Complete streets are required when funded with state or federal dollars

Posted in: Bridges, Construction, Highways, Municipal


CompleteStreetsLong past are the days when we were dependent on a bicycle or walking as our primary means of transportation. Looking back, before we were teenagers with a new driver’s license, we took for granted that we could crisscross our hometown on foot or bicycle to visit friends, go to parks or run to the store. Our parents told us there were certain roads in town we were not to cross or bicycle down because they were unsafe.

At that time, we had no idea that these roads were state highways – we just knew that they were “busy” streets where cars travelled very fast. Thirty years ago state highways and bridges were designed for the single purpose to carry traffic. Ironically, 71 percent of adults today walked or biked to school as children, compared to only 17 percent of children today. Roads weren’t designed for “non-motorized” transportation. If there were sidewalks along them, they seemed to be an afterthought. Making sure that the state highways could accommodate pedestrians and promote non-motorized mobility was not a priority.

But not any longer. Today, one-third of the population does not have access to a motor vehicle. Wisconsin Department of Transportation, through its administrative rules TRANS 75, now requires that roadways be designed and operated to enable safe, convenient, and comfortable access and travel for all users. Pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and public transport users of all ages and abilities must be able to safely and comfortably move along and across a roadway. The rules — referred to as “complete streets” — passed in 2009, and became effective on January 1, 2011.

Complete streets are required in all new highway construction and reconstruction projects funded with state or federal dollars. There are a few exceptions, but generally there now exists a “thou shall” approach to mobility. More impressive is that WisDOT is prohibited from funding a project without bicycle and pedestrian accommodations unless there is an approved exception.

WisDOT has been diligent about implementing the complete streets rule, and the fruits of its labors are quite apparent on recent projects. Busy highway corridors have sidewalks and recreational trails integrated in the overall project design. The facilities are ADA compliant. Safety and mobility for everyone is paramount. Highway and bridges no longer limit mobility, but enhance quality of life. Transportation mode choice creates opportunities for people of all ages to enjoy their communities without barriers.


Dustin Wolff, AICP

About the Author

When he works on development and preservation plans, Dustin Wolff, AICP, keeps in mind that communities need to evolve. “Helping people shape their futures is a rewarding and humbling responsibility,” he says. “The built environment has a profound effect on our lives. Decisions we make today will be felt for years to come.” He also enjoys visiting cities around the U.S. to experience what makes them special.

Read more posts by Dustin Wolff, AICP

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