Takin' It To The Streets

This week Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, and U.S. Representative Doris Matsui, Democrat of California, introduced "The Complete Streets Act of 2009" to their respective Houses of Congress. If passed, this bill promises to decrease both traffic congestion and transportation costs for commuters across the nation.

Until recently, streets were designed for cars, without taking into account many of the road's other possible users. But the "Complete Street" program, which is starting to take hold in many communities across the country, asks planners, designers, and engineers to build roadways that ensure the safety and convenience of all citizens, whether they are drivers, pedestrians, or users of mass transit. Already California, Michigan, Missouri, Florida, Oregon, and Massachusetts have begun pursuing Complete Street programs.

The Complete Streets Act would direct state Departments of Transportation and Metropolitan Planning Organizations to adopt Complete Street policies on all future federally-funded transportation projects within two years. One major impetus for pushing through this bill right now is that the current economic stimulus plan doesn't take Complete Street concepts into account. Although the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act includes $48 billion for improving transportation infrastructure, that basically means coverage for widening roads to make way for increased and higher speed traffic, without considering the needs of the other users of these roads.

There are so many economic and climate rationales behind Complete Street policies that it's obvious that swift passage of The Complete Streets Act would greatly benefit our nation's general health. The bill encourages people to be more active through increased walking and biking; aims for a smaller carbon footprint through decreased automobile use and therefore lower gas consumption; and promises increase economic development inner-city revitalization.

An American who lives in an area that is both walkable and has public transit spends only 9 percent of his or her income on transportation, while someone living in an area that requires driving spends more than 25 percent. This fact alone should be enough reason to give The Complete Street Acts close consideration, especially in these difficult times.

Jonathan A. Schein is the publisher of MetroGreenBusiness.com and GreenBusinessCareers.com