County board shows unanimous support for Complete Streets

By: Erin McClary, Heidi Roman, Jeremy Selweski | Woodward Talk | Published August 30, 2011


The intersection of 12 Mile Road and Woodward Avenue has gotten several pedestrian-friendly upgrades during summer construction, putting it more in line with the Complete Streets concept.

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Supporters of non-motorized transportation can celebrate now that public officials at the state, county and local levels are endorsing a policy to make roads friendlier for bicyclists and pedestrians.

On Aug. 18, the Oakland County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution in support of a Complete Streets transportation model for the county. All 25 board members voted in favor of the resolution, which was submitted by commissioners Craig Covey, D-Ferndale, and Dave Woodward, D-Royal Oak.

“I was very pleasantly surprised by the vote,” Covey said. “We worked with the Republican leadership and the Road Commission (for Oakland County), and it ended up being a unanimous decision.”

Complete Streets is a road design principle intended to provide numerous transportation options for all road users; increase road safety; promote walkability; encourage healthy, active lifestyles; reduce energy consumption; and create more environmentally sustainable communities.

It states that when new roads are constructed, they should be designed to accommodate everyone equally: drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians. They should also be fully handicap-accessible and provide easy access to public transportation.

Woodward said that the idea behind the board’s resolution is to create more accommodating communities in Oakland County. “We shouldn’t just be considering how to move cars as fast as possible,” he said. “The more livable and walkable a community is, the more attractive it is for people who want to move into it.”

Covey agreed. “For me, this is a great step in the right direction toward creating streets that are accessible to more than just cars and trucks,” he said. “Times change and things evolve, and this is part of the smart new way of thinking. We’re finally getting people to think more long term when it comes to transportation and road design.”

Although Complete Streets might be considered a left-leaning concept, every Republican commissioner voted in support of the resolution in addition to each Democrat. Commissioner David Potts, R-Birmingham, said that he is appreciative of communities like Birmingham, which took the initiative seriously enough to adopt its own Complete Streets resolution prior to the board’s action.

“I’m a big fan of considering other plans of moving people around,” he said. “I’m aware of walkability, and I’m aware of the idea of making communities more sensitive to other forms of transportations, (such as) buses and bicycles and motorbikes and walking.”

Potts believes that it’s important for communities to be sensitive to “alternate plans of moving people.” He emphasized that Complete Streets does not identify traditional forms of transportation as being bad, but rather, promotes ways to cater to 21st century transportation, the importance of sharing roads and how such modes should be considered in future developments.

Last summer, the state of Michigan got behind the Complete Streets method with the approval of a pair of public acts. Former Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed the acts into law on Aug. 1, 2010, after they had received widespread support from the state Legislature and the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Since that time, communities all over the state have followed suit by passing Complete Streets ordinances or resolutions, including Birmingham, Ferndale, Berkley and Clawson in southeast Oakland County. However, the county itself had remained largely silent on the issue until now.

“I feel like this was the next logical phase in the process,” Covey said. “Our roads, streets and highways are managed by different governmental entities, so we thought it was very important to get Oakland County on board with the concept of Complete Streets.”

Covey was worried that the resolution would never make it this far, as it just barely made it out of the county’s General Government Committee on Aug. 8, passing by a narrow 5-4 vote.

“I originally didn’t think this would pass at all,” he explained, “but then it really started to gain some steam. It was very refreshing to receive unanimous support for something so important. It made me feel more confident in the political process and feel like we can actually achieve things with bipartisan support.”

The passage of a Complete Streets resolution at the county level was hailed as great news by Tom Regan of Royal Oak, an avid bicyclist and green activist. Regan, 49, has spent the past few years pushing the city of Royal Oak to institute a non-motorized transportation plan and encouraging Royal Oak Neighborhood Schools to create safer routes to and from school for students who walk or ride their bikes.

“I think it’s fantastic to see the huge change in attitude that has occurred just over the past couple years,” he said. “Something like this would have never gained such broad support 20 years ago.”

According to Woodward, creating a dialogue among stakeholders in the county is key to the future success of Complete Streets. The plan is to form a study group that would include at least two county commissioners to look at the concept with the Road Commission. He estimated that the planning phase would take six to nine months. After that, all county road projects would be designed with an eye to the program.

“It definitely has a forward-looking approach to it for when we do a massive repair,” he said. “We need to be incorporating these planning tools.”

Regan believes that more communities need to start incorporating bike lanes on their roads, such as those that the city of Ferndale added to Hilton Road a few years ago. He argued that these lanes don’t slow down traffic and ultimately lead to fewer accidents on the road between drivers and bicyclists.

“We need to get cyclists off the sidewalk and into the street because the sidewalk is actually one of the most dangerous places for them to be,” he said. “I also think that there’s definitely safety in numbers here. If there are more bicycles out on the road, then drivers will be more careful to look out for them.”

He recognizes, though, that these types of changes will not happen overnight. For now, Regan is just glad that government at all levels is beginning to embrace a concept that not too long ago was considered the preference of only a small minority.

Still, he stressed that all these recent Complete Streets initiatives, including Oakland County’s resolution, must grow into more than just political rhetoric.

“This is a great opportunity,” he said, “but it’s also a political problem and a financial problem that needs to be solved. If political action doesn’t follow this verbal and written support, then I think it will be all for naught.”