Complete Streets winners, big and small

Downtown Lancaster, California. Photo courtesy of the City of Lancaster.

A Complete Streets approach helped Lancaster, California revitalize its commercial core and win the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2012 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement for Overall Excellence.

After decades of decline, the city’s downtown, centered on Lancaster Boulevard, had become home to rising crime and unemployment rates. Automobiles regularly travelled at speeds of 40 to 50 miles per hour, and many of the intersections were controlled by traffic signals. Residents believed that the street was dangerous to cross and unpleasant to walk and shop along.

Using Complete Streets as a guide, the city conducted a nine-block revitalization of the street that sparked economic growth and created a new cultural hub. Completed in 2010 and newly rebranded as The BLVD, Lancaster Boulevard now invites visitors walk or bicycle from store to store. It features a center plaza for walking and community events, angled parking, enhanced crosswalks, abundant landscaping and lighting, and outdoor seating.

Amazingly, while the plan removed all stop signs and traffic signals, automobile traffic on the two travel lanes remains steady, though at a speed that is more appropriate. Overall traffic collisions are down 50 percent and injury-related collisions plummeted 85 percent.

These improvements are paying off big time for Lancaster. The project, which cost $11.5 million, has led to $130 million in private development. Downtown revenue is up 96% in the area since 2007. The investment has also meant job growth, and nearly 50 new businesses have moved to the area. Nearby, new housing developments include several sites for affordable housing, as well as for older residents and those with disabilities.

As a total reconstruction project, The BLVD represents Complete Streets on a large scale. However, Complete Streets create change through small projects as well. Carlsbad, California, 150 miles from Lancaster, has been on a roll making low-cost improvements to intersections and crosswalks that have had a big impact.

“It’s amazing how a few changes in street design can have such a positive effect on a community’s health, safety, economy and social vitality,” says Carlsbad Deputy Transportation Director Bryan Jones.

A recent project on Carlsbad’s Kelly Drive exemplifies the city’s thoughtful approach to street design. Faced with safety issues near a school crossing against fast moving traffic, Carlsbad looked for solutions – and found one with the hefty price tag of $300,000. WALKSanDiego reports that the project was “a non-starter in lean budget times,” so staff looked for a less expensive but still effective fix. They settled on adding a high visibility crosswalk, a raised median island, and bulb-outs at just 10%-15% of the originally proposed cost.

Though a smaller investment, the changes to Kelly Drive make it work better for everyone, from those walking to or from school to passing commuters. With a Complete Streets framework, Carlsbad planners and engineers were able to pick the best solution for the community, the neighborhood, and the city’s budget. A Complete Streets approach improves communities regardless of how big or small a project.

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