Last week Green Needham hosted an informational meeting at the Needham Library which was attended by representatives from many transportation related town groups or departments, including the Transportation Committee, the DPW, Safe Routes to School, the Economic Development Office, the Council on Aging, Needham Bikes, Friends of Woods and Waters, Bay Colony Rail Trail, Community Education, and Green Needham.  The overarching question for the meeting was: Where Do You Want Needham Transportation to be in 2020?  This meeting was in part an outgrowth of both the Oct. 2011 Energy Summit offered by Green Needham and the May 2010 month of activities called Needham In Motion. Susan McGarvey, a Green Needham board member, started the meeting by asking all participants to share the key initiatives they are involved with and what priorities they would like to see addressed.  Following that, Gary Levine presented the background and general goals of Complete Streets.  This was followed by Michael Greis, the President of Green Needham, asking participants whether they would like to see more transportation options for town residents and whether it makes sense to develop a set of goals or principles that could be adopted by the Town.

These questions are being considered by many towns and cities within the context of the popular transportation initiative referred to as “Complete Streets.”  It asks towns whether they want to be more livable, sustainable, and healthier by creating more equality of access to a town’s transportation network for all modes of transportation – cars, bicycles, pedestrians, and public transit – for citizens of all ages. The goal of the Green Needham meeting was to start the conversation to find out whether there is broad support for the Town of Needham to consider adopting goals and policies that would facilitate a more inclusive, accessible transportation network.

Here are five reasons that Complete Streets is on Needham’s agenda for 2012:

1) Needham Residents Want Their Town to Be More Livable
Without conducting any sort of scientific study, it is clear that most Needham residents want their streets to be less congested, easier for children to walk to school, and they would like their families and seniors to be healthier and get more exercise.

However, current trends point in the wrong direction:

72% of all trips under one mile are by automobile
43% of older Americans say it is unsafe to cross a major street near their home
71% of adults walked to school; only 17% of their children walk to school

2) Needham Is A Small, Walkable Town
We are fortunate that Needham is a small town with most commercial activity centered between Town Center and Needham Heights.  Most of the Town falls within a one mile radius from either Town Center or Needham Heights.  Most people enjoy walking a distance of less than one mile and have the time it takes (approx. 15 min.).

In fact, if every family substituted one walk to town for one car trip just one time per month, the Town could save 100,000 car trips a year.

3) Complete Streets is a Concept, Not a Requirement
Adopting a Complete Streets policy means that communities direct their transportation planners and engineers to routinely design and operate the entire right of way to enable safe access for all users, regardless of age, ability, or mode of transportation. This means that every transportation project will make the street network better and safer for drivers, transit users, pedestrians, and bicyclists – making your town a better place to live.

Imagine better and safer sidewalks, crosswalks, and bicycle lanes – better marked, better lighting, and shorter distances.  Wouldn’t that encourage more use by families, children, and seniors?

4) It’s Already Mandated to Get Federal and State Transportation Funding
The Federal DOT and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts DOT have already adopted their own Complete Streets design guidelines and policies which require any road projects that use Federal or state funding to follow their requirements.  But, what about projects that are funded only with Needham dollars?  What about the next street where the road is being repaved or new sidewalks are being developed?  Is there any guidance for town planners to continue the great work that has been done at the crosswalks on Chapel Street at Town Hall or near Dunkin Donuts on Highland Ave.  What guidance or policies do Needham engineers and planners have to prioritize these types of improvements in Town Center, in Needham Heights, near our schools, helping children walk and bicycle to school.

Fortunately, Needham DPW is already attending a Complete Streets basic training class this week on Thurs. April 5th so it is clear our town engineers are already aware of the trend and understand that it is required for certain existing projects.

5) Other Towns are Doing It. Why Not Needham in 2012?
26 states and more than 300 regional and local jurisdictions have adopted Complete Streets related plans, policies and initiatives.  Boston did it as early as 2009. Most recently, the City of Newton, adopted a new set of transportation guidelines that include Complete Streets policies that will help guide their planning initiatives for their master pedestrian and bicycle plans.  These types of changes require 5-10 years to implement why not start thinking about these issues today.

A working group has been created to draft a Town goal related to Complete Streets. If the final goal or policy develops broad support, it will be submitted for consideration to the Board of Selectmen who have already indicated they would be open to considering this type of initiative if it would help Needham to continue to be more livable, sustainable, and create a healthier community.

Stay tuned or contribute your thoughts on where you want to see Needham’s transportation system in 2020.  Why not take the first step by just walking or cycling to Town the next time you need an ice cream at Lizzy’s or to pick up a prescription at CVS?  If you do it once, you’ll do it again.

Five Reasons “Complete Streets” is on the Agenda for Needham

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