Proposal calls for city planners to consider non-drivers

Planners designing roads would formally be required to look beyond the needs of motorists and pedestrians—to also consider bicyclists and public transportation users—under an ordinance to be considered Monday night by the City-County Council.

The so-called "Complete Streets" ordinance claims that a city’s transportation budget can encourage walking, biking and public transportation "without requiring additional funding.”

The ordinance was initiated by City-County Council President Maggie Lewis, a Democrat, and co-sponsored by Democrat John Barth.

The proposal states that 40 percent of Marion County children are overweight or at risk of becoming so. The population of Marion County residents over age 65, which will grow from 11 percent to 16 percent by 2025, will require better public right of way for walking, bicycling or taking the bus, it adds.

In some cases, adding bicycle lanes to a road could simply require additional paint. Such features would lead to long-term cost savings, said Kim Irwin, who coordinates Indianapolis-based coalition Health by Design and the Indiana Complete Streets Campaign.

For example, she said, some motorists would be inclined to park their cars and use bicycles, which would reduce pollution, road wear and health care costs by improving fitness.

“It absolutely saves money in the long run,” Irwin said.

The proposal refers to a report by not-for-profit CEOs for Cities that found that 13 of 15 housing markets that had improved “walkability” features had higher home prices.

The ordinance would apply to city-owned transportation assets and to privately constructed streets and parking lots. Exceptions could include transportation infrastructure such as interstate highways or pedestrian malls, which serve a narrower, more specific use.

Projects that are deemed unnecessary, unduly cost-prohibitive or inappropriate for safety reasons also could be cited for exception by the Director of Public Works. But the ordinance would require that planners document such instances. One problem in the past is that elements originally designated for a road project, such as sidewalks, ultimately were not constructed, Irwin said.

The ordinance would require the city to measure the success of the Complete Streets policy by regularly tallying things such as miles of bike lanes, crosswalk and intersection improvements, rates of crashes and injuries, rates of children bicycling to school, and the percentage of transit stops accessible by sidewalks and curb ramps.

If the council OKs the ordinance, it would be referred to the Public Works Committee for further review. The council could take a final vote on the ordinance this summer.

Other cities nationally that have embraced the Complete Streets program have used design elements such as roundabouts, special bus lanes and more accessible and comfortable public transportation stops.

The Indianapolis ordinance “definitely doesn’t say, ‘Every road has to have this, this and this,’” Irwin said.

Irwin has been working for several months to gain support for the proposal, working with entities including Mayor Greg Ballard’s Office of Sustainability and with City-County Council members such as Lewis.

She said more than 300 Complete Streets policies are in place nationwide. Among those in Indiana are Columbus, Bloomington/Monroe County Metropolitan Planning Organization, Madison County Council of Governments and the Evansville Metropolitan Planning Organization.

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