Yesterday's post about the difference between a Complete Street and a Complete Road was screaming for an example. Here is the Complete Road section being used by my hometown of Brainerd, MN, for My Hometown's Last Great Old Economy Project.
Yes, this section has a dedicated bike path. And yes, this section also has a dedicated walking path. Throw in some decorative lighting and trees and you have yourself a Complete Street. Right?
Not really. Take a look at those driving lanes. There are two lanes in each direction, one that is 14 feet wide and the other at 13 feet. Those are highway dimensions used for high speed travel. Thus you have a Complete Road, the dream of every engineering contract.
Right now, students that live on one side of this road routinely get in their cars and drive to the college on the other side of the road. I know - I went there for a spell. That and they don't even bother to shovel the walks when it snows. And that is with the current road, which is only three lanes. I don't care if they do build a pedestrian bridge or a tunnel, nobody is going to cross this street using anything but a car.
And because of that, there will be no intensification of the development around this corridor. No private-sector investment. No urbanism. This is simply a monster dump of money for one purpose: to move more cars, more quickly. The bike path and walking path, in this application, are just expensive ornamentation that will be little used. People -- and money -- will generally flee from this auto-centric corridor.
So how do we make it better? How do we make this Complete Road into a real Complete Street with a corresponding Complete Neighborhood?
My recommendation to the city was that they make this a two-lane street. With roundabouts at the key college entrances, traffic would flow just fine, albeit much slower than it does today. Such a design, with 10-foot lanes, would be easy for pedestrians to cross, especially with a nice, wide median and periodic jut-outs of the median and walk to lesson the distance people have to cross. You could put large walks along both sides and they would actually be used as the slow-moving cars would not threaten pedestrians. You could also skip the bike lanes as the bikes could actually ride right in the traffic stream. Imagine that!
And not only would this cost millions less, but it would provide a platform that would connect the tremendous housing demand from students and professors with the underdeveloped and declining neighborhood on the opposite side of the street. In other words, there would be a reason to invest there because there would be a reason to live there.
But even if engineers insisted on a four-lane design, 10-foot lanes are more than adequate for the speeds you are going to want through this section. Going to 10-foot lanes would save a full 14 feet of bituminous width, the cost of cutting one entire lane, not to mention all the money the city had to spend aquiring land and easements to accommodate such a wide section.
Ah, but what about the cars? They'll be so unsatisfied if it takes them an extra 37 seconds to travel this stretch of road. A pity, indeed.
Spend less money. Get more return. That is the essence of a Strong Towns approach. I'm just grateful that this will be the last of these mega-projects my hometown will be able to afford. I only wish we were using our final hoorah on something more productive and beneficial to the community.
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