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Peer Exchanges, Planning for a Better Tomorrow, Transportation Planning Capacity Building

Transportation Planning Capacity Building Program

— Peer Exchange Report —

Completing the Streets for Transit
A Planning Workshop

Location: Chicago, Illinois
2006 Rail~volution Annual Meeting
Date: November 6, 2006
Host National Complete Streets Coalition
Participants: Barbara McCann, National Complete Streets Coalition, (Facilitator)
Ron Kilcoyne, Greater Bridgeport Transit Authority
Robin Blair, Metropolitan Transportation Authority
Phil Harris, Charlotte Department of Transportation
Dennis Cannon, Access Board
Barbara Boylan, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority
Chris Conklin, Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc.
Randall Rutsch, City of Boulder

I. Summary

The following report summarizes the results of a Peer Workshop held through the Transportation Planning Capacity Building Program (TPCB) Program, which is jointly sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). The National Complete Streets Coalition hosted a roundtable discussion on incorporating transit into complete streets policies and procedures at the 2006 Rail~Volution Conference in Chicago, Illinois. More than ninety conference participants attended the session.

Experts from around the country each gave a mini-presentation on their work and issues with which they are currently dealing. After the presentations, audience members were invited to join the discussion.

Major topics included coordinating across agencies and the importance of avoiding rigidity in developing complete streets standards.

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II. Background

The National Complete Streets Coalition is working to fully integrate multi-modal planning practices into everyday activities at transportation planning agencies.

The proposed rulemaking on Statewide and Metropolitan Planning issued jointly by FHWA and FTA calls for more integrated planning among modes. A few states, MPOs, and local governments have adopted a variety of innovative planning techniques as they attempt to routinely ensure that every transportation project considers all users.

Yet this integration remains a challenge for many agencies that have previously focused on a single mode. Many agencies are unsure how to integrate their existing bicycle, pedestrian, paratransit, and transit projects and programs with long-standing project development procedures that emphasize automobile mobility. Transit agencies are often unsure how to make sure that the public right-of-way adequately serves transit vehicles and transit riders. Additionally, agencies that have attempted this integration have not always been effective.

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III. Remarks by Roundtable Speakers

  1. Ron Kilcoyne
    General Manager, Greater Bridgeport Transit Authority, Connecticut

    Key challenges for complete streets:
    • Educating planners and developers. "Transit agencies don't know what to ask for and engineers don't know what to design for." One example is adding a bus pull-out on an arterial. Although California communities were adding bus pull-outs with the intention of being pro-transit, pull-outs actually make it more difficult for the buses to reenter traffic.
    • Pedestrian access to transit needs to be considered more broadly, throughout the development process. When new developments and transit facilities are being planned, planners should consider where people are coming from and how they will be able to cross the streets. Traffic impact mitigation policies must be multimodal — focusing on strategies to maximize the percent of trip made by alternatives to driving.
  2. Robin Blair
    Transportation Planning Manager, Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA)

    • Establish priorities and metrics so that you will know if you have succeeded.
    • Consider all users in your design. Blair told the story of 82-year-old Mayvis Coyle, who received a jaywalking ticket in Los Angeles when she was unable to finish crossing the street during the "walk" phase, which assumed a speed of 4 feet/second. Designing for the "85th percentile" does not always work.
    • Work for the quality of life solution, not the engineered solution. Complete Streets is more than adding a bike lane or a sidewalk. All users should feel that they belong in the environment.
  3. Phil Harris
    Department of Transportation, Charlotte, NC

    • Portland Tri-Met and Portland Metro put together several publications that might be useful for creating complete streets, including Planning and Design for Transit and Creating Livable Streets.
    • Charlotte is dealing with fast population growth and unsustainable growth patterns. Charlotte's Urban Street Design Guidelines outlines a way forward for Charlotte. The six-step process for implementation is a simple model that may be useful for other areas.
    See text description of graphic by clicking the image or use link below image
    Figure 1: The six-step process for applying Charlotte's Urban Street Design Guidelines.
    (see a text description of this graphic)

  4. Dennis Cannon
    Transportation Accessibility Specialist, U.S. Access Board

    The pedestrian network serves as the 'connective tissue' of the transit system. Every trip begins and ends as a pedestrian trip, and poorly planned access to bus stops are a real barrier for disabled travelers. The US Access Board sets minimum requirements for disabled access, but transit operators should recognize that minimum requirements alone are not good design. The Access Board is currently drafting accessibility guidelines for pedestrian facilities in the public right-of-way. A major challenge for pedestrian accessibility is the disconnect between transit operators, who are responsible for transit facilities, and departments of public works, who are generally responsible for the roadway and pedestrian facilities that provide access to transit facilities. It is important that the agencies move past the "not my problem" mentality and coordinate their activities carefully for accessible streets and sidewalks.

    Photo of a bus stop disconnected from any pedestrian network
    Figure 2: A bus stop disconnected from any pedestrian network.

  5. Barbara Boylan and Chris Conklin
    Director of Design, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Senior Project Manager, Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc.

    Massachusetts recently replaced its Highway Design Manual with a new manual, the MassHighway Project Development and Design Guide, which is one the first state design manuals to fully incorporate Complete Streets concepts. The MBTA is undertaking transit station redesign in cooperation with a MassHighway renovation of Route 9, a major arterial with light rail. A second major project in Cambridge, the North Point development, is being developed around a relocated rail station. Both of these projects consider the needs of all users on and across a major arterial.

    • Institutionalizing Complete Streets takes leadership buy-in; make it easy for them to say yes.
  6. Randall Rutsch
    Senior Transportation Planner, City of Boulder, Colorado

    Boulder is "an island in a sea of open space," a mature community with progressive transportation policies. In 1989, the Transportation Master Plan (TMP) set an ambitious goal of implementing a mode shift of 15% away from single-occupancy vehicles. The 1996 update set a new goal of no long-term growth in traffic. In 2003, the TMP update committed to a policy of creating multi-modal corridors. That new focus reduced the internal competition between those representing different modal interests, and facilitates creating complete streets.

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IV. Open Discussion

After the panelists completed their brief presentations, the discussion was opened up to audience members' questions, facilitated by Barbara McCann.

How to improve coordination between operators and departments of public works?

  • Massachusetts requires planning before the design process starts to ensure coordination. Project sponsors now have to "shop around" their project for input before getting into design.
  • Do a cost / benefit analysis on the costs of creating accessibility, so that disabled travelers can reach bus stops, and the costs of providing paratransit. Agencies make the mistake of thinking that these come out of different budgets, but ultimately there is only one budget.
  • Communication is essential. In Charlotte, everyone is brought to the table early on.
  • Departments of Transportation and Departments of Public Works work out of rigid manuals. In order to influence the daily activities of the people doing the work, you have to change the manual.
  • There is a need for education and a vocal champion. The transit agency may not be able to be that advocate.

Complete Streets models are, for the most part, bicycle and pedestrian-oriented. How can we best incorporate transit into them?

  • Charlotte's transit component is not that strong. The City and the transit agency need to work together.
  • The Boulder multi-modal corridor policy changed the dynamic and reduced competition between the modes.
  • Require that the highway proponent coordinate with the transit agency.
  • Determine what the desired outcome is: what does accommodating transit mean?
  • See model policies adopted by the state of Massachusetts and the city of Chicago for examples.
Photo of bicycle, pedestrian, auto, and transit modes all accommodated on a Portland street.
Figure 3: Bicycle, pedestrian, auto, and transit modes are all accommodated on this Portland street.

Have any MPOs developed Complete Streets policies for the transportation plan?

  • Boulder has been working on changing the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) criteria so that sidewalks are not awarded "bonus points," but are a minimum threshold for acceptability.

How can bicyclists and pedestrians be included in access management plans?

  • The two are not antithetical. Pedestrian improvements can speed crossing times and be better for traffic, too.

Have you used advisory councils?

  • In Los Angeles they tend to be parochial, so that they have little impact on the entire area.
  • It is important to move beyond a fight for every single project, so that complete streets principles are integrated into every project.
  • Some communities appoint "safe" advisory councils, so that their input may not change the outcomes significantly.

Other comments:

  • Describe what you are working toward, rather than what you are trying to avoid.
  • A pedestrian environment is inherently qualitative.
  • Rigid, engineered solutions may not make sense in practice.
  • There is a limitation to how much traffic you can move through a downtown. Creating a pedestrian or transit mall works well, or you can take out a travel lane.
  • There are a lot of myths out there about what the AASHTO Green Book requires. It is fairly flexible and there is always a way of working things out.
  • Seattle just completed the Seattle Transit Plan. City projects will be reviewed for impacts on transit performance measures.
  • An educated public is essential to making changes in these policies.

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V. Concluding Remarks / Peer Expert Recommendations

Each panelist was given the chance to make one final statement at the end of the session.

  • Find the supportive people in the transit agency.
  • Avoid rigidity. Get agreement on the goals and objectives, and address details at the project level.
  • Figure out what the community really cares about — consider scenario planning techniques.
  • Avoid trying to solve congestion.
  • Make the land use and transportation connection.
  • The net outcome is valuable to many people in the community. Ultimately complete streets is a quality of life, not an access issue.
  • Consider hiring a bicycle / pedestrian / transit coordinator.

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VI. For More Information

The National Complete Streets Coalition maintains a website with examples of complete streets policies around the country, links to complete streets resources, and copies of back issues of a monthly newsletter. Visit

Key Contact(s): Barbara McCann
National Complete Streets Coalition
Address: 1707 L St NW, Suite 1050
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: (202) 207-3355
Fax: (202) 207-3349

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VII. Attachments

A. List of Roundtable Speakers

Name Organization Phone Email
Ron Kilcoyne Greater Bridgeport Transit Authority (203) 366-7070 x 106
Robin Blair MTA (213) 922-3074
Phil Harris Charlotte DOT (704) 353-0238
Dennis Cannon Access Board (202) 272-0023
Barbara Boylan MBTA (617) 222-3752
Chris Conklin VHB, Inc. (617)-924-1770
Randall Rutsch City of Boulder (303) 441-3266

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