Your complete streets aren’t complete. At least, not right now.
The idea of ‘complete streets’ is a fantastic one. For the unfamiliar, a complete street in urbanist talk is a street that is designed to be safe for folks of all abilities and ages to travel, be it by car, as pedestrians, cyclists, or on public transit. Usually, that means adding features and amenities the road didn’t have before, like crosswalks, a wider sidewalk, or the go-to, a bike lane.
Complete streets are a great concept. Once they’re filtered through the many stakeholders within a city, however, a complete street may lose a few critical components.
This story from Planetizen, which highlights a Complete Streets policy of our San Antonio, dives even further into it. What the dive tells us is why these complete streets feel so half-baked.
Why are our streets so incomplete?
One of the main reasons according to the story mentions that ambiguity is a killer. This is what happens when you’re trying to check a box: you lose out on why you’re trying to build a complete street in the first place.
You can see this ambiguity in their very own policy. There might be some good things in there: “streets that account for all ages and abilities” and “streets that provide shade and create buffers” are fantastic ideas. But here in lies the problem: there’s nothing actionable, very little specific, and a whole lot of good ideas that can be avoided.
And of course, there’s the issue of lack of funding. San Antonio streets are riddled with potholes, largely because a sizeable tax base can’t support our sprawling roadway network AND everything else that needs to be supported. It’s hard to find funding to support car culture and ever-expanding roads and goodwill for cyclists despite cycling infrastructure costing significantly less both in construction and upkeep.
San Antonio local active transportation planner Joey Pawlik mentioned that San Antonio communities are already looking at updating the city’s complete streets program. We’ll have to stay tuned on what changes, as community outreach and work takes time, but it is comforting to know that something will happen, hopefully.
Complete streets sound useless, but as Michael Lewyn says in the story from Planetizen, that’s not completely the case. They’re just not the lone tool in the street safety toolbox we need to use to make streets safer for everyone to use.
What can we do about making our streets better for pedestrians and cyclists?
As of now, we don’t have a magic solution to build more equitable, effective streets in San Antonio. Streets take time to design, which means if you want to see positive changes in the future, we have to start advocating now. Well, yesterday would be better. Today works, however.
What we can tell you, however, is that new complete streets policy work is coming soon. And once we know exactly what’s going on, we’ll make sure to not only share it all with you but tell you what you can do next to help.
Until then, join us at Bike San Antonio. Visit one of our local events, join us at a ride, or reach out. We’d love to hear from you.