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"A complete street is designed for everyone: vehicles, bicyclists, pedestrians," says Michael Oaks. city engineer and director of public works for the city of Russellville.
Oaks, along with Russellville Mayor Bill Eaton, spoke to members of Bryant city government and residents about the efforts their city is taking to improve congested roads and traffic flow.
Oaks pointed out that roads are planned "just like they were 80 years ago. The model for construction was automobile-centric and really didn't pay attention to what was being done to the surroundings" where roads were being built. He said that the U.S. interstate system was the 7-lane, open-road model.
"We built roads to handle highway speeds. This same design model was used for local roads."
Oaks said this particular model did not translate well to urban areas.
"Drivers tend to drive at a speed they are comfortable with," said Oaks. He suggests that streets should be designed in such a manner that drivers will drive at a slower rate. Ideas to create the slower street include using 10-foot-wide lanes as opposed to the standard 12-foot width. Planting trees along the roadside gives the impression of "encroachment," making the road feel tighter and increasing the driver's perception of speed.
"As vehicle speed slows, pedestrian deaths go down," said Oaks and that better road design reduces traffic fatalities by 20 percent.
The city of Bryant has been studying the viability of adding sidewalks and bike paths. In 2011, the city conducted a "Walkability Study" to determine which areas of the city needed prioritized attention. The goal was to establish a consolidated plan for a network of connecting sidewalks and paths that would allow foot traffic and bicyclists to travel to any point within the city in a manner that is safe for them as well as motorists.
Dan Burden, executive director and co-founder of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute in Seattle, visited Bryant and helped lay the groundwork for planning routes for the city. Additional information about Burden and his organization may be found at www.walklive.org. During his visit, Burden told a group gathered at a town hall meeting that Bryant has the opportunity to set the standard for walkable communities, not only in Arkansas, but in the US as well.
Oaks stated that road standards from the Federal Highway Administration now require the inclusion of transportation for foot traffic and cyclists into all federally funded projects.
At the conclusion of the workshop, Bryant Mayor Jill Dabbs thanked Oaks and Eaton for sharing their knowledge and experience with city street planning.