Lawrence still has a way to go before streets are ‘complete’

While the city of Lawrence adopted a “complete streets” policy in 2012, the community still has a long way to go before its roadways are safe for travelers of all stripes.

That was the message at an informational meeting at the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department on Thursday afternoon featuring two national experts on the subject. Darren Smith and Cynthia Hoyle, both of the National Complete Streets Coalition, talked with city officials and members of the public about how to make Lawrence’s “complete streets” policy a success.

“We’re trying to maximize the potential of the streets for everyone who uses them,” said Smith, a Lawrence native and Washington, D.C.-based policy representative for the National Association of Realtors, adding that it’s about striking the proper balance between “competing users in this finite space we have.”

“Passing the policy is the easy part,” added Hoyle, a transportation planner from Urbana, Ill. “Actually implementing the policy is where things get challenging.”

The health department recently surveyed members of the community about the challenges they run into when walking, bicycling and using other forms of transportation. Many older residents say they would like to exercise more but face such barriers as a lack of sidewalks or inadequate sidewalks.

Members of the public got the chance to be transportation planners for a day when they broke into groups to analyze how the intersection of 23rd and Louisiana could be improved for different groups of travelers. Among the findings: The intersection works well for motorists, but less so for people with disabilities, transit users and pedestrians.

“I think a bicyclist would be crazy to ride on 23rd Street,” said Lawrence resident Bonnie Uffman, noting the lack of bike lanes and uneven sidewalks. “It would be suicidal.”

Smith said there are economic benefits to “complete streets,” which have been found to boost local home values and private investment. And with an aging Baby Boomer population and high rates of obesity among children, “complete streets” can also be a boon to public health by making it easier for people of all ages to walk and ride their bikes, he added.

Hoyle explained that successful “complete streets” policy implementation might be measured by fewer crashes, reduced speed by motorists, better air quality and public health, and more walking, biking and public transit.