The RDN recently reported that the Rolla City Council is looking into proposals on “Complete Streets” following a presentation on that subject at the 5 July meeting. “The goal of Complete Streets is to make streets easier to navigate for non-motorists.” Sounds interesting.

I recently read that the Oregon State Legislature passed a highway transportation bill that provides up to a $2,500 rebate for the purchase of a new all-electric or plug-in hybrid automobile with a base MSRP of up to $50,000.  The same bill imposes a $15 excise tax on the purchase of new adult bicycles over $200.  Since taxes reflect public policy, it is plain that Oregon wants its citizens to purchase more automobiles and fewer bicycles.  Go figure! 
 
The RDN recently reported that the Rolla City Council is looking into proposals on “Complete Streets” following a presentation on that subject at the 5 July meeting.  “The goal of Complete Streets is to make streets easier to navigate for non-motorists.”  Sounds interesting. 
 
I wrote a column, “Cyclists and pedestrians; different needs” in the DEC 20-21, 2014, RDN.  It was about “Complete Streets” in which I emphasized that it’s really far more about pedestrians rather than cyclists.  But there’s more to it. 
 
Rolla is physically a small city and its street grid pattern disappears beyond the area around downtown.  Major segments are bisected and isolated by I-44 and the BNSF railroad tracks and many streets have no outlets.  Still, pedaling a few circuitous blocks to the nearest crossing is seldom a problem for a cyclist.  But for a pedestrian, well that’s another matter.  Ever try walking along and then crossing Hwy 72 or even 10th Street in east Rolla?  Or south Bishop?  Crosswalks are few and far between. 
 
While bicycle lanes are often mentioned and are hotly debated, Complete Streets projects typically focus more on pedestrian infrastructure like sidewalks, crosswalks, safety islands, pedestrian traffic light signals, and of course, handicap accessibility.  They typically start with all sorts of traffic count and crash data collection and statistical analysis to identify problem spots.  This is all well and good, but there is the less discussed but more obvious part: speed reduction. 
 
Obviously, speed kills.  When vehicles are moving fast, there is far less reaction time.  The driver simply doesn’t have as much time to avoid a pedestrian, animal, cyclist, another vehicle, or any roadway obstacle.  More important, higher speed crashes are more lethal.  Forget cars with their crash cages, crumple zones, seat belts and air bags; this is about human beings struck by cars.  The stats vary somewhat but generally, if struck by a car at 20 mph, 9 out of 10 pedestrians survive, many walking away with only minor or no injuries.  At 40 mph, 9 out of 10 pedestrian will die!  Think about that a bit.  And the higher speed roadways tend to have more lanes, making them that much more hazardous to cross.  Obviously, pedestrians with more traffic lanes to cross are vulnerable over longer distances and time.  Also, drivers have far more to watch and thus more possibilities of failing to notice something. 
 
My personal peeve is watching a vehicle slow or stop for a pedestrian, only to have a following vehicle, behind or in the second lane, zip right past, completely oblivious and never thinking why that vehicle in front slowed or stopped.  Meanwhile, the hapless pedestrian walks out in front of the first vehicle only to be mangled and smashed by the second, passing vehicle. 
 
This of course leads to “road diet”.  Under Complete Streets, speed limits are reduced while the roadways themselves are narrowed and modified to discourage high speed driving while also keeping pedestrians and cyclists out of traffic.  A steady stream of 20 mph traffic moves very nicely even in only one lane, but not with a 12 mph cyclist mixed in, and there is always the possibility of breakdowns.  Hence, while single lanes are preferred, they are often widened and perhaps bicycle lanes get added.  But the key point is that crosswalks are shortened and so the delay of waiting for pedestrian crossing is reduced. 
 
When a Complete Street project properly considers and incorporates all of these separate factors, roadway speed is lowered but total traffic actually moves faster because of fewer delays.  If it’s done properly! 
 
But there is one missing piece that I’ve never seen mentioned in Complete Streets, and that is “enforcement”.  How will the city enforce speed limits, and with what level of severity?  All of these “improvements” in traffic lanes, pedestrian crossings, traffic islands, sidewalks, bike lanes, handicapped accessibility, improved crossing lights, on and on; all of this is useless if drivers still speed and drive recklessly, cyclists ignore traffic rules, and pedestrians wander about obliviously into traffic.  And then there are outright illegal drivers who either have no license or had it revoked, usually for good reason.  And never forget DWI. 
 
Now I’m not suggesting that police, prosecutors and judges need to become draconian, but they cannot be milquetoast, either.  The City needs to carefully consider and firmly determine early on how exactly and to what extent it wants traffic rules to be enforced and criminals punished.  
 
This is the hard nut to crack in Complete Streets.  Having made costly infrastructure changes, there must be compliance.  Perhaps the good citizens will buy in whole-heartedly and everything will move along smoothly.  Or enforcement might have to be harsh, even painful.  But if compliance is poor and enforcement lax, people, especially pedestrians, will die and it will all be a massive waste of time and effort. 
 
Conversely, if everyone obeyed the laws and drove carefully, due to positive attitude or strict enforcement, there would really be no need for massive infrastructure changes brought about through Complete Streets in the first place. 
 
I hope the City carefully mulls this over.  Meanwhile, I’ll be cycling along.  Whether among friendly and courteous drivers or around massive construction zones; only time and politics will tell. 
 
I hope that I’ve dispelled some concerns and encouraged others to give bicycle riding a try.  Perhaps we’ll meet soon.  I’ll ring my bell,