Book-Smart or Complete-Street-Smart?

Categories: Physically Active

Book-Smart streets make more sense – on paper. They connect points A and B via the most direct route without wasting money on costly sidewalks and bike lanes. But now we are seeing that communities developed without the big picture in mind are paying the price to correct past mistakes.

Here in the Monadnock region, we see major roadways running directly along major waterways including rivers and lakes – causing environmental damage, lowering property values and preventing what could be community parks and public spaces. We see neighborhoods where kids can’t walk to school because there are no safe sidewalks. We see empty store fronts because the foot traffic can’t support businesses. And worst of all, we see preventable pedestrian accidents.

Complete-Street-Smart (we just coined that phrase) communities can help us be the kind of place that does things differently. The kind of place that attracts young workers and entrepreneurs; where children grow up walking and pedaling to school; where older folks walk around their neighborhood, can find a bench to sit and take a breath, and can talk with their neighbors.

Keene and Swanzey have taken the steps to make this happen. They have both adopted Complete Streets policies. So what could Keene and Swanzey look like as they work with Complete Streets parameters? Some common elements of Complete Streets include public spaces and parks; convenient and abundant bike-parking; lots of pedestrians and bike riders; wayfinding signs; and protected bike routes. 

Simple fixes, such as pedestrian crosswalks, “sharrow” lanes for bicycles, and infrastructure tweaks to make it safe for those waiting for a bus, go a long way to helping pedestrians and bicyclists feel safe on the city’s roadways. And having reliable and affordable transportation options in the region is an integral component of quality of life, economic development and overall health and wellbeing for a community.

How Complete Streets Will Help the Region

Proponents of Complete Streets say they have the potential to help the Monadnock Region’s vulnerable populations, for example, the elderly who no longer drive, non-driving youth and low-income residents who don’t own a car. In 2016, fifteen percent of the population of Keene is older than 65; 12 percent are younger than driving age, 8 percent are disabled and 16.5 percent are living in poverty.

The policy can ultimately help reduce accidents and increase physical activity among residents because those who live and work in these communities will become less reliant on automobiles. The communities will become more vibrant, active places to live, work, and visit. Increased foot traffic means more walking and biking in city or village centers which has a direct link to increased economic vitality and social connection among residents. 

How Keene Made it Happen

The City of Keene has long embraced a “Complete Streets” vision — streets safe for all users, not just cars — the City has never had a written policy.

But at the end of 2015, the Keene City Council voted to adopt Keene’s Complete Streets Policy and Design Guidelines, which now provides a tool for the City and others to use (when planning, designing and building/reconstructing roadways) for all future projects.

While Keene’s Main Street contains many “Complete Street” elements … crosswalks, curb extensions, trees, medians … nothing was written in a formal policy. Without one, the City, its staff, and private developers were not obligated to follow Complete Streets in future projects. Complete Streets is based on a nationwide movement launched by the National Complete Streets Coalition (and recommended by the New Hampshire Planners Association).

Keene’s Complete Streets policy was crafted by the Southwest Region Planning Commission, along with help from the City of Keene Planning and Public Works Department, with funding resources from Healthy Monadnock’s PICH (Partnerships to Improve Community Health) grant that was awarded to the collaboration by the CDC. Southwest Region Planning Commission also worked with the Monadnock Alliance for Sustainable Transportation. The City Council Municipal Services Facilities and Infrastructure Committee actively reviewed and provided comments on a draft Policy and the City Council formally adopted this policy in November of 2015.

Learn more about Keene’s policy

Video Credit: 710 Main Productions filmed the “Demonstration Days” in Keene, NH which showcased what a community with Complete Streets could look like.