Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Active Transportation and Complete Streets Webinar Recap

This post was written by Kelly Moltzen, Program Manager for Bronx Health REACH’s Creating Healthy Schools and Communities.

On April 27th, Bronx Health REACH and Dan Suraci from Urban Cycling Solutions hosted a webinar about Active Transportation and Complete Streets and how Bronx stakeholders could get involved with advancing this work in the Bronx. Active Transportation is any self-propelled, human-powered mode of mobility, such as walking and bicycling. We reviewed the benefits of active transportation for increasing physical activity, thereby addressing one of the risk factors for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Medical costs of obesity are high, at over $11.8 billion in New York State alone.  Pedestrian and bicycle fatalities have not changed much over the past decade, so there is therefore much room for improvement to make streets safer for all.

Smart Growth America defines Complete Streets as “[Streets] designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities.”  Complete Streets balance health, economic vitality, equity, safety, environment, choice, mobility, and livability. They maximize efficiency and space, and encourage climate-friendly transportation options. When planning complete streets, people’s preferred routes are taken into consideration. Reduced traffic speeds save lives, and narrowed lanes help reduce speed of vehicles. Bike lanes and crosswalks with visible paint are safer than those where the paint is worn off; curb extensions and pedestrian islands allow pedestrians to cross streets that aren’t as wide; and ensuring bike parking is available encourages more riders to use their bikes.

Community members can conduct a walk audit of their neighborhood to identify areas of opportunity for Complete Street improvements. On the webinar, we took virtual walk audits to four dangerous intersections in the Bronx – Connor & Provost & Boston Road; 183rd & Grand Concourse; Westchester & Prospect Avenues; and 138th Street and Alexander Avenue. Dan walked us through safety features already existing on some of these streets and areas of opportunity for improvement.

Communities can work with their local municipalities to pass Complete Streets policies, which represent an official mandate to work toward an integrated transportation network for all users, as well the establishment of a reporting framework.  NYC has a “Vision Zero” policy which guides Complete Streets work through the NYC Department of Transportation, however, communities can work with their local Community Boards to advocate for additional changes, or to pressure the city to push a Complete Streets project higher up on the priority list. Some examples of policies that can be implemented in NYC include School Zones and NYC Neighborhood Slow Zones. Successful Complete Streets advisory groups consist of diverse stakeholders as well as a Chamber of Commerce or Business Association, Department of Public Works or Transportation, and the local transit agency. Studies show that more walkable and bikeable communities increase commercial activity and business satisfaction, so it can be especially valuable to get the local business community on board with the proposed changes.

If planned properly, complete street improvements can be no/low cost, and folded into other projects  or utility projects. Measurements to evaluate success can include number of crashes, volume of vehicles, traffic speed, economic vitality, user satisfaction, environmental outcomes, public health outcomes, and public safety. This training was supported by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH).

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