La Crosse adopts the state’s first local complete streets law

On Thursday, August 11, the La Crosse City Council voted unanimously to adopt a Green and Complete Streets ordinance.  The new ordinance requires that bicycles and pedestrians be considered when reconstructing streets in La Crosse. It also requires that the road projects include best practices in stormwater management.  This makes La Crosse the first municipality in the State to adopt a complete streets law.

The La Crosse ordinance defines green and complete streets as streets that “safely accommodate all users of the right-of-way, including pedestrians, people requiring mobility aids, bicyclists and drivers and passengers of transit vehicles, trucks, automobiles and motorcycles, while at the same time incorporating best management practices for addressing storm water runoff.”

The ordinance requires that “the City Engineering Department, Street Department, Board of Public Works and Planning Department shall make Green Complete Streets practices a routine part of everyday operations and shall approach every transportation project and program as an opportunity to improve public and private corridors and the transportation network for all user groups, and shall work in coordination with other departments, agencies, and jurisdictions to achieve Green Complete Streets.”

The ordinance goes on to specify that every corridor project on public or private property shall incorporate Green Complete Streets infrastructure, but allows some reasonable exceptions in which use by non-motorized users is prohibited by law; the cost would be excessive (greater than 20 percent); or there is a demonstrable absence of current or future need.

Institutionalizing consideration for all users into planning means that as roads are resurfaced and reconstructed, engineers and planners will automatically add bicycle and pedestrian accommodations to the projects. This is a great example of a municipality integrating a balanced transportation system with sustainable design.  It is also particularly telling that the members of the La Crosse City Council passed this ordinance with a unanimous vote. With this ordinance, La Crosse ensures that even local roads that are not governed by the state complete streets law will be improved for bicycles and pedestrians.

The Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin worked with our state legislators to get that statewide complete streets law enacted in 2009. That law, sometimes referred to as Trans 75, requires that bicycles and pedestrians be considered on all state highway projects and local projects that use state funds.

  • Trans 75.02 When bikeways and sidewalks are
    required. (1) Except as provided in this chapter, the authority
    shall include bikeways and sidewalks in all new highway construction
    and reconstruction projects funded in whole or in part
    from state funds or federal funds appropriated under s. 20.395 or
    20.866, Stats
In order to endure that the La Crosse ordinance is implemented, it goes so far as to direct city staff to get further training, and to establish new performance measures and data collection standards, including latent demand, existing levels of service for the varying modes, collision statistics, bicycle and pedestrian injuries and fatalities, mode shift, miles of new bicycle facilities and sidewalks, and percentage of streets with tree canopy.

“In the past, it was just, ‘We’re going to rebuild this road,'” said Larry Kirch, Director of Planning for the City of La Crosse. “Now we’re trying to pull in the ideas of, while we’re doing this, can we lessen the stormwater impact? Can we improve bicycle, pedestrian, physically disabled accommodations?”

Integrating the changes into the existing project schedules is the most cost effective way to effect change. “To see a whole network, it might take 20 years, but this is the first step in a long-term vision to getting to the community that we want,” said La Crosse County Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator Jack Zabrowski.

Zabrowski says the complete streets project is just part of the county’s efforts to get people to get active and stay healthy.

Hopefully other municipalities in Wisconsin will follow La Crosse’s lead. There have been some discussions of passing a complete streets ordinance in the City of Milwaukee.  Milwaukee already has an ordinance that requires sidewalks and it follows the state’s complete streets laws on all projects, but having a municipal complete streets ordinance would provide further insurance that bicycle facilities are included on local projects.

For more information about complete streets or for assistance getting a complete streets policy adopted in your community, contact us at the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin.


About daveschlabowske

Cyclechic advocate from Milwaukee
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3 Responses to La Crosse adopts the state’s first local complete streets law

  1. Alan Selk says:

    The idea of complete streets is nice, but the devil is in the details. The Wisconsin Bicycle FacIlity Design Handbook is where cities take there clues as to how to build compete streets. This is a seriously flawed document as it completely rejects protected bike lanes. It even puts mixed use paths on the back burner. It pushes on street bike lanes all the way. On street bike lanes help, but have serious limitations. I see far to many badly designed bike lanes. The biggest problem is placing them alongside parked cars that push bike users into the door zone. This is far to common and the subjective safety level is low on such lanes.

    Another problem is most people simply don’t feel comfortable on high volume and/or high speed streets even with a bike lane. At speeds above 25 mph bike lanes become unattractive to the majority of bike users. Complete streets as it is set up in Wisconsin does nothing to solve these problems.

    This is yet another feel good measure that will do little to actually increase bike use. The fact that it limits the cost to 20% shows how far down the ladder bikes and pedestrians are compared to motor vehicles. It’s hard to get exited about this.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      I agree Alan. One great bit of news is the new NACTO bicycle design guide. This has all the latest bicycle facilities in it, from protected bike lanes to bicycle boulevards. The goal of producing it was to create something that had the same validity as the AASHTO guide.

  2. Alan Selk says:

    I read through most of the NACTO document on bike infrastructure and it certainly is an improvement over the Wisconsin Bicycle FacIlity Design Handbook. They still fall short on their section on intersections with cycle tracks. They recommend eliminating the cycle track at intersections and moving to a more traditional bike lane approach as opposed to keeping bikes and motor vehicles separate. This would essentially eliminate most of the advantages of protected bicycle lanes as intersections are the area of major conflict. It’s a mystery as to why they would do this as best practices out of northern Europe have clearly shown that keeping bikes and motor vehicles separate is the best approach.

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