“Complete Streets” = Complete NonsenseApril 10, 2010Contrarian 25 Comments »
Well, the new “green”-tinged City Council has wasted no time in trotting out its first major boondoggle. Last Monday the Council voted 5-2 for a resolution directing city staff to attend a workshop to be conducted by an outfit called the “Complete Streets Coalition” — a Washington, DC-based lobbying group devoted to rebuilding America’s urban streets to conform to greenie notions of transportation propriety. The bureaucrats are also directed to find ways to integrate “complete streets” dogmas into City street planning. That means, of course, revamping streets to accommodate pedestrians, bicycles, and transit, and to discourage use of the hated automobile.
“Complete streets” is but the latest euphemism for this element of the greenie “Smart Growth” agenda. Previous neologisms included “traffic calming” and “boulevarding.” All really mean, of course, that streets are reconfigured to hasten retreat to the preindustrial, tribal Nirvana that tickles the greenie imagination, except that these neo-primitives eschew animal-powered conveyances also. What it means for motorists is more congestion and more time-consuming travel.
Now, public streets should indeed be configured to accommodate as many modes of transportation as the traveling public appears to use. No one would object to adding bike or transit lanes to a street if the existing right-of-way could accommodate them without reducing the capacity of the street to carry automobile traffic, as long as the latter is the mode preferred by the majority of users, as it is in Spokane (90+% of all urban trips are by automobile).
Here is a test the traffic engineers can apply after enduring the brainwashing session the Council has instructed them to attend. We can call this the “Contrarian Criterion.” For any street proposed for reconfiguration as a “complete street,” conduct a traffic mode survey over the entire course of a year (to capture seasonal variations), and determine which modes travelers upon that street are using — pedestrian, bicycle, transit, auto, etc. Then determine what portion of the right-of-way would be required to accommodate each mode according to accepted design standards — for bike lanes, transit lanes, or wider sidewalks. If the use fraction does not equal or exceed the required ROW fraction, that use is removed from the configuration plan. The street will remain “incomplete.”
But what if, say, bicyclists make up 10% of the traffic on a given street, and a bike lane would require 10% or less of the ROW, but adding a regulation bike lane would require a reduction in the number of regulation traffic lanes? Well, obviously, we do not cater to a minority at the expense of the majority. So we also adopt the rule: when the ROW cannot accommodate all uses, the dominant uses have priority.
You can be sure that the greenie zealots on the Council will have no use for the Contrarian Criterion. Far from considering themselves public servants, bound to accommodate the demonstrated preferences of the citizens when designing and operating public facilities, the zealots imagine themselves to be, instead, the public’s masters — “leaders” possessed of superior wisdom and purer motives, whose role is to drag their stubborn and unenlightened charges into the Utopia they fantasize, kicking and screaming if necessary. Megalomania has always been a peculiar affliction of politicians.
The current street improvement bond, which expires in 2014, does not provide for the shenanigans envisioned by the greenie zealots. But you can be sure they will try their best to insert their agenda into the next levy presented to voters. We need to be sure that renewal includes the Contrarian Criterion.