Complete Streets gets green light

By Tim Hrenchir
Republished from
CJOnline

In designing future street projects, the city staff should integrate and implement “Complete Streets” concepts targeted at making roadways safe and accessible for everyone, including bicyclists and pedestrians, the Topeka City Council decided Tuesday night.

The council voted 8-1 to approve a resolution sponsored by Councilman Larry Wolgast that changed city policy by directing the staff to make that move to the extent financially feasible. The measure also made it the city’s goal to adequately finance the policy’s implementation.

The outcome of Tuesday’s vote “shows we are progressive and moving forward,” Wolgast told the council.

“The important point is that our transportation plan will be designed not for moving vehicles as quickly as possible, but by taking into consideration all who use streets,” he said.

Councilman Jack Woelfel, the sole dissenter, said he wasn’t opposed to Complete Streets concepts but didn’t fully understand them. Woelfel also said he thought the proposal left too many unanswered questions and wasn’t specific enough, particularly about finances.

Wolgast told council members how a consultant brought to Topeka as part of the Heartland Visioning process earlier this year explained how cities nationwide were working to implement Complete Streets concepts.

“The Complete Streets policy will direct city planners and engineers to consistently design with all users in mind, including drivers, public transportation riders, pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as older people, children and people with disabilities,” he said.

The council heard support for Wolgast’s proposal expressed Tuesday by six speakers, including representatives of the Community Resources Council and the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce.

Another advocate, Karl Fundenberger, told the council thousands die crossing roadways nationally each year due to poor design features.

He said: “Streets are not for moving cars. They’re for moving people.”

Joseph Ledbetter, who also addressed the council on the matter, asked members to make sure that money from a half-cent sales tax that took effect Oct. 1 doesn’t help pay for Complete Streets improvements.

City manager Norton Bonaparte said that won’t happen. He noted that the council earlier this month approved capital improvement plans calling for the city to borrow $100,000 through general obligation bonds in each of the next five years to pay to incorporate Complete Streets design elements into projects the city carries out using revenue from the half-cent tax.

The council also approved a 2010 legislative agenda consisting of eight provisions that include asking for the continued operation of the Kansas Neurological Institute, which a state commission has recommended closing, and supporting “continued development of the Capitol complex and state operations in downtown Topeka.”

Three other provisions of the approved agenda were targeted at helping the Topeka Metropolitan Transit Authority.

Council members voted 8-1 to approve that agenda. Councilman John Alcala dissented, saying he thought it had been “overloaded” with too many issues.

Also, Mayor Bill Bunten cast a vote as the city’s governing body:

  • Voted 10-0 to approve Alcala’s motion to defer action on a proposed zoning change regarding property at 1236 S.W. Garfield Ave. Alcala said the deferral would give the city attorney’s office time to provide the council an opinion on the extent of participation in voting and discussion on the matter that should be permitted for Councilwoman Deborah Swank, who previously spoke about it before the Topeka Planning Commission.
  • Voted 10-0 to amend the city’s zoning code to clarify that only fences within parks may exceed the city’s 4-foot height requirement in a front yard.

Tim Hrenchir can be reached at (785) 295-1184 or tim.hrenchir@cjonline.com.

How Do We Fund Complete Streets?

One of the biggest stumbling blocks we run across in Topeka (and everywhere else) when trying to convince council members and other decision makers to embrace more bike-friendly roadways is the dreaded money question.  ”That’s all well and good, but how do we pay for it?”

Even in Portland, Oregon, a city where one cannot swing a dead cat without hitting a cyclist (or three), the same concerns dominate the discussion.  However, there are some great resources to consider, and to bring to the attention of lawmakers when having this conversation.  The following is a post which originally appeared on portlandtransport.com directing advocates for cyclist friendly streets towards some excellent strategies to bring to the table when it comes time to address the money question:

As the “Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030″ moves toward City Council adoption, the question that moves front and center is “how do we pay for it?”

The estimated price tag runs into hundreds of millions of dollars over 20 years – but is still small in comparison to our other transportation investments. In a discussion on Bike Portland, editor Jonathan Maus lamented that

“… this is about a game of politics and money and so far it looks like bike people are simply being outplayed… which is too bad because we all agree bikes are the best investment and they have the most beneficial impact on our city.”

I do agree that bikes have the greatest potential to reshape our transportation landscape at the lowest cost – and have vocally said so as the plan moved through the Planning Commission, even to the point of saying that I would give priority to bicycle funding over Streetcar funding (but I also believe that they will very seldom be in direct competition).

So if we need to play a better game, what are the lessons we can take from Streetcar and other transportation initiatives that have been successful in attracting funding?

Here are some thoughts gleaned from what I’ve observed over the last decade advocating for a variety of transportation projects:

Federalize the Effort

Roads and Transit have dedicated federal funding from the Highway Trust Fund (gas taxes are the primary source of these funds, but Congress is now getting into the habit of supplementing this with general revenues as gas tax buying power declines).

This is a critical factor, because elected leaders will quite rationally invest local dollars where they will leverage new money into the community. If $40 of local funds will bring in $60 of “New Starts” federal money for Light Rail, guess how hard leaders will work to find that $40.

Where is the advocacy for a Federal bike funding program? None existed for Streetcar, so we helped create a national Community Streetcar Coalition (former Lake Oswego Mayor Judie Hammerstad chairs it) with over 60 cities looking at streetcar investments advocating for federal involvement. This resulted in the creation of the “Small Starts” program from which Portland just received $75M for the Streetcar Loop project – the first Federal Transit Administration Streetcar grant.

For cycling, we won’t need to invent a national advocacy organization – the League of American Cyclists has existed for more than a century. Portland advocates need to get busy with the League to plot a congressional strategy for a dedicated funding program for bicycle infrastructure. Then let’s get our projects in at the front of the line.

[BTW – why is there no one from the USA’s premiere cycling city on the board of the League?]

There’s an interesting immediate opportunity emerging here. Transit projects have previously been allowed to use Federal funds for bike and pedestrian improvements that help get folks to the transit line, but those improvements had to be relatively close to the transit line. Now, under the auspices of the joint urban livability effort between HUD and the US DOT, the definition is being expanded. According to a proposal in the Federal Register (PDF, 59K), FTA is seeking comment on extending the ‘catchment area’ distances to one half mile for pedestrian improvements and 3 miles for bicycle improvements.

How much of Portland’s proposed bicycle network is within 3 miles of proposed high capacity transit corridors? A lot. Portland advocates should:

  1. Immediately comment favorably on the FTA proposal. (I have)
  2. Get out their compasses and figure out the 3-mile envelope around the Milwaukie LRT and Lake Oswego Streetcar corridors (the next two projects that will seek FTA funding). Let’s try to get all the improvements in those areas matched 60/40. Yes, you’ll have to convince TriMet and others to expand the project definitions and help assemble more local match, but as I said before, local leaders are all about bringing home more Federal dollars.

Regionalize the Effort

The history of transportation funding in this region suggests that Portland-specific efforts are always met with a degree of skepticism at JPACT. Projects that reach all parts of the region do better.

It’s not a random occurrence that the most recent Light Rail project, and the next one, both touch Clackamas County – it’s “their turn”. It’s also not coincidental that the next Streetcar line in the pipeline will go to Lake Oswego.

Portland advocates need to work with the rest of the regional and get cycling projects moving all over the region. Metro’s Intertwine effort is an ideal framework for this.

This will also help with the Federal effort. JPACT travels back to DC and speaks with one voice to the Congressional delegation, and that voice better talk about bikes if we want to be successful in creating a significant Federal funding program.

Localize the Effort

Every successful rail transit project has a local stakeholder committee, including prominent representation from businesses along the alignment. We are beginning to see this kind of advocacy around major trail projects (Sullivan’s Gulch, North Portland Greenway) but we need to deepen this and get it going for more projects – probably in ways that are less about linear corridors and more about local networks. Can we get a stakeholder group formed for strengthening the bike network in a whole neighborhood or sector of a the City?

And we MUST make the connection between good cycling environments and property values. Local Improvement Districts (where property owners levy a fee on themselves to pay for a portion of the project) are the cornerstones of Streetcar project funding. We need to get an economist hired to do a serious study correlating bike traffic volumes with property values NOW.

What Else?

Watch the evolving landscape. Some kind of carbon cap-and-trade system is in our future. Let’s position bike projects as effective investments for offsets. Transit leaders are already thinking about this.

Lottery Funds. TriMet has successfully lobbied to use bonding capacity from the State Lottery to fund first the West Side extension and now the Milwaukie line. The Governor and Legislature have also allocated $100M of Lottery bonding capacity to non-road transportation (”Connect Oregon”) in each of the last two sessions. Can we convince the Legislature to use some Lottery bonding for bike projects?

Think about how we sell this to the public. I made the comment during the Planning Commission work session that my family pays (happily) about $250/year for the library levy. That helps fund about a $50M annual budget (for the whole county). We need about $25M (for Portland) annually to build out the bicycle plan. If citizens will vote to fund the library, how do we convince them to vote to fund cycling at a comparable level?

So what are we waiting for?

Indeed.

This Friday!

Hey, let’s ride our bikes. To heck with the rain. I have a huge pair of bright yellow rain pants if anyone needs to borrow them. But I just plan on rocking my denim.

We should try to hit the Legacy Arts Center, since it’s at 6th and Lane, close to the Trap, and the Tinkham Veale building on Kansas Avenue should also be pretty neat.

Meet up at the Boobie Trap Bar, 5:30.

And if it’s totally pouring down rain and the streets are flooding and it’s miserable out… well, Tavio will probably still be riding, but I think I will chicken out until next week.