Hit the road
Years of underinvestment in our nation’s transportation system have resulted in general discontent with state and local roads and highways. According to a report prepared by the Department of the Treasury, the U.S. currently ranks 15th out of 32 OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) nations with respect to overall satisfaction with our transportation system.
One of the primary reasons for this dissatisfaction? Congestion. The U.S. is experiencing longer periods of congestion, as well as the spread of congestion across more roadways. According to the Urban Mobility Report, conducted annually by the Texas Transportation Institute, the average American commuter traveling during peak periods wastes a total of 34 hours a year.
In response, communities are developing strategies that help reduce congestion. Many states and municipalities have learned that building one’s way out of congestion — in other words, building more traffic lanes — only leads to short-term fixes. Therefore, current strategies are not focusing on increasing capacity, but on cutting down the number of vehicles on the road. There’s also an emphasis on implementing a variety of strategies, since transportation planners have learned that there’s no single solution to easing the congestion choking our roads and highways.
Of course, implementing these strategies not only results in a drop in traffic congestion, but also has the effect of decreasing carbon dioxide emissions and improving air quality. Therefore, congestion reduction plays an important role in the country’s ongoing quest to become more environmentally friendly.
One concept that has become widespread in recent years is Complete Streets, which promotes the design and construction of safe and efficient roadways for all users, regardless of whether they bike, walk, or use mass transit. Ultimately, the goal is to encourage people to leave their motor vehicles at home and use alternate modes of transportation.
Complete Streets projects incorporate a number of design elements that promote walking: more sidewalks, shortened cross walk lengths, extended curbs, the addition of street furniture like benches, and improved signage and pavement markings alerting both motorists and pedestrians to the location of crosswalks.
Complete Streets projects also promote bicycle usage by designating roadway space for cyclists. One of the most popular means is the bicycle lane, which is delineated from the adjacent motor vehicle travel lane by pavement markings or striping. Bicycle lanes typically measure four to six feet in width and are located on the right edge of the roadway. However, they can be designated to the left of parking spaces or right-turn lanes.
Bicyclists can also be accommodated with wide curb lanes (WCLs). Typically measuring 13 to 15 feet in width, WCLs allow the lane to be shared by motor vehicles and bicycles while at the same time, give sufficient room for automobiles to pass.
Complete Streets projects can also incorporate design elements aimed at making a community more ecologically friendly. These include:
- Planting of trees and shrubs, which improve air quality, filter the air by removing dust and other particulates, and absorb carbon dioxide;
- Sidewalk gardens, which contain specially chosen soils and plantings that lower nitrogen and phosphorus levels in storm water;
- Porous pavements, which allows storm water runoff to filter through to the ground more efficiently.