Why a Complete Streets policy is a win-win-win for Bloomington-Normal

We’ve been spending too much money on terrible streets for decades.

One of the few things that everybody in town seems to agree on – liberals, conservatives, and independents alike – is that our streets are in terrible shape. Drivers complain about extra maintenance costs for their cars, cyclists worry about having to weave around potholes, and pedestrians can hardly cross the street after it rains without leaping across roadside puddles the size of a baby elephant.

Part of that, certainly, is underfunding. But it’s also about how we’ve been spending the limited dollars our city councils have been able to dedicate to streets.

When you design streets with only the most costly users (cars) in mind, you end up with vast swaths of pavement that are effectively useless for anything but cars and trucks, and you spend a lot of money doing it. When you design streets with everybody in mind – cars, bikes, buses, and pedestrians alike – you can spend less money, raze fewer trees, and keep neighborhoods intact.

We’ve all seen it. Take Main Street for example. It’s chock-full of cars for thirty seconds, virtually empty for a minute and a half, busy for another thirty seconds, rinse and repeat. What if, instead of building three overly-wide lanes for cars, we only built two car lanes, and just used them better? What if we allowed people to choose from an array of safe, comfortable options to navigate around town, rather than ostracizing everyone who wanted to smell the flowers on their way to work?

What we’d end up with is less expensive streets, with better streetscapes, and more thriving businesses alongside them. Nearby homeowners would see their property values increase. And people wouldn’t be forced to use a car if they don’t want to.

Look – Bloomington and Normal have both adopted bike master plans, and that’s great. But those plans don’t represent fundamental shifts in thinking about our community’s streets the way a complete streets policy would. At its core, a complete streets policy says that all streets in the community should be friendly to all people using all modes of transportation; not just a handful of streets in a document somewhere. It says that, as a community, we value safety over speed – and we should design our streets for people, not just for vehicles. And, when we do that, we can end up stretching our tax dollars even further so we can improve even more streets every year without spending any more money.

Roughly 20% of the community’s land is public right-of-way. Shouldn’t all that public space be accessible to everyone?

On Monday night, the Bloomington City Council will meet to discuss moving forward with a complete streets ordinance. We’d love to see you there.