Pave the Way for More Pedestrians and Bicyclists on the Road!

Categories: Community Engagement, Healthy Places

By Linda Rubin, Director of the Healthiest Community Initiative

Because cars have dominated our streets for decades, most of us make the assumption that automobiles will always rule our roadways.

But did you know that the Millennial generation (those between the ages of 16 and 34) are less car-centric than previous generations?

Consider these trends, according to a report, “Millennials in Motion,” published by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund:

  • Millennials are less car-focused than older Americans and previous generations of young people and their transportation behaviors continue to change in ways that reduce driving.
  • Between 2001 and 2009, the average number of miles driven by 16 to 34 year-olds dropped by 23 percent, as a result of young people taking fewer trips, shorter trips and a larger share of trips by modes other than driving.
  • Young Americans drive less than older Americans and use public transportation more, and often use multiple modes of travel during a typical day or week.

Not only is the younger generation opting for alternative transportation, but Baby Boomers are also driving less. It is estimated that 1 out of 5 people ages 65 and up do not drive. In the Monadnock Region, 15 percent of our population is 65 or older; that population will swell to 36 percent of the Region’s population by 2040.

What does this mean for the future of our vehicle-centric roads?

More bicycle and pedestrian traffic means that our roads need to become more “complete.” In other words, “Complete Street” policies enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities.

Often with minor adjustments to an existing street — such as including sidewalks, bike lanes, median islands, curb extensions and more safe street crossing opportunities — a roadway can be made easy and safe for all users.

Cities and towns with Complete Streets policies have the added benefit of increasing foot and bicycle traffic for local businesses (leading to more sales), attracting new businesses to the area and decreasing the number of vehicle-pedestrian-bicycle accidents. Plus, Complete Streets promotes a healthier lifestyle — studies show that residents in walkable neighborhoods are 65 percent more likely to walk and less likely to be overweight or obese.

So, what exactly does a “Complete Street” look and feel like?

This summer and early fall you can see for yourself during two “Complete Streets” demonstration events:

  • Saturday, August 29 will be held on Main Street in Swanzey.
  • Saturday, September 19 will be held on Marlborough Street in Keene.

The events will temporarily transform sections of these streets to show how people and place can be integrated into a road’s design to make it safe and usable for everyone — not just motorists.

Complete Streets demonstration days — which have been held in cities all over the country — are designed to allow people to experience what Complete Streets design is all about. The temporary transformation of the Marlborough Street in Keene, for example, will include outdoor seating, park spaces, bike lanes, more crosswalks and landscaped bump outs, extended sidewalks, “pop up” food vendors and even creative uses of space such as a miniature golf course.

While there are no formal complete streets policies that have been adopted in the Monadnock Region, the City of Keene passed a resolution in 2011.  The Town of Swanzey and the City of Keene are in the process of developing Complete Streets policies. 

Smart Growth America offers more information about the benefits of Complete Streets, including information about how to create and implement a Complete Streets policy. 

Volunteers are needed for the event in Keene on September 19th to help set up, monitor and then disassemble the displays. Please contact Mbrunner@swrpc.org for more information.