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 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.