are right in-line with what seems to be the general Enterprise auto-centric editorial stance.

  3. Dave Hart

    I don’t know.  Here is the text from the Enterprise article by Anne Ternus-Bellamy:

    Pytel shared Hart’s concerns about bicycle safety.

    “Mace Boulevard was really the first time that we put a lot of elements together that were designed to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety,” Pytel said. “The original goal — that we improve bicycle and pedestrian safety — is a very important goal and (I hope) we don’t lose sight of that.”

    Davis, he said, is second worst in the state for auto-bicycle collisions among similar size cities.

    “That’s not a happy number at all and we need to be making improvements to fix that and to change it. Oftentimes in law enforcement one of the basic components you look for is roadway engineering — are there ways to slow down traffic and make it safer?”

    Speed, he said directly correlates with injury and property damage. The faster cars are traveling, the worse the injuries and damages will be when those collisions occur.

    “So we shouldn’t lose sight of those elements and I don’t think we will lose sight of them when we come to the community and the council with proposals for the roadway,” said Pytel, who repeated his earlier belief that Mace can be restored to two lanes in each direction while maintaining bicycle safety.

    It is most definitely not a happy number whether per cap or absolute.
    Here is a link to that article: https://www.davisenterprise.com/local-news/city-county-officials-take-stock-of-what-went-wrong-with-mace-project/

    1. Alan Miller

      Police Chief Pytel’s point that Davis is number 2 in the state for cyclist collisions with automobiles.

      Pardon, I missed that . . . is that by number or per capita?

      1. Dave Hart

        I don’t know.  Here is the text from the Enterprise article by Anne Ternus-Bellamy:

        Pytel shared Hart’s concerns about bicycle safety.

        “Mace Boulevard was really the first time that we put a lot of elements together that were designed to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety,” Pytel said. “The original goal — that we improve bicycle and pedestrian safety — is a very important goal and (I hope) we don’t lose sight of that.”

        Davis, he said, is second worst in the state for auto-bicycle collisions among similar size cities.

        “That’s not a happy number at all and we need to be making improvements to fix that and to change it. Oftentimes in law enforcement one of the basic components you look for is roadway engineering — are there ways to slow down traffic and make it safer?”

        Speed, he said directly correlates with injury and property damage. The faster cars are traveling, the worse the injuries and damages will be when those collisions occur.

        “So we shouldn’t lose sight of those elements and I don’t think we will lose sight of them when we come to the community and the council with proposals for the roadway,” said Pytel, who repeated his earlier belief that Mace can be restored to two lanes in each direction while maintaining bicycle safety.

        It is most definitely not a happy number whether per cap or absolute.
        Here is a link to that article: https://www.davisenterprise.com/local-news/city-county-officials-take-stock-of-what-went-wrong-with-mace-project/

  4. Alan Miller

    However, as I explained yesterday . . .

    Greensplained

    the consultants in the Mace Boulevard design did not really follow what the members of the Transportation Implementation Plan advocated – which is another story here

    I hope it is another story here.  That’s quite an accusation, and I love to hear the details flushed out.

    the number of people struck and killed while walking has increased over time, with 2016 and 2017 being the two highest years since 1990.

    Gee, I wonder why.

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
$ USD
Sign up for