As the Bike Fed fights to save our Wisconsin Complete Streets Law and restore funding for bike and pedestrian projects and trail development in the state budget we thought it would be a good idea to go into more depth about each of these issues.
We’ll start today with Complete Streets and follow up with more in-depth blogs about the Transportation Alternatives Program and the Stewardship Fund.
Complete Streets was passed by the state legislature in 2009. The language of the law was written by State Senator Fred Risser of Madison, an avid biker. Following national models from around the country, Wisconsin’s law provides that our state’s Department of Transportation:
“ensure that bikeways and pedestrian ways are established in all new highway construction and reconstruction projects funded in whole or in part from state or federal funds.”
Then the law goes on to list five areas of exceptions that may be granted. Essentially, those are cases where bikes and pedestrians are prohibited, like Interstate highways; where the cost are excessive or an absence of need has been demonstrated; where there are constrained environments; or, in the case of sidewalks, where the community refuses to accept an agreement to maintain them.
In other words this is not, as Governor Scott Walker’s budget states, “a requirement that the department must construct bicycle and pedestrian facilities on new highway construction.” A more accurate way to read the law is that it requires only that bicyclists and pedestrians be taken into account when a new road is being built or reconstructed.
The department itself has recognized that facilities that might accommodate bikes and pedestrians can also end up serving motorists and even prolonging the life of the road, as is the case with paved shoulders on rural roads. And the department acknowledges that building in these facilities, whether in rural or urban areas, from the start is less expensive than retrofitting them later on.
So, the estimate in the governor’s budget that repealing the law will save $7.4 million over two years just doesn’t have any basis in fact. The law may even wind up saving money in the long-run. In any event, there’s no pot of money in the state budget that is set aside just for Complete Streets projects. The costs, if there are any, are absorbed in the overall projects as they occur.
The primary argument used against Complete Streets is that they make projects too costly. But again, those costs are usually either insignificant or these investments can actually save money over time. And if a case can be made that these facilities do cost too much the law allows for an exception.
Finally, Complete Streets ends up benefitting motorists in another way. It seems the leading complaint of drivers about bicyclists is that they share their road space, as we are legally allowed to do in most cases. But Complete Streets is often about building in clearly marked space or actual separate space for bikes. It means less conflict on the road, which should be good for everyone.
Beyond improving traffic flow, complete streets spur development. South 2nd Street in the Walker’s Point Neighborhood just south of Milwaukee’s downtown is now one of the hottest development zones in the city, and it all started with a complete street.
Note: My wife, Dianne Cieslewicz, worked on the Complete Streets legislation when she worked for Sen. Fred Risser.